I first met Maria a couple of years ago in Syros. Her workshop was quite impressive, packed with her ceramic creations. She was gentle, humble and really polite, but with the unsettling spirit of an artist that so often sets an artist apart. I didn’t have enough time to interview her back then, so last summer Elisabeth and I caught up with her in her new workshop. It was smaller than the old one, but a lot cozier and inviting despite the clutter, the messy working desk with her paint brushes and colors in open view, and stacks of half finished pottery at the back of her store. Her workshop was filled with anything from one of a kind dinnerware, vases, platters to pendant lights and wall hangings, all hand made – most of them with traditional motifs. She loves what she does and it shows. That’s why her pottery is so popular, selling pieces even to dealers in Sifnos (an island with a long standing tradition in pottery). Her creations capture your attention before you even walk inside her workshop-store for she actually painted the cutest daisy motif all around her window frames and entry door of her pottery. This is the story of Maria Banou, an inspiring ceramics artist.
How long have you been creating with pottery?
After completing my studies at Doxiadi School where I studied free-hand drawing as well as interior design, I got involved with pottery working with old and experienced ceramists-potters thus, learning all about the art of clay pottery. I now own a ceramics art workshop where I have been creating everything I love for the past 35 years.
What inspires you? Where do you get your inspiration from?
I believe that if you don’t love what you are doing then you simply cannot create something beautiful. I personally like taking clay and turning it into both a useful object and a piece of art! My inspiration comes mainly from tradition but with a small influence from contemporary trends.
Approximately how much time do you need to create a piece? Can you describe briefly the process for us?
The time I need to create a piece obviously differs depending on what I want to create. First, I use my hands to work my way around the clay and then slowly I give it the desired shape. Next, I may add some engravings or reliefs. Depends on my inspiration. Then I let it dry in the shade. Once it is dry, the object is put in a kiln where the temperature reaches 1100 C. When this is done, colors are applied, by hand of course, in order to color my object. Finally, I place the object in the kiln once again in order to get the final product.
What was your biggest challenge during these 35 years of work?
When dealing with handcraft, especially ceramics, there are always difficulties to encounter. This is because one needs to create without really having the luxury, if I may say so, to make any mistakes. Thus, one needs to know how to work correctly, using special fireproof colors, enamels and glazes that need to be in the right density in order to get the result you wish for, giving shape in what you have fantasized in your mind and what you have inspired in your mind! This of course can be achieved only after many trials and of course with experience that you gain over the years.
What do people buy most? What is your best seller?
People in general prefer to buy objects that they can use thus, enjoy more. At the same time they want the objects to be special and handmade of course. People may buy anything from bowls, plates, serving dishes, bottles, and jars but they might also buy other different decorative objects mainly wall hangings.
Do you believe that ceramics is back on the rise? And if so what makes you think so?
I believe that ceramics is on the rise again due to the fact that people are going back to our tradition. Thus, people enjoy more having handcrafted pieces, whether they are functional pieces or simply something like a decorative piece of pottery, thus avoiding mass production pieces which can be found everywhere.
It’s a fact: ceramics are on the rise again. There’s a directness to clay pottery that we can all relate to. We can all trace this material and its uses back to our origins. There’s nothing elitist about it. And I think that’s the biggest appeal of ceramics, because they serve a specific function but with a very individual aesthetic. So, at a time where a “back to our roots” approach is embraced all the more, it seems only right that ceramics will be on top of the list in preference. Now, Maria‘s work has a quality that respects those traditions that are deeply embedded in Greek culture and highlights them in such a sincere way. That is why I’m convinced that all of you would love her work if you ever saw it from up close in person, for it speaks of a Greek myth in an olive grove and beyond.
Wish you all a great weekend,