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09.10.2017. Emporio Sirenuse
High above the Amalfi Coast, in the village of Raito, ceramicist Lucio Liguori is sitting at his wheel. As it spins, a cylinder of glistening grey-brown Salerno clay begins to take shape in his hands.
With one arm inside, he draws a clenched knuckle up the pregnant body of the vase, and a ridge of clay moves up from base to neck to become a lip at the vessel’s rim. It will morph and change again and again as Liguori patiently nudges and tugs. “It’s all about knowing when to apply force, and when to be delicate”, he comments, without taking his eyes off the vase, which seems somehow alive as it flinches and arches under the pressure of his fingers.
Liguori is known these days as the “anchovy guy”, from what has become one of his trademark creations – slender ceramic anchovies in blue and pearly white, flat and unglazed on one side so that they can be fixed to walls. As in Le Sirenuse, where they swim in formation around the arched serving niche of the Champagne Bar kitchen. Or in the lanes of Praiano, where Liguori is one of eight Amalfi Coast ceramic artists who have been invited to decorate the walls and stairs of the town with his creations, as part of the NaturArte project, a fine example of grass-roots cultural programming by engaged local citizens.
Today he’s one of the more creative ceramicists in the Vietri area, combining a refreshingly naïf pictorial style with a real understanding of material and form, bolstered also by his research into Japanese raku and historic European porcelain. All this was built on modest foundations. Liguori’s grandfather was a baker, and as a young boy, Lucio would help out in his forno. “It was all about kneading, shaping, and knowing how to use the oven”, he recalls. “Dough or clay, that manual skill something you always carry inside”.
One technique Liguori uses once glazed pieces are in the kiln is to throw in a log, as a pizzaiolo might do to stoke his wood-fired oven. This creates carbon-rich smoke which robs the air inside the kiln of oxygen – a process known as ‘reduction’. “So if I’ve used a copper green glaze, it will be fixed as green in the presence of oxygen”, Liguori explains “but if I do it in riduzione, the metallic copper will come out”. He adds modestly “I’m no chemist – I’ve just learned from experience”.
Some of Liguori’s creations can be seen and purchased at the Emporio Sirenuse (at the Positano shop, not online), including a range of jaunty, colourful tiles, plates and bowls with geometric abstracts, sea-themed designs and fantasies that play on Positano’s iconic skyline. Inside the hotel, take a peek inside the Champagne Bar kitchen on the fourth floor. Between two fat tuna fish, a giant squid is about to devour a school of sardines, while others swim unperturbed, in glistening formation. It’s a typical, joyous example of this home-grown ceramicist’s exuberant style and verve.
Emporio Sirenuse, Via Cristoforo Colombo 30, 84017 Positano. Tel +39 089 875 066.
Lucio Liguori, Via San Vito 49, Raito, 84019 Vietri sul Mare. Tel +39 339 310 7071. Studio visits on request.
Photos © Roberto Salomone