Northern Story #3· Roger Coll, CERAMIST

White plate,
red plate

Photography: Roger Casas

We´ve been very lucky. There´s nothing like being surrounded by people who are passionate about their work and are happy with what they´re doing.

We have gathered in the house-workshop belonging to Roger Coll (aka Krasznai) in the Bufalà neighbourhood of Badalona. We´re having breakfast and chatting about what we´re going to do today. Roger is with us, along with Yihid, a student from Badalonás School of Art, Roger Casas who will be taking the photographs, Marc Parramon and Marta Vilanova (aka Bonavista) who will be recording the day. Plus Ana, Dani and me.


The workshop is divided into two interior spaces and a backyard where which we gather to take advantage of the good weather.


Roger guides us through the workshop and shows us some of his work. Very fine hollow spirals made from white clay, black gnomes made from red clay, cups and plates that seem to come alive. It is difficult for a photographer to transmit the organic nature of some of the textures and the meticulous work behind each piece.

Roger Coll explores, creates and designs. And he does it by dirtying his hands:



“I don´t understand people who think first and then do. Personally, I think while I´m doing. Well, this is just my way of seeing things and maybe it´s something not everyone shares“


Roger can´t be defined only as a potter, although he doesn´t feel comfortable with being labelled an artist either: “Too pretentious. In any case we don´t really need labels, do we?”


We prepare the material and tools. Roger distributes overalls. He covers his clothes with a chef´s apron and we´re ready to try doing our best at making plates or other ceramic pottery.



Wheel and white clay

Before we start he warns us: “this is not a question of showing up and throwing a pot. It´s more like playing a guitar: you can learn the basics and improve bit by bit, but it’s not something you can learn in a day”.


We begin: the first thing is to mould a piece of clay in order to find its central axis. In order for the clay to slide and take form, it has to be done with wet hands. Roger insists that we maintain the right physical position. The elbow wedged into the waist to control the strength of the wheel and be able to give shape to the material.


“You have to make the clay rise from its centre and then allow it to descend again. Then you make a hole in the top with your thumb and you open it up gradually”. He corrects our body positions several times, always seeking points for support.


The sensation that you get from working the clay is very pleasurable, and the time goes by very quickly while we talk about how he discovered his vocation. “I worked in an architect’s office. Pottery was my hobby but gradually I spent more and more time thinking about the pieces I had in the kiln than the work I had at the office. In the end I quit my job.”


When we get more or less got the shape we want, the most complicated part is refining the thickness of the pieces with our hands. “It means spreading out the clay”. Ana gives shape to a bowl, Dani makes two pieces quietly and easily, while two almost-plates get destroyed in my hands until I manage to give shape to a rather simple bowl.


We leave them to dry in the sun and we change scenarios.



Table top and red clay

“This is a more rudimentary method, just the material and our hands”. We sit around the table and Roger divides up chunks of red clay that we roll and join together in long sausages. It’s like being in school again.


“The good and bad side of this work is that it requires a lot of patience“.

 

At this point the most important thing is not to leave air between the parts we´re piecing together, so no cracks will appear in the piece when it heats up in the kiln.


Roger the photographer asks for an ashtray and Dani makes the piece for him with his initials carved into the clay. Now we leave the pots to dry. My hands are red.


 

Enamel and graphics I

When we return the pieces have a slightly different look to them. Roger comments that they are hard as leather, they´re at a stage when the clay has hardened while retaining a certain level of humidity. Now is the moment at which they must be polished, etched or prepared with graphic images.
We prepare a mixture of clay, water and slip, and we test it first with the reddish colour of the mixture and then in white.


After several tests we decide to do it another way. Roger shows us some pieces on which the graphics are applied with ceramic transfers that are going into the kiln. We think the results will be better that way.


Its almost 5pm and we´ve finished for today. All the pieces are ready for the first firing and afterwards the graphics and enamel work will be finished. We take our leave and look forward to the next session.

 


Enamel and graphics II

Weeks later we return to Roger’s workshop. We congratulate him. Today is his birthday. But he looks tired. “I´ve just got back from a fair in Karlsruhe, Germany. We went all the way by car and I´m still getting over it”. We sit down to breakfast with him and chat about what we´ll do today while the rest of the team arrive. Today it´s the last touch and it´ll be quite simple. After painting the pottery with enamel we apply the transfers we got printed in order to customise them.


We prepare everything in the workshop.
We cut out the transfers and wet them in water until we can separate out the layers, just like a sticker. With a lot of patience we apply them to each piece. The transfers have to end up completely smooth, without air bubbles, so they don´t break apart with the next firing. We use a piece of plastic to achieve this, but we have a lot of difficulty with the coarser pieces.


 


This work is very relaxing; Roger´s workshop is an oasis of tranquillity and it´s contagious! We have all been pleasantly affected by its calmness, because it enables us to really enjoy working there. There´s great chemistry in the team and the idea of ending the session makes me feel sad. And it seems I´m not the only one: with the transfers applied and the pottery in the kiln, the conversation in the hallway goes on longer and longer. We keep putting off saying goodbye and finally we put it off until next week when Roger will bring us the finished pieces.