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Filling the Silence: Towards an Understanding of Claudi Casanovas’ Blocks

Geraint Roberts




The author examines recent work of Claudi Casanovas, and takes as his starting point the artist's short statement that accompanied the exhibition Twenty Blocks. Casanovas' claim that 'each piece is a silence' is discussed and weighed against his whole body of work as well as that of other makers such as Gordon Baldwin and Ryoji Koie. Casanovas' work provides an opportunity to reflect on the difficulty of translating intuitive experience into words and the author concludes that there is a need to contextualise the work of silent makers, although their silence can itself provide a context. Some thoughts are offered concerning the silent presences of natural objects such as stones, rocks and mountains and how these might affect us, drawing comparison between Casanovas' Blocks and Chinese Scholars' Rocks.

Key Words
: Claudi Casanovas, Ryoji Koie, Gordon Baldwin, silence, Twenty Blocks, Scholars' Rocks, mountains

Each piece is a silence
If I were a poet, I would inscribe words there

to bring us closer to the truth

which urges us on from within

If I were a philosopher, or writer, I would inscribe words so
that the heart would overflow with knowledge
and the meaning of clarity

If I were a monk I would inscribe prayers in which all spirit might find repose

and glory in the same Being

Only I am a simple mortal

surrounded by simple obscurity

and unfailing silences

Each piece is a silence
that is filled with the sounds of your gaze

Claudi Casanovas' statement for the exhibition Twenty Blocks
(Translated from the Catalan by Marilyn McCully)
Galerie Besson, London, 17 October – 16 November 20011


In this article I want to examine the ceramic work of Claudi Casanovas (Spain, 1956 –), giving special attention to a recently exhibited body of work, Blocks.2 I want to begin to understand how he has arrived at these objects, objects that arguably look as though they were found rather than made, naturally occurring phenomena rather than intelligently directed products. The intrigue aroused by the objects themselves is added to by Casanovas' statement about this work, a statement that I find complex and challenging, a statement that raises more questions than it answers.

In his statement, Casanovas refers to several kinds of silence: the silence of the pieces themselves and the 'unfailing silences' that surround him. But there is an additional silence implicit in his words and that is his own silence, that as a 'simple mortal' he cannot explain himself through words.

It seems, then, given the silence of the maker, that it is up to us as viewers to make sense of the work. How are we to approach the work, to begin to gain an understanding and appreciation of it? But in saying what he is not able to say, in indicating the direction of the thoughts he says he cannot express ('If I were..., I would...') he is nevertheless establishing a kind of framework that might bring us closer to his intentions as a maker.

In the first section of this article, I want to look at some aspects of ceramics and silence – since it appears that this is by no means a unique instance of a relationship existing between them – and to consider some of the reasons for and implications of the various kinds of silence alluded to. This will also provide some insights into Casanovas' methods and philosophical intentions.

There are various established methodologies for – in the language of the poem – 'filling', works of art. Given the scale of this article, however, there is not space either to outline, or to consider the merits of, all the different approaches. I intend, therefore, in the second section, to consider briefly factors affecting our perception of works of art and to look in more detail at Casanovas' Blocks in relation to his life and previous work.


In his statement, Claudi Casanovas refers directly to different kinds of silence: the silence of the pieces themselves and the 'unfailing silences' that surround him.

To begin with, what does he mean in saying that 'each piece is a silence'? Can he be referring to the literal interpretation of 'absence of sound' for surely that is a given with inanimate objects? Are we then dealing with an 'abstention from sounding, speech, mention or communication'3: a refusal, failure or inability to speak? He intimates as much in his litany of 'If I were...' statements and his claim to be 'only a ... simple mortal'. If we take him at face value then we can understand his silence as an inability to speak. And so there is another kind of silence at work here and that is his own silence, the silence of the 'simple mortal', the silence of the maker.

But already we seem to have these two kinds of silence, which may or may not be distinct, entangled: the silence of the maker and the silence of the object. Moreover, the silence of makers, as well as the silence of objects, seems to be a commonplace in the field of ceramics. Jeffrey Jones comments (in his article in this issue of Interpreting Ceramics):

Ceramics is not only a site where silence happens, it is somewhere where different silences happen and, in particular, it is a place where the relationship between the silence of people and the silence of things can be apprehended and explored.4

It is perhaps impossible to disentangle these different kinds of silence, since, as Jones says, they are in relationship. However there are some things that can be said separately about them.

