After a conversation with the young potter Julen Ussia, it is clear that working with his hands and giving shape to pieces created with a material as sensitive as clay has become one of his most intimate and personal experiences. He defines it clearly: “I’m hugely interested in my physical and mental relationship with the lathe as a tool. In addition, I’ve discovered that the more techniques I learn, the less I want to quit. This has been the case for me since I first began, maybe since the first week, and now that I’ve come this far, I can’t stop.”
A potter and craftsman through family tradition, Julen seeks to convey with his pieces a language that is pure, raw, very refined and well worked. This spirit is present in all his work; a production that is structured around one origin. “At a structural level, many of my pieces start from the potter’s wheel. As such they all share the same gene: they are concentric circles around the central point of the tool, and they are born of the space I generate between my fingers when I turn them,” he says.
And it is this creative freedom which ceramics and their learning processes offer him which gives him the confidence to move freely and without hindrance as a creator. “This field of work that I know and in which I have been working for six years has given me a critical attitude in defence of the profession, the optimisation of both material and energy resources, and the value of human effort. These types of professions involve a process of continual synthesis and adaptation of tradition to new situations. I feel comfortable doing what I do, but the body asks me for more,” he says.
But clay has not always been the prime material of his production. He has previously also had the opportunity to work with wood and metal. “Clay has something special about it – it’s plastic like people, adaptable, responsive and has a memory, but I also need other materials for my work such as glass, stone or human waste…” he says. He actually recalls when he was a studying for his Masters in Ceramics: Art and Function at the University of the Basque Country, when his somewhat precarious situation, like the rest of the students, led him to work with the leftovers and waste from the workshop. “This, together with the refusal to produce more pieces, led me to a rich path of exploration in which the reuse of existing resources was the key. I always try to make do with little or less,” he says.
The result is clean lines that do not require a specific use, and whose functionality can be in the hands of those who buy it. “They have no ultimate use – maybe a variety of uses. I think that the study of the behaviour of materials is much like the study of the behaviour of human beings. I’m interested in studying what we do with them and how we behave with them before, during and after,” he says.
Photos: Anna Izquierdo / Julen Ussia
This article is also available in Español