At Atelier Lãlmitti, his studio in the mountains, ceramic artist and teacher Reyaz Badaruddin uses red clay to give form to his imagination
What drew you to ceramics?
Being from a small town (Ranchi in Jharkhand), I had zero exposure to art and culture. Despite this, I was always drawn to art and my mother was very supportive. Through a friend’s sister I found out that one can study art at university. I passed the entrance test of Fine Art College at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) on the second attempt and went on to study Applied Arts. During the foundation year I got introduced to pottery and ceramics and decided to take clay as my main subject for the rest of the course. My time at BHU laid a strong foundation in terms of skills, leading me to master the craft of making vessels. However it did not teach me how to be creative with the material. This is something I learnt afterwards, through experiences and encounters. My time at Golden Bridge Pottery in Pondicherry and Cardiff School of Art and Design in the UK were very significant in that respect.
What triggered your move from Delhi to the Himalayas?
My wife and I had planned to move to the Himalayas for a long time, and were slowly renovating a house there. Our dream was to make a spacious studio for ceramics. The trigger to actually make the move was the birth of our baby and the longing for fresh air. Last year we set up Atelier Lālmitti, our studio in the mountains, thanks to the help of a successful crowd funding project. It is many spaces in one: a studio for ceramic artists, a learning center for students, and a small pottery production space.
Tell us more about Atelier Lālmitti.
It is in the village of Andretta in Himachal Pradesh. Situated at the foot of the Shivalik hills, it is surrounded by wild trees, animals and birds. On the other side stands the beautiful Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas. The studio is a very open space and is planned in a way to include the feel of nature. I share it with my artist wife Elodie Alexandre, my daughter and my students.
We are fully equipped in terms of materials and facilities, with gas and electric kilns, a dedicated student space, a small gallery to showcase our work, potters wheels and a newly-acquired slab-roller. We use red clay, sourced locally for the most part.
How do you design a series?
Most of the time the work starts residing in my head much before I start thinking of executing the idea in the studio. Different series take different ways to come into existence. Sometimes I try to convey a simple social message through my work and sometimes a story. Other times, I am more focused on form. In general, my work process is as follows: I make notes of what I want to say, I start a visual diary, I research my topic of interest and then start working on the idea in the studio. From then on, the work might just develop in ways that I had not initially planned. Every series is a journey and takes its own course to reach a destination.
Which have been your most memorable projects?
Philadelphia Mosaic project: For many reasons, this project was a turning point in my artistic career. In 2003, I traveled to a foreign country for the first time. For six months, I worked with Isaiah Zagar, a master mosaic artist in the USA. Staying and working with an artist of his stature not only taught me about art but also about many other aspects of an artist’s life. He is a great teacher, and one of the things that I learnt from him is that if you can live your life doing what you love and what you are passionate about, then you will live a very fulfilling life.
China Museum Project: Setting up the Indian Pavilion at Fuping International Contemporary Ceramic Museum in 2013 was an ambitious project. Around 15 Indian ceramic artists were chosen to travel to China for five weeks. We stayed in a ceramic factory complex, working with some amazing fellow Indian ceramic artists towards the setting up of the contemporary Indian ceramic space. It was a great experience to work within the factory facility. I had a great time working for the museum, in the company of artists coming from different parts of India. It was a work-intensive time and we created a lot of artwork in a limited period of time.
The 1st Indian Ceramic Triennale: I was part of the Core Curatorial and Working committee of the incredibly successful Triennale held at Jawahar Kala Kendra in Jaipur from August to November 2018. It showcased the work of 47 artists from India and abroad. It was the first exhibition of this scale for ceramics in India. The work displayed was unique and set standards for the years to come.
You’re no stranger to receiving Awards. How important is recognition to an artist’s success?
It is always great to get recognized for the work you are involved with and are so passionate about. But I don’t see awards as the only parameter to judge an artist’s success. It is very important for me to be happy with my own work and I also value the opinion of some fellow artists for whom I have great respect. I would say that the Charles Wallace (India) Trust Award is on top of my awards list. For me, receiving the Charles Wallace Fellowship was the most valuable of all the awards as it allowed me to travel to the UK to gain further exposure and education. It proved to be a very significant step in my career, and a life changing experience.
How has participating in national and international shows and residences influenced your work?
International shows help you to build relationships with artists from all over the world. It’s great exposure for any artist to show their work to an international audience and to see the work of international contemporary artists working in the same medium. Artist residencies help you interact with fellow artists on a deeper level. Working in a new space throws new challenges and the environment allows you to push your own boundaries. You end up trying things that you wouldn’t have thought of doing in your own studio. Being in a residency you learn a lot just by watching other people work, as every individual has a unique way/approach to execute their work. I always enjoy discussing food, films, music, politics, local culture and several other topics other than ceramics and I learn a lot in the process, not just about art but a whole lot of other things.
How do you balance creativity with commerce?
I try not to compromise with my artwork but it is very important to be able to succeed commercially to be able to keep doing what you want to do. I teach along with my artist wife Elodie Alexandre. We run artist residencies as well as students-in-residence programs. Also, we are on our way to develop a range of pottery tableware under the name of our studio, Atelier Lālmitti. People enjoy using our tableware products in their daily life. I try to find a ‘fine balance’ between my art and the commercial aspects and what I am doing is working for me.
What has your teaching experience taught you?
Being in the teaching profession keeps you fresh, up to date and on your toes all the time. Teaching always brings new challenges and you keep learning in the process. I believe in the theory that practicing any craft form for at least 10,000 hours will make you a master of that skill. I really want my students to believe in themselves. If they are passionate about anything, never give up and take success and failure in stride, they will do well in their field.
Does ceramic art have a future in India?
I just co-curated the first edition of the Indian Ceramics Triennale (ICT) along with five fellow ceramic artists and we were amazed by the standard of the work exhibited by Indian artists for the event. Ceramic art in India has taken long to reach where it is now. There are many self-motivated artists working through different hurdles and succeeding in their endeavors. But to make a real success story for ceramics in our country, we need dedicated teaching in art schools. We need to raise the bar in that department. One of the aims of ICT was to showcase the potential and versatility of the medium and set a standard for a wider audience of students, teachers, institutions and the general public. It was a huge success, attracting over 14,000 visitors.
What are you planning next?
I have so many ideas! At the moment, I am experimenting with the idea of working with 2D and 3D and bringing my clay work and painting together. Meanwhile, I am working on developing pottery production at our studio. It is just the beginning and we have many plans and dreams for this beautiful space. This year we will be focusing on developing more tableware for Atelier Lālmitti and finding the right channels for the work. We are also focusing on a Spring-Summer teaching program for artists and students.
This article was originally published in POOL 104.
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