The silence of makers

One of the commonest ways of accounting for the silence of makers is that the work 'speaks for itself'.5 True, Casanovas isn't claiming that his does – he is expressly inviting us to do so – but the upshot is similar. As he has said himself: 'Everything is registered there, and everything is to be read there.' 6 The responsibility for interpreting the work is ours alone and requires no explanation on the part of the maker. And why should it? Why, after all, should someone who has spent countless hours, days, weeks, years, of practical exploration and material production have then to explain themselves again in words? Surely the work should 'speak for itself'. If makers, having spent hours in the studio, have then to explain themselves in words, they've been wasting their time, haven't they? Surely making has its own language, with its own vocabulary and syntax? But is it impossible for this language to be translated into the language we read and write?

Peter Dormer seems to think so. In describing craft as a 'practical philosophy', he adapts an Aristotelian definition of moral philosophy as 'an exercise in self-clarification on the part of individuals who seek to live excellently.'7, whereby 'the thinking is in the making'. Because of the practical nature of this quest, very little about it can be verbalised or theorised.

... whatever clarification of motives and values the craftsperson achieves can be inferred from the work and what he or she does but cannot, with any depth, be put into words. 8

The only way (according to Dormer) of judging such work is through connoisseurship – knowledge accumulated through experience – whereby quality is assessed by comparison with this body of knowledge, and this cannot be adequately described, only shown.

One of the values Dormer talks about is 'honest work'. He distinguishes between rules of procedure and rules of making. The latter are 'how to' rules and once learnt can be forgotten or broken with impunity. Rules of procedure on the other hand are self-defined and form the basis on which the maker builds his/her criteria of success. Integrity in the work relies on the craftsperson adhering to their rules of procedure and not cheating.

In the case of Casanovas, this is evidenced by the demanding technical means that he develops in order to overcome the obstacles between him and the realisation of his final goal. Which is not to say that he necessarily knows beforehand what that goal might be: the process is intuitive. It also involves reflection, and the difficult task of editing, as the journey unfolds.

There comes a moment when I have nothing left but the certainty of what I do not want ... And one after another I start to break up weeks of work ... I say to myself, 'You're at the beginning, this has already happened to you many times before, you can manage.' And I carry on breaking them, scared as I am ...9

The certainty he speaks about applies equally to knowing when the work is finished. British ceramicist Gordon Baldwin (1932 –) echoes the sentiment:

I work at a thing until it means something to me. I may not be able to define what it is, but I know when I've got there and I know when I haven't got there. They keep going into the kiln until that happens. It has to be done without thinking about it, that I do know.10

These are vague descriptions of actually quite a precise procedure – there is certainty and knowledge – that highlight the difficulty of articulating knowledge that is intuitive.

One view of artists distinguishes between two types: the teacher and the researcher. The teacher, conscious of an audience, seeks to some extent to persuade. The researcher, on the other hand, is chiefly engaged in defining her/his problem and seeking a solution, and would rather be silent. Cezanne, Klee, Brancusi and many of the Abstract Expressionists are examples. 'The end he is working towards may be unattainable and he probably knows it.'11

Casanovas himself has said (in a statement that recalls Picasso's claim: 'I do not seek, I find'):

I realise that I will never succeed in making a piece from inside its own self. But for the moment I am going to pretend that it is possible for me. Some pieces I search for; others come to meet me. The first may be interesting, but the others are better.12

Such a level of engagement with process and material is a modern artistic response to the conditions of modernity that persists to this day. Alienation caused by, amongst other things, mass production, the division of labour, the replacement of natural cycles by clock time and by a consumer culture that (apparently) demands such things as ready-peeled fruit, means that makers are potentially some of the few people able to create a bridge back to the real. Fully engaged with the stuff of this world, the artist is able

to see and sense more than we see and sense, and to build out of this experience works that lead us towards his more comprehensive experience ... (H)e is the least alienated worker, his labour being a natural part of his life as a whole, self-directed, self-assessed and self-satisfying.13

Bruce Metcalf perceives in his students the joy that comes from being engaged body, mind and soul in creative (craft) work, and feels that that the popularity of craft disciplines is in direct response to feelings of alienation. M. Anna Fariello, a maker who calls herself a 'romantic materialist', backs him up:

Craftsmen have a privileged relationship with their material. We are connected through material to nature, which helps us cope with a society increasingly removed from nature.14

Including, perhaps, our own nature, for according to Metcalf the intuitive knowledge of the craftsperson has a biological basis. He describes different kinds of biological intelligences that to him mark the distinction between contemporary art (which embodies meaning independently of a medium or object) and craft (where objecthood and commitment to medium are essential). Whilst verbal and logical cognitive abilities seem to be privileged in Western society, craftspeople, on the other hand, rely chiefly on their bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence: 'It's the mind speaking through the body.' 15 Western intellectual tradition is distrustful of the body; the crafts act as a counterbalance to this attitude.

