Pottering around. In conversation with …. Anna and Paola Marinuzzi 


And with the arrival of the new season, I have managed to curate and publish a new ‘In Conversation with ….” Below is their story, sisters and artists … creating together …

POTTERING AROUND. In conversation with …Anna and Paola Marinuzzi

1 . How did you start your ceramic journey?
Anna – The first encounter was when we were children: our father took us to visit the last remaining furnace in Etruria, it was the Ricci brothers’ furnace in Vetralla, in southern Tuscia. Indescribable was the emotion of being able to enter, as a child, into a place that seemed to have come out of one of those fantastic stories they used to tell us to put us to sleep. The workshop was in a cave dug into the tuff and at the bottom, beyond a wall, there was the furnace which, for us, young and little, plunged into a dark and mysterious place, probably towards the centre of the earth, who knows where. So in our imagination, which was blurred with reality, it was as if the potter, in order to fire his pots, was somehow dealing directly with the magma, that which we saw coming out of the volcanoes. The Ricci brothers were like two magicians who gathered magic earth in a mysterious place in a nearby forest with their wheelbarrow and transformed it: marvellous jugs, pots, animals and large cooking pots that they managed to create by placing an extraordinary spell. There, we certainly began to learn about the production process in ceramics. Each time we went there, and before leaving, we would ‘steal’ – from a pile of magic earth left to ripen in the sun – a small ball of that clay, thinking that we would take home a little piece of that secret, so that we could try to repeat the magical enchantment.

Isole (Islands)

2. What is it that you like about clay as a material?
Anna – The adaptability, the experimental uniqueness, the vast possibilities to be explored, but at the same time also the rigorousness of the technical aspect which seems a limitation but which we consider as a solid foundation on which to ground all experimental experiences, even the most daring. And then the chemistry and physics of fired colours. The light they produce. Actually, for us, the first professional approach as ceramic artists was the material as a colour. My sister Paola came from fine art studies at Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma, and I studied architecture – and we found ourselves together doing decoration work on various media. This included ceramics. Only after a couple of years we started making and creating with clay.

3. Hand building or on the wheel? Or both? And why?
Anna – We work with all possible techniques and the choice depends on what we want to achieve. The technique for us is the means by which we arrive at a point we set ourselves, it is never an end in itself. Perhaps it is also because we work together, we start with the idea of achieving a goal that we agree on, and we look for the best process to get there. Every piece of ceramics we make is a new adventure for us. Each of us, however, within the collaboration, specialises in some specific aspect.I find myself working more on the potter’s wheel and designing the objects, and my sister Paola, works more by hand, on slabs, with a few moulds and takes care of the glazes and firings, but we both work in whatever way is possible for us, even swapping roles. Working on the wheel for me is enjoyable because I consider it almost like a meditation exercise. The potter’s wheel is a bit hypnotic for me. When I work on the potter’s wheel I need such concentration that everything inside and outside of me has to disappear instantly, otherwise I make a mess. Working by hand, on the other hand, represents the silence of absolute freedom.
Paola – Working by hand is more congenial to me, working by hand I feel I have more possibilities, to change my way, to try and invent on the spur of the moment.

Mixture – Scultura trasformabile (A transformable sculpture)

4. Your favourite type of material?
Anna – Porcelain is wonderful because it is smooth, pleasant to the touch, soft, light, white, pure – but at the same time it also has character, in the sense that it is very difficult to dominate, control, but I believe you must also comply with it.
Paola – I have no favourites, each material has its own peculiarities, the choice depends on what I want to realise.

5. Functional ceramic or sculpture? Or both and why?
Anna – I don’t really feel the difference. For me, the observation and study of functional ceramics is important because it tells a lot about the social context that produced it, so much so that the cultural history of mankind has often been divided into periods characterised by the type of utensils used. Thinking about the objects produced in the current time. It seems to me that, the demarcation line between object of use and sculpture has become increasingly blurred. Automation has taken any meaning away from the old concept of work necessary to produce consumer goods. The utilitarian consumer products are manufactured by machines and man is left with the work of researching, learning and enhancing the ‘aesthetic’ character of the object. So I believe that the utilitarian object, produced by hand, has acquired a different character compared to the past, perhaps still to be defined.
Paola – I am interested in working on the functional object, which in addition to the importance of having utility, can also become the icon of an idea. For me personally, working on the object also means being in a more “pop” context, but I also like to work on the creation of a work or an installation that communicates a message, an idea, or a position in the social space, thinking that this work can act, exist, even in a more “classic” context than the context of the functional object.

6. Working with clay is a slow process, do you work on several pieces at the same time? How do you structure your making?
Anna – It varies, sometimes we work on several pieces at the same time, especially if we have to create something in series. Sometimes it happens that we get completely caught up in a demanding piece, especially if there is an imminent deadline, which maybe takes up all our time and space in our ceramic studio. Sometimes, caught up in the rush, we try to speed up the process with forced drying, not sleeping at night, crossing our fingers and hoping that everything will go well.

