NATALIA LALUQUE WAS BORN TO BE AN ARTIST. Her road to success she paved herself setting clear milestones: a best student at art school, extra courses in art studio, then a diploma of a graphic artist in Kiev. Feeling in tune with the art from the first, she has always strived to be one with it.

Air, water, fire, and earth…Thousands of years ago man discovered these four key elements of earthly existence and created a bowl from them. Whatever changes have shaken the world since then, the simple process of the ceramic craft remains amazingly unchanged: a mound of clay set on a spinning wooden wheel, shaped by skilful hands of a potter, transformed into a vessel of unique beauty to find its ultimate rebirth to a new life in the purifying heat of the pottery furnace.

Her first piece of clay Laluque took in her hands at age of 12 marked off her life-long obsession with ceramics. Having to spend more time in the studio than her classmates (her parent's couldn't pick her up right after classes), she would dream of modelling plates, bowls, cups herself. That burning wish to make ceramics has never left her. “When asked why I do this, I find it difficult to answer. That's like asking someone why she needs her hands or speech,” the artist says. “Creating ceramics is complicated, and very interesting, even mysterious thing at the same time. It calls for one to go further. I cannot resist it. Ceramics has something mythical about it because you never know what will come out of it. When taken from the kiln, it might be quite a surprise. Clumsy one time, it may become something amazingly beautiful the other… The art of ceramics requires a respectful careful and tender attitude from an artist. If one believes he or she can be its master, ceramics will eventually take revenge.”

Laluque has worked in ceramics for 25 years. She belongs to the generation of Kiev artists known as Honchary (Potters). Many a great artist belongs to this school, among them Tigran Movsesyan (now living in the USA) and Guiya Maminashvili, to name two, who lived to become famous both in Ukraine and abroad. They worked in studios on the Andriivsky Uzviz street, a well known centre of art, and later founded a gallery with the same name “Honchary”.

“I think, to be a professional means to have a feeling of the material you work with; stop suppressing it, submit yourself to it, follow its natural lines - and then you will be rewarded with ware gleaming with inside harmony and vibrating with positive energy. These objects may look simple, yet people find them intriguing.” Natalia Laluque has students - people of different walks of life - coming to the studio to ‘transcend’ the daily routine for another dimension where they could feel themselves creators.

Ochre palette and clear lines of her paintings, which she also enjoys, bring a strength to her ceramic creations. She believes that works of an artist reflect his or her inner world and attitude to life, an artist’s interpretation of life - even if they are portraits of the artist’s own sons (Illya and Kirill 13), relatives, or still lives.

“I like eclectics. I take traditional materials - canvas, oil - and strike them with the symbols of our time: mobiles, computer signs, etc. I want to divert from the traditional perception of art, to provoke an intrigue. “Computer symbols may evoke more emotions in our contemporaries.”

Her recognition among Kyiv’ influential art critics has happened all of a sudden and still surprises the artist. “Recognition may come to an artist as a disastrous storm and even crash artist’s world. When you become used to prove every day that you’re worth something in this life, when your life is an unending fight, then, after it’s over, you feel like cut grass. Well, you can survive, of course. You have to work. A gifted artist is responsible for his talent, and he must cherish this understanding throughout his creative life. All the more so when your art is recognized: you just have to work and exhibit more and more.”

Ceramists cut clay with a fine string, be it a lump from the slab, or a finished masterpiece from the wheel. Having rediscovered her ceramics again, Laluque applied a new technique based on the use of a string. She cuts a clay block with a string from all sides. The result was that her earthenware lost its apparent weight as if made from celluloid (though the hollow pottery is light-weighted). Her ceramics are free from sophisticated extravagance, heavy decorative elements or colour extremes. Planes are simple as only genuine beauty can be. “My adventure in painting appeared to be a useful experience for me as a ceramist. I had to live through ecstasy and agony, night-long work, and striving on the verge of impossible (the technique applied for the last series was complicated), I was anxious and five, six sculptures broke, but it was all worth it finally to see the one that survived!”

It takes courage to appreciate this state-of-the-art ceramics. Wandering around exhibition halls, I’ve seen some critics of note who have nodded apprehensively examining some work of art, giving the approving click of their tongue and raising emphatically their point fingers. Indeed, sometimes her works can be as impressive. However, the artist herself looks not only for professional appraisal: “If you succeeded in creating something that can be perceived at any level, it gives an energetic impulse to every one.”

After her recent series of ceramics had been shown in Italy and received the critics’ high appraisal, Laluque was invited to send work to the 53rd Faenza International Competition of Contemporary Ceramic Art Contest in 2003 in Italy. Talking to her left me with an impression that Laluque is never bored, she emanates eagerness to live a full life, has excitement for the unknown, and is readily swept away with new impressions and emotions.

“You can go out, look at a dust-ridden pavement stone and see a whole world in it. Or, you may go outside to experience adventures - just remember to keep your eyes wide open to grasp every element of it. I do believe everyone can make his or her life more interesting without indulging into the dark side of it. Why when there’s only one truly dramatic thing in this life - death, should we be afraid of something else? Let’s enjoy our lives!”

Laluque is equally enchanted with the beauty of an autumn chrysanthemum, delighted with the stream of New York bustle, and fascinated with lavish stucco decorations on old building facades in Kiev. She lives in a freedom of creating and gives this freedom to people around her.

The artist confesses that she sometimes forces herself to live like that, doing what she likes without subduing her nature: “I make myself live this way now my name has become known a little. This recognition came to me not as vanity but, rather, as a precious fruit of the hard work of my life, of my many-years fighting for freedom to do what I feel right. Well, the struggle is not over yet. Every morning I wake up to continue my way adding to it new facets of clay and making it more distinguishable with painting. There is nothing else on this earth I can - and would - do.”

Ceramics Art and Perception #63, 2006

Natalia Laluque
Facets of Perfection
on an Earthen Vessel

Article by Tatyana Tkachenko