2.3 Evoke : Let's Talk Art
Mountain Hues on Terracotta
In partnership with Armatuer
Armatuer aims to honour the work of artisans while carrying forward cultural values that inspire their creativity. A way in which we do this is by engaging in conversations with artists from different fields and regions.
Read snippets from our chat with Shubham at Andretta Pottery – the oldest pottery studio in India. You won’t need conversation starters with Shubham, but in case you ever visit Andretta ask him about his Raku fired flute vase and favourite food from Himachal.
Illustration by Ishani Kamat
What is a usual day in your life like?
I wake up around 6am and spend a few minutes looking at the mountains from my room’s big glass windows. Then I spend a few minutes replying to emails so I do not have to worry about using the laptop throughout the day. Between 8am to 9am, I usually workout or go cycling, and then I have my breakfast. Till about 1pm, I throw clay or pack shipments or glaze pots or teach students, depending on the kind of day it is. After lunch, I nap for a while or go for a dip in the nearby waterfall when there is no time to nap. Then I teach students and work for a few more hours at the studio. I stop working after 5pm and on some days spend the evening playing my flute from a spot at the top of the staircase. It echoes the best from there.
Today I made teapots, loaded the kiln and met many interesting people. Because we have many visitors and students from different countries, I get to try authentic food made by them in our kitchen. For dinner today, we are making a Himachali chicken dish.
What are your earliest memories of pottery?
My brother, Akshay, and I grew up at Andretta’s pottery studio. Our parents never told us to stay away from mud. In fact, they encouraged us to play with it. I remember spinning Akshay on the spinning wheel and throwing clay on a wall to dry. The wall was like our playground. I also remember playing lego with tiles from blue pottery. We did not need lego sets like other kids.
The first thing I crafted from clay was a mask I made of Akshay’s face. Like any other sibling probably would, I made him close his eyes and splattered clay on his small face. Then I tried poking the clay with needles. Now I don’t remember what the mask looked like or if we ever wore it. Another thing I really enjoyed making was figurines and detailing out their features. I still make masks and figurines every now and then when I teach students at Andretta.
What is the inspiration for your art?
I remember watching my dad looking at the mountains. He always had this charm in his eyes every time he did. I understand why he did it a bit more now. Looking at the mountains is always a reminder of finding beauty and gratitude every day. And that is why it is the first thing I do every morning.
I never saw my dad worry about things like money or our future. The only thing he ever told us was to do things that made us happy. He also told us never to do ‘hard work’. This is something I found confusing as a kid because we were taught the opposite at school. My dad said working on something that makes us happy is work, and hard work is something you find hard to do. To me, pottery feels like work. That is how I know it is what I am supposed to do.
As soon as I wake up, I am excited about pottery. I love everything about it. I love that all five tatvas work together to make one pot. I love that every pot has a life cycle of its own. And I love firing a pot as much as I love breaking it. Okay, maybe I love firing pots a bit more than the other stages. The idea of letting fire take control and turning the clay into a beautiful piece of ceramic always surprises me. The hues of red you can see, when the fire gives us its best performance, are colours that do not exist anywhere else.
How does the local culture and communities influence your work?
We do not ‘give’ designs to the potters at our studio. Everything we make is from images in our heads which are formed by art around us – from unique rangoli patterns at the entrance of almost every home in Andretta, to paintings around window and door frames, to more elaborate depictions of locally celebrated festivals like Rihali. The colours of these designs are inspired by the mountains which is why you see dominant hues of green, deep blue, white and brown in our work.
Our pottery is made with Himalayan terracotta and is inspired by the designs and colours our community identifies with. This is something we have been doing since the 1980s when we started experimenting with slip designing, which in simple words is diluting clay with colours and not just browns.
Tell us about your favourite work of pottery.
There was this mug made of clay with no design on it but I broke it a few days ago!
Any specific art or artists that you love?
In India, we have pots for specific purposes and we use them every now and then. Some of us use matakas and ghadas for storing things, and some of us use them for birth and death rituals. In the Japanese culture, pots are a part of everyday life and the art of making and breaking pots is a core part of their value system. I think this is the reason I love and find inspiration from potters like Kenichi Matsuzaki.
Tell us a bit about the studio.
It is a very humble place and we are working with six potters from our community these days. The essence of the place continues to be the same as it was when it first started.
Is there anything you would like to share with people interested in learning the art or visiting Andretta?
Every time you make something, it is unique and no one else can make what you make. I do believe that making pots is in our genes and it is the second thing man did after making fire. You can become a potter at any point in life. We have students between the ages of 19 to 70 at the studio right now.
I also think that India is a great place to start pottery. There are going to be uncertainties along the way but if you know it makes you happy and you are okay with leading the life of a potter, I recommend it. Get a place in the hills and start a pottery studio!
This interview was conducted on 22 March, 2021
About Mysticeti’s friends:
Shubham Sankhyan is a potter and one of the lead representatives of Andretta Pottery studio in Palampur's Andretta Art Village (Himachal Pradesh).
Armatuer is a design studio in Varanasi. It was born out of the love for Indian craftsmen and artisans, and creates earth friendly products with traditional craft and raw material.
Ishani Kamat is a textile designer. She loves materials, graphics and prints.
From Mysticeti’s library:
Mastering Hand Building: Techniques, Tips, and Tricks for Slabs, Coils, and More by Sunshine Cobb
Potter's Bible: An Essential Illustrated Reference for Both Beginner and
Advanced Potters by Marylin Scott
Burning Tradition by Ken Matsuzaki
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