She breathes life into clay in unusual ways, but for 48-year-old Ange Peter, this is the culmination of a life-long search for peace, tranquility and a sense of belonging.
Among the rare few in the world who make ash-glazed ceramicware, she is fascinated by the beauty that resides in simplicity and largely steers clear of flashy forms. Her interpretation of life through clay is uninhibited — art that, quite literally, rises out of the ashes.
Born in Hamburg, Germany, Peters parents moved to Pond-icherry when she was two years old. With an artist mother, she grew up in a creative environment, learning the nuances of painting.
An Indian national, Peter completed her schooling from the Sri Aurobindo International Center of Education in Pondicherry. At 23, she set out to travel through Europe and Southeast Asia and even lived in Germany for six months, working in a publishing firm.
Peter moved back to Pondicherry in 1991, where she enrolled for her first pottery lessons under Ray Meeker of Golden Bridge Pottery at Auroville. Soon after, she headed out to Taiwan, where she worked as a teacher, studied Chinese and held pottery workshops.
Peter returned to Auroville two years later and joined Deborah Smith (who, along with Ray Meeker, is credited to have popularised stoneware pottery in India) as her assistant at Golden Bridge Pottery. Says Peter: Deborah taught me a lot about detail.
A year later, Peter presented her first studio exhibition at Auroville, featuring about 300 pots. Thereafter, she began to design her own studio and home at Auroville and launched Forest Pottery Studio six years later.
Aware of a deep sense of restlessness within her, Peter decided to expand her horizons and committed to a six-month apprenticeship in 2005 in Japan under Shibata Masaaki, a famous Japanese pottery master. She says: With Master Masaaki, I imbibed the Japanese philosophy of life — that your work is a reflection of your relationship to life.
Here, in experiencing the Japanese way of life, she found solace in the work that she learnt — ash glazing. An ancient form of ceramic glazing, ash glazes contain wood ash that lends an almost untamed rawness to pottery — the look is thus completely natural, often appearing synonymous with animal prints. An extremely difficult form of glazing, ash glazing has many patrons but not enough artisans.
At present, Peter retails out of her studio at Auroville. Her works are very popular, having sold out at every exhibition and event that she has participated in.
According to Peter, glazed ceramic products are in high demand. Since the genre is not crowded with too many artists yet, all kinds of ceramicware are popular with people, she says. Also, ceramic works add elegance to homes in all colours and forms and are eco-friendly too.
What makes her products even more popular is the fact that she lets the materials speak for themselves. Peter says: Id like people to use my products at home because theyre made with care and do not contain any chemicals.
From conventional colour glazes in matte finish to ash glazes, Peters products include platters, cups, bowls, vases, wall panels, hanging art installations, jewellery, glasses and teapots.
Since she has always held herself back in terms of colour, glaze, shape and form take center-stage in her products. Bare yet vibrant, the earthy tones of her products are accentuated or softened by the kind of wood that the ash is coming from.
Peter handles commissioned works for three months in a year, while the rest of the time is dedicated to her art. She recently completed a consignment of 40 teapots for Sandeep Goyal, a collector based in Japan. Her products start from Rs 100 for a matte-finish cup, going up to Rs 45,000 for an ash-glazed vase (90cm in height). Take your pick from her dragons (Rs 25,000 per piece) that come in vibrant shades of green, blue and red.
Peters teapots come in various shapes and sizes. The basic shape is first developed on the wheel and thereafter, she works on the design of the teapot. Each such pot costs Rs 6,000.
Peters wall panels, featuring dragons, trees and more, are picturesque. Though she oscillates between the use of colour and the lack of it on her panels, she still hits upon an impressive semblance of form and shape. Peter charges Rs 2,000 per sq ft for these.
Photographs by Ireno Guerci