Industrial Designer Turned Ceramicist: An Interview with Andrea Roman

Interview led by: Walter Cabal  |  cabalcrafted.com

 

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FEATURED ARTIST: ANDREA ROMAN

AR ceramics is the work of East London based Ceramic Designer Andrea Roman. Working with texturised stoneware, Andrea seeks to portray the natural world from which her material hails.

Her range of functional ware, combines references to stone, sand and soil along with timeless shapes; incorporating glaze merely as a functional element, trying to keep it as subtle and minimal as possible in order to highlight the qualities of the clay bodies she works with.

Follow Andrea's journey:
arceramics.co.uk  |  @ar.ceramics

Photos by: Sebastián Ayala


Today Andrea Roman of AR Ceramics (@ar.ceramics), a trained industrial designer who’s gone the ceramics route, joins us for an interview. Her hands are more interested in the design textures and life that they observe in nature than they are in efficient machines found in industrial classrooms. Join our discussion on adventuring life, from one continent to another, and perspectives on nature and design.

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First, as I understand it, you’re based in London now, though you were born in Mexico City. Can you tell us a story about how this continental move happened for you?

Well, this one is more of a love story than a professional story: my boyfriend was a master’s grad student in London. Just after graduating he was offered an interesting job opportunity, so instead of coming back to Mexico, he asked me to join him in London for while. At the beginning I felt it was a scary move to make. I had a good job at Ariel Rojo Design Studio in Mexico City, lived in an awesome neighbourhood and was basically going through a nice phase of my life. My boss told me I could always come back and I was moving flats anyways because my flat mate was getting married. I thought, “I have nothing to lose” and decided to give it a go.

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What an adventure! That sounds so exciting! It seems that aside from climate, there’s a largely different culture contrast between Mexico City and London. Are there any cultural influences from both London (where you’re based) and Mexico City (where you were born) that find their way in to your ceramic work? 

Mmm... I think maybe my interest in highlighting the beauty of the clay bodies rather than covering them with glaze comes from Mexico and the influence its pottery communities had in me since I was a kid - being exposed to markets with piles of smoke fired pots, black clay vessels... I always preferred the unglazed versions of them, the non-decorated and non-colourful ones. My neutral/contemporary shapes might come from a more European aesthetic, and from the desire of making pieces that will fit any environment, mood or gender.  

Our newest Maker’s Magazine issue will be on the theme of: Women, so the theme has been floating around our feed during the submissions time. As someone who isn’t a Woman, and who’ll never get that first hand experience, it’s important for me to proactively seek out how I can learn to see through someone else’s eyes other than my own. Since you’ve studied industrial design, how do women tend to occupy the design landscape from what you’ve observed? How would you like to see women occupy the design landscape?

Well, first of all, it's good to hear men are joining the conversation. The fight against gender disparity needs the voices and the efforts of women and men together. There's an obvious problem of disqualification of capable women, accepted sexism and wage disparity. This stems from the historical bias that undermines the role women have played in the field of design, and consequently feeds back into the perception of women in design -- a sort of vicious circle. We need to raise awareness about this issue to fight against the pay gap, lack of recognition and absence of women in leadership positions. At the same time, I don't ever want to fall into any kind of tokenism, where people recognise my work more because it comes from a woman than because of the work itself. Hopefully we'll get to a point where we won't need to differentiate between male or female in our field… or any field whatsoever.

 

Spreading awareness for voices that aren’t heard – now that gets me in the gut. On the idea of awareness, one of my favorite features of the natural world is its “Aliveness”. I enjoy observing trees dancing along the backdrop of the sky. It reminds me about how rich a slow paced orientation to life can be. You’ve said in a past interview that you “find nature and its intricate complexity really fascinating; landscapes, textures, formations, structures, patterns”. Can you dive into a particular feature that gives you this interest and wonder? 

I love to observe patterns in rocks, shells, mountains; those layered patterns that are formed by the erosion or sedimentation of the earth. These layers of colour and texture make me wonder about time, and the different phases things have to go through, and how time keeps on changing things, adding and taking away. I like to pick up stones and shells from wherever I go and wonder about its marks and the stories behind.

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Mmm. That moves me. I remember the first thing that drew me to your art was learning that your art is influenced by "sand, rocks, dirt, and mud". Coming from an industrial design standpoint, where the common mind can tend towards only smooth, unvaried, and isometric pieces, what have you learned about how the natural world, in all its textures and unpredictable variations, can contribute to the progress of peoples ideas on design?

I actually think lots of these isometric, unvaried and smooth qualities of design are abstractions of the natural world made to work under specific industrialised production processes or standardised materials. 

Hmmm. I've never thought of it like that. I like that idea. It sounds like you're almost suggesting that natural world is more "clear" and that the industrialized, or standardized materials in modern design are like "blurry" versions of nature? Can you give us one example or a story of how someone could perhaps learn to see nature in industrial/modern design?

Mmmm, I didn't exactly mean that, I just feel that in any creative process, there's always an inspiration that, to a certain degree, comes from the natural world. We tend to imitate nature in terms of shape, texture, colour, structure... technologic possibilities shape the rest, some of us like to keep it very literal and some others might like to make a more complex abstraction. People create links with objects, people connect ideas through the objects they choose to be surrounded by.  I think these variations that are consequence of the handmade nature of my pieces, create a stronger connection between people and objects. This might be a better answer to your original question; the natural world, the variations and imperfections of handmade items are creating a stronger link between people and objects leading to a resurgence of interest in craftsmanship, designers are looking more and more to incorporate traditional techniques of making into their products. 

