We’ve sat down with the very talented designer and ceramic artist, Mia Sarosi, to find out more about her exclusive artworks inspired by The Courtauld Gallery’s Rodin and Dance: The Essence of Movement exhibition. Mia hand throws and hand paints each piece at her studio in Oxfordshire. Mia began working with ceramics in 1991, spending an initial seven years as an artist in an English Delftware studio. She then moved into designing and making her own work, spending time learning and working with other potters. Following a Queen Elizabeth Scholarship (QEST scholarship) in 2004, Mia has worked exclusively with porcelain.
Her exquisite ceramics are available for purchase online or in-store from The Courtauld Shop.
Q: Do you have a favourite piece? And can you tell us what has made it special?
MS: Broadly I have lots of favourites, but definitely some are the Rodin pieces. It has been a very nice project for me, the spirit of it. The fact that I’ve been meaning to do something with acrobats before Rodin came on the horizon with the figure and the body, and I’m really pleased with how they’ve come out. I feel I’ve really understood the sketches that he has done using models. There is a whole group of favourites that lie under the heading of being in such a wonderful state of mind when I was doing them. Certain pots that can be quite ordinary things, however, due to my state of mind it is much more enjoyable and more absorbing. My other favourite pieces have been where I do something off the commercial side, i.e. some of the mathematical – type pieces. This year, I’ve done a few looking at the drawings of John Russell who did amazing detailed drawings of the moon. I did some platters with a full moon, that was exciting.
Q: What is the most difficult part of hand throwing your ceramics?
MS: The medium of porcelain is much more difficult to throw with compared to say stoneware and earthenware. This is because of the composition being mainly china clay and feldspar as the glass former within the body, so it really not a proper clay as could be dug straight out of the ground. There is an addition of a plasticiser to make the body more workable, in my clay it is bentonite, but you can’t have too much of this because it compromises the look and feel of porcelain.
If you imagine trying to make something out of toothpaste, this is somewhat like trying to make something out of porcelain on the potter’s wheel. It is not very stretchy, and it requires structural compromises such as having a thicker cross section at the base to support the walls. Also, porcelain absorbs a lot of water very quickly and so can collapse easily.
Q: Is it a lot of trial and error?
MS: Yes, it is a lifetime of trying to master materials and understand the clay: How to prepare it, the best state it should be in before you throw, and what forms will work. By doing a lot of repetition you begin to discover things about the nature of the porcelain.
Q: So it really boils down to experience?
MS: Experience is very important.
Q: What is something no one would know about you?
MS: I am a complete nerd when it comes to the technical side of it.
My degree was in Math and Philosophy. It’s definitely an arts degree but not visual art as when you study Math and Philosophy you have to visualise the concepts in your head.
Q: Can you walk us through the process of creating one of your Rodin Dancers?
MS: With a project like this, I have to come at it from an artistic side and commercial side. Certain things were established quite quickly which were the small and medium pieces which were straightforward forms. I did some research on Rodin watching documentaries and the Cambodian dancers, and I could see how he was interested in that. There are many meaningful gestures and silhouettes formed with Cambodian dancers. The research part helped me to understand the sketches and drawings. I began doing copies of sketches, then I realised I needed to work with a model as I couldn’t understand them. For example, if I want to paint something I need to engage with the object. I often learn a lot from watching things, I’m a very visual person. There wasn’t enough information about what was going on. I needed to see the poses from life, really. I needed to understand them in terms of my body and experience them more at hand. It’s what I try to do with a lot of my work. For example, when I worked with the Oxford Museum of Natural History on a project about their Arctic, I would’ve loved to jump on a boat and go there, but I can’t. Some of the Rodin poses were so bizarre so I just wanted to understand what was going on with them.
I found a model who was also an acrobat. We took quite a few of the poses and she tried to replicate them. We would talk about how difficult it was to get into a pose. Some of the poses I looked at appeared quite erotic. So I asked, ‘what’s going on with that.’ As she was going in and out of the poses, she was able to tell me that some of the poses were specialise contortionist poses, for example. I started to understand how you could think they were erotic or sexualised, but when you’re trying to capture a moment of movement, it’s just a fascination with what the human body can do, and what it can’t do for very long.
It was a very inspirational afternoon. I’ve done life drawing and the different positions of the body are fascinating to draw. After that experience, I could really understand why Rodin was so fascinated with the dancers.
I did a tiny bit of photography, but sketching from different angles was the majority of the preparatory work. Then the light bulb went on and I was able to do my ceramics and brushwork in a way that I could gain the understanding I needed to capture the essence of the movements.
Q: So how long did the acrobat have to hold her poses?
MS: I didn’t realise she wouldn’t be able to hold the poses for more than a few moments. But that was the most interesting part of it, that these were sketches of moments.
Q: What is it about Rodin’s work that compelled you to undertake this project with The Courtauld Shop?
MS: I was familiar with Rodin’s work. I would love to be a sculptor honestly but have never had the time to go down that road. It’s very moving work. In part of my reading I came across his quote, ‘sculpting is just drawing from many angles’. I could just paint on canvas but I like making something that is three-dimensional and that must be experienced in the round. My pots work best when someone has had a cup of tea out of it or is washing it up, the pot itself is a form that is working from as many different angles as possible.
Q: Is there a specific artist or period in art that inspires your work?
MS: I started out painting in a Delftware studio. I spent seven years doing that job. A lot of reproductions of old English Delftware designs. Some designs are simplified from looking at Chinese porcelain and so is very much influenced by the East. If you go and look at a lot of Delftware some of it’s quite naïve and it appears as if a child has painted it. Noah’s Ark in the Ashmolean Museum, for example, the expressions on the faces are very funny, and some of the portraits of Royalty are equally amusing. However a lot of it is very skilfully composed and executed, really quite abstract. I am influenced by the quirkiness of Delftware and the sense of humour in many of my own designs.
I wasn’t influenced by art school as I never went. I think that might have been a good thing because I was not taught what to think or what not to think about art, but I still would have liked to go.
Q: Have you made your magnum opus yet? If not, what would it be?
MS: For me personally, I don’t think it exists. Or it’s made up of everything I’ve ever made. I think it’s a Zen thing, ‘the journey is the way’. If I make a pot and someone falls in love with it, and it brings lots of joy, then that is my greatest work.
Q: When was the first moment you knew you wanted to create ceramic art?
MS: I still remember it now. I was discouraged in doing art at uni and so I did my degree in maths and philosophy. I went directly on to become a painter in a ceramic Delftware studio painting designs on various shapes that they had. I realised that I wanted to create my own shapes and designs in porcelain. So it was in that moment that I knew what I wanted to do.
Q: What does the future look like for Mia Sarosi?
MS: Stay in business so I can keep doing this full-time and do what I love to do. Keep improving my skills, coming up with new designs and make the best pots that I can. Keep finding new projects, and keep being creative. I don’t like to look too far into the future, I think it’s better to get from day to day and enjoy it.