Francesco Raimondi was born in Vietri sul Mare in the province of Salerno in 1959. A faience decorator by vocation, he trained at the major potteries of Vietri, working by the side of great maestri who taught him the many secrets of this ancient art. He has developed a style full of cultured references, executed with infinite variety. His atelier l'Archetto is a Polar Star for many ceramics enthusiasts.
Dal 1981 al 1991 lavora da “Nando”, un piccolo laboratorio sulla costiera amalfitana, diventando padrone del mestiere e manifestando il suo talento.
Tell us about your background. How did your career begin?
My story is very simple. As a child, I loved to draw continuously. It was almost a necessity. In my writing pad, I copied the decorations of Vietri majolica for hours on end. Wanting to be a ceramicist was a calling I discovered at the age of nine when I was at primary school. Next to the school, there was a pottery run by a very elegant man named Bambiniello (small child). Every day, I would stop in and admire the little donkeys, carts and objects of daily use, all modelled by hand. That is where my career and profound love of ceramics started.
Is there someone in your life who had an influence on your training or choice of craft?
His name is Giovannino Carrano. He was a pupil of the famous German ceramicist Richard Dölker, who worked in Vietri sul Mare in the 1900s. I studied under Carrano when I was still a boy. I admired him much, because we had the same background of very humble roots. The only valuable thing he possessed was his talent and his incredible drive to get ahead in life. He was an example to me, and I tried to follow in his footsteps.
Vietri sul Mare is an ancient crossroads of exchange, people, commerce, noises, odours and flavours. What relation do you have with the city and how much does it influence your work?
My city is everything to me. Every day, on my way from my house to the pottery, I observe the city fondly. It makes me happy, because here, ceramics have always existed. Vietri's skin is terracotta. It suffices to walk through the alleys to discover pieces of unsuccessfully fired pottery sticking out of the walls on ancient palazzi. The city lies at the centre between Greek and Roman culture. Both are a strong inspiration and influence on my work. Vietri's position at the entrance to the Amalfi Coast has allowed the sea and nature to become elements of inspiration in my creations.
How would you describe the Vietri style?
The Vietri style was born in the early 1900s. In ancient times, the city was a crossroads of commerce in the Mediterranean, in addition to being the entrance to the Amalfi Coast, which brought this little gem of the Campania region to become a point of passage of a number of cultures. Thanks to the tradition of the grand tour, many famous people came through here to reach Amalfi, leaving a mark on what was then artistic ceramics, distinguished by long and sinuous brushstrokes.
In the 1920s and '30s, Max Melamerson, Richard Dölker and their associates arrived, beginning what is called the German period. It influenced the style that was already present in these parts. Then, thanks to the enormous contribution of great artists such as Guido Gambone and the Procida brothers, the Vietri style was born, a naïf type of painting that illustrates life and nature with simplicity and sometimes fairy-tale imagination.
At a certain point of your career, you decided to abandon tradition and embrace innovation. What led you to this brave choice?
Ceramics are an art, and as such, in continuous transformation. Every artist is subject to a natural process of change, in harmony with his inner self. To the same extent, he is influenced by artistic currents that are renewed constantly. My feeling was that everything had already been said and done regarding tradition. But to not distance myself from what I am, I wanted to leave some tradition in my work.
I have been favoured by my acquaintance with great artists of international renown who worked with me at my atelier. It's how I succeeded in finding a new key to the art I have always incorporated in my work. After much thought, I was able to reach a new form of expression that combines tradition and innovation.
How much tradition does your art still contain?
Very much. I have never distanced myself from tradition. What I do is just an interpretation of it. I bring everything that belongs to the classic iconography of Vietri majolica to an updated form. My work contains many references to currently famous people.
Your creations are divided into concettuali and grottesche. Can you explain what these are, what the difference between them is, and what they have in common?
The concettuali and the grottesche have nothing in common. They were created at different times in my life. Like every artist, I have an element that distinguishes me: curiosity. This led me first to an astral world made up of lines and points, with agglomerates that might resemble planets. These are the concettuali, for which I used many geometrical elements from the Vietri tradition. The use of glazes and bright colours allowed me to aim for the most modern visual effect I had ever experimented with. After that, over the years, maturation came, favoured by a number of exhibitions of playful grotesques. The pieces in my Raimondeschi series, for example, depict young faces belonging to current times instead of figures from the past that we see in frescoes, mosaics and ancient sculpture. Everything is linked by a free-spirited, ludic and modern interpretation of elements. My grottesche are different from those made by Gio Ponti and Pable Charoen. What I wanted was for my grottesche to reflect a sense of wittiness with reference to our culture, full of double entendres, ambiguity and popular legends, which are particularly numerous in this area.
How do you choose your subjects?
Purely by chance, and never in a predetermined way. Art is improvisaton and inspiration, and the latter always arrives without warning. I might be calmly reading a book one afternoon, and in a flash, inspiration is triggered. It could be a memory, a study, a trip, something I see or read, or life itself. At that very moment, my mind is struck by something and I put the idea down on paper so it doesn't vanish. Later, I transfer it in a cheerful and non-serious way to ceramics.
Idea, design and execution: which phase of the creative process do you prefer?
Execution, of course, without a shadow of doubt. The instant I put my ideas together and create a sketch, I am using all my abilities. Having fun and working things out is the basis for every single piece I have made, and this makes me extremely happy. A white plate might be scary to some, but for me it represents the possibility of creating. It was fundamental to receive the title of Master of Arts and Crafts – it makes me proud, makes me want to do more, so I can be a point of reference to other ceramicists who like me started working their way up when they were young.