The world can sometimes be a worrying place, but there’s always something out there to put a smile on your face. For us, it’s Caraqueña de Chuao’s adorable little devils, with their mischievous grins and lively colors. We caught up with Ursula D’Amico, aka Caraqueña de Chuao, and found out more about her ceramics work, her story, and these gorgeous little demons.
Hi Ursula, thanks so much for making time in your busy schedule.
No worries – it’s a pleasure.
What’re you drinking?
Refreshing lemon and ginger infusion.
Great! Well, let’s start at the beginning: how did you get into ceramics?
Well, I was always encouraged to explore and expand my creativity when I was younger – thank goodness I had the parents I did! With their support, I enlisted in a regular ceramics workshop. I was the youngest in the group by far – it was all older Venezuelan ladies who made pots, plates, and other homeware pieces. I was far more interested in ceramics’ sculptural potential and was able to really explore that.
Wow, so you’ve been developing your style and practice for a long time then!
Absolutely – it’s always been a favored form of expression. I reduced workshops and practice to finish school and complete my graphic design studies, but it’s otherwise always been there.
How does your background as a graphic designer inform your ceramics work?
It comes into play in every aspect of it – design is a way of seeing, an aesthetic understanding. They’re separate practices, but they totally inform each other. The design influence can really be seen in my recent Caraqueña de Chuao work.
I’m glad you mentioned the decorative face masks: we absolutely love them! What’s their story?
That’s good to hear! They’re inspired by devil masks worn during a traditional yearly festival in Chuao, a gorgeous little village on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast. It’s a wonderful event and really inclusive, with everyone getting involved and having a fantastic time. In Venezuela, we have lots of devil troupes, some more famous than others. What captivated me about the Chuao devils was the powerful colors and forms; each one is unique and individual, but the color scheme remains the same.
Do you see your masks as recreations or interpretations of the originals?
Oh, definitely interpretations! I take inspiration from the feel and the colors of the originals, but don’t try to copy them. My decorative face masks are unique – I don’t use molds or models – and so each is a distinct interpretation of the Chuao masks. It’s really fun work.
What do you feel when making the masks? They’re so full of life!
They are, aren’t they! Honestly, I have no plans when making one. There’s not one particular feeling or motivation or thought which informs my practice – it’s all to do with the moment and the magic of creation!
Talking about work, could you tell us about your studio?
Oh, it’s the best! It was only last year I decided to focus full time on ceramics, and so I found a studio with a kiln and workbenches and everything and have been using it with a couple of close ceramicist friends. We have a wonderful time with it.
That would be Cecilia Guevara and Marielisa Müller – we’re big fans of the three of you! What’s the dynamic like?
Incomparable. It’s very relaxed, not at all formalized. We all keep different times and so you never know who’ll be around, but when we’re all there we help each other out, teach and learn and develop all our styles as one. It’s all very collaborative and cooperative.
Is this sort of setup common in Caracas?
Oh, not at all! We’re pioneers of sorts in Venezuela: whilst ceramics have taken off around the world, they’ve yet to do so here in the same way. The three of us have shown that it’s possible to make a living through this craft, but in a way distinct from the traditional master ceramicists of the country: we’re very much of our time, and able to use the platforms that technology provides to our advantage. Maison Numen has been fundamental in this – helping us to spread our work, our culture, our stories, and our messages to interested people around the world.
So do you see ceramics becoming big in Venezuela?
Definitely. I know plenty of designers here in Caracas who are turning to ceramics and experimenting with the craft.
I think that for us millennials it is particularly attractive as it’s a truly organic process: we’ve grown up with technology all around us, and it’s really refreshing to feel something as elemental as clay in your hands; to work it, form it, smooth it, paint it, fire it and so on. To be involved in such a timeless and personal project is the perfect antidote to the world in which we live.
Where do you see your practice going in the future?
I see a broadening out from ceramics and turning what I do into more of a social project. I don’t want to be known as an artist, so much as a messenger: my work carries an important story of Chuao; of Venezuela; of local customs and the wonders that can be found only here. If I can make people in Caracas aware of Chuao, that’s great; if I can spread the message further around the world, even better!
We look forward to seeing the results! Thanks so much for your time!
A pleasure talking!
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