Priya Sundaravalli is one among a growing bunch of ceramic artists from Auroville who are gradually taking their creations, and artistic spirit, to the international stage.

Over and above her masterful creations, Sundaravalli excels in the all-important aspect of articulating beauty, deriving meaning in materiality, and deconstructing spirituality through her works. Not surprisingly, her works are critical for helping the language of appreciation evolve, when it comes to new works of art.

The artist, however, downplays the significance of her creations, ahead of her new solo show, Ceramics-IV. “My work seeks to celebrate life’s qualities of abundance, generosity and optimism, and the delight of living,” she offers.

“In my expression, I seek the harmony of opposites – asymmetry with balance, chaos with order, imperfection with exquisite detail. Texture and rhythm help to step out of the self, and reach towards intangible qualities like silence, weightlessness, and the vibratory fields of matter and light.”

The natural world is ultimately her biggest playground. “Nature – its cycles, life forms and wilderness, both terrestrial and oceanic – are sources of inspiration, and Auroville, my creative sanctuary,” she declares.

Most of her work is based in hand-building techniques, primarily using stoneware clays with slips, glazes, stains and lustre for decorative effects. For a technical note, she explains, her works are fired to 1,250 degree Celsius in a wood-fueled kiln, at Pottery Sipapu, her studio in Dana, Auroville. “The creative process involves serendipity, spontaneity and moment-to-moment guidance,” she says. Excerpts from an interview —
Priya Sundaravalli

The tagline of your new show, “…so many heavens…”, is intriguing.
What does it refer to?
‘So many heavens’… It comes from a little three-line poem by a Korean poet. His name was Chon Sang-pyon and he was blind. His poem:

I’ll go back to heaven again.
At the end of my outing to this beautiful world
I’ll go and say: That was beautiful.

When I first read it, my heart exploded. The optimism and delight towards life expressed by a blind poet who had a difficult life… I feel so happy when I read that poem. ‘So many heavens’ refers to the beauty that is present everywhere and all the time, both in matter and in life, just waiting for us to notice it…

How is this a continuation of the first three “Ceramics” collections?
It is always a continuation, as creative expression is also evolving with one’s own evolution. I always first show my new works in Auroville — as it is Auroville that I draw my energy and inspiration from. Also, to share my work with the community here — we are each a cog on the big wheel… and this is my little contribution.

What are your new works about?
The sign for me that it is time for a show is when there is no more space to work or walk in my studio — ceramics are filling and spilling out of everywhere! The works I am showing are works I made in South Korea three years ago at a ceramic residency, as well as recent works made in Auroville.

This time, my works are more experimental than before. I am realising that what is important is to be playful and make myself happy first. So I am breaking the dos and don’ts of traditional studio ceramics, and mixing new material with ceramics. Swarovski crystals for example or auto-motive paint… Then the works also become not so easily categorisable — straddling the fine line between kitsch, jewellery and ceramics. It’s fun! But these are only mental constructs…

Have you been experimenting much with dimension in your new works?
Not as much as I would like, as my work space is small. When I have access to large spaces, my works tend to get large. But I overcome the limitation of scale in my everyday ceramic practice by working in multiples or by creating detailed textures.

I use sharp tools to form thousands of individual marks on the clay surface. Also, I find that rhythm and repetition takes me out of my mind into the world of what is being created. Then the work carries a ‘vibration’ of its own identity, and no longer about the human being who created it.

How have you been seeing the ceramics community at Auroville grow over the last few years?
Very healthy. We are about a dozen of us practicing potters here, of many nationalities. Also, there is an established teaching studio — the White Peacock studio — for children, and adults. So the young are getting exposed.

For the last three years, one of the Auroville ceramicists has been organising the Auroville International Potters Market. This market takes place around the Republic Day weekend in January. In this market, both local artisans as well as studio potters from all over India and even abroad, take part.

Also, how do you find the language of appreciation changing, among newer enthusiasts of art and ceramic works?
It is definitely changing. Besides being more globally aware, young people are becoming more self-aware and unafraid to search for who they are, and express what they believe in. With this mix of curiosity, courage and individuality, it is inevitable that all expressions of life will undergo a positive change. I am optimistic.

How would you like to see people understanding art, and supporting artists and new art initiatives?
Oh, the wish list will be enormous, but on top of the list would be more art education for children!

Where else can we see your works?
My work is permanently on display at Mumbai’s T2 Airport, near Gate 87 (Domestic). It is a seabed-like landscape on white sand presented with over 350 ceramic objects, all under a glass walkway. In 2018, I will be a part of the Indian Porcelain Show in Delhi in March, and later in August, at the 1st Indian Ceramics Triennale at Jawahar Kala Kendra in Jaipur.

Ceramics-IV opens at Centre d’Arts Citadines, Auroville, on Sep 16, 4.30-7 pm. On display until Sep 28.