Having grown up with an artistically-spirited mother in an environment that celebrated craft and design, Ioulia Chante’s path as a ceramic designer was always there, waiting to be unveiled and nurtured.
Born in Greece, Ioulia currently lives and works in Malta as an architect at ME Architects. After focusing on jewellery design for a number of years while studying architecture at a university in Greece, Ioulia has evolved her creative practice into creating ceramic mugs, tea sets, oil burners, tea candle holders, teapots, plates and bowls, inspired by an intention to exalt her own pieces.
Her ceramics are characterised by endearing monsters, hence the derivation of the name BABAU (‘boogie man’ in Maltese). She gives them personas with whimsical comments on social media, such as ‘Deadly smile, fiery eyes. She’s got the look! This monster was one of my favourites…’ or ‘this is a piece that I made a while ago. A vase that protects your property from thieves and intruders.’
“I love putting my emotions and thoughts out there,” Ioulia says. “As a child, I always had a pencil and paper in hand, and sketched everything. I used to love knitting with my aunt. I enjoyed experimenting with all types of materials, and particularly with copper wires in my dad’s industrial automation lab. Creating with my hands is cathartic.”
In Malta, Ioulia became enchanted with local pottery studio, Space For Clay, where she began her love story with the material. The studio offers budding artists the chance to choose structured courses to follow. Students can also develop at their own pace and convenience – from simply learning how to throw on the potter’s wheel to studying how to hand build, using clay as the medium. Artists can purchase a block of several hours that can be utilised over a period of three months, she explains, which means that those who have a full-time job can create their ceramic pieces whenever they have the free time.
“Clay is such a unique material with endless possibilities. You can really put all your emotions and mood in one piece. It’s something very tangible and personal,” Ioulia says, admitting that “the reason I got so attached to clay is because both wheel-throwing and sculpting offer me stress relief. In general, pottery is a highly fascinating science. It’s a whole new world to me. There are so many things to discover – from different qualities of clay to various techniques and glaze compositions.”
“I love all of it; the material of clay itself, but also sharing ideas and knowledge with the like-minded people who frequent Space for Clay. The studio encourages networking and open discussion on all aspects of ceramics; from skills to techniques, and even sales,” she continues, explaining that in the beginning, it just happened. “I had free time and I was just experimenting. I was witnessing people creating sculptures and I liked the idea of making something functional with features to make it unique. My friends encouraged me to post some of my ceramic work online and I discovered that people noticed it. Social media allows me to get my work out there to people who may be interested in it.”
Instigated by the pandemic, Ioulia began taking the clay home to work on it further. “The pandemic actually gave me a lot of time that I wouldn’t normally have had to discover more about the material and what I could do with it. It takes time. Mistakes are made and you learn more through these mistakes,” she says.
From a technical aspect, Ioulia’s background as an architect helps her with understanding proportions to create pieces which are fully practical. At university, she spent a lot of time building correctly proportionate engineered physical models of all projects with various materials (from carton and pieces of wood to plaster). This experience helps Ioulia immensely now, when it comes to designing proportionally and building up perception and awareness. Further to that, she worked as a barista for a stint, which helps her understand the pieces’ functional needs. A natural born designer, she confesses to instinctively observing details of objects and when younger, would even sketch furniture designs for fun.
“In the initial stages, my ceramics teacher helped me understand the gravity of a cup and from there, I began to implement small artistic features onto the functional proportions. Clay’s different attributes are a great challenge from an engineering aspect, as I am really intrigued by this science as well. I am captivated by how small parts and different stages of the process can combine to build a perfectly functional piece… then blend an artistic narrative into the final composition,” she explains, and plans on taking it further still. “I would like to explore and learn more about the chemistry part of it to start creating my own glazes.”
The budding ceramicist is also part of a local group of artists who specialise in various mediums. They discuss and exchange ideas, motivating and instigating one another to create. Ioulia gives special thanks to artists such as Riaan Steenkamp and Jeremy Tua for their art, which inspires her work – Riaan for his sketches and Jeremy for the art and technique of his pottery.
“Riaan Steenkamp is an architect and artist who happens to be my housemate. We have a great synergy, and his sketches motivate me greatly. All of us discuss and discuss, always exchanging opinions and gaining a lot of feedback from each other. In turn, we all help to develop each other’s ideas and grow together. They are a huge source of inspiration to me,” Ioulia says, sharing her belief that there is a lot of talent in the local art scene, and that there should be more light shed on what’s happening. “Every day I discover new artists. I find a lot on Instagram but unless I was actively seeking them, I probably wouldn’t get to know about them,” she says.
The coronavirus pandemic has profoundly affected the art world, including ceramics. “The pandemic allowed me and so many others to work on our art and portfolios. Apart from this, on a personal level, it helped me begin to appreciate time and give it more value,” Ioulia reveals.
And while the young ceramist has taken on commissions and exhibited her work for a short time at a café, she plans to present more in future. She has a corner at Pole Pole Music Café in Msida; a small, cosy place where visitors are encouraged to ‘slow down, kick back and feel at home while sipping on something, reading a book or listening to their favourite [vinyl] record’.
“I’ve reached the point where the hobby has become costly and time consuming, as I don’t have my own kiln and there are quite a few breakages as I trial and error. It would be great if I could strike a balance timewise to make some money out of it. Now that things are going back to business as usual, I have to give it a rest because my work at the architectural firm is extremely busy,” she reveals, regrettably.
Ioulia’s laugh is genuine as she says, “I would love to take this passion further and dedicate more time to it. I think I need to learn how to say no more. Or yes more. I’m not sure which.”
Follow Ioulia Chante on Instagram: @babau_ceramics or Facebook: BABAU
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