With his contemporary approach, Paolo Polloniato is
the last descendant of a dynasty of master craftsmen who have dedicated their
lives to the traditional ceramics of Nove since the early 19th century.
Tell us about your history.
I was born in Nove, a small town near Vicenza, on the Brenta river, where people have been making pottery for three centuries. I have a deep relationship with this technique: I am the last descendant of a dynasty of master craftsmen who have dedicated their lives to this craft since the early 19th century. My father Giulio and my uncle Aldo were two of the last decorators on ceramics and earthenware of the Premiata Manifattura Barettoni, formerly called Antonibon, in Nove. My uncle Domenico was one of the most important modellers of the past century, and my mother was a “fioraia” (a decorator specialising in floral motifs) in several ateliers. In my hometown, 90% of inhabitants used to earn their living making pottery. In its heyday, this district was one of the most important producers of industrial tableware in Europe.
How did you train to become a ceramic artist? Did your education influence the choice of your profession?
My first instinct was not to work with ceramics at all, but to choose a different path. I let the “earth” call me at the right moment. I had an atypical education. I attended a technical school, because I was interested in architecture, and during the summer I used to work in a pottery factory. After high school, I worked for a couple of years in the field of furniture design and then I went to the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice.
I dedicated myself to painting and photography and I experimented with different materials until 2008, when I decided the time had come for me to work with ceramics. I consider myself what art critic Enzo Biffi Gentili defined an “artiere”: I think like an artist and work like a craftsman. In 2009, thanks to my partner Chiara who was living abroad, I moved to Paris and Brussels. For four years I became acquainted with many important workshops, artists and galleries, where I was given the opportunity to introduce my work.
You experiment a contemporary artistic language on Nove’s traditional ceramics. Tell us how your works come to life.
During the 20th century, a very important experimental research movement was born in Nove. To this day, the ceramic creations of Giovanni Petucco, Pompeo Pianezzola, Federico Bonaldi, Alessio Tasca, Cesare Sartori are unique on the international scene. When I decided to work with ceramics, Nove was going through the most difficult economic crisis of the 20th century. Many businesses had closed down, generating a state of abandonment that is still visible today. This decadent environment induced me to make a brave choice: to fix that atmosphere on traditional shapes. The next step was to recover forgotten forms. I started to visit deserted factories filled with a neglected clutter of thousands of moulds, equipment, colours and materials: the emblem of a community that had lived only for ceramics. I understood that working with ceramics was like playing with time: in revisiting the history of my land, I could make it evolve and give it new life in a different shape.
In my creative process, Nove itself becomes my workshop. I visit factories that are still in operation, abandoned mould works and a dump containing old broken moulds. I talk to the local artisans. I take in the emotions that these places give me and then I extrapolate individual elements, which I combine to create new shapes. I put together the scraps of a bygone time according to my personal vision.
What materials and techniques do you use?
During my career I have worked with different materials and techniques, depending on the research I was developing at the moment. In the mid 1990s, when the definition of “street art” was still unknown in Italy, I used spray and graffiti. During my academic studies I dedicated myself to painting on fabric, mixing several techniques, from acrylic and synthetic colours to aniline dyes for wood. My first atelier was a big abandoned pottery fabric, where I started a series of restoration works that involved the place itself.
Who are you clients?
I mainly create unique pieces that I sell in art galleries or directly to collectors who know my work. I also create exclusive models for first-rate Italian artisanal brands. Also, I make site-specific projects for museums and private houses.
Do you think that your work could be interesting for young people?
The crafts are drawing more and more attention from the media and public opinion. They are entering a new dimension that is linked to modern technologies. Young people are attracted by manual work in several areas. While I was living abroad, I realised that the young who want to become artisans are sustained and supported. There are excellent schools and universities that prepare you to become a contemporary artist who works with ceramics, for instance. In Italy we are lagging behind. We have neglected our artisanal schools and we have persuaded the younger generations to make other choices. But the wind is changing and now it is important to spread our sails.