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Open day gives insight into ceramic art

Pics by Eyleen Gomez

Tucked away by the Dockyard is a ceramic studio, owned by Ermelinda Duarte who is raising more and more awareness into the art of ceramics, be it pottery or sculptures.

She hopes to bring more people into the world where imagination, skills and a small element of the unknown meet.

In a bid to raise that awareness she held an open day at her studio last week.

Among her visitors that day was the Mayor of Gibraltar and principal of GAMPA Christian Santos and GAMPA’s vice principal Tanya Santini.

“There is no ceramic studio in Gibraltar and so people get a feel for what a ceramic studio looks like,” she told the Chronicle.

Following her degree in ceramics Ms Duarte returned to the area and since then built up a reputation for herself winning a variety of competitions.

Two years ago she started work on what she calls her biggest ‘art installation’ the creation of her ceramics workshop.

Now stands the studio with bright white walls, a large gas kiln in one corner, a throwing wheel (pottery wheel) in another and row upon row of much needed shelving.

It is here where Ms Duarte spends many hours a day working on a new collection or her latest project, as well as teaching young children the art.

The shelves are stacked with different pieces, including one section full of her latest exhibition ‘Diversity’ her first tableware collection that is currently for sale. Other shelves have either finished products or greenware, which is a piece before it has been fired.

Greenware is then bisque fired which is the first firing of the clay in the kiln and the process transforms raw greenware clay into ceramic material. The product is then glazed and fired again.

Glazing can be difficult as the artist cannot tell how the end product will turn out.

“Imagine when you are trying to create something you can’t really tell the colours until it is fired. It is really, really difficult and on top of that they are normally a pastel tone white colours. Sometimes colours look the same when you apply them but when they dry they are not the same,” she said.

“One of the really exciting things, even though it can mess your work up, the glaze is like the alchemy. You do not know what will happen. It is the chemistry and what will happen to these elements when you have fire.”

“Even though you have an idea of what it is supposed to be it is not going to be 100%,” she added.

She explained that an electric kiln gives a more even colour but that also means the piece is missing different effects that occur in a gas kiln.

As a result of where the heat is hitting the piece the tone of the glaze can change even though the same colour glaze has been applied. This is what gives every one of her pieces a unique characteristic and this is a factor she cannot plan or prepare for.

As a result every piece has a surprise element.

“The whole process is quite long as you have to be experimental,” she noted.

Experience and knowledge goes a long way in the career of a ceramic artist and Ms Duarte laments a little over the fact there are not more experienced artists on the Rock that she can learn from.

While she has a degree in ceramics simply having a qualification does not mean you have the skills, there is still a lot of talent involved. Less so when throwing something on the wheel when compared to creating a sculpture.

One piece she is working on is a bust of a woman which took her two weeks working every hour of the day she was not sleeping. She created this piece for herself with her father in mind, who was also a sculptor and had passed away a few years ago. She did not chisel away at a block of clay instead she used the coils where she rolled out the clay and built the bust from the base upwards, using ‘scaffolding’ to hold it in place in the process.

“As clay dried it shrinks. It has a 5-10% shrinkage. I do a few layers then let it dry a little so it’s hard enough to hold the next few layers,” she said.

“If I let it dry it would crack. So when you do something like that it is going to take time.”

“You also have to be really conscious of the bottom and see how it is going and then at the end you have to watch for the details, such as if it dries too much you can’t go back. So it is a race against time and there is a construction to it.”

“That is why I say maybe not everybody can do this, because of the type of construction you need to work out and you need to have the hands [the talent] to do it. I can show you but that’s it. It is like any kind of art you either have that flowing thing or not,” she added.

The piece has been bisque fired and needs glazing, which she is doing with a transparent glaze and will apply it using a spray gun so that it is even all round.

While the children's lessons are continuing she hopes to offer adult classes in the future too.

For more information on Ms Duarte’s work go to Facebook page or on Instagram at @duarte.ermelinda

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