On the path of her personal and professional life, Gabriella Sacchi embodies the image of the craftswoman and designer combining creativity and savoir-faire at the highest level. In 1981, she established her Spazio Nibe laboratory, where, to this day, she has been engaged in ceramics sculpture while also pursuing cultural, research and promotional activities in the field of contemporary ceramics. In 2018, she was acknowledged the MAM-Maestro d'arte e Mestiere award, granted by Fondazione Cologni dei Mestieri d'Arte, in collaboration with ALMA.

Tell us your story. What was your training? When did you start on this path?

After attending the art school, Liceo Artistico in Brera, I graduated in Architecture in Milan's Politecnico in 1975.

I started teaching arts and simultaneously opened a children's laboratory for creative expression.

In those days, I started working with clay and, in 1981, I established my ceramics atelier. From 1990 onward, I dedicated myself exclusively to the production and development of contemporary ceramics, organising courses and exhibitions in the gallery I opened near my laboratory in 2002.

From the very beginning, I took care of all stages of production, from the planning to the research of materials, from the refinement of techniques to the creation of objects.

My overall training was largely influenced by the paths I followed in the Faculty of Architecture.

From the very beginning, I took care of all stages of production, from the planning to the research of materials, from the refinement of techniques to the creation of objects.

I think the subjects at the core of the work highlight the author's personality, education and sensibility.

Did any person or event influence you in choosing this trade?

My family has always been active in the art world. My great-grandfather Gaetano Previati was a theorist of the pointillist style and one of the major artists of this movement and my mother, who always valued the artistic side of education, suggested I should attend art school. I think it is with tenacity and deternimation that you learn techniques, but I believe that the cultural heritage handed down by your family is vital for an overall education.

I chose to go deeper into ceramics because I felt a need to consolidate situations, encounters, and opportunities I had been randomly involved in.

How do you choose your subjects?

I try to spend part of my time visiting museums, exhibitions and taking part in events. I like reading, travelling and feel attracted to the stories of individual people and broader communities, because they are the witnesses of the times we are living in. I always bring pieces of paper in my handbag and take notes about the things that draw my attention, or fragments of ideas that might eventually become actual projects.

I think the subjects at the core of the work highlight the author's personality, education and sensibility.

It is the readibilty of the themes and forms that allow the author to be recognised and help tell the difference between an original work, where we can identify the author's poetics and that of a practice where repetition takes centre stage.

Over the years, my working style has changed and I now give priority to pieces featuring an aesthetic value and that are characterised as either unique works or as works in progress.

How many steps does your work go through? Which are they?

Both the concept and the design steps are paramount in my work: the mind is compelled to select among a great number of themes and working hypotheses which have piled up over time.

We select the most interesting alternatives concerning symbols, expression, and matter and we start working on them.

In a ceramics laboratory like mine, the processing steps following the design phase are developed in the following order:

- creation of the object in various clay modelling techniques

- drying the modelled piece

- firing the piece to achieve a semi-finished product, called terracotta or bisque

- coating the semi-finished product with covering materials such as engobes, and enamels

- second firing to fix the coating materials over the bisque

- possible additional firing of coating materials that need to go through different temperatures (the object may need to undergo three or more firings).

Concept, design, creation: is there a step you like best along the creative process? Why?

Each step depends on the previous one, and it would be impossible to achieve the final result if even one stage of the production were skipped. I see all steps as strictly interrelated and the coherence of the different operations play a significant role in achieving good results.

Opening the kiln is always an inspiring moment in the process of making ceramics, loaded with expectations and fears, as it may bring great satisfaction or disappointment. At that moment you know if your long hours of work have produced interesting results, and consider whether unexpected outcomes might be redeemed as exciting variations.

How do you combine tradition and innovation in your work?

I think that for people dealing with contemporary ceramics the acquaintance with what was created before or is being made nowadays should be mandatory.

Sometimes you may think your object could be regarded as a brand new item just because you are unaware of history. Or, you may risk replicating formulas characterising other historical moments. For this reason, I have never been interested in reintroducing any techniques or aesthetics, but I've always tried to learn techniques, to use materials, and treasure all the teachings that allow me to express my thought.

I think that looking at my works, we can read some of the aesthetic and technical elements which the history of ceramics has revealed, while also feeling that the same features have been useful in expressing the way of thinking of a person who can tap into thoughts and emotions while working in this time.

How does your region influence your work?

Historically, each region in Italy had a crucial ceramic hub. Lombardy can boast Lodi, Piedmont Castellamonte, the Venetian region Nove, Emilia Faenza, Tuscany Impruneta, Umbria Gubbio, Puglia Grottaglie, and Sicily Caltagirone.

The people who produced unglazed earthenware, pottery or terracotta in the past mostly relied on raw materials available within their region and created a great variety of products.

Today, we can quickly get in touch with products and ceramic working methods coming from very far countries outside our own region. Therefore, we enjoy a wide range of choice, and the ceramics which are produced are not necessarily connected to the materials and the aesthetics of a specific region.

As far as my work is concerned, I do not think it is evocatively connected to a particular region; on the contrary, it suggests how fleeting any borders can be nowadays.

Which is, among your works, the one you cherish most?

Most of my works are characteristically works in progress, and many of my projects have taken shape in specific circumstances, but I have never considered them as finished products. As I think they are stimulating thanks to their themes and their expressive potentialities, I sometimes go back to them and enrich them with new elements or create new interpretations of the same items. All of these projects bear a symbolic value for me because they were essential steps in my work at different times and situations.

If I were to mention a work I’m particularly connected to on an emotional level, I may think of the Matrimonio di Boccali (Boccali Marriage) series. They are different couples of pitchers which I started creating in the 1990s and embody the moment I felt my work was becoming more distinctive and unique.

What would you like to tell young people who are approaching a trade like craftsmanship?

I believe anyone approaching a Metier d’Art today should consider developing a wide range of diverse skills.

You need to be acquainted with materials and techniques while also improving your expressive abilities and design skills. But you also need to learn how to relate to a specific client or the general public and to create a business plan.

Moreover, you have to be culturally curious because achieving your artistic identity is the result of many elements, and is not just connected to the sector you are working in: it sinks its roots in your love for knowledge.