First, I have to say I've never met anyone similar to Ysabela yet. She's utterly brilliant and probably one of the most unique and wonderful persons I know. We met a year and a half ago to start working together and since then we’ve developed a wonderful friendship. Ysabela is a never-ending source of inspiration, knowledge, charisma. Also, her sense of humor is to die for - she's probably one of my friends that makes me laugh the most-.
But anyway, this time I'm supper happy to be interviewing her. Her ceramic work is fantastic; being an Art Historian, she gathers cultural references and inspiration from all around the world and translates all of these into her work. She's also totally immersed in interior design, architecture and italian films, especially Neorealism (which are three things that we're currently obsessed with- more on that soon!). Anyway, I could go on and on for hours about Ysabela, but I'm just going to let you read the interview. Cheers!
Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get into ceramics?
I studied Art History at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. One of our assignments in chemistry for conservation was making faience. The way it unraveled right before my eyes, its color, thickness, and the history behind it really caught my interest. As a material, faience is similar to ceramics. Pratt’s beautiful campus had a ceramics studio and the walk from the chemistry lab to the studio was short so I dropped by. I was lucky to run into Irvin Tepper, Irvin is an American ceramist and professor at Pratt. He taught (probably still teaches) a class called Clay as Canvas. He was my introduction to the medium and I owe much of my attitude towards ceramics to him.
I walked into that studio looking for a light alternative to my intense academic program and found instead a craft that I have not stopped working on for the last 10 years.
Where does your passion for art come from?
My most vivid childhood memories are strongly sensory: the color (or the lack of color) of food, the smell of a particular clothing detergent, the smell of wet soil in my great grandmother's garden, the texture of wet paper. I have been carrying these images from a very early age and I suppose the search for sensory experiences became more conscious and purposeful with time. This trait worked hand in hand with my interest in understanding the history and interweaving of creative processes. I think these were the conditions that set me on this track.
How did you start Casa Alfarera?
Casa Alfarera is the result of an academic interest in the medium. I wanted to experiment as many angles of the material as possible and understand regional conditions in regards to the clay. The shop has been taking form in the last three years. Some of the goals that were set from the get go are still driving forces, others have evolved. The three main standards that have not changed and are key to our functioning are:
- Purity of materials and processes
- Strict focus on the level of craftsmanship
- Establishing a relationship with the client in order to understand and satisfy their needs, while explaining the complexities of the ceramic process.
Do you have specific elements in mind when you create a new piece?
Yes, Materials, process of making (particularly firing strategy), and final purpose of the piece.
Does Venezuelan Culture or Latin American Culture in general, have an impact in your work and style?
Yes... You may leave Caracas but it never leaves you and yes Venezuelan culture is a constant reference for me in every way. In regards to Latin America, it is so plentiful that it is almost impossible not to be touched by its cultural heritage. The cuisine, music, architecture, ceramics, etc, etc, etc, of many Latin American countries is a constant source of wonder for me.
Some of the glazes you use are found locally, is there any challenge when it comes to working with color or finding these glazes?
I source some minerals locally for the glaze, but some are inevitably foreign. What is purely local is the recipe for the clay bodies. In regards to the color: I have had to discipline myself to have an open mind towards the outcome because only rarely do I get very specific results. Instead, I try thinking within a range of tonal and textural possibilities. There is a lot to learn from every firing whether the result is satisfactory or not. Sometimes one learns more from what doesn't work. For me, there are no single great accomplishments in ceramics; results (desired or not) are small links that hold a chain that grows larger and stronger every time you open a kiln. The strength and length of that chain is what makes this craft enchanting.
Any ceramicists, artists or architects you look up to?
Of course, I admire the careers, philosophies, and production of many artists, architects, ceramists, chefs, musicians, landscapers, etc... But instead of listing a few I rather tell the story of my encounter with a couple who really left a mark.
Amadeo (my husband) and I decided to visit a few galleries while on a trip to Mumbai. One of the shows that caught my eye was called Meandering Warp. The title was interesting and the review was promising but so seemed 10 others on the list of at least 30 shows on view. Arriving at the correct address was a miracle; we circled the block without noticing the building for over an hour. We finally made it to Chemould Prescott Road, one of the most special gallery spaces I have visited to date. As soon as the door opened I was swept with the vision of a group of work so charged It took me a moment to gather myself… what’s going on? how did I not know about this woman before? Thank you god for not letting me miss this… oh my god oh my god… I was having a hard time containing myself because the work was so outstanding. It really hit the spot for me, there is nothing I like more than variations on a theme. Amadeo walks in with a couple, both very beautiful, he invites me to join them. They were both soft-spoken, calm, their eyes were wonderful and piercing. The lady was Monica Correa the artist responsible for the work on view at the gallery, and her husband Charles. She walked me through the show, we spoke about her friend Olga de Amaral whose work has always been a reference for me, she talked to me about her evolving process, the artisans who worked with her, how her career developed alongside her husband’s (At the time I didn’t understand why she made that a point). Charles told me about his days in Venezuela, he spoke of beloved architect friends there, we spoke about the turn the country had taken in the last decades. Their cadence was so pleasant, they were so generous with their time, they were so very humble, you could sense their wisdom. We spent a bit of precious time with Monica and Charles Correa, We were lucky.
Any advice for anyone wanting to be a ceramicist or art historian?
Patience. Although; they are different crafts, both obviously require quite a bit of effort because they can be very intense and demanding. The similarity between them is that they're not instant gratification crafts, so both need patience.
Special thanks to Ana Valeria Castillos and Tulio Jarocki