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Play with Fire

Author: Niilofur Farrukh      Publications: Newsline– Artline (p.116)      Dated: Dec 2005

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“I do not sleep when I am firing my pots. I just sit and watch the kiln, imagining the stages the glaze goes through,” says Salman Ikram, who is acknowledged as an exceptional ceramist of this generation, even by his peers.

An NCA graduate, Salman Ikram lives and works in Lahore. His father was a designer with the international ceramic firm, ICI BOCH. This gave him a chance to discover the world of ceramics. As a young boy, he would look forward to the summer holidays when his father would let him visit the factory.

lkrams fascination with glazes grew and he began to collect test glaze tiles with their rich spectrum of colours and textures. This interaction not only sparked his imagination but opened a space for a career in this relatively unexplored field.

By the time he applied for admission to NCA, Salman already had a portfolio of ceramics that pleasantly surprised Mian Salahuddin, the demanding head of the Ceramics Department, who was glad to welcome him to the course.

After six years as a professional ceramic artist, Salman Ikrams passion for his work has not diminished. The recent collection on display at Karachis Chawkandi Art is indicative of a progressive development as he continues to challenge himself with new forms and glazes. The struggle has not been an easy one; often he feels its the lack of suitable clay that reins in his imagination.

“I do not sketch my pots ahead anymore, they come spontaneously,” says the potter. Speaking about a small hybrid pot, not larger than a grapefruit, somewhere between a teapot and a shell, Salman explains: “I had to throw it four times, once each for the three sides and then for the lid to give it this form.”

Another vessel, with its wide cone shape and curved wave-like opening at the top that replaces the pointed apex, sits steadily on a round base and invites a peek into its mysterious interior.  Glazed in a rich brown colour that drips around it like thick chocolate sauce, the pot reaffirms its creators immaculate skills, both as a glazer and a potter.

White shoulders pulled into a shape, reminiscent of an overturned plate with a tiny flawless mouth, this flat pot becomes a canvas on which Salman swirls glazes to layer the surface with two shades of pale turquoise. The result is stunning.

Soon after creating two hollow doughnut shapes, the ceramist decided to alter the smooth ring with wings of roughly hewn clay. The brittle edges of the clay with cracks and jagged edges show the medium at its most natural while adding interest to a basic form. In one creative stroke, these pieces have been pushed from a vessel to sculpture.

Another sculptural form repeated in the show with variation is a wide-bodied rounded pot with a collar of unfinished clay slab, attached diagonally to the convex form. In all its different incarnations, the strong tactile feeling remains dominant in this piece.

Two glaze techniques have been used extensively throughout the show. One is the volcanic glaze that bubbles and erupts, leaving shard- like remains on the surface. The second is the crystalline glaze which leaves a satin smooth finish. Pots with the crystalline glaze sparkle as the natural light catches the embedded tiny crystals just beneath the clear glaze of the surface. Depending on the light in which it is seen, the iridescent colours alter the vibrancy of the pot. Its only at close quarters and in a focused beam that it radiates tiny rainbows to the viewer.

Salman Ikram works daily in his studio to throw and glaze. “lt took me over a hundred glaze experiments to finish these 60 pieces for the show,” he explains.

His passion continues to drive him to spend many sleepless nights as he waits to deliver his pots from the kiln.

“Remember, unlike other artists, we put our best work in the fire…if something goes wrong, I cannot even open the kiln and take it out.”