Abbas Akbari (1971 - Tehran)
Ph.D. in Research in Arts, School of Fine Arts: University of Tehran
Solo Exhibition :
Group Exhibitions :
The Fish in Attarha's House
Reading Archaic Texts
Looking For Arash
in Pursuit of Peace
Muhammad Ibn Abi
The Iranian ink,
in search of concept
The Fish in Attarha's House
It was late 1997 when I started
making the first sample of this collection. At that time, I had also
started my first experiences in teaching art. I had some art classes
held in the Faculty of Fine Arts, Tehran University which continued
till the end of 2000. At that time, I could not use the experience to
produce new wroks. Contrary to those days, work and life in Attarha’s
House, an old and big monument located in Kashan, was quite different.
A number of classes including pottery workshops were held at this monument.
I had the chance to start this project. The motive behind this collection
was not to add to my individual works. I thought I am teaching and working
in the neighborhood of the well known and history old Sialk Hills, I
should do something and revive pottery in this city. Modern pottery
in Iran has never been active as before and I wanted to do something
to break the ice. The solitude, peace, and silence of the House with
the soft and silent movement of small red fish in the big blue pool
in the dark of the night all ignite the imagination and energize body
and soul to work and pour out the inspiration in a piece. I seized the
chance and started the project. This collection is an attempt to use
traditional methods of pottery for producing and expressing aesthetic
forms. This change was made possible by manipulating traditional methods
of pottery making. The name of the collection- “ the fish in Attarha’s
House”- also reflects and respects the significant role and form
of fish in the Iranian art forms especially pottery which has been well-discussed
and documented in different sources.
Working in Attarha’s House for years, my first wish was to drain the blue pool in the House and fill it not with water, rather with hundreds and hundreds of small red fish. The idea was not to follow the new practices and trends of modern art including arrangement movement. The whole project was to express my indebtedness to Iranian traditional pottery and architecture.
This publication was made possible by sincere support and help of doctor Mohammad-Taqi Khaleqiyeh who is active in the production of industrial ceramic.
Reading Archaic Texts
This collection "
Reading Archaic Texts" is an attepmpt to use handwriting as a
subject and means of creating works of art independent of its nature
and use in caligraphy though such attepmts are not unprecedented in
different branches of modern arts both in Iran and other countries.
In general, handwriting serves different functions in works of art;
1- Caligraphy; handwriting is used aesthetically used to express a meaningful content. Different types and techniques in caligraphy reflect this use of handwrting.
2- Decorative use; handwriting is used of onamentatal purposes. This usually ignors the content and meaning of the words used and the whole work of art is basically decorative.
3- Expressing word concepts; in this category handwriting is used to express the concepts embeded in each word along with its decorative aspect of handwriting. As expressing the meaning is of paramount importance, the work should be legible which leads to a light visual effect of handwriting.
For me, handwritng served none of these functions as I found no interest to replicate them. These functions have been overrused in graphics and other visual arts. In addition, using handwriting just for decorative purposes is ignoring its potential in improving the quality of works of art. In sculpture, handwriting has been used to arrive at an aesthetic expression of concepts, though one can better express and transfer concepts and meanings in literature than in visual arts as literature and caligraphy- at least in Iran- are more interconnected and integrated. This is why caligraphy is much more successful when applied in literature than sculpture.
My contact with different tablets especially cuneifrom tablets and the feelings and reactions I had in seeing them in different museums, created a sense of awe and wonder in me. I have never been able to read them. Nor have I tried to learn reading them because I thought knowing the meaning of these cuneiforms and signs would disambiguate them to me and could result to a very normal reaction to them. The tablets were special to me and I prefered to continue looking at them as a piece of mystery. I liked the sense of mystery around them. To me, the words and texts in these tablets are wrapped in a mythical halo. It was this sense of mystery around every tablet that motivated me to recreate and revive the same feeling in the viewers.
Most viewers are always attracted to the visual beauty of these tablets and are less concerned with the mystical sense they can create. In this series of works, I have tried to recreate a sense of suspence in the viewer and encourage them to ask themselves if these forms are meaningful or just a beautiful arrangements. I thought the viewers by seeing these three-dimensional forms may doubt about the meaning of these froms as mere arrangements or meaningful forms.
My interest in the study of the relationship between handwriting and myths when I was a student and my further work and experiences with different handwritings all contributed to these series of works which are differnet from my earlier works.
I could not convince myself to create some works that are just visually attractive. In creating these works, I could not ignore the fact theat language is completely structured at all levels of sounds, words, and structure and one cannot work with handwriting without considering its basic fucntion, that is, expressing meaning.
In designing three-dimensional forms I considered some gemetric principles. I designed them in four different sizes so that the smaller sizes could be embeded in the larger ones. Inspired by the letter ( ) which is the only Persian cuneiform letter that can be attached to other letters, I made different compositions and arrengemnents. Besides these, I though of using bare mud-bricks and mud bricks with cuneiform letters carved on them. Together, they could hlpe better signify the importance of the emptiness in the bare mud-bricks
I used and applied these elements of handwring in pottery and ceramic due to my interest and work experiences with this material. This could integrate a different forms of traditional art and create a new form and novel perspecive which can be a step forward in expressing and creating a work of art. This is in line with my previous work "The fish in Attarha's House".
In some works of this collection I also experienced using another form of art-photography- in the form of photo plates beside cuneiforms each with a different functions. These works show the potentail of each form of art in being integrated with other forms to create the same form.
Some of these works- 3 works- were exhibnited in the Fourth Biannual of Iranian Sculpture in the summer 2005. This book is a collection of my previous works and some new ones. Having all the works in one collection may be a good answer to the question repeatedly asked by studnets of art, "What is the role and position of traditional art in modern art?" The book is my concrete answer embodied in these forms of art rather than a philosophical debate. It is what we actually need as an answer. This is what we need in art. The book suggests one possibility in integrating and expressing the traditional forms of art in modern art.
Kashan, Fall 2006
There exist some signs among the variety of motifs in pottery artworks and remains of prehistory Iran that indicate Iranians were interested in the “sky”. The remains found in Sialk, Gian Hill, Shush, Bakon Hill are just few examples. In spite of some visual developments after Islam, “sky” has continued to reflect itself even in contemporary modern works. The most noticeable of these is an abstract form of sun face known as LadySun in pottery works. This form is pre-historic. Presence of such heavenly bodies is not limited to pottery. It is integrated with other aspects of culture. In Iranian mythology, Fereydoon is a mythical king who looked at the stars. Keikhosro, another mythical king, looked at a globe known as Jame-e-Jam (a symbolic globe that shows the universe) to observe the heavenly bodies. Ferdowsi believed Jam-e-Jame is a symbolic globe:
It informs the king about all that exist; the turning Sun and the bright Moon.
There are some more indications in Iranian mythology. After a long battle in the fields, Keikavoos is another Iranian king who decided to fly to the skies on a coach carried by four giant eagles to explore the globe and the skies. Fredosi tells this story in his epic;
There is one great work to attach your name to eternity
What is the secret about the sunrise and sunset?
What is this moon? What is behind the mystery of days and nights?
Studying prehistoric traditions and beliefs, we can easily see the significance of “sky” in Iranian culture. Among them, Mitraism is the most known tradition wherein the sun is born with a globe in her hand. This is why it appears as the godess of time. In Zoroatrianism, one belief is that there is a connection between spirituality and the universe. In some sayings of Zoroaster, there is a clear indication of such connection,” I ask you Ahura! Tell me who takes care of the Earth (down here) and the skies (up there)?”
Even in Islam due attention is paid to the skies and heavenly bodies. There is a Surah (chapter) in Quran named “The Sun”. God swears to The Sun, “(swear) to The Sun and its rise and (swear) to The Moon that comes after the bright Sun. And (swear) to the day when the world becomes bright and (swear) to the night when it gets dark and (swear) to the high sky and he who has erected it.
Such indications may be found across civilizations, beliefs, traditions, and cultures. Man’s respect for the universe and the world is not rooted just in religion. Astronomy as a branch of science, even in its early stages, could help man better understand the world. All nations have contributed to our understanding of the world in the course of centuries. Astronomy allows us to see how vast the universe is. Using modern technologies, man has been able to extend his knowledge of the universe on a very regular basis. The more we learn about the universe, the more questions arise. Probably we may never reveal the hidden secrets of the universe. Hafez, the great Iranian poet says,
What is this high simple colorful roof? Nobody has a way to its secret.
