Borja and I first chatted just over three years ago, when he messaged me after I had received the wonderful compliment that my work and photography reminded someone of the Japanese book 'In Praise of Shadows' by Junichirō Tanizaki. And since that very day, Borja not only became one my favourite ceramicists but also a dear virtual friend. We both have a love and admiration for Japanese aesthetics and craftsmanship, as well as a deep respect for each other's work. I am very happy to share some of his words and works with you in this new feature.
Can you tell us a little about your background and journey to become a ceramist?
I studied architecture at the polytechnic school of Madrid and graduated back in 2016. Shortly after graduating, I lost feeling and mobility of my left hand due to severe nerve damage. I had to go through a surgery in order to repair the damage and through a year long recovery process in which I had to relearn how to use my hand again and regain strength. At the end of it all, I was recommended by my brother, who was also my physiotherapist, to try an activity that required working with my hand in order to push my recovery further. I had been interested in ceramics for a while, and so in January 2018 I joined an evening throwing course. I got hooked immediately as I was very interested on the craft and ceramic world.
You once told me 'Japanese culture sets basis to understand and see things differently to what we are used to here', could you share a bit more about that sentiment and explain how Japanese culture influence your work?
I think that, compared to European countries or the UK, Japan is a country with generally less natural resources, and probably because of that, their culture puts a lot of care into everything they do have. And through that care, they are able to elevate things that we wouldn’t normally feel the need to elevate. That care filters through every detail of their food, craft, etc. It’s simplicity at its best, because the care and focus point lies in the material when it comes to craft, the produce when it comes to food, and so on. I try to have a similar approach in my craft, focus on the material, the functionality of the piece and avoid any distractions. I also like the aesthetic that is a consequence of their approach, and I feel highly influenced by it.
What have been the highs and lows since working as a full time ceramist?
There has been many highs over the past five years. But I think the biggest one would be when I left my full time job to pursue this as my way of living. Seeing that working out well and beyond my expectations it’s the biggest high. There hasn’t been many lows in comparison, maybe navigating through some health issues, the consequential surgeries and the frustration of not being able to work during the recoveries. Other than that I try to take every difficulty as a learning experience and I don’t duel much on the “lows” but try to turn them around into something that allows me to improve as a maker and person.
Do you have a favourite piece to make and why?
I really enjoy to make bowls because they are normally easy to throw, but while making them you are left at the mercy of the centrifugal forces of the wheel for a bit. And it’s very enjoyable when the internal curve on them is perfectly rounded.
You have recently got your own studio, how does it feel?
It feels really good and spacious and bright. I was very fortunate to find this new space. It’s on the top floor of an old victorian school and I get lots of natural light. It’s also in a very tranquil area so it’s very quiet. It’s been a blessing to find the space and to be able to work from it.
How has your journey into settling in Scotland been since moving from your Spanish home?
It’s been fairly easy, I think right from the start I felt at home here, very welcomed by the people and the country. Every bit of work I do and have done, whether it’s as a ceramicist or in previous jobs was appreciated and it’s been a smooth journey. I had friends living here already which was helpful, but other than that, I’ve always felt well looked after, cared for and certainly at home.
How do you reconnect with yourself when life gets too full or overwhelming?
I try to cook a lot at home and maybe take a day or half a day in which I’m just cooking and spend time in the kitchen. I also like to go for a swim a few times a week, I like getting to the pool and exercising while in the water, it gives me a feeling of lightness and it’s somehow healing.
What is the best advice you ever received?
I had several good advices about always giving my 100% or working hard no matter what you do, and how being committed, thorough and pour yourself into what you do is the only way to achieve something. So I always try to give my 100% and work hard, I enjoy that and it’s what is most satisfactory at the end of the day.