Abbas Akbari

The Vessel

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.

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.

Alan Caiger-Smith
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.

Greg Daly
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.

Ferenc Halmos
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.

Niilofur Farrukh
Editor of NuktaArt
Pakistan, Jul 2013

Never Emptied Vessels
An interview with Abbas Akbari

Mohammad Parvizi
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."
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-à-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.
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!