Such stanzas show how little we know about unknown things in the universe. Also, they provide a way to express the awe we feel by the vastness of the universe how weak and fragile man is compared with the vastness of the universe. Khayyam says,
We are toys and the world is the player.
This is literally true not figuratively.
Religious beliefs, scientific knowledge, and artistic expressions are all ways to understand and interpret the universe. Poets, painters, sculptors, photographers and other artists have created lots of works about the universe. They have all tried to use the possibilities in their medium of expression to express their understanding the whole universe. In spite of the limitations in any medium, great artists have been able to show the depth and complexity of the universe in their work. This may not be as easily achieved by scientists, if ever.
To me, creation of artworks is a logical way to express my thoughts and feelings as developed in the course of ten years living under the blue skies of Kashan. Among different materials, I chose pottery for my experience with creation of statues. Also, wheel pottery with its turning wheel is symbolically very similar to the universe orbiting around a circle
On the other hand, ceramic could lend itself to reduced glaze application. Moreover, unique visual characteristic of ceramic better suited the subject of the works. Actually, the idea of producing all these works started with an inspiration I got by making a small globe with a turquoise blue reduced glaze which symbolically represented the sky to me. I took the idea further and extended my small globe to the vast globe up there in the skies. I made several slanting clay vessels and glazed them with special reduced glaze. The result was like a piece of heavenly body that represented the turning skies and heavenly bodies. These statues are all pottery works made in the tradition of using clay in pottery rather than statues made of clay. Basically, they are pottery works not sculpture. This is why these works seem to serve a dual function; practical and visual though the visual function dominates the practical one. Even the slanting vessels are not functional anymore. another reason I produced the works as ceramic is the long history of using heavenly forms and shapes in Kashan ceramic tradition. Even the reduced glaze used is rooted in its use in the long history of Kashan pottery not just for its visual advantages. This could also help revitalization of pottery and ceramic in Kashan which is sadly a forgotten and dead art during the last decades. The names I chose for these artworks also reflect different names in Kashan, a reminder of the importance of Kashan in ceramics and pottery though naming may play a visual role for any piece of art work. It is not just a name decided on the basis of its literal meaning.
A proverb in Farsi says, “no matter where you go the sky is of the same color.” Apparently, the proverb justifies why we may stay in a certain geographical location rather than moving to other places. I do not really think this is the case. The sky differs from one place to another. For me it is the sky of the place that attracts me rather than its soil. The sky is different in different regions. I know different moons as there are different suns. After a decade living and working in Kashan I find its sky more interesting than its soil.
Jame-e-Jam is Jam-e-Jam. It is the globe Keikhosroo looked into. Jam-e-Jam is made of soil but not about soil. It is for the sky. In Jam-e-Jam the sky is not in the sky. The sky is on the ground. Sky color is different from one place to another. In Niasar, the sky is a vastness of turquoise –blue, in Golestaneh it is depth of blue, in Qohrood it is a vastness of bright blue and in Kashan it is the color of a dream.
Creation of dreams
Abbas Akbari is a sculptor who writes poetry by using cheap clay. He ignites imagination and draws our attention to soil, water, fire, wind, the skies, and the galaxies. In his workshop, he is like Khayyam the poet and the astronomer who says;
He who subtly wrought me into shape
Should stamp me back to common soil again
Abbas Akabari makes use of the four elements and creates a world similar to what Khayyam created in his poetry. He manipulates the turning universe and the world. In his works, he tries to look back at the art history of old Persia. In one of his collections “Reading Archaic Texts” the cuneiforms he used were similar to the Achaemenids arrows and daggers. They were the building blocks of this collection. Some of these large scale works are installed near the entrance of Museum of Ancient Iran
Philosophy of existence and legacy of his ancestors destined him to work with clay. During the last twenty years, he has continued to work within the mainstream traditional Iranian arts. His previous collection, "the Fish in Attarha's House" which included hundreds of hanging fish helped him realize his dreams which depended on the stars and the sunrise and sunset hanging up there among heavenly bodies.
His trips to different corners of Iran and his engagement with research and teaching in Kashan with its popular blue tiles led him to pottery and ceramics which has continued up to now with no sign of abating. His focus on studying and learning more about making clay, working with clay, and using different techniques of firing helped him develop deeper understanding of the whole processes of pottery. He tried to uncover the mystery of Zrrinfam glaze, a very popular luster glaze in Kashan pottery tradition.
There exist different techniques of making luster. One such technique is clay paste which is controversially associated with different countries such as Iran, Iraq, and Egypt as its country of origin. Some claim it was innovated by Iranian potters and alchemists who could not turn cupper to gold instead they changed cheap clay to a rainbow of shining colors including gold. Masterpieces of Zarrinfam earthenware was found in Kashan, Gorgan, Ray, and some other cities. Some of these pieces are displayed in International museums such as Victoria Albert in London. There is an invalueable collection of Zarrinfam earthenware of Gorgan (known as Jorjan by Arabs). Oliver Watson, Richard Etinghauzen and other experts have emphasized the significance of Zarrinfam earthenware of Iran.
It is worth noting that the oldest artworks in Iran were made of clay pottery. Tools, houses, castles, and even cities were made of clay. Clay abounds in different colors all over Iran. The first paintings in Iran appeared on pottery vessels. The first Iranian alphabet also appeared in clay. Sadly, we cannot read them today.
Iranians used colorful bricks and tiles and mastered the art of architecture. By using color and lines, they turn the still lifeless walls into vibrant orchestrate. Iranians were masters of pottery and tile making. Among several Iranian cities such as Kashan, Ray, Saveh and other cities, Kashan has always been in the forefront. The creative potters of Kashan with 8000 of history in their background had great influence on the potters in neighboring cities and areas; Tisfoon, Gorgan, Ray, and farther cities such as Baghdad, Cairo, Qirvan in Tunisia, and cities in Spain. This can be clearly observed in Mihrabs of mosques in these cities. Fortunately, Pottery and ceramics is taught in Kashan and its academic centers. Abbas Akbari plays an important role in teaching and practicing them in one of these centers in Kashan. Iranian alchemists were among the first group of Middle East scholars who studies chemistry. They named the discipline that is known as chemistry all over the world today. They discovered and introduced many chemical substances such as alcohol, sulfuric acid, formic acid, and a number of many more chemicals to the scientific community of the time.
Potters like alchemists discovered new techniques for glazing and painting on pottery. Their work is still difficult to imitate and copy. This is in spite of all the developments in tools and new chemical materials that enable precise control and measurement of temperature. With all these new facilities and equipments reproducing the old shining surfaces has not been achieved yet. Iranian potters could produce Zarrinfam vessels 900 years ago by using cheap soil, cupper nitrate, silver nitrate, water, fire, and wind.
Luster glaze pottery is very popular in the modern world. All over the world, in different continents there are artists who are using their skill, innovation, and creativity and develop their own experience. They use a variety of options by considering the material, techniques, and instruments, with different results.
In an exhibition in 2012 in Switzerland –Reflection- 17 ceramists from different countries- England, Spain, Switzerland, Iran, France, Australia, France, Hungary, Iraq, Eygpt, Turkey, Japan, and India displayed their works. Abbas Akbari's work was solid and unique. Control over the form of objects and vessels, the type of glaze used, and the mysterious mythical colors were the main features of his works.
Key factors in luster statues include the type of glaze used, duration of firing, experience of the ceramist, and the most important of all chance.
Multiple firing in luster glaze and opening the kiln to see the results is the most exciting moment to the long process. The artist uses the pottery wheel-invented thousands of years ago by Iranians- or his hands or a mold to shape the work. After the work dries, it is fired and turned into biscuit. This is followed by glazing and one more firing. Finally for luster glazing, clay paste technique is used to cover it with silver nitrate and cupper nitrate which is fired at a temperature lower than reduction temperature for the last time. All these processes may differ from one artist to another in terms of the type of glaze, the clay used, reduction technique, and firing temperature.
