Art of Life

R Pallavi        Print Edition: July 22, 2012

Art doesn't just imitate life. It inspires ideas, imparts values, narrates stories and turns you into a believer. The art that comes closest to human emotions is that of sculptures; sometimes evoking sacredness in places of worship and at other times keeping the spirits of ancestors alive. The emotional energy woven into the medium is such that people attach strong meanings even to the carefully carved and chiselled curios adorning their living rooms.

In 1953, Valencia's Juan, Jose and Vincente Lladro realised the worth of such meaning and set sale on an artistic voyage, one that's going strong even today. Employees of a regular tile and crockery factory, they decided to set up a traditional moorish furnace in their house and soon after, brought to life their first priceless porcelain.

Inspired by former artisans Meissen, Sevres and Capodimonte, their designs began to garner mass appeal. Today, their immaculate creations embody a rarefied worth that equals luxury. This has found them a spot in coveted museums like the Hermitage of St Petersberg in Russia, The Brussels Cinquantanaire Museum and the International Ceramic Museum of Faenza in Italy.

Raul Rubio, Sculptor, Lladro
Raul Rubio, Sculptor, Lladro
Having worked with the company as an apprentice for two years and as a sculptor for 10 years, I have grown in my art and thought. In my opinion, the first and most important step in sculpting is drawing. It organises my thoughts while still fresh and fluid. The process starts on clay or plasticine which is minutely detailed with tools like fettling knives, ribs and scrappers.

This is the modelling process and is practised to offer an insight into details, textures and motives that will ultimately define the final product.

This is followed by the mould elaboration wherein the plaster is divided into as many fragments as necessary for the work to be reproduced in porcelain. To fine quality porcelain, Lladro sources the purest minerals in the best seams from around the world. This consists of kaolinite, quartz and feldspar. From each of the resulting fragments, a mould is obtained and filled with liquid porcelain paste in order to create the different parts of the figurine.

This limited edition Ganesha is one of Raul's latest designs
This limited edition Ganesha is one of Raul's latest designs
Being the finest, softest and lightest of all ceramics, porcelain is a highly complex material to work with. For example, the artistic flowers are created by our team petal by petal. Similarly rendering tulle and thin detailings like parasols, umbrellas, hats or lace embroideries are also a daunting task. The sculptors then put the work together using porcelain paste or adhesive.

The pieces are then sent to the kiln for an entire day and fired till they reach 1,300» C and are then left to cool down. It is during this process that the material transforms to a semiliquid state and one can frequently hear artists saying that porcelain is "alive". The kiln is the ultimate decider of whether the piece has been successfully elaborated or not. Based on that, it's given a final go-ahead for its development.

It is a misconception that all porcelain pieces are glazed; there are sculptures which are made in matt porcelain, or Gres, which are not lustrous. At Lladro, there is a special department for adding colours. Once the signature pastel tones are infused into the material, a layer of varnish is added to lend a crystalline finish.

The real challenge of the game lies in working on symbols of mythology, especially those that are of reverence to other cultures. I have designed the Ramayana quartet which includes Ram & Sita, Hanumaan and Lakshmana. Apart from this, there is also a series of four Ganeshas, one each with a veena, mridangam, bansuri and dancing. Above all, these are deities and their presence invokes awe, which is why details like postures, expressions and embellishments are strictly adhered to. We spend hours reading up on Hinduism and ancient traditions before coming out with these symbols of religiosity.

So, the next time you lay your hands on a porcelain piece, think of its mystical journey from form to content.

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