Miri Mara puts a progressive spin on ceramics in his Carpinteria studio
While growing up in Rome, Italy, a career at a kiln was the last thing on ceramist Miri Mara’s mind. “I thought of ceramics as flowery or maybe too pretty for my taste,” says the artist, citing the traditional Italian botanical designs of pottery from Deruta and Faenza. “Of course, ancient Etruscan and Greek ceramics and Cycladic stone carvings were always a big turn-on,” jokes Mara, whose masculine sensibility permeates the modern assortment of earthenware he creates from his 2,000-square-foot studio and showroom in Carpinteria.
The signature spool-shaped bowls, bottles, vases and, more recently, light fixtures are a harmonious study in texture and proportion, evoking a sleek simplicity that’s the result of an exacting procedure. “I make my pieces as pieces of sculpture, and therefore it is a very tactile process,” says Mara, 60, a former fashion designer in his native Italy, who forgoes the wheel and instead hand-constructs his prototypes after first drawing each on paper. “As I build I am constantly using my eyes to see that the proportions are balanced and just right.”
Such precision is rooted in an almost boyish fascination with historical machinery and hardware that influences much of Mara’s work, fittingly crafted and housed in a former mechanic’s shop, which he opened in 2013. “I love the design of the industrial revolution, the turbines, the cogs, the wheels—all those objects that turn and turn,” says Mara. “So much of that period uses the wheel and the circle as a basic element.”
He infuses rings into his own work “to give movement,” including one of the more recent additions to his range, the Pisa hanging pendant light, which he coats with a mixed glaze of iron oxide, cobalt and chrome for a bronze effect that appears more metallic than ceramic. And while Mara has begun to introduce color into his bowls by layering glazes one on top of the other, surface texture and shape remain his preferred aesthetic tools. Mara carves, scratches or combs many of his machine-age-inspired pieces, also taking design cues from traditional African and Southeast Asian ceramics.
“Working in ceramics allows me to be more personal,” he reflects. “I don’t have to think of trends or fads, or what the manufacturer or sales rep thinks they want. Whatever conversation that I have regarding a design is a dialogue with myself.” 5292 Carpinteria Ave., Carpinteria, 805-220-6285; mirimara.com.
Written by KENDALL CONRAD and GILLIAN KOENIG.