Abbas Akbari makes use of electric kiln, gas kiln, and wood kiln in his works. The wood kiln is used for reduction which produce more metallic surface of the final work. Wood can be controlled by half-burn in certain temperature and make smoke which releases some nitrate in the glaze leading to the metallic surface of the work. In luster glaze, clay paste is preferred because it is more exciting for the artist. After taking the works out of the kiln, the soot that covers the works is cleaned and the artist can see the metallic surface of the final work. There is no guarantee the final work is what expected. This first port resembles Alla-Din Light”. The colors obtained on the surface of the works are the results of reduction in metals. They reflect different lights when glazed. They form a rainbow. They are gold, silver, dark blue and sky blue which all add to the fantasy of the pottery. As France Hamoos states they are like butterfly wings and fairies, like the reflection of colors and lights when oil is poured over the surface of water.
Producing pottery works with Zarrinfam glaze is a complex and sensitive process which calls for a lot of care, experience, time, and money with results that are not predictable. I have seen Abbas Akbari working hard to produce ideal pieces. At times he works round the clock to get what he wants. He is difficult to satisfy. He throws any piece he doesn't like, though no defects can be found by the layman eyes. He gives pieces of his works for free to others.
I have some pieces of his work here with me in this part of the world in my studio. Greg Dolly sees them like angels of light. They empower me with the yellow green blue color, familiar motives and smiling faces. With the reflection of sun light form my studio window a shining light of the pieces is beyond imagination. A piece made of the dark brown soil of Kashan brings so much light to my studio and I forget the scenery of the deep sea in front of my studio. Abbas Akbari can be the pioneer among potters and ceramists who are trying to revive Iran pottery after Safavid Dynasty and bring it to the forefront of modern art and international museums such as Victoria Albert Museum and Metropolitan Museum.
Hadi Hazave-ee, Ph. D.
New York, 2012
It is a pleasure to be invited to introduce a book by a master of the art of ceramics. Abbas Akbari is certainly a master, for he has many skills that are seldom found all together in one person: not only the traditional shaping of clay on the wheel, the making of moulded forms and hand-building sculptural forms, but also the knowledge of the composition of clays and glazes, and the understanding of materials. He has experimented with tools, equipment and production methods of many different kinds; he is an expert in the design and practical construction of kilns and has wide experience of the various processes of firing. His head, hand and heart work together. He combines a deep appreciation of tradition with a visionary imagination and he has the ability to communicate his enthusiasm to others and to bring out their talents.
It is rare to find a man who understands so well the balance between tradition and innovation. New things are generated by tradition and without the example of those that have lived before us, we today would be naked, unable to achieve anything worthwhile. But without innovation and experiment, tradition would become simply a historic dead end.
In Iran the art of ceramics reached one of the highest levels of all time and Kashan was at one time a vital centre of this art. I share his hope that through his work in the Faculty of Architecture and Art at Kashan University the art of ceramics will once again flourish in this famous city.
Here is a man with profound skills who also knows how he wants to employ and develop them. Abbas Akbari has poetry in his heart and it is not only the poetry expressed in words. His work shows that for him geometric shapes and organic forms and colour and reflected light are overflowing with life and meaning. Through them, we human beings catch a glimpse of the mystery and greatness of the universe to which we all belong.
U.K., June 2013
Over 800 years ago lustre made its appearance. In the words of Abu"lQasim a potter and historian said of lustre, "That which has been evenly fired reflects like red gold and shines like the light of the sun". Lustre has always been shrouded in secrecy lustre pots with glistening surfaces were achieved by transforming silver and copper into shimmering gold, must have seemed like magical outcome of the mystical, alchemical process. Over the centuries the knowledge nearly disappeared, and lost.
Abbas Akbari is one who has passionately research and developed this nearly lost technique of creating lustre. (Lustre is a thin nano film of metal on the glazed surface). This specialised knowledge of materials and firing of lustres is needed to achieve the rich colourful surfaces of Abbas Akbari work. His passionate and deep understanding of this process allows Abbas Akbari to recreate historical works of centuries ago in their full brilliance. His decoration is iconic of these works. But his contemporary work using both pigment and lustre glazes he creates a fresh body of new work that exhibits Abbas Akbari own individual creativity.
Abbas Akbari has recently researched another historic ware called Fritware developed hundreds of years ago in response to porcelain ware important via the Silk Road. Fritware has the whiteness and strength of porcelain. With the development of this white refined clay body Abbas Akbari now is able to use it as the bases for his lustre work which enhances the colour and intensity of the lustre surface decoration.
This book by Abbas Akbari is to be highly commended as it brings together his years of mastering the important development and understanding of Fritware and lusters for all to learn and appreciate.
Head of Ceramics School of Art
Australian National University, Jul 2013
It is very nice to see how it develops and starts after works of the famous Iranian ceramist artist Abbas Akbari the old Kashan lustre technique to bloom in Iran again.
This ceramics technique is employed only by few people known and a small number of people can do this on a higher level. I may say gladly that my friend Abbas is one of them.
The technique of the lustre painted ceramics is very complicated, sensitive and hardly reproductive.
The colours on Akbari's works are so bright as on the most appreciated 800-900 hundred years old pieces.
The traditional old motifs revived. The ancestors would be proud if these works would be seen!
Akbari calligraphic works induce the heart of the people who likes the modern art, toward faster beating. The simple, cleared up forms and the beauties of the glazes emphasize the beauty of the handwriting.
They are not simple pots but paintings using one of the most noble ceramics techniques which may insure it, they persistence with constant beauty onto centuries.
Hungary, Jul 2013
As the white heat of the torch flame licks the thick dense black , the tiles burst into iridescent colours, this instant alchemy was demonstrated by ceramic artist Abbas Akbari during a workshop at the Fourth ASNA Clay Triennial in Karachi.
At the exhibition of the Triennial, could be seen the flawless lusterware of the artist. His orb inspired forms which left a trail of light from the ceiling to the table were masterfully installed. The spherical forms though dominated by red tones had myriad of metallic hues to offer, from the glow of copper, glint of steel grey and burnished black of iron to flecks of gold. Forever present was the leaping flame of colour, that in step with the rhythm of light, expanded and shrunk to create optic crescendos for the audience.
As Abbas Akbari passionately engages with luster techniques, he transforms an ancient craft with contemporary interpretation on clay vessel. Linking early Coptic luster, that reached new sophistication in the hands of the master ceramists that adorned the Grand Mosque of Kairouan in Tunis, to experimental improvisations in his workshop in Kashan, Iran.
Lustre to him offers a creative vocabulary and an art continuum. It is a terrain of iridescent light that he crosses with seasoned ease. From the shimmering filigree of calligraphies on plates and bowls to amorphous compositions on the surface of a vessel, Abbas Akbari expertly coaxes a vibrant spectrum of metallic light in his ceramics.
Editor of NuktaArt
Pakistan, Jul 2013
Never Emptied Vessels
An interview with Abbas Akbari
Our senses absorb a significant number of small and large things around us unintentionally. Things which pass we by do influence our mentality. Sometimes we carry pieces of them with us for a long time unconsciously; the visual effects occupy our minds this way. The surrounding objects come into us exactly in such a process. Disregarding them on the one hand and neglecting their significance on the other hand is simply taking their importance for granted in life. Every object can play a key role above its application in expanding our mentality on condition that it offers a distinctive feature so as to let its audience move forward. Or it can connect itself to audience's mind through its effects. But many a thing which has subtle influence on our senses; undated objects have no influence on our visualization and do not turn on our tactile sensation while touching. It is enough to enjoy them while using them or to recognize them as a part of us; we will then notice that how their boundless energy moves into our tactility. Sitting on a Polish chair to have a cozy chat or drinking coffee in its special cup conveys a feeling far more than a simple chat or a common drink of coffee. Objects can enhance the time quality of moments or give them depth. I believe that Abbas Akbari's view on vessels is worth pondering over as he has accepted this fact; vessels are not vessels only, they have historical concepts because of their effects. They are already filled before they want to give space to something. The lustre of their colour and light in new forms draws our attention and just in this way they can have an application beyond their applicability. For want of a better word, they work in us. How do the objects advance into us? And how do they let us advance into them? These are the key questions in my interview, on the pretext of making and designing vessels which in my opinion are not just vessels.
Sometimes, after years, human refers back to things he had once been careless of; no one, at least in my opinion, could describe this better than Martin Heidegger who underscored the importance of such retrospection. He believes that around us is full of objects and things that are in latency. When we do not need them, we do not see them; like all practical tools in a house. The word 'latency' is a strange term here; it conveys both meanings of negligence and blindness. We start here: what made you come back to vessels or better to say, what drew your attention and made you see them?