Although this last question you are asking me reminded me of something I'd like to share. John Cage once described Rauschenberg's White Paintings as surfaces that can act as airports for lights, shadows, and particles, to reflect subtle changes from the world around them. It's been bouncing in my mind ever since I read about it. I like to think the unglazed surfaces of my ceramic pieces, can invite people to slow down, watch closely over time, inspect and wait for subtle shifts in colour, light, and texture. If they are sensitive enough, they perhaps could tell what time it is and what the weather is like outside by the contemplation of a piece.

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Industrial design tends to be geared toward mass production. I’ve read that you enjoy handmade objects because people can have more meaningful items in their daily lives, in contrast to a "mass disposal" attitude. Was this transition from studying industrial design to hand thrown pottery a big shift? Or did you intentionally seek out industrial techniques to meld with handmade craftwork? What drew you to ceramics that industrial design (in the formal sense) didn't have?

I studied industrial design because someone told me when I was young that it's the career someone chooses if they like to make the things they use and improve existing objects that surround people on a daily basis. This thought made me super interested in learning more. I went to visit the university's campus and found out about their wood, metal, plastics and ceramics workshops. For me it was like finding paradise. I was always inclined to the subjects happening in the workshops rather than the ones happening in the classrooms. I realised I was a maker of things rather than an industrial designer. I love design, I love art, but machines and efficiency are not what moves me right now, not in this social/political and economical context.

 

The studio that you share with other artists is in the “middle of nowhere” as you’ve put it - is that right? Can you describe your studio space from your point of view for us - walk us through the most beautiful parts.

Ha! I say it is in the middle of nowhere because it is just in the middle of an industrial estate, close to the railway, close to the Lea River and the Marshes which are a natural reserve of grasslands. No coffee shops, galleries nor friends passing by... To get there from where I live I cycle through the marshes along the canal for 20 quiet minutes, there's only a small bit of the way were I have to deal with cars, other than that it's just about trees, water, ducks, swans, clouds. 

My studio is on an old hardware factory with a traditional saw toothed roof that provides us with lots of natural light. We have plants hanging from the roof, white walls, really open spaces. We do not have a personal working space rather than our storage areas, I like to pick the wheel by the window, I always turn it so it faces directly into the window (no one knows the trick yet). But sometimes I have to be in another spot and that's just how it works. This helps us to keep the space clean and make the most of all areas. One of my favourite things of sharing a studio is to be part of a community of creatives, where you share ideas, challenges, achievements and frustrations.

 

Natural light, in a distant, shared space of other creatives? It sounds beautiful. Hand thrown ceramics is a very slow endeavor. I’m sure it provides much time for presence and contemplation. Do you find any spiritual solace in your work of making ceramics?

Well, yes and no. Ceramics as a hobby provided me with time for contemplation, ceramics as a full time job is a different thing, I'm all the time thinking about new ideas, new experiments, next orders and events, supplies, tools, techniques... I guess, in a way, the whole sensorial experience is what provides me with some spiritual solace, being able to connect in such a way with my main material, to guide it, to force it and to respect it. 

 

I really appreciate this response. With this question responses tend towards polar ends either too overwhelming or too romanticized. I like that you're aware that both components are part of the joy of making things with your hands. It's interesting that you suggest forcing your material and guiding and respecting it occupy the same space. Can you tell me about a time in your life, where like a ceramics piece you were forced into a difficult place, but also felt like respecting the circumstance and were guiding/being guided by it to a more consonant place?

An example of this is precisely that time when I was forced to take a decision between coming to London (where I knew no one) or staying home and dealing with a long distance relationship. I was being guided by the situation, where there were some limits I knew I was always going to respect; I had to find a specific place for me in London, a place to develop myself in a creative way and build something. What started as a hobby suddenly became my full-time job. In this way, ceramics came to me much more as a dialogue I was having with the circumstances than as an imposition I was giving to life. 

I appreciate you telling us about your life, and your work. I think you're right, that in this time period artists like you who are intentionally interacting with their work on a smaller scale when compared to mass production and efficiency really do contribute to human flourishing. I hope the next time you're molding and shaping a piece, you remember that you also mold and shape the world with your example and your work. People like me, and the folks at Maker's Movement, definitely notice it. Thank you Andrea, please continue your natural and beautiful work. It makes such a difference.

It was a great pleasure being interviewed by you. It is so refreshing when someone makes you stop for a bit and think about things in a deeper way. I've really enjoyed my tea breaks thinking about this. Many thanks again for your interest in my work. I really appreciate it Walter.


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AUTHOR

Walter Cabal, Writer & Content Specialist

Walter gravitates toward the deep end of the pool. Many times he finds that depth in his conversations with people and many other times he finds it in the long silences at work as the product designer for Cabal Crafted. 

He tends to drive in the slow lane, talks to trees and animals, and frequently finds poetry in ordinary life. He earned his BA in philosophy from the University of California, Riverside. Walter and his wife Alicia live near the arts district in pomona, CA.

Follow Walter at: @cabalcrafted & @waltercabal


Interested in an interview with Maker’s Movement? We love hearing your stories!

Drop Walter an email with some details about you and your craft: hello@makersmovement.ca

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