I think there is some primordial urge for people to play with clay, something stuck with us since our cave days,” muses Hamsavardhan, a Bangalore-based studio potter. “People want to fiddle around with clay.”
Hamsavardhan knows that desire well. He and his partner, Cynthia Suzan, began working with clay 10 years ago when he decided to give up his day job as an architect and pursue ceramics full time.
Hamsavardhan, a retired pottery teacher, and many other potters insist that ceramics need not be kept in the realm of artistry alone. Anyone willing to get their hands dirty can explore the medium, he says. And potters across the country are teaching the art to willing students wanting to create unique trophies of their own for the home.
Jacob Mullamangalam, 48, chose a one-day course in Mumbai with potter Rekha Goyal. As an architect, Jacob spends his days drawing and working in straight lines. The course allowed him to get his hands “into the earth, literally, and play with it and create something that is precious to you”. Goyal, a freelance potter, says she enjoys teaching the distinct art form that uses both creativity and chemistry.
For years, Hamsavardhan’s work served mostly functional roles: Bowls, vases or plates, for example. But recently, he’s decided to explore more sculpture work, highlighting a distinct quality of ceramics. It holds a special duality in the art world. It can either serve as high art or applied art.
Jacob agrees that’s a key factor in what drew him to the medium: “You make something that is useful, or you can play around with forms. You don’t need to be an artist to be creative.” However, he does think he needs a few more classes to feel completely confident. “I hung one piece on the wall, but I need four, five, maybe 10 more classes to be really good,” he laughs.
Reyaz Badaruddin also thinks more classes serve his students better. He invites around eight students at a time to his studio in South Delhi for two-hour weekend courses. He thinks around three months is an appropriate time to dedicate to the art. One of his students, Dolly Jain, has been taking classes for six months, off and on, and still looks forward to more time. “I’ve been working mostly with bowls, playing with the different shapes, sizes and colours. Now I’m actually going with taller bottle types.” She’s only kept a few pieces, giving many away to her friends and family, who do display her work. At least, “They better!” she jokes.
To her, the art lies in the unknown. Glazing and firing pottery can alter a piece, so the end result is never known until it comes out of the kiln. “You’re never 100% sure. You have a fair idea, but you can never be exact. That’s the fun of it. That, and I’ve been a part of it.”
Zarine Mistry, a potter and gallery owner, says that many founding myths of humanity circle around clay. “We’re formed from clay in the Bible. In Indian mythology, the first humans were potters. Man and clay have an affinity. In most people, this has remained latent.” Zarine found herself attracted to bowls and works in museums that were thousands of years old, but still retained a sophistication and stylization throughout the ages. She founded her gallery, Bilmat Zeramica, to promote the art of ceramics in Mumbai. After people continually inquired about courses in pottery, she began an eight-week beginners’ course in the various steps in the creation of pottery in the basic techniques. “Everybody says they’ve always wanted to take a pottery course, they just never knew where they could go.”
The owners behind Bangalore’s new studio, Claytopia, feared people wouldn’t have enough time to enjoy the art of ceramics if they had to spend the time designing the products. They found a solution in the US and in England: Studios with pre-made products that have yet to be glazed, and so allow customers to paint and glaze. When they returned to India, they created a studio for people from “four to 104” to spend as much time as they want in exploring their creativity.
People can come, put their personal stamp on plates, ornaments, bathroom ceramic sets, or any number of other home products. Pompey Chakravarty, the creative head of Claytopia, says, “Everyone’s running around and you don’t get to enjoy the simple things in life. It’s such a joy seeing people relaxing and enjoying the process.