We would like to start the New Year by introducing an incredible artist and new member to the Collective: Valeria Nicolucci, creator of Azonzo Ceramics (IG: @azonzo_ceramics).
We are very happy to have her striking pottery pieces and very excited to be able to offer them to you. We are also aware of how much you guys love the story behind the artist so we’ve prepared a Q&A for you to enjoy getting to know her and her work better.
Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from and how did you come to live in London?
I was born and raised in Rome, Italy. In the middle of the city runs the Tiber river, in the middle of the river is a small island, on the island there is a hospital and I was born there, you can't get more Roman than this. I lived there till I was 19, then I came over to London. I was taking a gap year, after high school. I wanted to travel and work for a year, my parents were really not thrilled at the idea, so I told them I was going to spend some months in London to learn a bit of English, they took the bait and approved the plan: went to Greece, went to India for a month and on the way back from there I flew to London. I had met a girl that lived in London at a poetry reading in Rome and she had invited me to come and stay with her till I found my footing. She lived in Hackney Wick, for my sheltered 19 years old self it was another planet, it was more than a cultural shock, it was an electric shock. I survived it, it revived me. I fell in love with the place and with one of my neighbours, so I stayed. 11 years later I am still here, there were small periods in which I lived somewhere else but this is still the place I call home.
Explain the route you took to where you are now artistically.
I am not sure about anything in life, the only exception to that is that I know art is my passion. For many years I thought I was not qualified or skilled to make anything, young people can be unnecessarily dogmatic, and I relegated this passion to studying art instead. Both my BA and MA are in art history and archeology with a particular, but not exclusive, focus on East Asia; At some point I reached a stage in which I was seeing so many gorgeous things everyday and my hands were seriously tingling, reading about things was not enough anymore, I wanted to understand, wanted to make. All the paranoias about not being good enough crumbled in front of the urge to create. Because of my studies, ceramics was at the top of the list of things I wanted to try out. With ceramics there is so much 'behind the scene' in terms of technique and skill that, unless tried firsthand, you will find it difficult to grasp.
I am a person that usually branches out a lot, which is just a nicer way to say that I get distracted a lot, I try 50 things and maybe see 10 through. With ceramics I knew from the beginning I was playing the long game, I felt from the beginning that I would not stop any time soon, so I took it easy, I am still taking it easy, I am not a frantic maker, I really want to savour it.
Do you have any particular influences?
It has happened that some pots have a shape or a decoration that I can consciously trace back to specific objects but generally the inspiration is more abstract than that. Of course my taste has been shaped by the many things I have encountered in my studies but more than recreate specific object I am trying to capture a specific sensation. There is an emotion that you feel when you pick up handmade objects, a human connection, that you can't get with other things. It is something most people don't think about but most people feel. There is something special in running your hand over something and feeling the effort, the patience, the time spent making it, I want my pot to be able to transmit that, I want them to have a soul, a personality.
Talk to us about your particular materials and techniques.
I use black stoneware clay, I hand-build it without using the potters wheel, through pinching. Pinching a pot takes quite a long time to shape and usually the scale stays relatively small, you spend so many hours with the pot in your hands that it almost sits in them perfectly. My favourite tool to smoothen the surface of the pot is a teaspoon. Despite my best efforts the pots will never come out perfectly symmetrical and I love that. I usually paint my pots with a resist (vaseline) and dip them in glaze, the result is usually rough and bold. I seldomly stray from my two favourite glazes brown and white I love how they interact with the black clay.
Why did you decide to move away from using the wheel?
I think it would be more correct to say that I never got into using the potter's wheel. I tried several times to work with it, even with good result, but it just doesn’t do it for me. I love to spend many hours in contact with each piece till it fits my hands perfectly. I enjoyed the process of using the wheel but I never felt the same attachment to the pieces even if I found them aesthetically pleasing.
What relationship do you have with social media?
It's a loveless marriage, it's functional, good things come out of it but I reserve my true love for other things.
Do you listen to music while you work? Is an inspiration, or a way to concentrate?
Music is a big part of my creative process, probably not in a way people would expect. It is definitely one of my best ways to concentrate. I get distracted very easily and it can get really exhausting when you are trying to apply yourself, one of the best way to get 'into the zone' is to create a focus-unfocus state of mind. I usually pick a song that resonates with me in that specific day and loop it playing it for hours, quite soon I am not listening anymore but the music has set a mood and has created the perfect distance from the world. If I cannot play music I just sing and hum to myself, probably that is why I like being a solitary maker.
Outside of your work what are your other passions or interests?
I am addicted to books I have too many and never quite enough. I used to read a lot of fiction when I was young but now is mostly art, history, natural science, mythology and legends. More in the specific I am positively obsessed by Japanese woodblock prints from pre modern period, I love Mughul and Mongol history and have a soft spot for miniature paintings. I absolutely adore cooking and I am a bit of a tea geek, I collect textiles, love to make little prints and carve stone seals (in the east asian way). In general, if someone speaks of something with enough enthusiasm I am hooked.
What was the best piece of advice you were given or have to give?
All the best advices I have ever received have to do with cooking, so here is one of them: add a spoonful of Dijon mustard to your green lentils stew, it will bring out all the flavours. It really does!