In their loyalty to medium, process and skill, the individuals who comprise craft culture elevate the bodily and spatial intelligences to a position of primary importance.16

The process of making is, then, a different way of thinking and of expressing thought. Making precedes meaning (and indeed can have its own meaning). There is a danger in talking or theorising about art: talking can lead to paralysis of intuitive creation and understanding, and to formulaic production.

However, there remains the difficulty of how to approach and assess the work of a silent maker, and a further danger in the competition established between ways of thinking.

The delicate balance of all a person's powers ­ which alone permits him to live fully and to work well ­ is upset not only when the intellect interferes with intuition, but equally when sensation dislodges reasoning ... Unchecked self-analysis can be harmful, but so can the artificial primitivism of the person who refuses to understand how and why he works.17

In his article entitled 'Speak for Yourself' (re-published in this issue of Interpreting Ceramics) Edmund de Waal takes ceramicists to task for their lack of discourse above the level of 'potchat' (his term for technical discussion). He argues that the reason for, and the attraction of, silence to makers is that it confers authenticity and seriousness to them and their work. However, it also allows an 'interpretive vacuum' to open up, one that is commonly filled using an 'ethnographic' methodology.

The truly authentic and serious potter is the one who unknowingly makes pots, whose artistic journey is unmapped, whose silence allows a critical space to open up into which the critic, the curator and collector can step ...18

Thus (according to de Waal), the 'authentic' potter is perceived as Yanagi's (and Leach's) 'Unknown Craftsman', not only unknown but unknowing, his work predetermined by tradition, produced in quantity and recognizably 'other' in the eyes of collectors and critics, for it is they who assign aesthetic value to the work.

De Waal wants makers to contextualise their work because an object's meaning is contingent on how it relates to other objects and ideas. His argument, however, seems self – defeating in the end because he later says 'it is often the things that remain unsaid that are most revealing.'19

Jeffrey Jones discusses the silences of Hans Coper (Germany, 1920–1981) and Lucie Rie (Austria, 1902–1995). These can partly be accounted for by personal biography, but Jones suggests that their personal experiences (as émigrés) mean that their individual silences have a wider significance, not least within the broader world of the arts (e.g. Samuel Beckett in literature, John Cage in music).

Silence not only surrounds them and defends them, it reveals and locates them too. That silence which hides them from us also shows us where they are.20

Perhaps this is what de Waal means about 'things unsaid'.

The Silence of Objects

Jones identifies the silence of objects as being located in their 'inexhaustible nature'21. He refers specifically to everyday domestic ware: things that tend to go unnoticed but are likely to outlast us; things that don't demand our attention and thus are not drained of interest through over-exposure.

But can Casanovas' work be located in the category of 'everyday'? Obviously his work is raised above this, is made special, if only because it is displayed in galleries and museums, is bought and sold by collectors. The disparity is bridged perhaps by Casanovas' own observation of the process of firing as:

a quiet moment of enduring change. Maybe the sensation of silence and peace which emanates from ceramics are rooted in this phenomenon.22

The effect of firing on ceramic is to produce a chemical change that is irreversible and that gives strength to the material such that it will endure for millennia. The hitherto reliance by archaeologists on ceramic artefacts for information about our earliest ancestors is testament to this. And it might be speculated that the long history of ceramics' use in funerary and mortuary rites hints at a more intuitive and profound understanding of the nature and implications of clay's endurance.

Philip Rawson describes how the 'transformation image'23 that the firing of clay gives rise to acts upon maker and user alike, functioning both as a witness to an individual's existence in the world, and to the reality of the world as a material capable of transformation by that individual.

A pot thus 'contains' both the reality of materials and process, and the inner realities of man's sense of identity in relation to his own world of meaning.24

Gordon Baldwin reiterates this reading of ceramics in talking about his own work:

They sit in my studio and solemnly, silently, produce events which seem to have meaning and seem to give me a raison d' etre. I am because I do: they are very existentialist.

