By Heidi Trautmann
my review on Erol Refikoğlu’s current exhibition MythEROLogy it is most
appropriate to give some thoughts to the material itself. Clay. Clay plus fire
equals ceramic. The oldest material humans made use of to improve their life.
Depending on the place where it is found clay can appear in various colours
from gray like mud to a deep orange. We have clay findings in Cyprus. They are
derived from the erosion of silicate rocks, transported by water to be laid
down either in river or lake beds. Our only pottery in North Cyprus, Dizayn 74
gets the raw material delivered and does the processing at the back of their
shop. It is a lengthy working process but with the use of machines today. Our
ancestors had to do the kneading with feet and hands.
Hasan Eminağa, one of the owners of Dizayn 74, explained
it to me one day: “We know where the deposits of clay are on our island and we
get a lorry full from time to time and unload it here, then the process of
slaking it down starts in one pool, is then transferred to a second pool for
2-3 months. Then, when we need clay for our pottery, or even for orders from
other ceramists, we take a certain amount out and work it through several
sieving machines, to separate unwanted matter from the clay. It is then put into a special machine to
extract the water, after which the clay has to be worked to take out all the
air bubbles, otherwise the earthenware would just explode in the kiln. And from
here we take our daily amount of clay which we work into the ware we sell to
customers and which also fills our storage shelves.”
Clay has plastic
properties and depending on its composition it can be divided into various
groups. When you mix the clay with different minerals you obtain the raw
material for earthenware, stoneware porcelain and bone china which require
different firing conditions, earthenware about 700°, stoneware about 1200° and
porcelain and bone china at about 1400°. Firing conditions can also differ,
fire being the oldest. Right in the centre of fire or in something like a küp
kebab oven; or the ware is piled up in one place in the potter’s backyard and a
sort of ‘oven’ built around like an igloo tent which is destroyed when the
process is finished as I have seen it done in India and in the South of France. Modern firing
methods are electric. There is also to mention the Western method of Raku
firing, an oxygen reduction process - oxygen is reduced – gas firing - and the
appearance of the clay surface and/or glazing becomes metallic in some places.
The basic process is to fire the ware in high temperatures and as soon as the
glaze has melted to remove it from the kiln and let it cool in the open;
submerging it in water will give a crackling effect. Many famous ceramic
artists have been experimenting in this field.
Clay has many
fields of application. In the old days it was used as the first writing medium
where letters were engraved in its moist surface. Just imagine the postman’s
extent of work in those days. It was used in construction business, bricks for
houses and material for aquaducts; it is
used for filtering and isolating; pipe smokers will appreciate a clay pipe. In the
ancient times in tribe conflicts clay was being used for forming balls as sling
ammunition; what a mess that must have been.
What we know about clay starts in school when our art
teacher taught us to do our first ashtray for daddy or a cup for grandma.
Ceramic courses are the hit for young women when house, children and garden go
on their nerves; for singles who are seeking the company of others, for sick
and old people to bring them out of their isolation. Ceramic courses are the
answer or one of the answers to satisfy the urge for creativity. To create
something yourself with your fingers, to see it grow and finally come out of
the kiln to take it home is a most satisfying experience..
When sculpting a figure or a bust with clay, you will
learn more about anatomy than with books, the construction of a head, the
delicate form of a nose or the build-up of your eye.
For some years the profession of potters and ceramic
artists found little interest with young people as the job is very
work-intensive and the years to gather experience are long. But lately I
realised a sort of revival worldwide, not only the return to homemade things
but ceramic art is becoming more and more internationalised with fairs,
biennales and workshops around the world, for example recently in Karachi or last
year in Shanghai as I have learnt from a friend who participated in both
In North Cyprus we have opportunities to join courses
with either the local Ceramists Association or with private ceramic artists;
there is also the School of Art in Kyrenia offering very nice courses over the
whole year; communication is no problem at all, in the arts you will understand
each other without making a lot of words.