Shuffling through the Arta magazine from that time period, what strikes the most is that there’s a reference to ceramics in every number. Be it about exposition recommendations (personal or collective of decorative art), the monumental ceramics symposia of Medgidia or the creation symposia from the porcelain fabrics or about the portrait presentation of a potter, the multitude of these mentions show that ceramics held a very important place in the arts. There were talks about ceramics even in big theoretical articles about urbanization, industry, design, and ideological texts, which appeared compulsory on the first pages of the magazines. In these texts, decorative art in general and ceramics, in particular, were seen as a growth factor of the standard of living in the socialist society. Therefore, the social implication of ceramics was often underlined by critics, artists, and ideologues which gathered their forces to accomplish this goal. The artists, however, wanted more than that; they wanted to be able to express themselves freely artistically, without dogmatic constraints in order to raise ceramics in important art circles.
What did the increase in living standards mean in the conception of ideologues?
First of all, the modernization of the country, which involved intense industrialization and urbanization. These have led to jobs, so to the security of life and social stability. The blocks of flats and neighborhoods are born, in which the democratic comfort of the working man is created.
There was an outdoor space (public) and an indoor space (family), whose arrangement is taken into consideration by the competent structures. The exterior space is furnished by representative institutions and educational facilities, health, culture, entertainment, and sport. All these buildings and open spaces represent beautifying possibilities, which were awaited by the artists. In this regard, the most ambitious monument project is the facade of the House of Culture in Mangalia, which was created from small ceramic placks by Jules Perahim and Ștefan Consantinescu's project. It was created at the beginning of the aforementioned period (1960) and coincided with the relaxation of ideologic control over art.
On the other hand, there's work on enriching and diversifying utility objects as well as the decorative ones, of households. So, both the realization of artistic objects and the innovation of serial industrial products are taken into consideration to provide content and aesthetic value to the living space and daily life.
In the decades following the war, decorative art recorded a global effervescent creation, fueled by the desire to counteract the uniformizing, degrading, and alienating effects of industrial production and the excessive rationalization in the field of urbanism.
In the last decades of the 19th century, the Arts and Crafts movement and the Bauhaus school in the interwar period tried to give answers to the same phenomenon. It is not an antagonistic relationship but rather one of dialogue and fusion. Like the Bauhaus movement, the post-World War II trends were not escapism (most of the time), but they wanted to blend the expressive industrial potential with the artistic creation that offers the thrill of life.
In this context, monumental art takes an unprecedented rise (wall painting, mosaic, relief from various industrial materials, sculptural objects from the public space), textile arts, and the so-called fire arts (ceramics, glass, metal).
A series of international exhibitions (in Europe in Perugia, Faenza, Vallauris, Prague, Milan, Erfurt, in Japan at Mino, in Australia in Perth) and ceramics symposia (first at Gmunden, in 1965, Cava de' Tirreni, Villány, Medgidia ) are meant to make this effervescence in the field of ceramics visible internationally, and to bring together the different directions of creation and creators.
Remaking the world
The renewal of the art of ceramics is an incredibly vast field, with impulses from many directions and results that also open many perspectives.
Let's think about the fact that archaeologists consider pottery to be one of the basic signs of human civilization. Through the process of burning, the ceramic materials become resistant and can keep the human footprint for millennia, literally and figuratively. A more dynamic quality of ceramics is its ritual character, where the man puts together the basic materials, earth, fire, water, and air, to create a finished product, which irreversibly differs from its constituent elements. (An artistic action made by Alexandru Antik entitled The Alchemy of the Potter highlights these characteristics).
All these values of the ceramic environment have been treated by artists in a privileged way to transmit human values and to "strengthen" the modern world, which suffers, according to the famous formulation (since 1920) of the sociologist Max Weber of "uncharming". He was referring to the desecration of the world in the modern age, which means not only the loss of a universe of beliefs, but also the excessive rationalization of society and the alienation of the modern man. What could pottery do to recharm the world? It could offer unique objects - utilitarian or works of art without functionality, on which the human footprint can be felt. But it could also intervene in the industry to create and produce more individualized, modern products pleasing to the eye or touch. He could intervene in the social reality by placing sculptures, environments, and wall decorations in public, which would please the eye or make the passer-by think. And finally, but actually first of all, ceramics could be the individual way of remaking the world for each artist through the very ritual of the process of artistic creation.