Your question reminds me of twenty years ago when I decided to give up studying at the Arts school in which I had just been accepted because the nature of my major was based on applied arts whereas I intended to study visual arts. However, I kept studying due to some personal reasons. I chose pottery and for ten years, playing any tricks and making every excuses, I procrastinated making practical objects such as vessels. Maybe, it was due to the prevailing and dominant artistic atmosphere in our society which considered applied arts inferior to visual arts and I did not like that. To be honest, I had the same idea at that time too! My postgraduate studies which were rather theoretical and philosophical about arts had a leading role on this issue. I mean studying the ideas of philosophers who differentiate fundamentally between applied and pure arts; philosophers like Kant and Schopenhauer. I still remember Arthur Schopenhauer's words I read in that time: "A statue which is at the same time a candelabrum or a caryatid; or a bas-relief, which is also the shield of Achilles. True lovers of art will allow neither the one nor the other."1
But over the last ten years I have come to new beliefs which I think is the result of this very ten years of practical experience. These practical experiences opened up new horizons for me towards aesthetics of objects so that I embarked on reviewing critical materials on applied arts vis-ŕ-vis visual arts. I gradually noticed something in the objects around me which attracted my prejudiced attention so as to look at them as a superb work of art. At this time I came up to the fact that objects, save their practicality and impracticality, have, at first, a visual effect on us; i.e. I came to this belief that vessels absorb our attention first through their visual appearances and features. Then their applications will be meaningful and useful for us. I adopted this attitude while in Criticism the state of practicality or impracticality has always been a criterion for judgment. So I had a sense of success and accomplishment when I, as a ceramist, could make vessels which could direct these people's judgment towards estimations beyond and away from the cliché about practical and impractical arts. If we regard this understanding a kind of 'cognition', I have based the construction of my vessels on it which has lasted for ten years.
ť I will never forget Robert Bresson's, the filmmaker, brilliant sentence which says: although a work of art will not, most of the time, lead us to the place we wish, it will certainly lead us to a wonderful place. The process of creating artworks is perhaps important for this reason. How much of your experience in this scope was exactly what you deemed it to be? And how much of your experience was gained during your work?
In actual fact, the process of making these vessels has two stages; the first stage is related to me and is in fact related to steps of making vessels. The second stage is related to the other. Shaping clay is fascinating by nature. This fascination is doubled when it is followed by the ability in making vessels. Making pottery on potter's wheel, provided that it produces a good result, is so fascinating that has made me tremble to think about the days I will not be able to do it because of my trembling hands. At this point, the diameter, height, curves and mouth of vessels draw all my attention. Of course making pottery has other steps which are captivating too; especially firing vessels in kiln and specifically firing glazes. This part makes me have a special mood of elation. It is in this part that I can add other things such as light to a ceramic vessel which cause this so-called trivial object to attract attentions. I mean things that can revolutionize the audience's presuppositions. Since this moment, the next stage of making vessels by the other starts which is as breathtaking as the first stage for me as I can find people whose understanding of the importance of vessels and objects is like me. To me, meeting such people means 'expanding the world I live in'. Although there is no close similarity between filmmaking and pottery, the aforesaid Bresson's sentence has a very profound effect on me in my art. Many times, I could not achieve what I had already in my mind, but by making vessels I could constantly retrieve and accomplish objectives I had not already nested in my mind; objectives which confronted me with a vaster world of imagination.
Vessels have a simple appearance. On this account, perhaps, most formed experiences are the repetition of earlier ones. This close affinity of vessels has both its pros and cons. On the one hand, it reminds us of the past i.e. it connects us to history which is their advantage; on the other hand, this connection does not let them come to the present, which is their disadvantage. Where do your vessels come close to the past? Where are they far away from the past and close to the present?
The first vessels I made, believe it or not, were almost free copies of old Iranian vessels. I said you might not believe because copying is not welcome to an artwork; but, in actuality, I would study the vessels and the only way to discover the mysteries in them, at least for me, was through practical experience. I could discover features of form, motif, skill, application and time in them which had come to a good result; something which has guaranteed their 'being', their 'eternity'. In these copies, I just wished to unravel these mysteries. I came up with significant results in these copies. Some were about technical issues especially about their lustre glazing quality; and some were about their visual traits. I mean the ratio of form and motif. There was, of course, another issue related to their application in their daily lives of their times. As you know, referring back to the past works and using them has both many risks and many positive results. It happens a lot that we want to update something from the past but we are lost in confusing maze of history. This poses a hazard specially when dealing with a time in the past with magnificent artworks because artworks' magnificence may demote the artist to a pure imitator. In case of these emulated artworks, I could leave them behind with a narrow escape. As I came to myself, I had already emulated a lot of them in one way or another. Maybe the most emulated is the one we call "Zarrinfam" which is reconized as the technical traits of claypaste to make luster glaze. Because this technique provides the artist with the possibility of writing or drawing on vessels more than other decorative techniques. I want to say that when a potter learns this skill well enough, it will indeed act as the deterrent of his artistic creativity. Perhaps this is right about other techniques too, since you are repeatedly persuaded to make more complex works to show off because of the very skills you have learnt whereas this is not, at least with this aim, the objective of Arts unless in special cases whose necessity is obvious in an artwork. Anyway, when I embarked on making new vessels, I changed the background glaze colour and also chose simpler and bigger motifs which ended in vessels based on Persian calligraphy. Yet these were somehow complex as they used technical features of lustre glaze by claypaste technique. I aimed to make simpler vessels; therefore, I put aside all things I had learnt during the last years. I glazed the vessels employing other revitalized glazing techniques which did not let me paint. I deliberately made these simple vessels. They are more valuable for me. To achieve this result, I needed to use my trainings on pottery skills more efficiently. Trainings I had received by hard work in many years.
I need to say that working with clay is far more different from other materials because you have to work hard to become master at different skills, glazing, firing, etc. After years, when you are deft enough you notice that it is just the beginning. You have to control the excitement of skills you have possessed so that you can make a good thing. I am saying this based on my experience working with other materials such as iron and wood. I made visual artworks using these materials for years. Making such artworks is technically and intellectually, at least for me, easier than making a vessel; a vessel that I can appreciate myself.
Vessels are constantly filled and emptied with various things. In other words, they are containers. It will not be far wrong if we regard potters as introverts; moulding clay, potter's wheel, glazing, preparing the kiln to fire vessels, objects which have both internal and external scale; all things to get the potter involved. What patterns have you used to mould these vessels? Mental or external patterns?
Several sources impact my artwork. But it is mostly affected by the artistic heritage of my culture. However, vessels have a vaster frontier as they generally share more common traits in different communities. Of course, I do my best to make these external patterns my own (internalization) whether they are related to my culture or those of others. This internalization is the very part which shows my internal patterns in order to determine the ultimate dimension and aspect of a vessel or other artefacts I make. I am not going to eliminate the external factors from my artworks. I wish to properly use the impacts which are intervening, anyway. Yet as the general rule for my vessels, I take care of 'inside' in a vessel i.e. the part which makes the vessel applicable. I always try to arouse audience's curiosity to touch the vessel using tricks such as illuminating glazes. For example, vessels glazed dark outside and light inside or vice versa, have been made on the base of these tricks which I acknowledge for outside and inside parts of a vessel.
A veteran painter once said: "Sometimes I become sick at heart because the artworks I sell are not in the place they should be. These days even the academic people do not afford to buy a work of art. I would like to have my artwork be placed on a wall next to a writer's table rather than behind an expensive sofa." Fortunately your vessels are still vessels. Do you like to see them at art galleries or at homes?
