How does this potter’s story begin?
The tradition of pottery comes by inheritance and goes as far back as time. But there is a crucial moment in 1965, when my father, Juan Martínez Villacañas (TITO) must decide between abandoning the inherited way of life, or reinventing it completely to avoid its disappearance. This crisis is marked by the social and technological changes that will mean the disappearance of 90% of the Spanish artisan heritage. Tito decides to reinvent his craft and adapt it to the needs of the new society. The pieces will cease to be eminently functional and should focus on a more aesthetic mission. To support the concept of authorship and add value to his work, he created the firm TITO-ÚBEDA in October 1965.
Traditional pottery was threatened when plastics and other materials of industrialized life were introduced; tell us in detail how it was kept alive?
As pointed out in the previous answer, new materials, improvements in the quality of life (domestic water for example), emigration from the countryside to the city, etc., meant a brutal paradigm shift. Juan Martínez, Tito had the intuition to turn popular objects of use into decorative elements. In order to achieve this he recovered techniques from the past and incorporated new ones, finishes that had almost disappeared (such as the Andalusian green, the Renaissance cobalt blue, the Iberian decorative profusion…) were revitalized. This captured new clientele and new marketing routes, locally and globally… and little by little he survived….
What relevance does pottery have today?
I believe this question is better answered by the customer who invests his money in this type of product, but personally I think it will be relevant in society as long as it transmits a strong historical and patrimonial value, capable of truly expressing this. Pottery will be important and necessary as long as it is able to excite to a greater or lesser extent the person who receives it.
What are the most important elements in pottery?
A rigorous technical mastery and an interesting creative sensitivity. As Juan Ramón Jimenez would say, the pottery must be filled with «roots and wings». I believe that combining these pillars we can overcome the difficulties that arise in regards to marketing, social ignorance, fashions, etc.
What separates your products from others?
The affectivity, humble value, the amazing human capacity to transform matter with primitive instruments. What separates us is the way we understand time, the time devoted to each object and the time for which that object has been created…. «Planned obsolescence» is the antithesis of a good crafted object.
How do you create? What do you think about? In the practical, artistic, decorative, what is the basis of your designs?
Once you have the trade inside….. I think that when working by order, it´s more focused on customer needs, the importance is on the handcrafted dimension, and when you work without a specific purpose its done more for pleasure, the expressive part has more weight. Although in both cases the handcraft, artistic and expressive should be mixed. In our designs the tradition of Spanish pottery is our language but we like to let ourselves be «contaminated» by contemporary creators from any field, from industrial design to literature, from urban art to cinematographic language.
Tell us about the special techniques that are used in your creations.
We do not stop risking with cooking temperatures, new ceramic pastes or mixture of materials (fibers, metals, photoprinting …) but we believe that the technique should never be above the expressive. The technique is the skeleton but the discourse is the skin of the work.
What is the color that is most prevelant and identifies you?
The Andalusian green (with copper oxide) became an emblematic color of Tito and pottery of Ubeda during the 70s and 80s of the last century. It remains distinctive but could become a tourist pastiche and we decided to recover the Renaissance cobalt blues to expand the creative spectrum and to claim the richness of popular pottery according to the times.
What inspires you to innovate?
We are inspired by our own taste, artists we admire, from the Neolithic to the most transgressive avant-garde. We are inspired and motivated by changes in current social needs; the public helps us detect what their desires are.
What are the pieces that decade after decade you continue to manufacture?
There are various forms associated with our geographical environment: Las Alcuzas (piece for serving olive oil) are a sign of identity; it combines craftsmanship with the star product of our land. The azumbres, pitchers for wine, Botijos, earthenware pitchers for water, the chupacharcos, the parideras, etc … are eternal pieces that we continue to produce, primarily because of their ancestral force and contribution to our heritage.
Whic piece is most popular?
The pieces with decoration «calada», which is an Arabic technique that my father recovered in the 70’s, those pieces sell best on a commercial level.
Where can we find your creations?
In our workshop-museum in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento de Úbeda (Jaén), in Bureau Mad (Madrid), in the Mediterranean culture stores Carter & Cavero (New York and New Jersey, US), in the chain store Granada (Japan), in various collections and museums, in the scenery of almost twenty national and international films and series,…
What are the plasns for the future?
I would like it to continue, of course. But I do not think that in today’s world it is strictly necessary for me to maintain a strict «family» sense, I think that today it can be more enriching to open the doors to people from other creative sectors, to feminize the workshops, to introduce all the necessary changes so that the workshops are responsive.
Will there be a fourth generation?
Sure, but it may not be a son or daughter of mine, could be a Japanese architect (for example) in love with clay and the Spanish pottery essence.