Zuppiera con pomoli (tureen with knobs)

7. Research is a great stage in any artistic and creative process. Where do you get your ideas? Inspirations? Your creations are a clear mix of different shapes, functionality, use. How do you decide the shapes and forms you create?
Anna – We observe people, what they do, what they think, how they live in that moment and then the ideas just come, we don’t even know where from really. They come from a mysterious place in our memory. The source of inspiration can be anywhere. We have certainly been influenced by all Italian ceramic production. We were born and live in Rome and ancient Rome is a bit like an organism equipped with a terracotta skeleton. The buildings of Roman times were clad in ‘travertine’, but once stripped, they reveal their structural logic through the arrangement of bricks, and it is on the foundations of Roman times that present-day Rome rests. Then the many museums to visit in our country, the many workshops and the many productions in our territory. Then we were influenced by art in general in all its forms, especially music. Italian fashion has also influenced us, the paper patterns used in tailoring techniques have been an inspiration to construct some of our shapes. Nature is also a great source of inspiration, since we have always been lucky enough to have a garden, and Rome is a city rich in wildlife reserves and wonderful parks, villas and gardens that can be reached in a short time and provide the opportunity for a beneficial walk in contact with nature.

8. You live in Italy, how does this environment inform your work?
Paola – Together, the two of us toured Italy, visiting museums and looking for typical local ceramic productions. Italy, because of its geographical characteristics and history, has a territory that encompasses many different small territories, each with its own foreign influences and peculiar characteristics. All this makes Italy a very lively territory, where creativity draws much energy from the interaction and comparisons between realities and cultures. North and South, cold and hot, one pot to keep water hot and one to keep it cool. Differences and gaps between economic realities, we are influenced by all this.
In Italy, still strongly prevalent, people work with majolica, hence the low firing temperature. We have always wanted to use high temperatures as well. When we started our experience with high temperature it was the year 2004, and at the beginning the work was complicated, we felt like pioneers. At that time in Italy firing at high temperatures was almost exclusive to industrial manufacturing, I say this, almost because there were a few ceramist sculptors in the north of Italy who used high temperatures, but it was always someone who worked in a city where there was a cladding or brick industry or even a tableware factory and who could therefore use skills or materials and equipment that were specific to the industry they were working in. From the dealers where we usually supplied ourselves, there was no availability of materials, no availability of mixtures, no availability of high temperature glazes. We had to repeatedly say that we were working with porcelain body and not third-firing porcelain and that we also needed, for example, a kiln plate that could withstand up to 1300 °C. It sounds absurd now, but that was just the way it was and we had to ask to ensure that the purchased hotplate did not melt in our kiln. When we started working with porcelain and stoneware by hand, in our country, we felt like aliens, with globalisation everything is changing now, we potentially have materials from all over the world at our fingertips and we can more easily engage internationally.

9. Working with clay is in a way very therapeutic; what is your relationship with clay?
Paola – A block of soft clay gives peace and serenity, moistening and kneading hardened clay takes patience, beating clay to compress it can be a good way to vent. To those unfamiliar with ceramics, we would like to say that “errors” are frequent and almost always irreversible in ceramic working processes, and the “defect” that occurs after firing “has not way back” and makes the piece beyond repair.
We have always felt that those who deal with clay must have special qualities, patience, strength and delicacy at the same time and a great ability to endure frustration because crack and breakage are always lurking as an irrecoverable flaw in the fired glaze. The patience and attention needed to wait for the curing and drying to follow, to respect the latency time of the firing and cooling down of the kiln are the same as those needed to care for a newborn child. The opening of the kiln then always causes a thrill. Working with clay makes one practise enduring surrender. We believe that knowing how to give up and knowing how to start again are qualities that, once acquired, can be very useful for living peacefully. Sometimes, when chance also intervenes, taking a piece out of the kiln can be a great and unforgettable surprise and then the satisfaction of having been able to create something real that did not exist before , except in our minds, is a beautiful feeling that does us good.

10. Do you have a routine, a typical day when you are making, creating?
Anna – I get up very early in the morning because dawn is the best time for me, the quietest, it has a warm welcoming red light, almost everyone is asleep, the phone doesn’t ring and I have a whole new day ahead of me. So I start working very early because that is when I find the best concentration. If I’m still working on the idea I go out early for a walk, because while I’m walking I feel free to wander with my mind and to fantasise about what I would like to achieve. Otherwise I work for hours and hours without worrying too much about the rhythms, driven by the desire to see the end result.