The pieces don't make any noise, yet, when I look at their silences, there are lots of different sorts, almost as if they are making noises. I don't know how to describe it but we all know that you can go into a place and it's silent, but it's a different sort of silence in one place than another. Maybe the silence is made up of tiny noises; I don't know. There is a true silence about the pieces, but they may speak to you just as a stone may speak to you, out of a true physical silence.25

Claudi Casanovas has described his practice as 'like trying to give life to a stone'26 and, of course, clay and stone are closely related, both geologically and in appearance. But it is worth remembering that it is not just objects made from fired clay that enable us to locate ourselves in the world. The entire material world is capable of communicating to us in the way suggested by Rawson. Casanovas wants his work to act on us

like stones on the road, like wood on the beach, or pieces of machinery in a scrap-yard. We pick them up so that they accompany us with their silent presence and reflect to us what we cannot see in ourselves.27

So why does Casanovas attempt to make pieces that echo the effect of found objects? One reason might be that direct creative engagement with material is necessary in order to understand more profoundly how that communication operates. To learn any language requires study and practice, to become as fluent as a native speaker requires deep and lengthy immersion. Furthermore, as each individual is unique, so is each individual's communication with the material unique and therefore the conversation that Casanovas has with his material is a conversation only Casanovas could have.

The artist's activity begins with an attempt to understand, to penetrate 'reality', including in this 'reality' the fact itself of our attempt. All that I learn in ceramics seems to me something that I forget completely. With each new piece either this comes back or it does not. One thing I do know: once a finished piece disappears, in time or place, it is always a surprise when I see it again.28

The conversation that happens is of the moment, and when we ­ and even Casanovas himself ­ look at that object again, a different conversation will occur. Perhaps this is what Jones' description 'inexhaustible nature' means.

The contemplation of nature and natural objects, and stones in particular, has a long history in Oriental cultures. In China this stretches from Neolithic times (7000–1600BC) – carved stones have been found in tombs dating from this period – to the present day. By the time of the Han dynasty (206BC–220AD) the Chinese were adorning their gardens with found stones and by the late Tang (618–907AD) or Song (960–1279AD) dynasties Scholars' Rocks were being collected by the literati for display and appreciation in their studios.

Although apparently natural found objects, rocks were often shaped by craftsmen or submerged in river beds for several years 'so that the stone may be scoured by wind and rain and its patterns restored to a living appearance', to better capture the essence of 'the universe in microcosm'.29 Scholars Rocks can be dated because they embody styles apparent in other works of art (especially landscape painting) of the same period. A particular idea and ideal of nature is being expressed through the rocks, whether natural or shaped. There are complex cultural codes governing their selection by collectors, who nevertheless have the final say on what does or does not make it into the studio.

There is a kind of control thus asserted over nature itself, at the point when the rock quite literally enters into culture as it passes through the doors of the scholar's study ... these objects serve as 'beacons' which chart the shifting terrain of culture.30

In Japan, a similar culture of aestheticized nature is found in the tea ceremony. The teabowls used in these ceremonies were valued for their apparent naturalness and their closeness to the making process. The wood firing of pots, such as Bizen ware, and the accidental outcomes that are part of the process, was seen as a way of incorporating nature into the work; porous or cracked pots were equally valued.

A Victorian collector, Captain F. Brinkley, had this to say about Bizen wares:

A connoisseur must have been specially educated when he consents to pay ten or twenty guineas for a water holder that might easily be mistaken for a drain pipe, partially blackened by fire and ornamented by patches and streaks of brick colour.31

In the same century, John Ruskin's views on architecture were inextricably linked to his appreciation of and beliefs about nature, which strongly resemble Oriental ones. He abhorred contemporary science's reductionism of nature to empirical data, and felt like the Chinese that visual idioms could be found to convey the essence of nature; a boulder expressed geological processes as well as any mountain. These processes were at the core of what he called naturalist religion.32

This may be a key to the meaning of the 'unfailing silences' in Casanovas' statement. The 'silent presence' of the natural elements (stones, etc.) expands to include the mountainous, volcanic landscape in which he lives and works, and perhaps even to nature as a whole. The solitary pursuits of philosopher, writer and monk that he refers to in his statement hint at an inner silence; religion is perhaps the primary arena where silence happens on a regular basis; and of course the ultimate silence of death is of spiritual and philosophical concern.