Although I make the vessels based on my own understanding of visual traits, I do not aim to present them in an art gallery. I make them for everyday life. I want their visual application to be practical in everyday life too. So has it been in the past. Different nations did not make applicable objects just to have them displayed in galleries. They were made for LIFE, itself. Now if they are in museums, it is another story and it has nothing to do with their past. Here I mean the difference between our understanding of "Art" and more archaic words such as "Ars" and "Techne". When applicability of an object became a factor to get it eliminated from aesthetics in modern arts, a distinction between applied and fine arts was recognized. As a corollary, modernist art considered such objects inferior. Today, I do not embrace such a view. You used the term "touching". I like this term. I believe touching objects complements seeing them. I am not worried about this fact that vessels may be damaged if they are touched in everyday life; I am worried they may not be seen at all because of these rigid and stringent considerations. I think if applicable objects are not used, they will vanish from our sight. They may be in a corner of our house but we turn a blind eye to them. They will be seen in our lives when they are being used. We can see this about vessels in museums. Some of them are antiquities of more than a millennium which had been used at their times and are now used in a different way. It may seem emotional, but I highly believe that if a vessel is to be sturdy, in spite of its fragility, and lasts for a long time, it will. The sense of touching them intensifies taking care of them into the bargain.
I remembered a book written by Gaston Bachelard: The flame of a candle. The story of a writer who tends to write secretly and what he writes is only possible under the dim candlelight. The book is about this very flame (of candle). The flame which has briefly lighted the table and lets the writer form words. Bachelard implies that there is a connection between the feeble candlelight and the secret of objects which can be seen under its gleam of light. Where do we cling to the past by these objects? And where can they bring the past to the present?
As I said before, some of these vessels have a very close connection to the past. I mean those vessels which have been copied in one way or another or at least have a smell of the past. These vessels, in effect, share a sort of "Diachronic state" with the past. These vessels evoke nostalgia for the contemporary audience and have the aforementioned results for me. So they will generally remain in the past. But vessels which are rather personal and private share a sense of "Synchronic state", a connection with the present. I have tried to show parts of the past which have modern applications in these vessels. The connection of these vessels with the past is, in fact, based on the connection of objects with time. This interface is much more important than material, form, motifs, etc. in making a vessel. In my opinion, not only vessels I have made but also all vessels have a close connection with time. From this perspective, a vessel is created from its times far from its material, form, motifs, etc. Whenever the potter has had an accurate understanding of the "Synchronic state", while making a vessel, we have seen artworks which have had the zeitgeist of their period. For example, these vessels are seen in our community from ca. pre-Islamic period to the Qajar dynasty. Since that era Iranians have made fewer vessels based on this fundamental understanding except some rare cases which have not led to any movement. The reason, perhaps, is that this era synchronized with a bigger event in the world; I mean the industrial revolution and its corollaries on other communities especially the traditional ones. As a result, our community and communities similar to us lost their past experience in finding out these connections. Finally, even the efforts made to make up for it, led only to making vessels which more or less remained in the past and came to be useful in art galleries to indulge people in nostalgia. They lost their zeitgeist of applicability in our daily lives. I am doing my level best to turn the positive features of the past from a "Diachronic" state to a "Synchronic" one.
A friend of mine who was attending our interview asked: "Can we really talk so much about vessels?" I was wondering if only he had asked: "Up to where can we go with them?" Thank you very much to provide me with the opportunity to move forward not to talk forward only!
Looking For Arash in Pursuit of Peace
The First Search
Avesta, The Holy Book of Zoroastrians is the first book that mentions Arash. In the eighth Yasht we read, "… fast and swift like the arrow flying from Arash`s bow moving towards Farkhkert. The wind, fulfilling Ahura Mazd's wish, accompanies him and the gods open a passage for him." In this passage Arash is mentioned but the full story is not narrated. AbuReihan Biruni in "Asar-al-Baqiat", Mirkhand in "Rozat-al-Safa", and Tabari in "Tarikh-al Molok-val-Rosol" deal with details of Arash story. Surprisingly, Ferdowsi in his epic, "Shahnameh", provides no account of Arash story. He just mentions Arash as the ancestor of Ashkanid.
Epic of Arash is the story of war between Iran and Turkistan. Afrasiab, King of Turkistan, overcomes Iran army led by Manoochehr in Mazandaran. Iran Army has no choice but to accept the peace deal. To humiliate Iran Army, it is agreed that Iran boarder is determined by the range of an arrow thrown by Iran Army. This task is assigned to Arash a noble skillful archer. Contrary to what is expected, his arrow flies in the sky for hours and covers thousands of kilometers. The epic then turns into a myth where it is said Arash gives up his soul and departs for the sake of his land and nation. The arrow after flying such a far distance hits a walnut tree and stops. This is where Iran boarder is set and the war ends.
Arash in our Memory
We also find Arash in some contemporary writings. The most outstanding is Siavash Kasraee's (1959) poem " Arash The Archer". "It is snowing, it is snowing over thrones and stones, the mountains are silent, the vallies sad, and the roads awaiting Karvans that bring the sounding of bells.…. Yes, yes, he has injected his soul into the arrow, he did what thousands and thousands of swords could not.
In another classic piece of poetry by Mehrdad Avesta (1965), "The epic of Arash" once more he reminds us what Arash did;
"What a forceful arrow
Flying from Sari to Jihoon
What a glorious soul
That flies over to Iran boarder
Sometimes a man from heaven
Saves an army with his life
In an arrow he gives up his soul
And lights up dark days of his nation"
In a play about Arash Bahram Beizaee (1966) in "Three play readings" depicts a different picture of Arash. In the play, Arash is depicted not as an archer in the military, rather a horseman in Iran army. He shoots the arrow not by his hand power but with his love. The play magnifies the mythological face of Arash. "We are standing at the foot of Alborz, our blood enemy is facing us with an ugly smile. And I know some people who believe Arash will come back."
In 1997, when I was doing my master in art at the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Tehran, I had my research course with Ali Hassori. As part of the course assignment, I submitted a literature review on the representations of myths in Greek and Iran sculptures. Reading my manuscript, he commented that contrary to Greek myths where myths are physically represented, in Iranian context they are abstract and have no material representation. I should thank him for teaching me a lesson I considered in the creation of this collection.
Development of Arash Collection
To me manifestations of art are rooted in the meaning of the word Ars. Ars is basically making art work that puts craftsmanship and artistic creativity together. Samples of practical art mix these two dimensions together. Such samples are serious but joyful, a quality that is lacking in contemporary art. A threat to ars is loosing the artisitic and creative dimension and reducing it to industrial production. I produced Arash Collection with such a view of art. Following such a path touches the artist with the joy it brings to the creation process. Modern artists make use of new technologies which deprives them of such joyful experiences in the creation process. I enjoy the challenges and hardship of this method. To me art is a serious endeavor.
Why Wood and Bronze?
Finding and preparing appropriate material is essential to the creation of a sculpture with a unique visual quality. This attempt usually fails. Knowing the challenges, I decided to use wood and bronze for making Arash Collection. During history, almost all arrows made by man are made of bronze or an alloy of bronze. The body of the arrows is made of different types of wood and the head made of bronze. As in Arash story the arrow hits a walnut tree and stops, I decided to make use of bronze and wood for making the collection. To integrate wood and bronze, I also used similar forms and forms resembling cedar tree.
Arash in Museums
No doubt, there are different subjects and social issues to inspire artists. I always visit museums to get some ideas or find forms and objects for manipulation and transformation to modern forms. Museums provide a shortcut for the artists. I came across Arash first in Iran National Museum, Old Perisa. There I found different types and forms of arrows. Each arrow gave me an idea but one single arrow was the best example of Ars I mentioned earlier. This arrow hits a bird, with front half of the bird on the front of the arrow and back half on the back of the arrow. The arrow was exquisitely made centuries ago. Arash Collection is inspired by such an invaluable heritage.
Many other artists before me were inspired by Arash. In most of these works, there is a figure either with a realistic huge form or Futuristic structure throwing an arrow. Arash in my collection is neither young nor old, neither huge nor weak. He is merely an arrow in the air, not a figure. Arash in my collection is more compatible with mythological structure and artistic traditions of Iran. This is Arash as I understand.
The collection seems to be about war and violence. However, Arash in my collection ends in peace. His attempt ends war and embraces peace. He injects his soul into the arrow to bring peace. Arash symbolizes those whose sacrifice ended war.
Abbas Akbari, Kashan, Nov 2013
Muhammad Ibn Abi al-Barakat Johari Neishabouri
The sparkling ceramics of the days of yore in Kashan has captivated the heart of the enthusiasts for long to the extent that some sought to demystify the secret of those metallic colors.
During the last century, researchers and experts both in the West and the East have set forth different hypotheses about hundreds of lustre bowls and plates which have been honored as memorials in museums and personal collections, little did they know that one thousand years earlier scientists such as al-Razi and al-Biruni, and some other people after them, had already put the secrets of the ceramics and glazes in black and white.
