Out of the fire: Joey de Castro — From photography to pottery

FROM pots and vases, to bowls and mugs, Joey de Castro has ideas for pottery swirling in his head. These ideas are made material, one kiln-load at a time, and as those cool down after firing, at the start of the week, he moves on to the next idea.

“I usually make the works in a little over a week, usually with one kiln-load of a particular form until that idea is fully exhausted. The following week is dedicated to firing and glazing of that batchload,” Mr. De Castro told BusinessWorld in an e-mail.

Firing a kiln load, Mr. De Castro explained, takes around 12 hours, followed by a whole day of cooling.

Prior to becoming a potter, Mr. De Castro was a professional photographer. In 2003, he expanded his artistic expression by hand-crafting pots for his house plants. What began as a search for containers for his collection of cacti and succulents resulted in Mr. De Castro setting up his own pottery kiln and workshop.

Similar to photography, he considers composition when creating a piece. “There has to be balance between the stance, neck, and footing,” he explained.

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He added that he also takes advantage of texture in his surfaces. “In photography, the variables are ISO, speed, aperture, and the darkroom. It’s somehow like firing in the kiln because that’s where air and fuel are manipulated to achieve desired results, much like the darkroom,” Mr. De Castro said.

“When working with clay, especially on the wheel, a lot of movement is imprinted on it and leaves its mark permanently. It is up to the flames to leave their mark, where the glaze fuses with the clay body. I love playing with the glaze flow just like the movement of molten lava,” he added.

His works have ranged from functional platters and serving bowls to decorative sculptures. Mr. De Castro also set up Sierra Madre Gallery, the first pottery-focused gallery in Manila, which doubles as an educational center for the ceramic arts.

Mr. De Castro’s works are on view in the “Intersection” exhibition in this year’s Art in the Park Online.

Art in the Park, the popular art fair held annually in the Jaime Velasquez Park in Salcedo Village, Makati, is currently being held online for the second time due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The fair, known for selling artworks with a P50,000 price ceiling, celebrates its 15th anniversary in this virtual setting. The fair is being held via www.artinthepark.ph, with new pieces uploaded on the site daily until Feb. 28.

Mr. De Castro and fellow potters Jon and Tessy Pettyjohn are the focus of short documentaries on the Art in the Park site that highlight their work. These are part of the fair’s special collaboration with the Bank of the Philippine Islands, BPI Art Clips, which this year focuses on pottery, one of the best-selling categories of Art in the Park.

For “Intersection,” Mr. De Castro focuses on raku, teaware used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, which he has not explored for a long time. “I missed playing with the intense nature of this particular firing method,” he said.

“[Art in the Park] has been instrumental in promoting pottery as an artform — from veterans like the Pettyjohns to new graduates of the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts,” he noted.

Mr. De Castro said that the lockdown last year allowed him to “focus on work uninterrupted” due to less external distractions. “This was my most productive session of late. The problem, however, was that my works couldn’t be not shown in public spaces, which I really miss,” he said.

“Surprisingly, since the lockdown, most potters were able to transition successfully to the digital platform via Instagram and Facebook, [with] online payments and door to door delivery.” Mr. De Castro said of how pottery thrived during the lockdown.

Still, “This is all temporary [and I’m] looking forward to being back in Velasquez Park,” he said.

Art in the Park Online is ongoing until Feb. 28 at www.artinthepark.ph. New pieces are uploaded daily at 10 a.m. Michelle Anne P. Soliman

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