A potter exploring buddhist philosophy through ceramic art

by Uma Nair, Economic Times, 7 Dec 2009

New Delhi, India -- Art is a cunning beast. A humble teapot can become an elusive elixir. In a series of teapots that spell the play of clay and the illustrious power of design, Vineet Kacker’s 15 teapots created as a commission, echo the individual character of a teapot in conjunction with the vast history of ceramic teapots.

Teapots can be seen in cultures all over the world, differing by the many variations in cultural and geographical conditions. In these, Vineet creates a vessel of dulcet tones, the teapot, in its classy and sophisticated form in which he is able to twist, add and manipulate to reflect his own personal style.

An uninitiated Vineet in the art of studio pottery arrived, by pure chance, at the Andretta Pottery in 1989. The one-month exposure made him give his architectural degree a go by to head south to work with Ray Meeker at the Golden Bridge Pottery in Pondicherry. And the wheel has been turning in his favour since then.

The Jing teapots are all glazed with a single smooth matte white glaze, but the landscape-y textures are highlighted by the use of an ochre slip under the white glaze. Certain elements are then picked up in liquid gold lustre, and applied in a separate firing. “In my work techniques always follow the ideation process,” says Vineet, “In the Jing teapots I opted for a white matte glaze as the interior of the restaurant already had a lot of colour, and the entire array of teapot sculptures had to hold together as one. It went with the simple, the subtle as underlined in Taoist thought, and the landscape lines refer to earth, water as Tao is often called the natural or water-course way.”

Of course, one look at the oriental orchestrations, and they seem to signify a subtle play of intent and historical innuendo. “The inspiration for these sculptural teapots comes from two contrasting philosophies to come out of China – that of Tao, as outlined by the ancient philosopher and mystic Lao Tzu in Tao Te Ching; and that of Mao, as outlined by Mao Tse Tung, popularly known as Chairman Mao says Vineet.

However, the vessel is the primal ‘canvas’ for him. In one pair, he creates a concentric circle, adds four spouts at different parallels and places the little deity on top. The satin cream contrasts with the gold swathed spouts-perhaps this allows him also the widest latitude in juxtaposing the many contexts. He also brings home the notion that the teapot is a universally recognised object, with strong associations to domesticity and gentility.
In this work and in many others, his exploration of form, irrespective of function, has led to what may be a mutant peculiar to our time — the teapot that is intended to hold the eyes’ attention rather than tea.

“I like the idea of using the Teapot form, referencing almost all Asian clay traditions, in a non-functional and sculptural way as a vehicle for the import of my ideas on the notion of duality.” pertains Vineet. “Life is a harmony of contradictory impulses — the material and the spiritual, the profane and the sacred, darkness and light...and in the current context Tao and Mao,” he adds.

When asked how long it took to create the pots from the seed of thought Vineet says: “About three months, including conceptualising, presenting sketches to the client, doing full scale drawings for the entire array, working out and testing glazes and lustres, making molds and adapting the existing techniques, and finally making the pieces, slow drying and firing or the works culminating in the installation on site.”

The drift from functional to technical is intriguing. Clay is a fairly technical medium, and at the beginning of one’s journey as a ceramist the technical aspects seem all important. Working on the potter’s wheel naturally lends itself to making functional vessels. However, at a certain point when one has reasonably mastered the techniques involved, the attention shifts to what is being made, why is it being made, is it relevant to who the maker is and what he/she wants to say as an artist.

“That’s at a personal level,” states Vineet,“ but within the urban social context there is no tradition in India for glazed stoneware functional pottery. Consequently, it’s had to ascribe value to hand made functional ceramics and economic survival as a functional studio potter is challenging. On the other hand, the contemporary Indian studio potter is unencumbered by tradition and free to reinvent himself as a ceramic artist. Moreover no separate galleries of note exist for ceramists, so they share the same gallery infrastructure as the fine artists...who further assist them to explore clay in a sculptural aspect, and “content” becomes as important as “materiality”.

The teapot is a form that has intrigued artists and collectors for centuries; it apparently inspires inexhaustible variations on the relationships of spouts, handles and lids. Its asymmetrical parts lend themselves to imaginative postures that suggest personalities and attitudes. This expressive potential is realised in this Jing series.

That means clay as a material has the capacity to reassert such connections. Derived from the earth, it becomes a conduit between the potter’s creative spirit and the audience. What ensues is aesthetic push, and quietude of tranquillity. They invite a ‘second reading’, an engagement with contemplation - the silence of the tea ceremony, perhaps in praise of shadows that were.