The efforts made by the late Iraj Afshar in publishing two fundamental books on metals, stones, and mines opened a new chapter in this respect. His hard work in publishing two invaluable books entitled Javaher-name-ye Nezami by Muhammad Ibn Abi al-Barakat Johari Neishabouri in 592 AH/ c. 1196 AD and Arayes al-Jawaher va Nafayes al-Atayeb by Abul Ghasem Abdullah Kashani in 700 AH/ c. 1301 AD made a young scholar from this land determined to revitalize the lustre ceramics.
Abbas Akbari, a senior alumnus from the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Tehran, has worked with clay and glazes for more than twenty years, practically successful in restoring the lustre ceramics using the reduction technique with the same quality as before. He has made charming and fire-ish bowls, plates and sculptures with his own hands which have been on display inside and outside of Iran. Along with practical work, Akbari has not desisted researching and investigating about the works of the past. Having chosen the original land for lustre ceramics, Kashan, as his workplace and teaching place, he has published countless pamphlets of merits in the field to date and has got many young men and women to turn into his followers.
Parviz Tanavoli June 2014
Before studying this book, I felt it was necessary to remind the reader of a few points: my motivation in publishing this collection was first to respond to students who had often requested me for native research fields being related to making ceramics and lustre glasses. The second point was to pay my debt with Muhammad Ibn Abi al-Barakat Johari Neishabouri due to his instructions in the process of making lustre glaze ceramics which have been unjustly ignored in our history. Almost all those who seek traditional references pertinent to such ceramics only refer to the book Arayes al-Jawaher va Nafayes al-Atayeb1 (Jewelry, Tile-work and Perfumes) compiled by Abul Ghasem Abdullah Kashani in 700 AH/ c. 1301 AD. Although this book and its pottery chapter are invaluable sources and I still recommend it to those concerned, it is in fact an adaptation of the book Javaher-name-ye Nezami2 by Muhammad Ibn Abi al-Barakat Johari Neishabouri which was written in 592 AH/ c. 1196 AD. Therefore the latter is about 108 years (according to Muslim calendar) older than Arayes al-Jawaher (about 105 years according to Christian calendar). Comparing these two texts, we realize that Abul Ghasem unfortunately has not given reference to Muhammad Ibn Abi al-Barakat`s work despite using that text frequently in his. This matter reduces the ideals in his book to some extent in spite of its good categorization and coherent information on ceramics. So I thought it would be useful to express this fact here, although the late Iraj Afshar, the conspicuous Iranian researcher I once had the opportunity to talk to, has pointed out to this in the introduction of the book in 2002.3
Another point worth noticing is that Muhammad Ibn Abi al-Barakat mentions the name of the Persian Muslim scholar and polymath, al-Biruni and what he has learnt from his book al-Jamaher fi al-Jawaher regularly and respectfully. This moral lesson, not given by Abul Ghasem though, is an introduction to another text for us in which we can obtain some information about the ceramics of the 4th and 5th AH centuries of Iran; hence I suggest this text to those concerned too.4
Next thing is the clarification of a number of intentional and unintentional errors which have occurred in the realm of theoretical and practical research in making lustre ceramics. So what follows is just for a better understanding and also the application of information that the predecessors have left for us in this regard.
Achieving a luminous metallic quality on different surfaces of ceramics or glass is inevitably expressed in the form of words in different languages which indicates their metallic characteristic and not the production process. Many errors have been emanating from this point; and even exaggerated. For instance, although the word «zarrin fam» for specialists in the ceramics texts of Iran represents the ceramics whose metallic surfaces are created using «clay paste» technique, some people in recent years have introduced any metallic surfaces in ceramics which are made outside the «clay paste» technique as clay paste5. This fact holds true for the word «lustre» in English too. It only expresses «being luminous/ shining», and does not go any further to talk about the «technique for making it luminous/ shining». According to this, the below-mentioned explanations seem necessary to remove ambiguity.
A simpler technique to obtain certain lustre surfaces, however, is the firing under oxidation condition. Although this technique is devoid of the attractions and of course the results made from firing under reduction technique, it is yet possible to get some certain metallic colors. An example could be using high percentage of copper or iron oxide in lead silicate which is to achieve a lustre surface similar to that of cast iron. The above techniques will lead to the metallization of the desired surface anyway, but the most important advantage of «clay paste» technique is probably the possibility of painting delicate positive and negative lines with that. The outstanding examples of this characteristic could be found in lustre wares of Kashan miniature style; however such a possibility can neither be obtained by in-glaze technique nor by the ready-made lustre glazes produced by ceramic engineers6. The transformation of these techniques into print method and ready-made labels can only share this quality with other techniques7. It is probably this very reason and also the unique characteristics of «clay paste» technique that have made it stand out as one-off, when compared with other methods and techniques, to the extent that there has always been controversy over the attribution of its birthplace.
An Old Controversy
The invention and introduction of «clay paste» technique for making lustre glaze ceramics, thanks to its specific technology, is certainly one of turning points in the world history of ceramics and definitely a great honor attributed to Muslim potters, 8 likewise. This very important matter has stirred several controversies over the birthplace of the technique among the researchers of Islamic ceramics. This case has been disputed for decades. The summary of all these theories could be generally displayed in the model below based on the origin and directions. These origins are mentioned according to different theories with each having its own followers.
Theories on the Origin of «Clay Paste» Technique
It could be said that the discussed places as the birthplace of «clay paste» technique can be categorized according to the theories below. This categorization helps us have a much clearer picture of both this old controversy and the critiques against them.
Theory of Transferring Lustre Glasses Technology on Ceramic:
This theory points to the fact that the oldest documented history for «clay paste» technique refers to glass surface, the 2nd century AH/ the 8th century AD, and Egypt production. It suggests that this technology went from Egypt to Iraq later and was transferred on ceramics by the potters of that region. Venetia Porter is a follower of this theory9.
The Theory of Dates Citation:
The followers of this theory believe that by resorting to the written dates on the ceramics we can at least claim that the birthplace of lustre wares made by the clay paste technique is Iraq. Because in their view, the tiles in the Kairouan Mosque in Tunisia, dating 248 AH/ c. 862 AD, were produced in Iraq and were sent to the Mosque to be laid. This date is definitely older than those on Iranian and Egyptian lustre wares. Olivier Watson is among the researchers who emphasize on these dates and in particular on Iranian dated lustre wares with more recent dates10.
The Theory of Migration:
This theory is presented by Arthur Lane. It holds that the birthplace and development process of lustre glaze (in clay paste technique) was from Egypt to Iran. In his opinion, the simultaneity of lustre glaze production decline in Egypt and its appearance in Iran and Raqa`i in northern Mesopotamia are interconnected. This has been so due to the migration of Egyptian potters, forced to move by wars and also for finding new markets11.
The Theory of Multiplicity of Production Centers:
This theory emphasizes on this point that we should regard a country as the birthplace of this technique which has the most numbers of centers for lustre wares production. Egyptian researcher, Dr. Zaki Mohammad Hasan, is an advocate of this theory which holds Iran as the origin of this technique12.
Arthur Upham Pope, James Wilson Allen, Richard Ettinghausen, Ernst J. Grube, Peter Morgan, Alastair Northedge, Geza Fehervari and other researchers have taken the above-mentioned theory into consideration. Each of them has tried to consider a different country as the birthplace of this technique by referring to their opinions and reasoning. Meanwhile, sometimes some attempts are made to reject a theory at the cost of confirming another one as important. For example, Olivier Watson tries to prove that Kashan had been the only center of lustre wares production in Iran and other cities like Rey, Saveh and Gorgan, where lustre wares are found, were not necessarily production centers. It`s obvious that this idea is made to render the theory of multiplicity of production centers as invalid. On the other hand, regardless of the documented dates remained on some ceramics, Watson erroneously marks the documented a vase in the British Museum carrying an imprinted date as the oldest lustre ceramics of Iran. There could be some revisions made regarding other theories. For example, contrary to the widely-believed idea that puts lustre glass was not made in Iran, we should accept Ferrier`s opinion on the production of lustre glass in Iran13. Written documents can also be made in this respect14.
Thus, each of the theories briefly discussed above can be further investigated15. In my opinion, however, with no new theory at hand, we only widen the scope of these arguments without getting to a relative certainty about it.
