Mark Xuereb – Ceramics Program

I arrived at Sachaqa in March 2018 and spent a month there doing the ceramics program. As an artist I tend to work in many different media, from painting to sculpting to photography; I like to let the idea dictate the medium. Ceramics, however, thanks to its versatility has always been a favourite of mine.
Copy of Owl
After taking some courses in basic ceramics I decided to follow the methods of ancestral people, who collected and prepared their own clay rather than bought it ready for sculpting from a store. A core principle of mine when it comes to my ceramic practice is to let nature start the process.
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The artwork starts from the earth. Collecting clay directly from nature is a sort of pilgrimage which brings me closer to the earth and offers a sure footing for any artworks which might result. Once the clay is collected it is filtered to get rid of any foreign bodies such as rocks which would crack the clay once fired. After the filtration process, I mix the clay with shanyo, crushed pre-fired clay to help with the heating and reduce the risk of heat shock at the firing process. Once the sculpture is finished and is left to dry out in the sun for some days natural glazes are added and the artwork is fired.
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The ceramics programme at Sachaqa Centro de Arte has proved to be an invaluable experience to my ceramic practice. I have learned a lot about how ancestral people produce ceramics, and the special bond the artisans feel with the earth while working the clay.
Copy of Agni
Local artisans such as Patrona from the Chiriyaku village has helped me a lot as to know how to prepare the clay for sculpting, especially when it comes to mixing the shanyo and the really efficient “dance” she uses to mix it in with the clay. I have incorporated this technique in my practice back home and it really helps out. At Patrona’s I also learned the importance of placing the ceramic pieces on the fire. There is a technique as to how to place the pieces on the fire so as to avoid cracking and produce an even firing. Also, the type of wood used is also important and it was really inspirational to see Patrona effortlessly splitting logs and branches with a really heavy axe, precisely hitting the required point so as to split it perfectly. I tried it with her own axe and believe me, its way harder then it looks.
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Part of the programme was held at Chazuta, a magical village situated on the banks of the Huallaga River. This was perhaps my favourite part of the programme not only for the impeccable ceramics the produce there but also for other artisan products they produce, such as handmade paper and the delicious natural chocolate. Ceramics at Chazuta is more refined then Patrona’s. They fire their ceramics in kilns rather than directly on fires and also they tend to use more glazes, especially reds, whites and blacks. At Chazuta they have a really nice ceramics studio equipped with ceramic wheels and also a museum to highlight the ceramics of their ancestors. It was a real treat to watch the eldest of the ceramicists applying glazes on ceramics vessels, and I felt transported back in time witnessing first hand how her ancestors used to produce ceramics in the same way. At Chazuta I really learned a lot about glazing and was fortunate enough to buy some local glazes, which surprisingly work really well with local Maltese clay from home.
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Earth-built Kiln Chazuta
Another village I was fortunate enough to visit during my time in Peru was Lamas. Here they also have a strong ceramic culture with kind teachers who will go out of their way to teach you their secrets and tricks. At Lamas they thought me about the different finishes one can apply to ceramics, using different tree saps and resins to finish the ceramics in different ways, such as glossy or semi-gloss. Again I was fortunate enough to bring some of these resins back home and once again they really work well with local clay collected from home.
My experience at Sachaqa, although focused mostly on ceramics also enabled me to work on different aspects of my art. The spacious studio is really well-equipped for any artist. I especially enjoyed painting on hand-made paper bought from Chazuta and live-sketching the beautiful scenes on offer. I also got the opportunity to photograph some amazing night sky photographs, thanks in part to the lack of any light pollution.
Copy of lightninginamazon original
Time goes by at a different rate in the Amazon jungle. Life is more quiet and serene and the people you meet are all friendly and generous, going out of their way to make sure you feel at home. This experience has helped me grow as an artist, but more importantly, it has made me a better person by making me realize that life is not all about money and jobs and hard work. Life is about living in harmony with nature, the rest will take care of itself.
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