Oriental spiritual traditions have always had a particular reverence for mountains:

places from which to survey not the panorama of the earth but the mysterious immaterial essence of its spirit...

staircases to the celestial, or crumbly aerial platforms on which to concentrate on the dissolution of the bodily self, 33

while in the West, mountains have more often been the focus of human conquest. However there have always been those, whether Christian ascetics, poets, philosophers or mountaineers, on whom mountains have had a profound effect. Petrarch, Dante, Shelley, writer and translator Ramond de Carbonnieres, nineteenth century Alpinist Edward Whymper, Himalayan mountaineer Francis Younghusband, 'for all of them, the panorama showed nothing so clearly as the scenery of their inner selves.'34

Spend any time in their company ... and you will be robbed of your conventional grip on time. Human history, human revolutions, will suddenly seem a momentary blink against the immense scroll of eternity embedded in the rock. At a particular geological fault line, 'one world ends; another begins, governed by laws of a wholly other existence ... traversing the mountain one travels from life to death.'35

Casanovas' 'unfailing silences' may be an expression of the sublime and it is possible that his work too allows us access to that experience.

Filling the Silence

There are various approaches that can be taken to understanding and appreciating works of art. Foremost amongst these should perhaps be the direct appreciation of the work itself. The visual and other sensual properties of scale, texture, colour, etc., and the way these properties interact should create some sort of impression, even if only on the level of 'I like it'/'I don't like it'.

However, very rarely are we able to separate the object itself from other factors affecting our perception, i.e. purely to apprehend the thing itself (although phenomenology is one approach that seeks to do this). Factors that affect our perception include what we know, or think, or are told, about the person who made it, under what conditions and with what intention; the processes used and the materials employed. Where and how an object is displayed – whether in a public museum or private gallery or consumer outlet, a corporate or domestic or natural environment ­ might also affect our perception.

One way of deepening our understanding of a maker's work is to place that work in some kind of context. Claudi Casanovas' Blocks can be placed in the context of his life and previous work, in the context of ceramics as a field of artistic endeavour and within the visual and tactile arts as a whole. They might equally be located within Catalonian and Spanish and European culture. Casanovas himself has said:

If I had to make a choice, I would choose our own tradition, interpreted from that originated by this century's avant-garde.36

Claudi Casanovas: The Maker, the Making and the Made

Claudi Casanovas was born in Barcelona in 1956. His family moved to Olot (nr. Girona, Catalonia), and he returned to Barcelona at eighteen to study theatre and ceramics. He was apprenticed to a ceramic studio there, producing wheel thrown domestic stoneware. He returned to Olot in 1978 and helped found a co-operative (La Cooperativa de Ceramistes Coure) of seven potters, who while working independently, shared the responsibility of a shop and organising ceramics related events in the region.

With the assistance of a local authority scholarship in 1980, he was able to begin exploring his interest in the effects of fire as a shaping force, causing distortions by firing the clay body above the appropriate temperature. He went beyond this to the point of 'boiling' clays and creating artificial magmas. In his attempts to solve the technical problems arising from such experiments, he found himself naturally adopting the traditional Japanese technique of neriage (the laminating together of different clay bodies).

By the late eighties his sculptural ceramics had completely taken over from the production of domestic pottery. Support from his wife and her family frees him from the constraints of commercial pressures and allows him to fully devote himself to his ceramic work.

His earliest works recall traditional Mediterranean forms: amphorae, storage jars, and large plates. Decoration and form are integrated in the making and often recall the geometric patterns on old Iberian pieces. Strong contrasts of light and dark reflect the lighting conditions of his home country.

In working alone and on a large scale, he often relies on industrial machinery and is ingenious in his use of this equipment and other materials in creating his forms. He often includes a variety of combustible materials into the making, and sometimes sandblasts fired pieces, processes that create alternating depths of surface and make apparent the different qualities of the dozen or so clay bodies he uses, sometimes all in the same piece.

It was his first experiments with high firing that led him to make the connection between his material and the volcanic landscape in which Olot is set, and to begin using material from that landscape. Casanovas has said that 'Nature in all its forms'37 is his chief inspiration and, for reviewers of his work, aspects of the natural world are what they primarily evoke. However, he 'is at pains to indicate that he has no special interest in geology, and that any resemblance between his fired work and rocks and land forms is coincidental.'38 He is not aiming to create a representation of the landscape, but he is mimicking some of the processes that brought that landscape into being.

There are other ceramicists whose work bears at least a superficial resemblance to Casanovas', most notably Ewen Henderson (1934–2000). However, Tony Birks says that Ryoji Koie (Japan 1938–) is 'the only ceramic artist seriously to have influenced Casanovas.39

Casanovas and Koie have worked together both in Japan and Spain. Koie's major influence on Casanovas was his encouragement of the younger artist to discover his own voice. Casanovas is affected by the exuberance of Koie's personality.

