Herbert Read affirms in one of his books that a "country's art should be judged regarding ceramics, since it is a stone with a infallible touch". Indeed, the art of ceramics is a tradition that improves with time, wich allows us to conclude that, if a country's ceramics goes well, the same occurs with its other art forms.
I am not very sure if we can apply the Read's thesis to Brazil. After all, we are still part of a very young country. Five centuries are nothing in a civilization development, not even a tropical one. About Brazilian art, I would say that is fine, thanks. As for the art of ceramics, that, since the 70', has got an extraordinary impulse, among us, it seems to be living a cool stage, which can even be good, because the plastic area becomes more selective and demanding. The real creators will remain and the ones that have followed the trend will certainly disappear. This way, once the craze is gone, it is time to analyze and think about the actual results and the directions to be taken.
In fact, we have seen, during the last two decades, an extraordinary ceramics outbreak. A great number of individual talents have arised, who, with their work, have deeply questioned the concept, techniques and limits of ceramics, introducing new themes, associating new materials to the clay, many times developing towards collective creation, gathering together in workshops, cities (Cunha, Rio de Janeiro), specialized art galleries, historical exhibitions and representative entities, such as the Ceramist's Association of Rio de Janeiro. There was still a considerable increase in publications (catalogue, books) and even an exhaustive study on the existing bibliography in Brazil, which was very competently carried out by Mary di Iorio.
As a consequence of such creative expression, it is not possible, nowadays, to define with accuracy - and this actually necessary - the limits between ceramics and painting or between ceramics and sculpture and/or object. And nothing prevents ceramics from the possibility of manifesting itself also in terms of installations, which has long stopped being just a creation os useful or ornamental objects to become a way of author's expression. A greater art after all.
It is not the case, in a simple presentation like this, to enumerate all the thematic and formal tendencies developed in the last 20 years, which, once the ceramics boredom stage has passed, are currently tending to disappear or to disperse. However, in a simple way, we could point out some tendencies:
1- the one which is represented by Francisco Brennand, one of the pioneers of modern ceramics in Brazil, whose work contains a sacramental magnificence and monumentality, especially when the parts are gathered, as they are, in a kind os sanctuary hidden in the jungle area of Pernambuco.
2- the one of Celeida Tostes, an artist that has certainly provoked a revolution in Brazilian ceramics, both in her individual work and in the pedagogic action as well, by stimulating the appearance of new themes, especially related to female eroticism, and also anthropological and archaeological themes. Her demarche was so deep and intense that Celeida plunged her own body into the clay, becoming the ceramics raw material herself.
3- A third tendency is represented by Shoko Suzuki and other ceramists, specially Japanese and Korean, who, working according to the million year tradition of ceramics, intend to surround their creation with an spiritualizing aura. A kind os animic blow comes together with the substantial economy.
4- An extension of such tendency can be represented by Megume Yuasa. Sometimes in a good mood, with his "mironian signs", sometimes dramatic, with his "nonsense theatre", sometimes still incorporating new materials, he creates architectural or scenery spaces open to fantasy.
5- Antonio Poteiro, with his biblical and erotic narratives is the myth-magic and brutalist tendency. A tendency that cannot be confused neither with popular art, of Vitalino, for example, nor with the aboriginal ceramics, still slightly explored by the contemporary ceramists, as well as the black-African tendency, which has in Brazil a rare representative, Miguel dos Santos.
6- Finally, in the middle of the way between useful and/or ornamental ceramics and the ceramics design, we have a great number of creators.
And Mary di Iorio, how can we place her in the vast and diversified universe of Brazilian contemporary ceramics? Firstly, we must point out the fact that, with her, creation, teaching and reflecting are connected. I have mentioned the bibliographic inventory she has accomplished about the ceramics in Brazil, which, although already finished, remains unfortunately unpublished, without any editor support. At the same time, Mary has been publishing papers and essays in Brazil and abroad. She has set up and directed, from 1972 to 1977, the plastic arts department in the Federal University of Uberlândia, Minas Gerais, creating a subject of ceramics, of which she was incumbent for about two decades.
Obviously such reflexive and pedagogical activity has reflected a lot in her creative process. As for this matter, I would say that her work is a balance between the various tendencies in effect worldwide and in Brazil, regarding ceramics, during the last two decades. In spite of oriundi, di Iorio was born in Minas Gerais, in the city of Belo Horizonte, and this means that she has a predominant characteristic certain atavic values of the "Minas way of life" - balance, temperance and a wish for order. Always avoiding the extremes, - her ceramics get far away from both utilitarianism and the cathartic expression, which many times, as we have seen, slides to erotic exacerbation and even to eschatological morbidity. She is neither anthropologic nor spiritualistic. Her ceramics neither have a feminist content nor are they a receptacle of archaizating residues. In other words, they do no illustrate thematic trends and they do not stick to formalist dogmas. This way , I dare to say, these absences are exactly what define her undeniable presence in the Brazilian ceramics.
Considered as meaningful units, they can suggest analogies with cocoons, balls of yarn, capsules, ampoules, vats, seeds and others. But such figurative allusions loose their sense when these units become part of a set or when they form structures, as in her most recent works.
The perforation we find in her "capsules" should not be seen as a fortuitous metaphor of the female body, but otherwise in the sense given by Lucio Fontana to the cutting in her canvas, which reveals a hidden spaciality. It is not, as in so many other ceramists, an erotic irruption; it is a gesture that interrupts the surface continuity. The grooves surrounding all the volumetry of the piece, completed in the artist's signature, also cannot be seen as a non-formalist expansion. On the contrary, the continuity of the groove or incision allows us to recover the original movement, which, associating the lathe and the hand, has made available the existence of the work. Thanks to these grooves, the eye recovers, gesturally, the original gesture of the work. The effect is, therefore, dynamic.
Methodic and coherent, moving slowly, Mary di Iorio never looses control of her esthetical proposal.
From the raw material to the form, from disorder to order, from the precision of the clay to the precision of the drawing, in short, from chaos of the original raw material to the cosmos of the finished work, her work is performed like this. It is very clear when we examine the images of the book published by her, illustrating the various stages of her creative work and the several structural and environmental alternatives, which she makes possible. In one of theses images, the artist's hand avidly kneads the clay, as if it was impelled by a strong emotion. Actually, before she could put her hands on the clay, she had already defined, in a series of sketches, her will of form. The drawing is bright, strong and powerful, delimitates form and volume, virtualizes the movement, indicating at the same time, its suitability to various contexts and arrangement structures. Mary di Iorio has deliberately restricted her formal vocabulary - oval-shaped form, cut and grooves - with the clear intention of putting the results in a vertical way.
There were moments when di Iorio set up her "cocoons" on the grass, with metallic structures as support, or "tied" them to the trees, as if they were the rubber extracted from the rubber plantations. Other times, she left her oval-shaped forms kind of floating on rivers and lakes , near waterfalls, putting the transitory stability of her ceramics solids in contrast with the heraclitian fluency of the waters, causing light and shade effects, impressionists irizations.
On her recent works, exhibited here, Mary di Iorio abandons the previous naturalist and ecological settings, assuming a distinctly constructive position. Her new works are geometrical and formations and pseudo-architectures, implicitly monumental, which rise directly from the ground. In fact, these new cubic and pyramidal structures are set up on very discreet supports made of transparent acrylic and, this way, they seem to be floating over the floor, like before on the river. Anyway, what really counts right now is not the unit and its handicraft covering, the single piece, but the multiple, the modular structure, offering almost unlimited creative possibilities. This is an important qualitative leap, which opens a new tendency, a very rich and innovative vein os Brazilian ceramics.