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Modern Spanish ceramics

Innovative, modern designs are lending Spanish ceramics a daring 21st-century style, as Stephen Doig discovers

Stephen Doig,

While Spanish fashion strides ahead across the world, another facet of the country’s culture has long acted as a mainstay for the global interiors connoisseur. Spanish designers excel at exquisitely crafted pottery and porcelain, perhaps unsurprisingly for a country that is the birthplace of architects Antoni Gaudí and Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, both of whom are world-renowned for their expertise in ceramics.

Tiles have long formed an integral part of Spanish aesthetic history; alongside this traditional form, the country has built up a stellar reputation in all types of ceramics, favouring local artisans and hand-painted, hand-moulded work over mass production.

Back to the future
The art of ceramic production dates back to the ninth century in Spain and reflects the country’s location as a cultural crossroads – designs incorporated Moorish and Arabic motifs and became increasingly focused on elaborate, lavish decoration and depictions of courtly Spanish life.

Today’s pieces, while they are just as evocative, are very different: modern Spanish creatives are reinventing ceramics as daring, bold materials. Madrid-born designer Jaime Hayón’s background couldn’t be further from the traditions of ceramic production – he began as a skateboarder and graffiti artist. Applying his unconventional hand to interior design, Hayón has gone on to work with some of the world’s most prestigious interiors names, including Baccarat and Moooi, and has also collaborated with the Camper shoe brand.

Pattern of behavior
In his ceramic pieces, Hayón creates traditionally shaped vases and bowls, but covers them in graphic, geometric patterns or reinterprets natural motifs such as birds into sleek contemporary pieces. ‘A piece can be based on a specific moment in history or it can be based on a technique that was done at a specific time,’ he says. ‘For example, in ceramics and porcelain, a specific time, technique or material clicks and I want to make something new with it.’

The designer’s boundary-pushing work saw him team up with traditional Spanish ceramic label Lladró on a series of surreal updates of its traditional figurines; instead of languid ladies, Hayón’s pieces offer surreal space helmets or clown faces emerging from vases. One series shows a series of graffiti-covered figurines in rabbit outfits.

Fine figures
Lladró, arguably one of Spain’s most successful exports, was founded 60 years ago but remains at the forefront of ceramics innovation. The brand was founded by the Lladró brothers in 1953 near Valencia and still employs handcraft techniques today – although exact production methods remain a closely guarded secret. The brand has always been known for its delicate figurines of maidens posing with parasols, crafted in polite pastel tones, but in recent years an energetic series of collaborations as well as new collections under Lladró’s own banner have pushed boundaries.

Style marriage
Alongside cutting-edge style marriages with the aforementioned Hayón, other collaborations range from US designer Gary Baseman to childrens’ favourite Hello Kitty. Lladró’s own work has also evolved for the 21st century into ceramics erupting with 60s-style op art, pieces bursting with parrots and faceless figures that are simply covered in a bouquet of flowers from head to toe.

Although Madrid-based Andres Gallardo is primarily a fashion designer, he has also turned to ceramics, to grand, often surreal, effect. Hugging rabbits, prancing horses, even solid porcelain bouquets and giant parrots all decorate Gallardo’s necklaces and elaborate hairpieces. His work has caught the eye of singer Lana Del Ray.

Ceramics in Spain have moved far beyond tiles and tableware; the country’s design names are demonstrating just how versatile pottery and porcelain can be.

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