Ryoji Koie taught me another way with the wheel ... the spinning clay of fun, mischief-making, joy, mistakes, lightness, surprise and freedom. The living, not the ideal.40

Ryoji Koie grew up in Tokoname – one of the six ancient clay sites – and makes everything from traditional Japanese wares, through spontaneous expressive and experimental pieces, to installations. He is a prolific maker and tireless experimenter who has said that all he needs to make him happy is a source of clay.

His background in the Japanese art world in the post-war period of the 60s and 70s introduced him to American and European innovations in art. He was particularly drawn to European art informel (of which Catalonian Antonio Tapies was a major figure) and American Abstract Expressionism, which are linked by their spontaneous approach to material and process.

Koie explores and interrogates the elements of earth, fire, air and water.

In the process of probing the nature of pottery, as many modernists and postmodernists have probed the nature of sculpture and painting, Koie is led time and again to experiences of intimacy, delight, uncertainty, bewilderment and revelation. He has grappled with the human talent for destruction and discovered paths into nature's imagination. As light and fast moving as his pottery may appear to be, his work carries considerable existential and metaphysical weight.41

Although his work often evokes natural forms and textures, the marks of his hands are everywhere to be seen, constant reminders of the making process and the maker's involvement. Casanovas' work, however, is much more self-effacing. He has talked about the imperative to touch clay as little as possible during the making process; every potter knows that overworking clay 'deadens' it, but Casanovas takes the imperative to the extreme.

In 1996, Anita Besson (proprietor of Galerie Besson) asked Casanovas to produce some smaller pieces. He went back to the wheel and brought to it all that he had been assimilating in his large-scale pieces and what he had learnt from Ryoji Koie, making a series of 'teabowls', that archetypal Zen form, 'pieces almost found rather than thrown'.42

I think that working on these forms and on this scale may have influenced the production of Blocks. They seem to me to be more concentrated pieces, perhaps because they are substantially smaller than much of his previous output. However, if we are to detect in Blocks any reference to traditional ceramic forms it is surely the teabowl, albeit a giant one.

It seems appropriate that the work to which Claudi Casanovas' statement refers, given the difficulties raised by their 'silence', is Blocks, suggestive as this is of some kind of obstacle. But it also describes their appearance. These are heavy, solid lumps of clay, contradicting totally the ceramic imperative not to build too thickly or unevenly.

Miquel Jimenez believes that it is Casanovas' purpose

to open the material to sight, to enlighten what is in the dark, to organise the primordial chaos of the constant transformations ... (He) makes explicit a new way to express the inner side of the material penetrating as far inside as it is possible to understand and see without destroying its own identity.43

To me, they seem like small boulders that have been found and harvested like the Scholar's Rocks. Some have internal spaces or openings created and blackened by the burning up of combustible materials: caves; others seem to have erupted from the internal pressures caused by firing, to have undergone tremendous, earth-shattering violence, and bear the scars; others are quieter, slowly yielding to the effects of time; some seem like fragments from ruined buildings, detritus accreting palimpsests. The eye travels like a mountaineer, searching for the next foothold and never stopping for long: the journey is restless, endless; and yet there is a sense of peace that comes from being thus engaged, a sense of being outside of time, where activity and stillness are the same thing.


The silent maker can be a practical philosopher and making can be as valid a way of understanding oneself and the world as academic philosophy. However, to pit one against the other seems to me to be mistaken. Academic philosophy undoubtedly relies on imagination and intuition, just as reason is an essential part of making. An uncritical attitude towards making can lead to barren technique, empty style and false claims to authenticity. Nevertheless the difficulty of translating intuitive, body-centred discourse into words remains.

The silence of makers can also be understood because of course the work should be appreciated for itself and words are no substitute for direct experience of it. Words do, though, afford an additional way of engaging with the work and with other people about the work, becoming a dynamic part of culture and society, transforming and being transformed. Engagement with other people, as much as with material, is an antidote to alienation.

There is a need to contextualise the work of silent makers, although their very silence can itself provide a context. Casanovas' work could be considered in relation to Catalonian and Spanish art. It would be interesting to consider his affinities with artists such as Tapies and Miro, both Catalonians. It is worth remembering how recently Spain was a military dictatorship and the implications of this to the topic of silence, as well as the Catalonian struggle for autonomy and linguistic identity.

