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A child with presents – The ceramic passion of Giuseppe Lombardo

How did it all start?

I think it started at the end of the 90s due to a famous Italian documentary ‘Turisti per Caso’, showing for the first time the everyday life of Tokyo and Kyoto to the general public. I was not yet ten years old, but I was very intrigued by it. Since that time, a general interest in many aspects of Japan has always remained with me. Several years ago, a bonsai post caught my eye. Within a few months I joined the bonsai school ‘Shizen’ in Rome, where I had the good fortune to meet Master Bruno Proietti Tocca, capable of transmitting passion and love for this world from day one. Paradoxically, as the months went by, I found myself increasingly attracted by the pots in which those beautiful plants lived. And the rest is history.

Who was your teacher?

I am a great believer in first impressions and for this I will always thank my two teachers who contributed so much to keeping alive this new interest that had been born in me. Nicoletta Sauve of the Terraforma School, conveyed to me from the very beginning a lightness and a sense of creative freedom necessary to be able to express one’s ideas at their very best. On the other hand, Sebastiano Allegrini of Pots Bottega, was essential in making me understand how important is a dose of discipline, dedication and perseverance, even and specially in the less pleasant, but necessary phases of the creative process. Without them, I would not be making pottery several years later.

Why ceramics? What is it that makes it so fascinating to you?

A difficult question and perhaps, ironically, not being able to answer easily adds to the fascination. If I had to struggle to come up with an answer, it would surely be about the contrast between the feeling of being both active and passive in the process. On the one hand, the challenge of being able control the elements as much as possible, to impose myself and decide how the earth and the glazes should behave, is very appealing. On the other, knowing that a percentage of unpredictability will always be there, that there are so many variables to consider, really helps to maintain that sense of surprise, of magic, every time you open the kiln. Just like a child in front of the presents on Christmas morning.

Your thoughts on ceramics?

This is a bit like when I’m asked if I have my own style. In a similar way, I don’t think I have a real philosophy about it. Certainly over these years, there are now types and styles that I feel are more akin to me, which lead me, even if only every few months, to redo them with small variations, as if there were an underlying attraction. But I think the core of it all is the kind of ‘relationship’ I feel I have with my pots as I make them. It may sound funny, but I think it is very intimate, very introspective. I will often find myself entirely divorced from my surroundings during the creating process, with a deep concentration that can almost feel like I am in a trance.

Do you make your own glazes?

Not yet having my own studio, I do not have the freedom to concentrate much on creating glazes due to the limited space I have available. I have, however, made quite a few, either by taking workshops, or by using recipes that found both on the net and in books, but not as much as I would like. Right from the start, no doubt due to an almost reckless enthusiasm, I experimented with bright, glossy glazes, even though I knew they might detract attention from the tree, but I still don’t mind daring with finishes that normally would be more suitable for cups and plates. Certainly, though, I would like to achieve a more personal and recognisable palette of matt, simpler and more classic glazes. I have always been attracted to and experimented increasingly with, oxides and pigments so as to create more textured finishes. Or with sand, ash and deliberate cracks in the clay for dramatic textures.

Do you use gas, electric or even wood-fired kilns?

At the moment I have only had the opportunity of firing pots in various electric kilns. For several years I have had a strong curiosity over reduction firing in gas kilns, especially for the development of specific glazes, but the opportunity has not yet arisen. Undoubtedly, I see wood-fired kilns as one of the major objectives, despite being aware that it takes knowledge and skills I don’t yet have, even just to participate in it, let alone to build an oven. But I would be very satisfied if, in the future, I could fire some of my pots in that way, even if I have to wait ten years for it to happen.

The contrast between being active and passive

Giuseppe Lombardo

What do think of the Japanese glazes, tones and shapes?

I believe that I can also speak for many colleagues, regardless of whether they have been making bonsai pots for only a few months or for thirty years. Japanese ceramics will always be very special and iconic. In more than a century there has gathered a vast quantity of history and culture (both in vintage pots and variety and innovation in the modern pots) that it is really impossible not to be bewitched by them. Not counting kilns that have been active for generations, I can only imagine the store of knowledge and know-how that is kept within the walls of certain workshops. Something I do regret is that I’ve never really spent time to get to know even the most important potters in more depth, due to language barriers and perhaps because when you start you dedicate oneself more to practice than theory. It is something I will certainly want to do in the future. However, if I had to name a few, the first who come to mind and for whom I have a lot of admiration would be Koichirou Aiba, Shigeru Fukuda, Hidemi Kataoka and Terahata Satomi.

Do you have a wish to visit or learn from Japanese potters?

Absolutely. I have been dreaming of going to Japan for many years now, and since ceramics have become an important part of my life, I know that a large area of my interest would end up there. Besides the touristy activities such as exhibitions, museums and flea markets that I would like to attend, I am more attracted to the potential everyday life. The concept of staying for a few months, perhaps trying to become an apprentice in a workshop, continues to intrigue me. But one must always be aware of the social, cultural and linguistic differences that one should never underestimate.

Do you think that handmade pots are being appreciated?

All in all, I think so. There will always be a large segment of enthusiasts who will undoubtedly make comparisons with the typical mass-produced industrial pots, and struggling to justify the price of those made by hand. But I think this is normal, specially if we’re talking about those who approach this world in a more hobbyist and carefree manner. At the same time, I find it normal that as one gains more knowledge and awareness, we end up preferring something different, more refined and unique. I think that, in the first place, we craftsmen could put more effort into explaining what it takes to create a finished pot. Years spent learning, the large investments made in equipment and clay, the number of tests and experiments gone wrong, the almost maniacal thinking about even the smallest details. All this would certainly help to make handmade pots even more appreciated.

We could put more effort into explaining what it takes

Giuseppe Lombardo

Do you have any other interests or hobbies?

Perhaps too many hobbies, and several that are very peculiar! For example, ever since I was a little boy I have loved, and continue to love, Jamaican music, from the Ska of the early 60s to Bashment of the early 2000s, as well as everything in between. I have quite a collection of vinyl records of those genres. Although I am not a videogamer, I am very attached to these two videogame sagas: Undertale/Deltarune by Toby Fox, Little Nightmares by Tarsier Studios. Several years ago, before I discovered bonsai and ceramics, I was an active member of the modern yo-yo community (and before that, a general juggling community), even at a semi-competitive level. Now I just collect a few, mostly vintage, wooden, American yo-yos.

Moulds, slipcasts or hand shaped, what do you prefer? Or what do you think is better?

I do not believe that any technique can truly be called better than another. As long as there is the same amount of care and love, attention to detail, scrupulous choice of clay and, of course, expertise in the making. With these premises, even mass-produced pots made from moulds deserve the same kind of respect. Only the difficulties and adversities to be resolved change, but there is no magic wand. If I had to make an estimate, 80 per cent of everything I produce I do by wheel throwing and the remaining 20 per cent by using the pinch and slab techniques — the latter especially for kusamono and shitakusa pots.

Can you make a living out of bonsai pottery?

Surely it is possible, but I believe that excluding some rare exceptions, it will never be the simplest thing to achieve. Especially in the digital age we live in, unless one dedicates oneself exclusively to selling at fairs, markets and clubs. It is no longer sufficient to make excellent quality pots, because you need to know how to be visible on the internet, create an attractive brand that makes your value shine through, be constant in updating social networks and much more. I think it is do-able, but only with a lot of dedication, willpower and a bit of luck.

Giuseppe Lombardo (33)
Born in: Lecce, Italy
Profession: A self-employed ceramist of Yaruki Ceramics
Into bonsai ceramics since: 2017

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