Xavier Mañosa has been heralded as one of Spain’s boldest ceramicists, boasting commissions from Nike, Camper, Alessi and Vitra and exhibitions in New York, Tokyo and Stockholm. His label, Apparatu, blends the primal art of ceramics with contemporary digital culture, innovative processes and a healthy dose of cultural reflection.
When Xavier Mañosa lived in Berlin and began crafting ceramic figurines to sell at the Boxhagener Platz flea-market, he was unaware it would unlock a passion that was already part of his DNA. He’d grown up surrounded by the warm earthiness and kilns of his parents’ ceramics business in Barcelona, but rejected the profession until it became an escape route from creative inertia.
He moved back to Barcelona permanently in 2009 to learn more about the alchemistic qualities of clay under the tutelage of his father. “I realised that, to be serious about ceramics, there was still much for me to learn.”
“It’s imperative to find a balance where the material feels comfortable and it supports the design.”
Working with family presents a curious dynamic. While his parents focus on traditional methods for the sake of practicality, Xavier Mañosa is the innovator, using digital software to create molds. He often experiments with unusual combinations of raw materials such as porcelain and silicone, a world away from the bourgeois blue and white china teacups usually associated with the material. He credits his approach to university training in Industrial Design at Barcelona University. Xavi has also brought other hallmarks of his generation – branding and identity – into the business, aiding its visibility in today’s global marketplace.
The Apparatu label reflects Xavi’s reductionist approach to design. The name was born from the German word apparat, meaning appliance, and aparatu, Catalan for instrument – a marriage of “poorly written Catalan and poorly spoken German!” he jokes.
A mop of chestnut curls tumble over Xavi’s thick-rimmed glasses as he darts around the studio, showing me various projects over a soundtrack of gently humming ventilators. It’s a dusty workspace, a ceramic desert. Over on the drying rack, giant disco balls appear to have been reincarnated as paper-thin, giant orbs; lacquered bowls line a table. Pleat Box lamps dangle from the rafters, their tightly pinched necks a ceramic interpretations of creased cloth. These lamps are distributed online through bespoke lamp-specialist MARSET and are Apparatu’s best seller, fetching around 1,200€ per piece.
He shudders when I make the foolish mistake of referring to the studio – which employs a dozen workers – as a factory. “Everything here is handmade, there is no automation here. We’re artisans,” Xavi assures me, proudly. Would he ever consider manufacturing for a large-scale corporation like Ikea? “No, because that would mean manufacturing extremely high units, we would have to completely reset the way we produce. Limited editions are an important part of the production process. We give exclusivity to the client while guaranteeing a beautiful, handmade product.”
Many of the pieces are imperfect – a scratch here, a wobble or bloat there. Molds have a life cycle of eighty uses, meaning that each piece expands and changes shape as the molds age. On an industrial level, these quirks would render them faulty, but here they only add to the label’s authenticity, each imprinted with its own number. “Some things seem like accidents, but accidents happen because you are involved,” he says. “I’m constantly experimenting with new methods and discovering more about each material.”
Though artisan and digital methods of production might seem worlds apart, Xavi harnesses digital expertise to push creative boundaries while respecting the qualities of his medium and traditional methods of production.
N.B This is an edited/shortened version of a longer article (to be published in a British Arts Journal soon). Words and photos copyright Natasha Drewnicki 2015.