11. What are you in the process of working on at the moment? 
Anna – We are trying out mixtures that are new to us, after years of working with Limoges porcelain we managed to find Chinese porcelain from the city of Jingdezhen, the porcelain capital of the world and it was very exciting to have this mixture in our hands. The first test was exciting, its plasticity, whiteness and transparency astonished me. We hope so much that we will be able to do justice to this very precious material.
Paola – So we are mainly dealing with technical issues. Since we are using ‘new’ mixtures, we are developing new glazes and layers. In my projects there is also the construction of a gas kiln and reduction firing.

Pannello Bianco con girandole (White panel with pinwheels)

12. And what’s coming next? A new collection, exhibition or any achievement for 2022?
Paola – During Autumn and Winter we had our ceramic installation ‘Islands’ at the International Biennial of Ceramics in Aveiro, Portugal, and our design project of a soup tureen is going to be on display at MIDeC in Laveno Mombello.

13. One – or as many as you like – artist that inspires you? Is there a style of painting and artist’s work that you admire in particular?
Anna – There is no one ceramist in particular that inspires us, but there are so many that we admire that to name one would seem to do us an injustice. I could name the ones we discovered at the beginning: Picasso, Mirò, Malevič, Fontana, Bruno Gambone, Nino Caruso, Ontani’s sculptures made by the historic Bottega Gatti.
Paola – Anna and I love all the arts, ancient and modern, as far as ceramics are concerned, we have always admired both the craftsmen who work on traditional forms and keep the technical knowledge alive and the innovators who take steps forward. In the fine arts and painting, I love the dynamics of colours and abstract painting, I do not look for inspiration in the work of other artists. I admire Paul Cézanne, one of my favourite artist because he was a great innovator who created a bridge between the realist art of the late 19th century and the abstract painting of the 20th century through his work. I really like Cézanne’s colours, the local tone he managed to give each of his paintings is prodigious.

14. A museum/gallery that should be a must-visit. Or a book to inspire you?
Paola – A must see for us is the Museo Nazionale Etrusco (National Etruscan Museum) of Villa Giulia in Rome with its magnificent artefacts that tell the story of the life of our ancient and mysterious people, the Etruscans. Also worth visiting is the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna (National Gallery of Modern Art) in Rome. For me, an important reference book is Jung’s ‘The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious’. “Goethe’s ‘Maxims and Reflections’ for Anna.


After their formative years, Anna and Paola Marinuzzi directed their interest towards the art of ceramics, a field in which they have always seen ample opportunity for research and the study of innovative forms. Paola Marinuzzi (Rome 1961) graduated in Painting at the Accademia di Belle Arti (Academy of Fine Arts). Anna Marinuzzi (Rome 1963) while attending the Faculty of Architecture started working with Paola in her small studio. After deepening their study of ceramic technique by attending courses and seminars, they broaden their knowledge through personal research work oriented towards experimentation. Mainly interested in form, their work, which is aimed at innovation, goes through various stages, from the breaking of the traditional morphology of objects of use, to the creation of an unusual modelling that superimposes on the basic form small significant elements that refer to ‘something else’ such as tailoring work or some favourite elements of Arte Povera, up to the study of new construction procedures. They use different mixtures, red clays, fireclays (terre refrattarie), stoneware and porcelain, almost always modelled by slab, a ‘colombino’ (coiling technique) and on the wheel.

They have been passionately dedicated to ceramics together since 1989 and with their works and design objects they have taken part in national and international exhibitions (Aveiro International Biennial, Premio MIDec – Laveno, Manises International Biennial, L’Alcora International Biennial, Carouge International Biennial, Coverings – Spectrum design tile competition – USA, BIO23 Design Biennial – Ljubljana, Double Trak – Trieste Contemporanea – Studio Tommaseo, Focus vessell – Keramikmuseum Westerwald, Palazzo delle Esposizioni – Faenza, Macef International – Milan, Galleria Fatto ad Arte – Monza) receiving prizes and awards (2016 Mention of Honour at the International Ceramics Made in Umbria Award “Il segno del Tempo”- Regione Umbria and ADI – Assisi, 2011 2nd prize at the 81st Exhibition of pottery and ceramics of La Rambla – Córdoba, 2009 2nd prize at The Alcalatén Prize – International Ceramics Competition of L’Alcora – Spain, 1997 1st prize at the 4th National Competition “Viaggio attraverso la ceramica” – Vietri sul Mare). Their ceramics are part of public collections (MIDeC, Keramikmuseum – Westerwald, Ceramics Museum of Manises, CERCO Collection, Ceramics Museum of L’Alcora, Municipality of Vietri sul Mare, Ente Ceramica Faenza, Ceramics Museum of Grottaglie, Municipality of Lodi, Ceramics Museum of Castellamonte, Municipality of Appignano, Municipality of Nove).

Photo Credits: Anna & Paola Marinuzzi

Read more about their website.


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