In the center of Sicily, near Catania, lies the small town of Caltagirone, recognized worldwide for its artisan production of ceramics. Irene Lo Monaco grew up there, surrounded by a rich ceramic tradition. However, even though her uncle Dino Caruso was a master of this technique, she did not take an interest in it until many years later.
Per Purr: What was the turning point that sparked your interest in clay?
Irene: I studied Industrial Design at the University of Florence. During that period I did a thesis on Caltagirone ceramics from a modern perspective with traditional nuances, and it was then that everything changed.
P: What is ceramics for you now?
I: It is something unique. Making something out of ceramic also takes a lot of patience and dedication.
Although there are many other craft techniques that I like – in fact I also work with wood – pottery is something magical. Something that has a flexible structure and consistency becomes something totally different, and that happens thanks to heat, to fire!
Clay is simply earth, and it has the power to become objects that we love and that decorate our homes. This very direct connection to something so basic, like earth, makes it so special to me.
P: The texture of your pieces is also very special since you do not use carving tools or other similar tools to create them.
I: When I think of clay, I think of the transformation of matter. I wanted the canvases to reflect that transformation in my work. When you impress fabric in clay when it is still soft, you create an indelible impression when the object is later fired. In other words, a soft material becomes something hard, which is exactly what happens to the clay.
P: How do you select the fabrics?
I: I think it’s fun to look for and choose fabrics for my pieces, although I actually have some favorites that I always use and others that change over time.
P: How did you find Per Purr?
I: I found Per Purr sort of by chance, and from the beginning I really liked their approach to simple things, their colors, and I’ve really liked the products I’ve tried.
My favorite is the orange and ginger serum!
Due to health issues in recent years, I’ve been trying to use few products, but good ones, that don’t contain many chemicals, because I believe that our skin doesn’t need them. I think it was just my passion for creating that made me start reading about natural cosmetics. I decided to try making some soaps myself and discovered how cost-effective, healthy and eco-friendly it could be to use a bar of soap rather than a huge bottle of shower gel. Luckily there are specialists in these matters, like Per Purr, who have already experimented a lot and know how to offer more than just soap!
P: Now Irene Lo Monaco is also part of Per Purr. Tell us about the process of creating your soap dishes.
I: These soap dishes are made using the sheet technique. A clay sheet is created on which the texture of the fabric is impressed, using a rolling pin while the clay still is still wet. It’s like creating a fingerprint on each soap dish!
Afterwards, the clay sheet is put on top of a mold and trimmed, and the two holes are made. I wait for it to dry a little bit so that I can manipulate it. This is when the edges are defined a bit and any imperfections are removed.
The clay is like a living being; you have to be patient and wait for the drying process to finish. This depends a lot on the current season and it’s important to be very attentive to make sure the pieces are okay.
To prevent the clay from drying too quickly, especially in the summer, it is covered with plastic, and from time to time it is uncovered. If any cracks appear, this is the moment to repair them and let the clay continue drying. Otherwise, if we’re not careful, the pieces can get ruined. Although it may not seem like it, the drying process is a very important part of the creation of any ceramic piece, especially if it is on the thinner side.
Once the pieces are completely dry, they are fired for the first time, then glazed, cleaned of excess glaze, and fired again at an even higher temperature (1,255º C in this case).
P: Let’s talk about the color palette. You usually work with a neutral line of colors. Is that for a particular reason?
I: The colors I generally use are those that work best when working with stoneware, which is a type of clay that is fired at a very high temperature, almost like porcelain.
The "high temperature" (this is how the temperature of the stoneware is defined), allows for the use of a palette of greens, blues and infinite earth colors but, above all, we can obtain very organic glazes, which normal terracotta does not permit.
The turquoise enamel I use sometimes brings out small crystals, which we can only get with these temperatures, and they will always be different. Other glazes change slightly depending on the thickness of the layer on which they are used. That doesn't alter their beauty, it just makes them different. With glazes, the application is as important as its composition.
Sometimes I like to mix the leftover glazes I have used because it creates a new and unique color. You have to be careful when doing that because it's not just mixing colors of paint. You are mixing raw materials and that can create a mess in the oven, or something wonderful! I like to take my chances!
I usually try to get green and blue hues, which are the colors I prefer. They remind me of water and plants!
P: Besides ceramics, are you working on anything new right now?
I: At this moment I don't really have new projects. I would like to make murals again and experiment with forms to decorate walls. I would also like to continue with "functional decoration", making lamps from wooden sculptures! The wood I use is recycled and discarded so it's also a way to create something sustainable and beautiful!
My unique ongoing project is to never stop creating, whatever the material, even if it’s not every day. It’s something that is gratifying for me and for the house of whoever decides to have one of these small creations.