A New Theory: The Significance of Pigments` Discovery Time
Almost all those who have presented recent theories or followed them don`t have practical experience in making lustre wares (using clay paste technique) and are basically researchers. Consequently, they turn a blind eye to the fact that because of the necessity of the presence of some pigments in clay paste compounds, you can take into account their time of discovery, and accordingly, their application in lustre glaze ceramics, if you happen to determine the creation time of at least some lustre ceramics. Since the author of this article himself is an active artist in this field, he points out the fact that the discovery of silver nitrate and some other compounds of silver are attributed to the Persian physician, alchemist and chemist, al-Razi. As in clay paste technique one of the most important materials is silver nitrate, we should consider the time of discovery and application of this material while seeking the origin of these pieces of ceramics. Al-Razi who was born in Rey went to Baghdad in his thirties in 283 AH/ c. 896 AD. In his ten-year residence in Iraq, he produced raw material for potters besides medical practice16. Al-Asrar (The Secrets)-that is, the mysteries of alchemy by al-Razi-or al-Madkhal al-Taelimi which I recommend both to those concerned, confirm his major role in making and developing lustre wares and glasses. The synchrony of his living time in Iraq with the found lustre ceramics in Iraq and also the lustre ceramics attributed to his hometown, Rey, validates this opinion to some extent, and yet invalidates the migration theory and other theory like that of Watson which was based on the nonexistence of lustre glaze production centers in any Iran`s cities but Kashan. In the meantime, the tiles in Kairouan Mosque and the documented lustre glasses in Egypt are only older than those of al-Razi`s era.
Discussing the theories and the necessity for revising the origin of their technology requires an exclusive separate argument. Although the pigments used in these works have undoubtedly been discovered before al-Razi, we can offer other reasons for such revision. For example, there can be made a comparison between the tiles in Baba Khan Tappe in pre-Islamic Iran and those in Kairouan Mosque. We can also compare these motifs with those of lustre vessels in Susa or Mesopotamia which are known as Iraqi lustre glazes, or we can take into consideration the documents of ceramics production in Bandar-e Siraf and its economic exchanges with Iraq. As a result, we can claim that the documented records regarding the production of lustre glaze ceramics in Iran is much older than lustre ceramics with registered dates.
Now Javaher-name-ye Nezami
This book by Muhammad Ibn Abi al-Barakat Johari Neishabouri, as is clear in the title, concentrates on stones, metals and mineralogy. In this remarkable book, there are just a few, but valuable pages allocated to preparing different kinds of glazes, frit ware beads, ceramics and lustre glasses in «clay paste» technique and of course a model of a kiln for firing, called «doud daan» (smoke place or reduction kiln) by him. Writing a number of pages on glazes and making glazed objects in old books which are about stones, jewels and metals was due to the fact that past generations attempted to make many metals and precious natural ores artificially. The most obvious attempt made in this direction was the transformation of worthless metals into gold. Although not being successful in leading to the desired ideal due to scientific reasons, such attempts finally had a better ending. Because the result of that was at last the metallic decoration of ceramics and glasses. Therefore the outcome of such experiences was attached to the remained few old books written on stones and metals. As a result of this, we can trace old information about pottery and glaze-making in Iran even in older texts than Muhammad Ibn Abi al-Barakat`s, including al-Biruni`s al-Jamaher fi al-Jawaher book.
Javaher-name-ye Nezami at any rate has unique features. It is exclusively about instructing «clay paste» technique to obtain metallic surfaces on glass and ceramic with several formulas each of which produces different colors. For example it writes about golden color as this: «The quality of a color as being gold: they take three drams of zanjfar, one and a half drams of ghalghatar and fazzey-e moharragh providing that it is burnt with yellow sulfur. All this is mixed with old vinegar and they paint on it what they want. As was mentioned, they put it in the «smoke place» (reduction kiln) and leave it until getting cool. Then they bring it out and wipe it off clearly. A color appears like gold.»17
We know that the final color achieved in a lustre object in clay paste technique at least depends on the pigments` compounds, the thickness of clay paste layer, timing and the intensity of reduction, compounds of the glaze underneath and other factors. We can even achieve color tones from a single formula according to the mentioned factors. But obtaining different metallic colors from gold (for instance red) requires different pigments. This is the point which distinguishes Muhammad Ibn Abi al-Barakat`s text from later ones. Because even Abul Ghasem Abdullah Kashani who has taken a part of his text from that of Abi al-Barakat`s only refers to one precise formula for «clay paste» technique under the title «Lustre» (Siyaghat-e Ligheh: Lustre Technique). He then explains that other potters add more or less to this formula. He finally says: compounds of shadanj and silver nitrate can also produce lustre glaze.18 But Abi al-Barakat`s text provides us with some detailed explanation for other colors, like red: «deep red: they take five drams of maghnisia, two and a half drams of [green] zaj, two and a half drams of sulfur, and two and a half drams of fazzey-e moharragh that is burnt with yellow sulfur. They pound all this together and mix with old vinegar. They put it on glass, tiles, vessels, etc., leave it until getting dry. They place it in a kiln, as mentioned earlier, with no more fire than before. Once fire goes out, they leave it until getting cool. Then they take it out and wipe it off well. Now a deep red color appears.»19
Abul Ghasem`s text has no detailed information on the most important part; that is to say, kiln and firing. He just points out that they place the ceramics in the kiln and fire for three days and night until the kiln`s color becomes a certain tone of red. But Muhammad Ibn Abi al-Barakat even presents the image of a kiln for which he applies the term «doud dan» (smoke place). Thus we can now consider the image of this kiln the oldest extent document for the process of firing under reduction, since the remained design from the 16th century Italian artist, Piccolpasso (1524-1579) had been a reference for many ones. Professor Sevim Cizer from Turkey has useful practical experiences in updating Piccolpasso`s kiln design . Now by relying on Abi al-Barakat`s kiln design which is some centuries older than this, we have new opportunities in updating the past generations` experiences for making lustre glaze ceramics. The image itself is not clear, however the author`s explanations especially on realizing firing accomplishment time is evident in that period: «If someone makes a workshop, as mentioned in «gold section», for firing different kinds of glazes and vessels, and if there is a «doud dan» (reduction kiln) above it (workshop) …they place the vessels there, and they fire as much as it reaches the below space which is above the fireplace; as is shown in the picture:»20
Here we should not forget that in those days modern equipment did not exist and controlling the temperature of a kiln was necessary in acquiring the desired result in different methods of making lustre glaze ceramics especially in clay paste technique. Only a little change in temperature may make the clay medium fuse with the glaze underneath or perhaps nothing happens by rubbing that or even we witness the appearance of a motif with no metallic glaze. All these indicate that no correct reduction process has occurred. Or the object, as a result of instability in firing and reduction conditions, may have all these defects besides those parts reduced well or improperly. Therefore beside the remained masterpieces from the past (some of them are incredible in size and quality) we also see numerous objects which have not yielded a good result. Hence I believe that the information in Javaher-name-ye Nezami book would be fairly useful for anyone who intends to learn making lustre surfaces on glass and ceramic. Yet all our information and the whole equipment we have today would be useful provided that we blend them with experimentation and personal experiences gained in the course of time.
I am experienced in pottery for exactly 21 years; in other words from 1993 when I entered the University of Art, Tehran. But my experience in working with different techniques of making lustre glaze ceramics is even less than this, about 14 years; because I started working in this field when I went to the Faculty of Art and Architecture at University of Kashan in 2000. This period in compare to many activities done and recorded in Iran, especially outside the country may not seem much important, but during this time I have worked continuously and hard on different methods and techniques to achieve the desired result on ceramics, glasses and even metals21. These experiences include «clay paste» and «in-glaze» techniques and some innovative methods.22
Meanwhile I gained the required knowledge from different books, such as: Al-Jamaher fi Al-Jawaher by al-Biruni, Javaher-name-ye Nezami by Muhammad Ibn Abi al-Barakat Johari Neishabouri, Arayes al-Jawaher va Nafayes al-Atayeb by Abul Ghasem Abdullah Kashani, Al-Asrar by al-Razi, especially for realizing materials and old terms of alchemy, and also Al-Madkhal al-Taelimi. And in other languages: Lustre Pottery, Technique, Tradition and Innovation in Islam and the Western World by Alan Caiger-Smith; the book of Lustre by Greg Daly (both in English); and Lustre, TARiHi, TEKNiGi, SANATI by Sevim Cizer in Turkish. Fortunately all these references are available now. Furthermore the experiences of anonymous potters of Kashan directed me in this way. Although they had passed away, their remained ceramic pieces which I sometimes had the chance to buy from antique sellers guided me I this direction. The result of all this together with gained experiences in these years made me able to display lustre colors and their shining quality in another way. What follows in next pages is just a small part of these experiences. The works are just presented for the technical purposes of this writing. I hope I have an opportunity in the future to display the visual capacities of different techniques of making lustre glaze ceramic in the contemporary art.
