The ceramicist born in Corfu, Greece and based in London Agalis Manessi, 69, creates her animals – lying dogs, alert hares – from pieces of terracotta clay which she squeezes and manipulates “until a figure emerges”. His technique is age-old majolica, in which she fires her creatures and then dips them in a tin oxide glaze solution that gives an opaque white finish. She then paints the figures with a mixture of metallic oxides – cobalt, manganese, copper – which gives soft but sometimes unpredictable hues after a second firing. The whole process, from carving to drying to glazing and firing, can take over a month for a single piece. “It’s,” she said, “an extremely ruthless process.”
But for some animal-obsessed ceramists, anthropomorphization as a sculptural approach is a goofy (and quick) joy. Katie Kimmel, 30, who has a studio in the Mojave Desert two and a half hours northeast of Los Angeles, is endlessly inspired by the slapstick interaction between her St. Bernard and her two Chihuahuas. She makes handcrafted vases, some of which have goofy dog faces, and baby animal figurines that hang on the wall: poodles, ducklings, pugs. She emphasizes their rough, boyish carelessness by using commercial clays and glazes found at mall paint pottery stores — they only take an hour or two to sculpt.
Likewise, the 48-year-old Japanese potter Koichi Maekawa believes working quickly creates a more spontaneous silhouette that captures the fast-twitch verve of an animal. From his studio in Shigaraki, Shiga Prefecture (he recently took over the family earthenware business, but spends much of his time on his own pieces), he is able to work almost as fast as a balloon artist at a children’s party. From the earth of a nearby mountain, still laden with hay and gravel, he fashions figurines inspired by the local fauna: wild boars, owls, monkeys, foxes. He glazes them with natural mineral pigments, resulting in a muted palette that contrasts with the chunky whimsy of the creatures, a characteristic that is perhaps the unifying force of this new coterie of figurine sculptors: they strive to make something raw and natural that illuminates the inner life of animals and humans. “I try to capture the moment when something is born,” says Maekawa. “Not literally, but the moment they burst into the world and make themselves known.”
Digital technology: Maiko Ando. Photo assistant: Karl Leitz. Styling Assistant: James Kerr