Some years ago when “Tao-Te-Ching” was little more than a reference book for many of us. We knew many of the quotations by heart – great in it’s smallness – and I confess I had to dig to find the phrase for the introduction.
Having just seen the works that Maria Bofill is going to show in this exhibition it was the first thing that came to mind although I could only remember the short version. “Great undertakings shall start with what’s small”.
This is exactly the feeling it gave me when I first saw these tiny pieces representing, buildings, farms, gardens, hills, mountains, waves, the sea, the clouds, the sky… all these themes are present in the porcelain pieces made by Maria Bofill.
Whoever reads the titles of the pieces and is unfamiliar with the work of this unique ceramicist would automatically and wrongly think of large pieces and huge formats trying to reflect what is embodied in the title.
Paradoxically, her pieces are so small that the larger ones, carried out with the juxtaposition of various elements grouped in order to achieve their purpose – the rough seas or skies full of clouds, are less than a meter and, although they refer to extensive surfaces, immerse us in their undulations or make us fly weightless between imitation clouds.
And therein lies something that continually emphasizes explains and interprets the work of the artist, the spirit of a work that from the minimum is able to transmit the concept of the immense.
And when I say minimum is because it is in every sense of the word: it is minimum because it is small; It is minimal for being stripped of all that is not necessary for its expression; It is minimal because of everything it collects only represents the essential and even minimal because it is in its development and in its colouring. On the contrary, it is large in content, ideas, concepts, in order and emphasis.
And when the essential and ideal come together, as happens in these small pieces of Maria Bofill, it is no exaggeration to say it it a visual explosion, but on the contrary, it will affect our spirit more than our eyes. Often the works show sweeping landscapes and monumental buildings, but sometimes
More often the works describe, sweeping landscapes and monumental buildings, but sometimes they will still be dwarfed so as to convey a concept that forces us to accommodate and look to find in it what is a poetic idea. This happens when the artist puts a fountain near to the sea or makes a fish cross a cloud, or puts forth a ladder so the clouds come nearer to the ground.
The appearance, which has always been peaceful and deep then complements and epitomizes that process and lifts what the artist is trying to achieve as rigorous and as inextricably lyrical, as austere and deeply brilliant.
This has all taken a long time it was more than thirty years ago that Maria Bofill set out on this “combat and complicity” with porcelain, the material uses and who knows draw its energy repeatedly without any other device other than the natural iridescence of the clay and other input with an essentially chromatic blue, other times with the addition of key colours, blues blacks and gold in an undeniable evocation of the ever present Mediterranean.
And while the Mediterranean is its root, cradle and linchpin, we must be aware of a learning process that goes further than the search for her own way both as a student and teacher in the Saxon world and include the introspection and neatness found during her wanderings in the East.
Maria Bofill, as we have said, before is an artist who may seem paradoxical but not in the sense of being inconsistent or contradictory, she uses paradox to reaffirm the idea that small, the seemingly trivial and inconsequential, can attain values close to the sublime, certainly something difficult for any mortal.
Maybe she will succeed, as someone wrote, because sometimes she “is present like a priestess that invokes the past and creates labyrinths and intimate and melancholy spaces”. But it seems to me nearer the truth to say she is more in the category of alchemist; what they were trying to obtain was gold from base elements.
What someone like Maria achieves with her pieces, is a wonderful transformation, to raise a piece of earth to the category of work of art, to convert matter into spirit.
After looking at her art we must look at the artist, a person who is able to work wonders:
For a long time – and I have forgotten the real reason for this opinion, Maria seems as an artist different and distant, always lacking a certain direct contact, something that is central to the understanding of people but appreciating her accomplishments such as that splendid Labyrinth that since 1996 is one of the hidden treasures in the collection at the Museum of Ceramics in Aviles; that is something special for me.
I don’t understand why but the same as with her creations, I take one approach and endorse the category different and change the other, distant to something more correct; endearing.
This woman, who was left captivated by groves near Aviles, who from the height of the seawall at Cape Peñas was impressed by the sight of a sea so different to hers, or felt haunted by a sunbeam finding it’s way through the clouds of an infinite Cantabrian horizon, could not be, in any way, distant.
From this we learn more deeply, if possible, that in every one of it’s small parts:
The Pyrenees cracked, the black garden with a golden cypress, lava which makes an unusual red hill arising from rippling waters of a lake, sends us up by the intricate paths of its labyrinths, to that grandeur pursued by every artist and as Lao Tse, acknowledged beautiful is beautiful.