Dry splatters of clay mark the white walls of Yuri Eslava’s second-floor ceramic studio, remnants of countless sessions fine-tuning and executing his craft. This is where Yuri begins his routinary yet pleasure-filled ceramic-making process, one that results in functional pieces with whimsical flair. As we follow him around his at-home studio to learn more, it becomes clear that the serenity he finds in the Sacred Valley mirrors the calm he found in the German countryside some decades ago when he first began to shape a passion into a career.
A Room With A View — And A Potter’s Wheel
A window that once had a view towards the Pumahuanca Mountain now sees a multi-story building in construction, yet natural light manages to pour in. Meanwhile, the interior view is revealing of an artist’s time-endured passion. Occupying one studio corner is the Japanese potter’s wheel that’s been with Yuri for over 20 years— purchased in Germany as a ceramic student and a constant companion when he lived on an isolated farm in Baviera.
“There were thousands of pigs— more pigs than people!” he fondly recalls. A lingering memory of this early chapter of his ceramic life, decorative pigs (sometimes with wings) are now one of the iconic figures that Yuri produces, along with angels, bells and bird houses. “People have asked me why I don’t do something more ‘Peruvian’…[but] most of what I absorbed in my lifetime as an artist took place in Europe.”
Likely anxious from standing in his workspace without clay in hand, he asks if we want to see him throw something on the wheel. He takes out a hunk of clay from the bag resting on his work table, first weighing and then kneading it to take out any air bubbles. Remaining on his feet, he places it in the center of the elevated potter’s wheel and kicks up the speed. Dipping his hands in water and gently cradling the block of clay, the spinning material rises and expands, quickly transforming into a cup from Yuri’s knowing hands.
“I’ve worked with a lot of materials over the years, but clay is ideal for me: docile, direct to my hands without the interference of many instruments and has a grace for imperfection,” says Yuri. From a small collection of handmade stamps, he reaches for the small tree. Inspired in part by the simple line drawings of trees by German artist Paul Klee, the shape has nearly become a logo for Yuri, appearing next to his name or initials on every ceramic piece.
Every day of the week Yuri finds himself at some stage of the ceramic process. Be it a tumbler or figurine, the pieces must dry completely before they are transferred downstairs to receive their first coat of paint.
Paint and Bake
On the way to Yuri’s painting quarters, armies of selected pieces from previous collections begin to appear. Angels stand guard of vases overflowing with succulents on one wall, while small glass cabinets lined with cups demonstrate the evolution of Yuri’s work.
“After all this time, it’s still not so easy for me to see my pieces go,” admits Yuri, as we enter his first-floor workspace and spot a few more strays on a corner stand. A desk lit by a lamp is lined with small containers of paint, mainly earth tones. He mixes them by hand to reach the desired palette and from there paints freehand, often in forms of trees, flowers and spirals.
Yuri describes the decorative style that he uses for dressing his ceramics as “synthesized natural landscapes, more abstract than figurative;” we see fairytale forests of pointillism and spirals. After the decorative paint dries, the pieces are dipped in enamel and ready for baking.
On the way out we pass the large gas kiln, its burning belly full of a new collection. The pieces will bake for about nine hours, followed by a 24-hour cool time. For the remainder of the bake time, Yuri will have to check on the temperature every 15 minutes or so, noting it all down in a notebook like a diligent employee.
“I’m at a point in my life and career where making ceramics has become my job. I still enjoy it, but once my ‘shift’ finishes I break to my music studio, that’s where my current passion is.” Yuri has created a unique world with his ceramics, but it’s surely not his only one.
All photos: Erick Andia