Important archeological sources were available to the Romanian potters: the wonderful Neolithic ceramic cultures from the country's territory represented inspiration regarding the expressive force and the extremely brave forms used by the ancient potters.
Neolithic pottery was a very clear example that the clay object can be a major art, a pot made on the wheel as artful as a sculpture. However, it must be said that Romanian artists approached the first branch of ceramics, pots, and utilitarian forms extremely rarely.
Another source, closer in time, and which largely defined the ceramics of the 1950s, is folklore inspiration. In the context of the communist regime, folk art was considered an ideologically sound source to which artists could turn to. Thus, potters try to move away from the bourgeois models of the ceramics tradition (and first of all of the porcelain), but the folkloric reference is often limited to a superficial takeover of the decorative motifs. Ashtrays, pots, cups, plates, jugs, coffee services are made with popular models - so not very ambitious objects, showing a stagnation of the field before 1960.
The renewal of Romanian ceramics will begin in parallel with the modernization of the visual arts with the relative cultural opening around 1964. Browsing the magazine Arta Plastică in 1964, on its pages, one can notice the fresh air of the ceramic objects of the former avant-gardist, Jules Perahim. It can be said with great certainty that these objects were created under the influence of Picasso, who in 1946 discovered the pottery workshops in Vallauris, attracting other painters (Chagall, Brauner) and where the great master of modernity had created extraordinary ceramic objects, playing very decisively with the object perceived both as form, as well as utility and expression.
But even before Perahim, the gold medal that Patriciu Mateescu won at the International Ceramics Exhibition in Prague in 1962 was decisive, the earliest international distinction offered for a Romanian ceramist. He participated with one of his Amphorae, pots of monumental size and pronounced sculptural character.
In 1964, Flaviu Dragomir (1915-1974) appeared in the exhibition of decorative art in Bucharest as an artist who also came from the "major arts" area after studying graphics. During his very short career, he produced modern works, being one of the very few Romanian potters who limited themselves strictly to the discipline of ceramics and used the potter's wheel, renewing the language of household ceramics from the inside by producing unique designs.
Since the 1950s, there have been two ceramics departments in the country, respectively at the art institutes in Bucharest and Cluj. Both sections were led by sculptors, Mac Constantinescu in Bucharest and Balaskó Nándor in Cluj. Constantinescu benefited in the interwar period from the famous porcelain manufacturers from Sèvres. Under his guidance, a whole generation of potters would emerge in the middle of the 7th decade. We remember: Costel Badea, Lazăr Florian Alexie, Tereza Panelli, Ioana Șetran, to which artists from earlier generations, such as Patriciu Mateescu (b. 1927) or Mimi Podeanu are included. Along with the existence of specialized higher education, the consolidation of a ceramic phenomenon in Bucharest is due to the organization of decorative art exhibitions, to the fact that some of the graduates become teachers at the department (Costel Badea and Lazăr Florian Alexie) and to the support that Patriciu Mateescu, as head of the Decorative Art section of the UAP was able to offer it, first of all by organizing the ceramics symposium in Medgidia (1971).
Bucharest potters obtain prizes at the most important European international competitions (Vallaursis, Perugia, Faenza, Erfurt) - imposing the existence of a Romanian school of ceramics in the consciousness of the art world.
The authors make abstract ceramic sculptures, in this sense, in the phenomenon of ceramics from 1960-1970 we can observe the same trend as in textile art: artists migrated to decorative art because here it was possible to give free rein to experimentation and abstract configurations, much more than in the "major arts", which were still heavily numb after the terror of socialist realism.
Patriciu Mateescu, Costel Badea, Lazăr Florian Alexie will dedicate themselves to ceramic sculpture, with ambitions for it to be placed in the public space. In the works of Teresa Panelli one can see a shift towards the creation of ceramic environments, some of which were also suitable to be put in dialogue with architecture.