Tapies, incidentally, was very interested in Eastern philosophy, as were very many modern artists. In ceramics, the nature of the artistic and philosophical communication between East and West is often presented simplistically. Casanovas and Koie are perhaps a means to explore the complexity of the exchange. As with Scholars' Rocks, a contemplative relationship with the work can, for some, be a way to connect with the ultimate ground of being, whereby the particular is a portal to the all. But this too is as much a matter of culture as individual experience. It also raises the complex relationship between nature and culture. Some critics have made connections between the Romantic notion of the sublime and Abstract Expressionism and I think this is also worth further consideration in relation to Casanovas.

My attempt to fill the silence only goes to show how vast and varied the silence is.



(Click on the end note number to return to the appropriate place in the article)

1 Galerie Besson, London, pamphlet for Twenty Blocks, 17 October – 16 November 2001.

(can be viewed at ).

2 Galerie Heller, Heidelberg, Germany & Galerie Besson, London, UK in 2001.

3 Chambers English Dictionary's definition of 'silence', 1990, p.1368.

4 Jeffrey Jones, 'Keeping Quiet and Finding a Voice: Ceramics and the Art of Silence', Interpreting Ceramics, Issue 5, 2004.

5 Bernard Leach used this phrase in a Lucie Rie exhibition catalogue in 1967.

6 Tony Birks, Claudi Casanovas, Marston House, Somerset, 1996, (no page no.)

7 Peter Dormer, 'The Language and Practical Philosophy of Craft', in The Culture of Craft, Manchester Uiversity Press, 1997, p.219.

8 Dormer, The Culture of Craft, p.219.

9 Birks, Claudi Casanovas, (no page no.).

10 Gordon Baldwin in Hannah Wingrave, 'Gordon Baldwin: Modernist Inspiration', Ceramics in Society, Winter 2001–2002, pp.13–17, p.16.

11 Norbert Lynton, The Story of Modern Art, 2nd edition, Oxford, Phaidon, 1989, p.362.

12 Claudi Casanovas in Eileen Lewenstein, 'Claudi Casanovas: Individual Potter ­ Ingenious Engineer', Ceramic Review, no.132, November/December 1991, p.31.

13 Lynton, The Story of Modern Art, p.356.

14 M. Anna Fariello, 'Material Meaning', The Studio Potter, vol.25, no.1, December 1996, pp.28–30, p.30.

15 Bruce Metcalf, 'Craft and Art, Culture and Biology', in Dormer, The Culture of Craft, 1997, p.77.

16 Metcalf in Dormer, The Culture of Craft, pp.79–80.

17 Rudolf Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception, (new version), University of California Press, 1974, p.3.

18 Edmund De Waal, 'Speak for Yourself', Ceramic Review, no.182, March/April 2000, pp.32–34, p.32. Republished in Interpreting Ceramics, Issue 5, 2004.

19 De Waal, 'Speak for Yourself' p.34.

20 Jones, 'Keeping Quiet'.

21 Jones, 'Keeping Quiet'.

22 Birks, Claudi Casanovas, (no page no.)

23 Philip Rawson, Ceramics, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984, p.6.

24 Rawson, Ceramics, p.8.

25 Gordon Baldwin, quoted in Peter Saunders, Gordon Baldwin's Silent Clay, Ceramics Art and Perception, no.39, March 2000, p.40.

26 Claudi Casanovas in Elspeth Owen, 'Forms for the Time Being: International Potters Festival Aberystwyth 1991', Ceramic Review, no.131, September/October 1991, pp.8–9, p.9.

27 Casanovas in Lewenstein, 'Claudi Casanovas', p.31.

28 Casanovas in Lewenstein, 'Claudi Casanovas', p.31.

29 12th century connoisseur Du Wan in Robert D. Mowry, 'Chinese Scholars' Rocks: An Overview', Oriental Art, vol.xliv, no.1, 1988, pp.2–10, p.4.

30 Laurie J. Monahan, 'Finessing the Found: 20th Century Encounters with the 'Natural' Object', Oriental Art, vol.xliv, no.1, 1988, pp.39–45, p.45.

