Exhibition : Anton Filonov
" I started by making simple things. Tea cups and cha he, mostly. And although I was only beginning, I knew I was going to make nothing but teaware. I have no other source of livelihood. I only do this and develop in this direction. "
"I was born in a northern town called Inta, near the polar Urals. It is a small town built during the Soviet Union to exile political prisoners. You may have heard the term gulag before. People here were mainly mining coal. There were many mines in Inta and all my relatives (dad, mom, grandparents, etc.) worked in these mines. Today, the mines shut down and the town is going through hard times. Nothing is produced there really and people are slowly abandoning the place.
40 kilometers from Inta there is a large nature reserve called “Yugid Va”. The name comes from the Komi language and is translated as “clean water”. It is under the protection of UNESCO. Its nature is pure and amazing, true northern beauty. But Inta itself is located in the tundra where there is nothing but swamps and permafrost.
I graduated from the best school in Inta, where I studied English and French, and generally received a good education, although I graduated with a C grade. After finishing school, like everyone else I went somewhere else to get higher education. The city I moved to is called Belgorod and it lies just 40 km away from the Ukrainian border, in the south-west of Russia. In this region, the land is completely different from where I grew. There are white chalky hills everywhere that gave Belgorod its name (lit. “white city”). In Belgorod, I saw spring for the first time. I saw flowering trees like cherry, apple, and apricot trees. This was unforgettable for me. The climate here is completely different from where I come from. I have lived in Belgorod for ten years and got used to it a little. I got used to the people also who are very different from the people of Inta. In Belgorod, I met great friends with whom I share many interests. We drink tea, go out in nature, build things with our hands, sing songs by the fire and swim naked in the rivers. I am grateful fate has placed such people around me.
I moved to Belgorod because my grandmother had an apartment there. I had no idea what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be. I studied business management. Maybe it was not the best choice, but it brought me to where I am now. Although I knew this was not what I wanted to do, I nonetheless graduated from the university with honors. But after graduation, I had to look for a job and I realized I wanted to do my own thing, not business management. At that time, I was interested in tattooing. It was a booming industry, and I tried my hand at it. I tattooed people for about 4 years. Life was hard. People were not very interested in my ideas. Most did not have enough money for interesting pieces, and I did not want to copy other people's work and churn out tasteless tattoos. I couldn’t earn a living. In 2012, I got acquainted for the first time with Chinese tea and ceramics. That was the beginning of a change.
I do not have my own studio. I work at home, in my grandmother's apartment. My kiln is on the balcony. All I really need is a table and a few shelves. Of course, the place is a mess, but it’s a creative mess.
One day, on a trip to St. Petersburg, I bought a handmade bowl in a tea shop and immediately felt like I wanted to make one myself. A friend told me to visit this girl who was doing ceramics, but it turned out learning ceramics is a long process and I did not have much time on this trip. So I never went to see her. But the desire to try stayed with me and quickly intensified. Tattooing did not meet my expectations. And after looking around a bit, I found that not many people were engaged in the production of handmade teaware. I decided this was my chance.
I saved up some money and bought my first kiln. $ 500, at that time. It was small and could only reach low temperatures. I ordered all the necessary materials on the Internet, read some stuff here and there but decided it would be much more interesting to discover ceramics by myself. This was all very exciting for me.
So I started making my first cups, came up with a seal, and tried selling them. I wanted to understand everything myself, learn from my mistakes, come up with a technique that would be my own, and avoid copying others. The same when I started experimenting with teapots. The first ones were very bad but over time, I found a technique that works, a technique I am still improving on years later. I did not want to take as a basis someone or someone's work. When I build something with my own hands, I am looking for my own reflection, my own experience.
INSPIRATION COMES WHEN I SIT DOWN TO WORK, JUST LIKE APPETITE WHILE EATING. I FIND IT BEST WHEN LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS TO THIS OR THAT PROBLEM.
In my beginnings, I practiced raku firings. This is when a red-hot piece is taken out of the kiln and placed in sawdust to combust without oxygen (for me, in a bucket with the lid closed). The effects were great, better than I expected. Each piece gave me great joy, but the smoke from the combustion rose like a pillar from the balcony. My neighbours did not like it. I live on the second floor of a ten-story building. So I had to stop.
I cannot say that other ceramists strongly inspire me. But I get spurred by the thought that they also fail sometimes and keep going.
I have no real education in ceramics. I am self-taught. I was never no one’s apprentice and decided to go this way on my own. All I knew for a start was that ceramics (and pottery) is an ancient and very important profession. People need pottery. I also knew that if clay is heated to a high temperature, it becomes hard. These were enough to get me going. From there, I followed a path that always interested me. A path full of mysteries.
I LIKE CLAY. SHE IS MY TEACHER.
She teaches calmness, diligence, and teaches to look for new ways. She is grateful and fair. Clay is a very lively material. It is incredibly rich in opportunities and is perfect for implementing new ideas. Even when making something as simple as a cup, I can choose and explore different clays, different glazes, textures, carvings, paintings, and so on ad infinitum. That attracts me very much. There is always something to learn. You just have to be patient.
My last firing, I made my teapots thin and fired high. They all cracked. I got nothing out of the kiln but shards and lessons. I need to start all over again.
Ceramics teach me not to get upset, not to get attached to things, to pay attention and be accurate. But from a larger perspective, I would say handmade ceramics teach people to love, to accept imperfection, to notice details and to think.
Of course, there are many differences between handmade and industrial ceramics. But this is not to say industrial ceramics are of lesser importance. By paying strong attention to quantity and consistency, they make it possible for everyone to eat out of a plate, drink from a cup, walk on tiles, or put money in a piggy bank. Moreover, even if everything is fine-tuned in highly efficient factories, we must remember that people, real people, ultimately carry every process and stage in this production. It is only when someone starts looking for that very special cup in which he will feel the soul that will delight his heart that handmade ceramics come in use. And here, a great number of masters strive to resolve this issue.
HANDMADE CERAMICS ARE NOT MADE FOR EVERYBODY, BUT EVERYBODY CAN FIND SOMETHING FOR THEMSELVES.
The usefulness of my creations motivates me. I like to imagine someone somewhere picking up a piece, paying attention to its touch, feeling its beauty and finding harmony somehow, and I get a special feeling out of it.
Although the importance of aesthetics in my work is unquestionable, it is always a little bit blurred. It can’t really be otherwise as the understanding of beauty changes according to each individual. I try to approach this in a variety of ways, like trying out new things and listening to people’s opinion.
I must add though that the usefulness of ceramics does not only lie in the pieces, but also in the process of making. Playing with clay is a form of therapy in itself. Anyone can gain from it. It can be crude and powerful, built from stress or necessity, or it can be sophisticated like the well-built thoughts of a sophisticated mind. Always, ceramics pieces convey a message, an emotion. They bear the mood of their creator, tell about him or her. I am always intrigued by what my ceramics tell about me."
To browse his collection, please click HERE