Walking into Magdi and Cătă’s workshop I quickly discovered the language they “speak” in…
Dozens of ceramic pieces in warm colors, some with no paint on them at all, placed on wooden shelves. All around you can see tools, still dusty from the process; crockery, patiently waiting for the finishing touches.
While Cătă is sitting calmly behind the potter’s wheel, spinning a piece of clay, Magdi, with a smile on her face, fashions one of the pieces that are to become a part of the “Blid” collection they are both working on. Amid this creative atmosphere, their friendly dog, Otto, greets me with a slab of wood he must have found laying around.
This cozy space, filled with positive energy makes up the world of these two talented creators at LUT.
Ever since she was a child, Magdi was fascinated with art. After she went on to study ceramics, she discovered that this was what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. The hour-long walks behind the school building, with a piece of clay in her hand, looking for the right texture, helped her identify what later became a central aspect for her pieces.
You can observe with her mugs, the difference of texture between matte and shiny. To her, it matters a great deal how the object feels in your hands… and that’s where it all started.
“I believe ceramics is more of a road than a destination. There were moments when I would sit behind the wheel with a lump of clay and no plan in mind, without keeping track of the time, and for some reason, that felt so good. There is an old saying that goes like this: ‘Center the clay, and then let it center you’.”
1. Having done this all of your life, are there ever times when it feels monotonous?
It is very difficult to get bored of making ceramics. It’s everywhere! It’s used in technology, even in research at NASA and in many other fields.
I studied artistic ceramics. However, when I started to make functional objects, it felt like I had hit a wall. I would get sidetracked by things that went wrong, like when my glaze would crack, without me having any idea why. I was so annoyed that I burst out: “That’s it! I’m quitting this! I’ll take a job as a cashier or something.”
While ceramics is a great hobby, it can be frustrating if you aren’t able to make a living out of it. And it is terribly difficult to do so.
The truth is that stubbornness is what kept us both here. I always knew that I would pursue this no matter what. I would sometimes throw in the towel and say that I’m gonna give up, but I never truly meant it.
2. How did you two start working together?
We met during University. Cătă was studying Graphics and I, ceramics. After we graduated, we opened a workshop with 2 other friends, but now it’s just us. You see, ceramic art is like a bug that gets underneath your skin… once you start, it’s hard to give it up. It got under Cătă’s skin too.
We kept rethinking our brand and our workshop concept and we came to the way things are today. So yes, we work together because Cătă too realized how great working with clay really is.
3. How does the graphics element go with ceramics?
They go together very well. Cătă loved sketching out the ideas, illustrating them even, while I would make the actual ceramic piece.
Along the way, he got a bit bored with drawing and began to “steal my craft”, which makes me happy! I was brought up in this field and so I have always followed strict rules but Cătă did not. I would often tell him: “You can’t just do that!” And he would say “Really? Why not?! Let me try it!”. The truth is that most of the time his ideas were a success even when it came to things I was taught would never work. So, I learned to have courage, whilst being more and more curious to try new things.
This is when I learned that being fixed in your ways is not a solution. Discoveries aren’t made by following a rule set, but by venturing into the unknown. After we bought our first ceramic kiln (oven), we began to try all sorts of things. After we fired the first experimental batch, we spoiled about 4 combustion plates. It was quite fun and satisfying because in university we would be in great trouble for something like this!
In the end, what we look for when creating our objects is simplicity and authenticity. A good design must be timeless!
4. What is the concept behind the Blid collection?
We wanted to make this first collection to be as simple as possible. We thought back on the times we went to visit our grandparents in the countryside, and how authentic everything about them was. We each had one plate for all the different types of food and one cup regardless of what we were drinking. That’s where we started. I don’t like it when a cup is full to the brim, it makes me feel as though I’m suffocating! That’s why the cups in this collection are bigger so that if you have a hot drink inside you can grab it from the top without burning your fingers.
We want the pieces to be straightforward, inexpensive and easy to produce. They should cleanse your vision and not have too many accessories that would otherwise catch your eye. In short, ceramics should give you a sense of calm.
5. How do you manage to incorporate your signature style in each piece whilst keeping consistency throughout?
It’s hard to say because now, making ceramics is in trend. Everyone is doing it!
When we started we didn’t have a lathe or a potter’s wheel. Circular shapes are hard to make. What we would do to keep shape consistency was to go to the store and find a recipient that we liked in terms of shape, a bottle we thought was nice, and we would use them as molds to make a cast and we worked from those. It took many steps and we kept rethinking and reshaping things, tweaking here and there. We take into consideration things like size and how it feels when you hold it in your hands. Our signature so to speak comes into play with texture; the matte parts versus the shiny glazed ones and the missing handle.
6. What is the idea behind this texture difference?
I think it makes you feel more present. Even with something as plain as the act of drinking water, when you hold the cup in your hand, the texture makes you aware of the cup and therefore anchors you in the present moment. Not everyone identifies with our approach to texture. To some people, it feels like scratching a blackboard with your nails. No two people are the same and that is a good thing! We must embrace our differences.
7. Do you have clients that identify with what you make?
Perhaps what we do is a little more niche. Our products are a bit more expensive, but our clients understand that. Whenever I meet them they tell me that they drink their coffee from their cup every morning. That makes me so happy!
8. Was it your passion that became your work, or rather your work that leads to passion?
My passion became my work, and I have to say, along the road I’ve lost some of it. There are a lot of challenges and frustrations when it comes to having a business in Romania, especially with something like ceramics, that isn’t always predictable in its outcome. So, for sure it all came from a place of passion that turned into work. Now it’s all about finding the balance.
9. Did you ever make an object that didn’t turn out the way you wanted but the client still loved it?
This happens often for ceramic artists because they are perfectionists. They have the perfect shape thought out in their minds, but usually, the outcome is not quite that. There are many variables… even the part of the oven you fire them in can completely change your end result.
We had an order once for an ash urn and a small tombstone for a dog. It was early on in our practice, we didn’t have a kiln (oven), but we started to sketch it out. The colors dripped and blended, the object got deformed… it didn’t look good at all! We called the client to apologize. In the end, we gave it to him the way it was, but free of charge since we weren’t pleased with how it turned out. To our surprise, he liked it very much. He explained to us that it doesn’t need to be perfect like in the picture, he assured us that he understood how unpredictable the creative process can be.
10. Do you want to pass down your craft?
Yes! Most definitely! We don’t believe in competition, but you should always want to be extraordinary. To whoever comes to our workshop to ask for some help or some tips, we give those wholeheartedly. I truly believe that there is room for everybody, and we have no problem sharing our “secrets” about how we do things. We should be kind to one another.
We plan on doing some workshops soon. Until now we worked with cafes, but so often we get calls from people who just want to come over and work on their own mug or such. We welcome them! But we do want to make this more of an organized activity, and not just a sporadic one. Even though this would help us financially too, it is the giving and the passing down of what we learned that gives us joy.
I am certain of the fact that craftsmanship is something that will be known and appreciated by the generations to come. There is another saying: “A craft will keep you from going hungry but it won’t make you rich either!”. Surely there will be people that will appreciate these kinds of things, that will pass them on. It will never die.
Art has no beginning or end but is a straight line that rides the dawn of time. People like Magdi and Cătă have managed to give shape to simplicity and calm within their unique creations.
Throughout the generations, and through the eyes and hands of different people, ceramics will live, no matter the form it will take.