The publication of this writing would not be possible without sponsoring and moral support of Engineer Seyyed Muhammad Hassan Faghih-e Imani. To him I express my appreciation for this support that will be an attempt in developing the culture and arts of Iran.
Kashan, spring 2014
1- This book was revised and published with an introduction by the late Iraj Afshar in 1966. The next print of this collection was done by Al-Maee
Publication in 2007. In an introduction in the magazine IRAN, Volume XI, 1973, James Wilson Allen has tried to clarify vague points in the text. Despite
the difficulties in the Persian text and except in a few cases, he has managed to explain and interpret that in English very well.
2- This book is also revised by the late Iraj Afshar with the cooperation of Muhammad Rasoul Daryagasht and a detailed introduction is written for it. It was published by Miras-e Maktoub Publication in 2004.
3- see: pp. 16 & 17 of the book.
4- The book al-Jamaher fi al-Jawaher by Al-Biruni, research by Yousof al-Haadi, published in 1995 by publications Elmi-va-Farhangi and Miras-e Maktoub. Necessary information on this matter can be found under the title «al-Ghesa`e al-siniyeh».
5- I`ve witnessed this matter from the period when I was a student with no information about the method of making lustre glaze ceramics until recently while watching a program on TV. Unfortunately we saw that the method of making «raku» ceramics with lustre surfaces was presented instead of «clay paste» technique which is specific of the Islamic pottery known as lustre glaze (in Persian: zarrinfam)! Unfortunately such mistakes occur in the realm of documented and scientific research too. For instance the book Ceramics and Pottery in Iran from the Neolithic Period to the Present Time by Seyfollah Kambakhshfard which is considered a comprehensive book on the history of Iranian ceramics with useful information not only lacks efficiency in introducing lustre decorations of ceramics but also even misleads readers. This shortcoming also happens in the translation of the books on Islamic ceramics.
6- Ready metallic glazes are sold under the industrial name «ready lustres» or «Resin lustre». Today a wide color range of these lustres is available. Despite luminosity and color diversity, these glazes don`t have the attractions and quality of handmade ones. Furthermore they are more expensive than the handmade.
7- If you have a limited circulation of a motif, you need to make these labels by yourself; otherwise there are companies which take your order in making these labels.
8- According to Wilson Allen: «the invention of lustre glaze may be the most important role of Islamic potters in developing the world ceramics.» See: Allan, James W (1991) Islamic ceramic, Ashmolean, p. 8.
9- See: Porte, Venetia (2005) Islamic Tiles, British Museum, p. 29.
10- For more information on Watson`s ideas in this connection, see: Persian Lustre-Painted Pottery, Oliver Watson, translated by Shokouh Zakeri, Soroush Publication, 2003. In this book, Watson tries to prove the priority of Egyptian lustre glaze production in compare to Iran`s by making a comparison between the motifs of Persian and Egyptian lustre wares.
11- See: Lane, Arthur (1947) Early Islamic pottery, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persian, Faber and Faber
12- See: Zaki Mohammad Hasan, al-Fonoun al-Irani fi Mesr al-Eslami, Dar-e Ara`ed al-Arabi, 1981.
13- He believes that the found lustre glasses in Iran have been produced by the Iranian glass-workers. See: Ferrier, R.W (1989) The Art of Persia, Yale University.
14- These records are available in Muhammad Ibn Abi al-Barakat and al-Razi`s texts.
15- I`ve tried to examine these theories in different ways and prove the fact that it has been dealt unjustly toward the history of ceramics production and lustre glasses in clay paste technique in Iran. A part of my reasons is presented in my Ph.D. thesis The Role of Kashan in the History of Islamic World Ceramics, cooperated by Dr. Yaghoub Azhand and Dr. Abul Ghasem Dadvar, 2011.
16- For more information on al-Razi`s life, see: Hakim Razi by Parviz Azkayi, Tarh-e No Publication, 2004.
17-See: Javaher-name-ye Nezami, p. 353.
18- See: Arayes al-Jawaher va Nafayes al-Atayeb, pp. 346 & 347.
19- See: Javaher-name-ye Nezami, p. 353.
20- ibid, 350.
21- It is not surprising, because we can make lustre surfaces in clay paste technique on any material on which a primary glaze has been fired. I`ve made various samples on copper vessels with opaque glaze and for making glazed wares made in Isfahan. In fact the appearance of «clay paste» technique for the first time on glass confirms this fact; because glass is a kind of glaze.
22-In one the invented methods, the surface of the glazed object will change into lustre layer by a flaring torch in the open air.
The Iranian ink, in search of concept
The use of the alphabet, whether as an independent art in calligraphy, or as a visual conceptual function in other artistic forms such as sculpture, is of an ancient, yet various, history. The history and variety in styles developed by some artists is so great that make any new experience look like following the footsteps of previous works.
However, the visual capacities of alphabets in different languages and also the capabilities in transferring concepts have always been an effective factor for most artists to dedicate part of their activities to them. Although movements parallel with Lettrism in Europe, Saqqa-Khaneh Movement, and works created by other artists are all among the most notable approaches, studying the works of the subsequent movements and approaches, demonstrates huge differences in the works of these communities.
In the western contemporary art, superiority of the most important function of alphabets, the transfer of concepts, can be visibly seen. Barbara Kruger is an epitome this very function. In this respect, though, the well-rootedness of the conceptual art in the west, the fact that language is one of its main pillars, could be viewed as a factor affecting the approach. In Iran, however, the large number of those works that consider the alphabets as their building blocks rests on visual approaches with decorative manifestations. Nevertheless, some artists are found to be trying to demonstrate the conceptual, and to some extent, contemporary, functions of the alphabets.
However, in Iranian contemporary art, anyone employing the writing elements, in whatever style, whether decorative or conceptual, or whether in line with the previous works or with innovative aspects, will be accused of walking on the beaten path, or at least, of profiteering from the economic prosperity provided by selling such works in markets. I created the Iranian Ink Collection, although I was pretty much cognizant of cases of this nature.
Instead of going in accordance with the history of formalistic-modernist approaches or with contemporary conceptual ones in dealing with writing, the Iranian Ink Collection goes right according to my understanding of history and time in Iranian traditional arts, and in dealing with them. The title matters to me more than the works themselves; the title goes to the first work of the collection; the title was not written; it was created. Therefore, I’m of the conviction that what I created after this title is way more coordinated and narrates a different path, despite sharing some commonalities with the works prior to them.
I’m not a calligraphist; hence, I did not write the collection; rather, I designed it at my liberty. The works’ titles, like those of the collection itself, form the major part of that. The titles try to consolidate the formalistic aspects of those works, in addition to their conceptual ones, and also try to act as a reminder saying that there’s a concept latent in every word, even though the concept is concealed in the complexity and intricacy of the words that form the collection. I praise the concealment. That’s why, Siyah-Mashq works created by the traditional calligraphists strike me as more exciting. I believe that alphabet, no matter how it’s created, is more mysterious, especially whenever its concept is not explicit and provided that it does not lend itself to sheer decorations; the mystery that conceals the concept in it like a gem.
The Iranian ink and the Iranian Ink Collection are both black; the blackness that looks more colorful than other colors, I suppose. That’s why, in creating the works, whether they were made of iron or ceramic, I emphasized on this blackness. I took this into account even at the time when I was laboring on the collection’s graphics to print it in black and white.
Kashan, October 2014
Experiencesin Making Pottery Kilns
2 Credits in Sculpturing
The Fish In Attarha's House
Reading Archai Texts
Looking For Arash in Pursuit of Peace
Muhammad Ibn Abi al-Barakat Johari Neishabouri
Tandis Art Magazine