SHATTERING IDEAS OF ARTISAN CERAMICS
Xavier Mañosa has been heralded as one of Spain’s boldest ceramicists, boasting commissions from Nike, Camper, Alessi and Vitra and exhibitions in New York, Tokyo and Stockholm. His label, Apparatu, blends the primal art of ceramics with contemporary digital culture, innovative processes and a healthy dose of cultural reflection.
Text Natasha Drewnicki
Photography Stefan Jermann
When Xavier Mañosa lived in Berlin and started making ceramic figurines to sell at the Boxhagener Platz flea-market, he was unaware it would unlock a passion that was already part of his DNA.
Xavi had grown up surrounded by the warm earthiness of clay, potters’ turnstiles and kilns of his parents’ ceramics business in Barcelona, but rejected ceramics as a professional pathway until he needed a constructive escape from creative inertia.
While searching for a stable job to supplement his paltry income, he set up a pottery studio to create small, quirky ready-mades such as a traffic cone, three dimensional vase-blackboard and water balloon. “I didn’t think about the first pieces much before making them. They were quite naïve,” he says. A few months later, a London gallery invited him to take part in a group exhibition. “It all happened so fast - I felt like a rock star. From there, I made a website and started creating my own line.”
The exhibition cemented his passion and he boomeranged between the Berlin studio and his parents’ in Barcelona for a few years, but soon realized he would need a fixed base. “I realized that, to be serious about ceramics, there was still much for me to learn."
He returned to Barcelona permanently in 2009, which is when his father taught him about the alchemistic qualities of clay and suitable methods of production for different pieces. “It’s very important to find a balance where the material feels comfortable and it supports the design,” he tells me.
Working with family presents a curious dynamic. While his parents focused on traditional methods – and what sells – for the sake of practicality, Xavi is the innovator, using digital software to create molds. He often experiments with bizarre combinations of raw materials such as porcelain and silicone, a world away from the bourgeois blue and white china teacups usually associated with the material. He credits his approach to university training in Industrial Design. Mañosa has also brought other hallmarks of his generation, branding and identity, into the business, aiding its visibility in today’s global marketplace.
The Apparatu label reflects Xavi’s reductionist approach to design. The name was born from the German word “Apparat” meaning appliance, and "aparatu", Catalan for instrument - a marriage of “poorly written Catalan and poorly spoken German!” he says, jokingly.
Xavi is unexpectedly spritely for someone whose profession demands a calm hand, darting around the studio to showcase Apparatu’s various projects in progress. A mop of chestnut curls tumble over his thick-rimmed glasses as he bounces from one conversation to another with unbridled enthusiasm. The walls and floor of the studio are coated in cracked beige clay - it’s a dusty workspace, a ceramic desert. We hear a gentle clackclackclack of pots somewhere behind us.
Rustic bowls with lacquered interiors line the table. Over on the drying rack, giant disco balls appear to have been reincarnated as paper-thin, giant orbs. Several Pleat Box lamps dangle from the rafters with tightly pinched necks, ceramic interpretations of creased cloth. Pleat Box lamps are Apparatu’s best seller, he says, distributed through bespoke high end lamp-specialist MARSET and fetching well above a thousand Euros per piece.
He shudders when I ask if he would ever consider manufacturing for a large-scale corporation. Ikea, for example? “No, because that would mean producing in an automated process with extremely high units. Limited editions are an important part of the production process, giving exclusivity to the client.”
"Everything here is handmade, there is no automation. We’re artisans,” Xavi assures me, proudly. Many of the pieces are imperfect – a scratch here, a wobble or bloat there. Molds have a life cycle of eighty uses, meaning that pieces expand and change shape as the molds age.
On an industrial level, these quirks would render the pieces faulty, but in the context of an artisan workshop they only add to its authenticity, each imprinted with its own number. “Some things seem like accidents, but accidents happen because you are involved,” he says. “I am constantly thinking how to improve my work.”
Though artisan and digital methods of production might seem worlds apart, Xavi harnesses the trappings of digital life to push creative boundaries while respecting the capabilities of his medium and traditional methods of production. His work is both practical and beautiful, shattering our preconceptions of contemporary ceramics.