Getting Fired Up
The work of Ceramicist and Artist Xavier Monsalvatje
The art of recording the everyday and also the heroic in ceramics is an ancient medium. Think of those Ancient Greek hoplites and Etruscans marching around urns. Brought to Spain in the 14th Century by the Arabs, upgraded by Philip II in the 16th Century who shipped in a community of expert Flemish ceramists, Spain dominated decorative ceramics for centuries. Xavier Monsalvatje is continuing the tradition and uniquely so.
Born in Godella, ‘a small town near the city of Valencia in Spain’, he grew up in a family with a strong appreciation of the arts. Regardless that his father wanted him to study architecture (and you could argue that the influence is apparent), Xavier was drawn to the study of ceramics whose heritage remains deep-rooted in Valencian culture. He studied at the Escuela de Artes Aplicadas y Oficios Artísticos, the Central School of Art and Design in the afternoon whilst working in a ceramic factory in the morning.
He uses ceramics and drawing to reflect his insights into contemporary society in which he lives. Xavier explains, ‘We could ask ourselves what is left of the ancient Greek culture and some other ancient cultures and the answer would be its philosophy, its architecture and its ceramics, and it is precisely through the narration on ceramics that we have come to know those lost cultures a lot better. Obviously, in my ceramics of a more narrative nature, you will always find my personal imprint’.
Xavier draws on a wide array of influences, ‘Keith Haring, Diego Rivera, George Grosz to Charles Sheeler; In the field of ceramics, my teacher and friend Enric Mestre …. in sculpture are Miquel Navarro, Isamu Noguchi and Jorge Oteiza; When it comes to architecture, I’m interested in Luis Barragan, Josep Luis Sert and Le Corbusier…. films by David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky’.
If in looking at The Controlled City, above, your first thought about Xavier’s style is Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis, you won’t be alone, ‘Critics have always placed me between the graphic expression of Lang’s film, art in comics and metaphysical painting. I don’t mind saying it is not a bad definition at all! Personally, I can’t bring myself to define my style, I usually work on very diverse projects and each one has it’s own particular aesthetic, although on the other hand, from a conceptual point of view there is always a common thread that links all my works.’
Then contrast the industrial landscape of The Controlled City with the three following drawings. They’re seemingly traditional landscapes picturing ferroconcrete used for its darker purpose of military fortification. Notwithstanding, Xavier still finds a beauty in them. But there’s none of the whimsy of The Controlled City.
Projects can be a stand-alone ceramic or multi-faceted,
‘some continue to evolve although others end up in a dead-end. Obviously, there is a lot of planning in almost all the pieces, the previous sketches, the readings, the composition, the tests, since every time I face a new project I try to investigate how to obtain the right images that give meaning to what I wish to convey. Alas, it is true that there are some pieces in which the process is more intuitive and direct’.
And yes, The City of Noise is ceramic.
The Forgotten Landscape Project is Monsalvatje’s response to the changing landscape he sees around him. Today China’s manufacturing dominance cannot be underestimated and in ceramics, it has become the world’s largest supplier of tiles. The ramifications are profound on the once-thriving Spanish ceramics industry of Valencia. Xavier shares,
‘The Forgotten Landscape Project ‘is a compilation of abandoned industrial spaces. I grew up in a decaying industrial area next to the river and little by little those spaces became the central theme of my drawings as of my walks, during which I took photographs and videos to later work on in my studio. I was interested in creating a painting and where to fit, as an icon, those constructions that have modified the landscape and society until they became the cathedrals of the 20th century as visual symbols of progress and power. It was also a way to stop time and value those constructions that did not have any level of patrimonial protection. When painted, this fully functional and rationalist architecture acquires greater visibility and also a permanence in time, since many of these buildings were finally demolished.’
The project forms part of a series, Memory Containers, Discontinuous Cities, illustrating the impact urban planning had imposed on the landscape.
‘The influence of ‘the city and urban planning as well as abandoned industrial spaces’ is clearly evident’
Xavier still lives in Valencia where he uses his works to support and safeguard the city’s industrial heritage – founding La-Corporación a co-op with other artists in 1998 and later joining the Valencian Industrial Heritage Association. He is currently combining his work in his studio with the teaching of ceramic courses.
A member of the International Academy of Ceramics his works have been exhibited in Spain, Portugal, Mexico, USA, Finland, Austria, Chile, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Holland, England, Canada, Germany, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, China, Mali, Argentina, Ukraine, Croatia, Namibia, Italy, Turkey and Taiwan, among other countries.
Visit Xavier’s website: www.xaviermonsalvatje.com