My first encounter with Valeria Nascimento’s work was at FORM London in 2007. I immediately loved the organic feeling of her porcelain and I found the idea of wall installations very innovative. A few years later, I discovered that Valeria was a friend of a friend and I had the opportunity to meet her, to see two of her solo shows at Woolff Gallery and to learn more about her work.
On top of understanding her technique and her inspiration, I met her recently at her studio to interview her about her vision of ceramics and her positioning in the Art vs Craft sphere.
Valeria Nascimento in her studio, courtesy of the Artist
I always found it fascinating to unravel where and in what an artist finds her or his inspiration. Listening about Valeria’s story is like assembling a jigsaw. Born in Brazil, she grew up in a “quinta”, a sort of family farm where as a kid she used to play barefoot on the mango and guava leaves covered soil. She developed a taste for shapes from the natural world as well as a love for manipulating organic materials. When Valeria graduated with a degree in Architecture, she then enjoyed planning, drawing and understanding spaces and volumes. Her work is a very interesting combination of all those backgrounds and influences, a sort of fusion between “urban landscapes and natural forms”, as she describes it in her website. When she discovered ceramics, it was just a hobby for her and architecture was still her main occupation. She immediately loved working with clay as it had the smoothness and malleability she was looking for to express her ideas. At the beginning, she experimented it in all its forms: figurative female bodies, tableware, lanterns, etc… but the idea of displaying ceramics on the wall was immediate and instinctive. She doesn’t really remember what triggered this idea but she was a kind of pioneer in incorporating ceramics as an integral part of the decor of a space, which today seems to be a new trend in art and design. Her first wall pieces were assemblages of square ceramics tiles with coloured motives. When she moved to London in 1999, she decided to become a full time ceramist and she started to use The Richmond College’s facilities as a starting point for her new career. This allowed her to meet other ceramists, be commissioned as well as understand and adapt to the English ceramic and visual art space.
Valeria describes her work as “repetitive sequencing with separate elements to form a cohesive sculptural group” and she now focuses principally in large-scale wall installation projects. When I saw her work at FORM in 2007, she had two different bodies of works: an intricate patterns of white glazed cubes and some more organic porcelain installations.
Valeria Nascimento, “Cubes”, courtesy of the Artist.
I immediately fell in love with ‘Cubes” and its subtle off-white hues. Each cube is hand-built in stoneware clay (with millimetre precision), glazed and fired to 1260 degrees. The process is extremely time consuming and precise but every piece is different, a bit irregular and with a different shade of white.
Another work displayed was “Roses”, a circular combination of porcelain cones.
Valeria Nascimento, Roses, courtesy of the Artist
Valeria is no longer showing her “Cubes” installations (but she still has commissions of similar works). She explains that her work focuses now almost exclusively on organic and natural shapes and that she had to chose between them and geometrical forms in order to strengthen her artistic signature. Maintaining coherence but reinventing oneself permanently is a very interesting but difficult challenge for artists. Valeria thought she had to make a choice but I personally think her installations “Cubes” looks more organic than she wishes to admit. Leonard Koren in his book “Wabi-Sabi for artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers” describes this Japanese philosophy as “a beauty of things imperfect, of things modest and humble, of things unconventional”, which to me perfectly fits Valeria’s works, both “Cubes” and “Roses” carrying this “zen” beauty.
Her last solo show “Botanica” at Woolff Gallery in London at the end of 2011 was showing new sculptural installations which “resonate a flamboyant euphoric vitality and refreshing weightlessness that captures the essence of wild florae” writes Nour Wali, an art curator in the beautiful catalogue of the exhibition. Walls were covered with a symphony of petals, flowers, cups, and leaves. White was predominant but Valeria has progressively introduced some colours in her work.
It is always subtle, as in “Lotus” where the edges of each piece are blackened:
Valeria Nascimento, Lotus, courtesy of the Artist
… or in “Poppies” where little red cups breach the harmony of the series:
Valeria Nascimento, Poppies. Courtesy of the Artist
She now uses black pigments for some pieces and the effect is stunning:
Valeria Nascimento, “Black Coral, courtesy of the Artist
Valeria Nascimento, “Black Hibiscus”, courtesy of the Artist
Valeria Nascimento, “Black Spiral”, courtesy of the Artist
A subtle dosage of black and white renders an endless range of greys in her monumental 5m x 1,2m “Hibiscus” installation, which contemplation provides an intense aesthetic pleasure:
Valeria Nascimento, “Hibiscus”, courtesy of the Artist
If her artist statement could be summed up in three words, it would be: organic, white, and repetitive. She always starts a work by creating a new shape of the individual pieces and different sizes for it and then she studies the possibilities of repetitiveness by drawing the overall design of her piece. Every step is carefully planned but the final result always looks natural and simple. It reminds me of some Japanese gardens, which are knowingly inspired by nature but are also an interpretation rather than a copy; they should appear to be natural, but not wild. When I look at Valeria’s work I can’t help but feel serenity, beauty and simplicity.
“Coral” is an amazing example:
Valeria Nascimento, “Coral”, courtesy of the Artist
Valeria Nascimento, “Coral” close up. Courtesy of the Artist
A well as “White Cups”:
Valeria Nascimento, White cups, courtesy of the Artist
The last time I saw Valeria’s work was at the Ceramic Art London at the RCA in February 2012. Woolff Gallery being a Fine Art Gallery, my never-ending curiosity about cross over between craft and art was naturally aroused. I asked Valeria how she ended up showing in an art gallery.
She explains that was exhibiting in 2006 at Alexander Palace alongside fine and applied art works and three Art galleries spotted her work. Woolff Gallery was among them and at the time they were looking for new artists to represent. Woolff is specialized in works from artists using original and innovative materials, and ceramic installations on the wall immediately seduced them. Since then Valeria has been represented by this gallery and has become one of its main artists, showing and selling her work in art fairs all around the world.
It seems to be a dilemma for Valeria as she feels she still belongs to the ceramic community and wants to continue showing among her peers to avoid disappearing from the ceramic scene, but at the same time her prices have now reached levels seen in paintings rather than ceramic works. Questioned by a visitor about Valeria’s work, the gallery replied she was not a ceramist but an artist working in clay.
What is really refreshing when interviewing Valeria is the simplicity and sincerity of her work: being seen as an artist or a ceramist is not her main concern. She is happy when she manages to confer to her work the beauty and serenity of the natural world and when people appreciate and buy her pieces. Her work is not conceptual but celebrates beauty for the sake of it.
“Wild Fungi Installation” is a wonderful example and one of my favourite pieces.
Valeria Nascimento, Wild Fungi Installation, courtesy of the Artist
Valeria Nascimento, Wild Fungi Installation close up, courtesy of the Artist
As a conclusion I would like to suggest watching the video made for her last exhibition “Botanica” at Woolff. It summarizes wonderfully what I have tried to describe in this article. Enjoy a pure moment of “ceramic serenity on the wall”!