A dynamic playbook of ceramic surfaces, created by Manos Kalamenios
A soft pile of wafery, white porcelain flakes; a ceramic vessel as thin and creased as paper; a crackling crust of white as the skin of a vessel, and finally a powdery, yet firm bone-china foam, immortalized inside a cube of hue-changing dichroic glass.
These are the rich and unexpected experiences of ceramics that Manos Kalamenios offers to you through his work. All traditional perceptions of 'porcelain' or 'bone-china' are heaved-up when you come face to face with these surprising surfaces, textures, and formats of clay.
The London-based ceramicist is determined to push the boundaries of technique and materiality when it comes to ceramic–creating partnerships with varied makers, all the while experimenting with his recipe of colors and materials. Manos's background in the culinary arts, before he was drawn to the world of ceramics, fuels an organic breakdown of walls between his work and other professions. Open to inter-disciplinary outcomes, his own culinary skills and his former toolkit of instruments plays a strong role in his current studio life.
The result is a vocabulary of ceramic surfaces that you could not have ever imagined. From crackled surfaces to foam and flakes, to papery-bowls that be used or viewed as you please, and light fixtures composed of thousands of slim ceramic shards; Manos has essentially opened up the realm of ceramics to many other players, simply by playing with its physical format in so many different ways. Not content with creating static, and traditional forms, Manos' creations are dynamic and open-ended.
Read on to learn more about Manos's journey–from being a talented Chef to a celebrated ceramicist, his motivations in the studio, and his many inter-disciplinary collaborations.
MD: Manos, what first drew you to working with clay, and in turn studying Ceramics at the Royal College of Art (RCA)?
Manos: I was a chef for 14 years. Since I first became a chef, one of my ambitions was to work for the Four Seasons hotels. After I had achieved this in London, it was time for me to move on, and do what I always dreamed of since I was a child–which was to make things with my hands.
After the Four Seasons in Canary Wharf, I moved to the Isle of Man, where I started the foundation course in art and design at the then Isle of Man College. Through that course, I got hooked onto ceramics and the endless potential and possibilities of the material. Through ceramics, I continued exploring the material (clay) further through my BA in Fine Art, in association with John Moore University in Liverpool. Here I received a first class degree with honors and was selected as one of the top 9 students at the university in 2012, and so my ambition became larger. It was then that I decided to do an MA, at the Royal College of Art in London.
MD: Your work challenges the pristine, perfect forms that one associates with bone china and porcelain. From flakes of porcelain and bone china 'foam,' to uneven, crumpled and weathered surfaces–what makes you want to innovate with these materials in such way, and generate these unlikely formats?
Manos: For me, it is not about the finished product, but all about the journey always, and exploration through the material. While most designers and makers have decided what they want as the end product or piece of work, for me it is the opposite. I thrive in experimentation and the mixing of materials and chemicals which are not usually compatible, and which often leads me to new findings.
Textures and patterns are also crucial for me, and using techniques and processes which are unorthodox in the ceramics environment can lead me to new and exciting outcomes.
I was never interested in traditional pottery, or the standardization within doing things the way they have always been done.
MD: Manos, aspects of your former role as chef sometimes enter into your studio life. What do you draw into your current work with ceramics, from that experience?
Manos: I always use kitchen tools and some of my old tools from when I was a chef. They are with me in my ceramic studio. I always look out for new instruments in culinary shops where I used to shop as a chef, rather than in ceramic shops. I find that using unconventional tools with ceramics can provide the most exciting outcomes. Sometimes I even use cooking ingredients in my ceramic recipes–as odd as it might sound–since you do get odd but very interesting results!
MD: In addition to clay–as bone china and porcelain–you have incorporated paint, resin, metal and recently dichroic glass into your projects and collaborations. How crucial are these partnerships between clay and others materials for your work? What other materials are you interested in experimenting with, in the near future?
Manos: Incorporating other materials into my ceramics is of as much importance as mixing different chemicals. Adding another material to a ceramic piece gives the piece a new dimension, and it doesn't feel static anymore. Also, there is always an interesting dialog between materials that takes place then. There are so many other materials I want to try and incorporate–wood, leather, brass, stone and concrete, to name a few.
MD: Your recent collaboration with Fenella Osborne is a fabulous union of two unlike materials–Dichroic Glass and Porcelain flakes. Tell us about this project.
Manos: Being classmates at the RCA with Fenella, we spent a lot of time together– almost every day in a challenging and demanding environment. We both loved each other's work and were always intrigued with each other's outcomes. Both of us had this desire to see how bone china foam looks through dichroic glass, or how the reflection of light looks through the dichroic glass on porcelain and much more.
The first piece we collaborated on, was created when we were told back at the RCA that we would have a wall between our work during the final show. We decided that we didn't want something to divide our work, but to bring the space together and that piece took pride of place between our individual works–bringing unity into the space and no separation. This is just the beginning of our collaboration, and there is more to come. So do look out for it!
MD: Tell us about your recent work for the 'Peaks project.'
Manos: I knew the creators of 'Peaks' Konstantinos and Oliver from the RCA, and it started out as an exchange of skills, which led to my involvement in "Peaks."
For our readers, from the creators of 'Peaks':"Peaks is a project born from a simple desire to explore process, materials, and collaboration. We have been investigating the aesthetics of the landscape and have become drawn to the physical presence of mountains with their destructive and constructive qualities. We have created sections of mountainous regions, each of which is unique and can work as an object in its own right or be tiled up to be part of a larger reimagined land."
MD: The Amoeba patterns–with their blend of many hues–have taken many forms in your work over time. Tell us about this continuing theme for you.
Manos: My previous work was very simple and held no more than two colors–mainly white with gold. Since my thesis at the RCA (about color theory and the effects color can have on us), I started color research which took me two months to do initially, but I continue to add colors to my research. So with so many colors at my disposal, over 300 as we speak, the combinations are endless. For me, it has always been about applying the Amoeba treatment to as simple a form as possible.
MD: Your works are both art and sculpture, and usable products at once. How do these two roles–functional and aesthetic–play a role in your making process?
Manos: I always look to the idea of dual functionality. I don't like the idea of one or the other. I'm not a big fan of "this is functional so it shouldn't be art" and vice versa. I don't like the idea of having to tell the viewer what it is and what it is used for.
I love it when people come to me and see things and uses I have never thought about! My favorite is my crumpled vessels from the installation "It is all Greek to me" which are being used currently in Japan for tea ceremonies! How cool is that?!
MD: What are you working on next–projects, exhibitions, collaborations?
Manos: At the moment I'm working on some new work for Ceramic Art London, which is at the end of March this year. In the meantime, I am working on a new light design "Flios" and looking into adding some color to my earlier "Fos" light design. I am hopeful that both will be ready in the next couple of months. I am also looking to further develop my bone china foam; I enjoy working on more than one project at the same time.
Going forward, one thing is for sure–testing and researching will be my priority as it is the core of my practice. I also know as an ex-chef, how difficult it is to have new exciting pieces to display your food on or in, and this is also a project I'm working on, but more will be revealed in due course. Finally of course collaborations, as much as I love working on my own in my studio, I am always available for new collaborations with like-minded people, not necessarily in the domain of ceramics, in fact, the more unusual the material combination, the better!
MD: Thank you so much Manos, for sharing your work and process with us! Readers you can see more of Manos' work here.