31 F. Brinkley quoted in Edmund De Waal, 'Scorched Earth', Ceramic Review, no.172, Jult/August 1998, pp.19–22, p.19.

32 See Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory, London, Harper Collins, 1995, p.509.

33 Schama, Landscape and Memory, p.407 & p.411.

34 Schama, Landscape and Memory, p.422.

35 Schama, Landscape and Memory, p.488 (inc. Ramond de Carbonnieres quote from Voyages au Mont-Perdu, Paris, 1802).

36 Claudi Casanovas, 'Catalan Roots', Ceramics Monthly, vol.34, June/July/August 1986, pp.28–31, p.28.

37 Claudi Casanovas, A Mini Retrospective, Galerie Besson exhibition pamphlet, 2000.

38 Birks, Claudi Casanovas, (no page no.).

39 Birks, Claudi Casanovas, (no page no.).

40 Claudi Casanovas, Teabowls, Galerie Besson exhibition pamphlet, 1996.

41 Michael Brenson, 'Ryoji Koie: The Energy of Fire', American Ceramics, 12/3, 1996, pp.36–38, p.36.

42 Casanovas, Teabowls.

43 Miquel Jimenez, 'Claudi Casanovas' Blocks', Ceramics Art and Perception, no.49, September 2002, pp.45–47, p.46.


Arnheim, Rudolf. Art and Visual Perception (New Version), University of California Press, 1974.

Birks, Tony. Claudi Casanovas, Marston House, Somerset, 1996.

Brenson, Michael. 'Ryoji Koie: The Energy of Fire', American Ceramics, 12/3, 1996, pp.36–38.

Casanovas, Claudi. 'Catalan Roots', Ceramics Monthly, vol.34, June/July/August 1986, pp.28–31.

Casanovas, Claudi. Teabowls, Galerie Besson exhibition pamphlet, 1996.

Casanovas, Claudi. A Mini Retrospective, Galerie Besson exhibition pamphlet, 2000.

De Waal, Edmund. 'Scorched Earth', Ceramic Review, 172, July/August 1998, pp.19–22.

De Waal, Edmund. 'Speak For Yourself', Ceramic Review, 182, March/April 2000, pp.32–33.

Dormer, Peter. 'The Language and Practical Philosophy of Craft', in Peter Dormer (ed.), The Culture of Craft, Manchester University Press, 1997.

Fariello, M. Anna. 'Material Meaning', The Studio Potter, vol.25, no.1, December 1996, pp.28–30.

Jimenez, Miquel. 'Claudi Casanovas' Blocks', Ceramics: Art and Perception, no.49, September 2002, pp.45–47.

Jones, Jeffrey. 'Keeping Quiet and Finding a Voice: Ceramics and the Art of Silence', Issue 5, Interpreting Ceramics, 2004.

Lewenstein, Eileen. 'Claudi Casanovas: Individual Potter ­ Ingenious Engineer', Ceramic Review 132, November/December 1991, pp.28–31.

Lynton, Norbert. The Story of Modern Art, (2nd Ed.), Oxford, Phaidon, 1989.

Metcalf, Bruce. 'Craft and Art, Culture and Biology', in Peter Dormer (ed.), The Culture of Craft, Manchester University Press, 1997.

Monahan, Laurie J. 'Finessing the Found: 20th Century Encounters with the 'Natural' Object', Oriental Art, vol.xliv, no.1, 1988, pp.39–45.

Mowry, Robert D. 'Chinese Scholars' Rocks: An Overview', Oriental Art, vol.xliv, no.1, 1988, pp.2–10.

Owen, Elspeth. 'Forms for the Time Being: International Potters Festival Aberystwyth 1991', Ceramic Review, no.131, September/October 1991, pp.8–9.

Rawson, Philip. Ceramics,University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984.

Schama, Simon. Landscape and Memory, London, Harper Collins, 1995.

Saunders, Peter. 'Gordon Baldwin's Silent Clay', Ceramics: Art and Perception, no.39, March 2000, pp.37–40.

Wingrave, Hannah. 'Gordon Baldwin: Modernist Inspiration', Ceramics in Society, winter 2001–2002, pp.13–17.

Top of the page | Download Word document | Contents


Speak for Yourself
Edmund De Waal

Keeping Quiet and Finding a Voice: Ceramics and the Art of Silence
Jeffrey Jones

Filling the Silence: Towards an Understanding of Claudi Casanovas’ Blocks
Geraint Roberts

'Between the Dog and the Wolf'
A review of the exhibition by Christie Brown at the Kingsgate Gallery

London, 2 -12 October 2003
Babette Martini

Review by Bronwyn Williams Ellis

The Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem: Three Generations 1919-2003
by Nurith Kenaan-Kedar

Review by Steven Goldate

The Artful Teapot
by Garth Clark


Filling the Silence • Issue 5