Charmed by ceramics

Ceramicist Xavier Manosa used to hate ceramics, but now his works are seen around the world

He may be a master ceramicist today, but Mr Xavier Manosa confesses that he once disliked the art form.

"I used to disagree with any ceramic company, with any ceramic product. I found the folkloric way of artisanal craft boring," says the 32-year-old Barcelona native, who was in town for a product launch at the Foundry showroom in Seah Street on Tuesday.

The store now distributes Spanish lighting label Marset, which includes the Pleat Box and Scotch Club pendant lamps designed by Mr Manosa.

He adds: "Basically, I hated ceramics."

This from someone who grew up in a family of potters. "My parents are ceramicists, so I spent my childhood in their workshop: after school, weekends, summer holidays, Christmas holidays," he recalls.

Gradually, however, his attitude changed. "It was a very natural thing. One day, I just realised, 'If I work with ceramics every day, maybe that means I am a ceramicist.'"

After studying industrial design in Barcelona, Spain, he moved to Berlin in Germany about nine years ago, where he started a ceramic workshop because he had the know-how.

He soon found himself making trips back to Barcelona to make use of his parents' workshop, as his own workshop was small and had fewer tools.

After three years of travelling back and forth, his parents asked him to join them four years ago. He now runs Apparatu, the family workshop formerly known as Artfoc, with his parents Joan, 65, and Aurora, 60.

He recalls a key moment when he realised that there was more to the craft than he thought.

"I remember a colourful piece that my father made when I was a kid. It was always at home and I used to think, 'That is a very ugly piece.' Then one day, I looked at the piece and said, 'Wow, that's not ugly.'"

For someone who once hated ceramics, Mr Manosa has done quite well for himself in the field.

He has worked with international brands such as Marset and Kettal, which specialises in outdoor furniture.

With Kettal, he created the Kettal Pussel design last year, which functions as a lamp, vase and candle holder.

In collaboration with the Mashallah design studio and Marset, he created the Pleat Box pendant lamp in 2011 and the Scotch Club pendant lamp last year.

His works have also been displayed at contemporary design fairs and festivals in Frankfurt, London, Mexico, New York, Stockholm and Tokyo.

His creations, which are known for their combination of different materials, do not come cheap. The Pleat Box and Scotch Club series sell from about $580 to more than $2,000.

Mr Manosa's design philosophy is to be conscious of what he does.

"You must think where you are going in your production," he says. "It's about the balance in production, aesthetics and function. When the balance between them makes sense and the material feels comfortable, that's when you have a nice object."

He derives inspiration for his pieces from the materials he works with and the process of creating the pieces itself.

For example, he was experimenting with mixing plastic and ceramic when he discovered that the fold of the silicon had a nice shape and decided to use the crease in his design. This was how the Pleat Box pendant lamps came about.

In the 10-man family workshop, he says his mother is in charge of finances and also glazes the ceramics.

"My father is the heart - he's everywhere. He's the energy of the workshop," he adds. "I'm a little bit everywhere. I'm producing but I'm also designing, which is a new department in the company."

His return to the workshop was timely, as his parents had been close to shutting it down due to declining business.

He attributes the crisis to globalisation. The rise of large companies has led to the demise of artisanal shops, he says, as small outfits cannot produce as much or as fast as the big boys.

Since his return, he has made it a point to "think about what we do. You must think about where you are going in your production".

"We're still alive now, producing ceramics in an artisanal production."

Although he has made his mark in the field, Mr Manosa, who is expecting a baby with his girlfriend, says he is still a child in his parents' eyes.

While they like his designs and are proud that he has overcome the crisis with them, he says with a chuckle: "They are always asking me, 'Please, can you do something that is possible to sell?' or 'Yeah, we love it, but is it possible that, you think, someone will buy it?'"

He adds: "When you work with your parents, you're always a baby. With your mother or father, when you get into an argument, you're not you - you're the baby who is screaming.

"It's good because you must learn to understand yourself and control your emotions."

This story was originally published in The Straits Times on March 1, 2014.