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Ceramicist Attila Olah is the founder of Altar Pottery, a studio collaboration located in John Archer Hall, Toxteth, Liverpool.
A Liverpool Hope University graduate, Attila and his team run pottery evening classes, as well as introductory sessions, for anyone interested in learning the craft.
These sessions start again in earnest May 17th having been launched in 2018 but forced to stop because of Covid-19 restrictions.
And Attila, 33, says that if your wellbeing has suffered through the pandemic, the therapeutic benefits of working with clay could give you a whole new outlook on life.
Speaking ahead of his ceramic work being showcased in a new exhibition – Past Present Future: Celebrating Craft – at the Walker Art Gallery, Attila reveals: “We teach using the potter’s wheel and if you’ve tried it you will know that it’s an incredibly single-minded process.
“You can’t be thinking about your dinner, you can’t be thinking about your shopping list, and even if you’ve had a stressful day at work this gives you the opportunity to decompress, to be with the clay, and to allow the process to unfold.
“Through making one experiences a sense of going deeper both into oneself and into the materials at hand. You merge into the act yourself. It’s almost the textbook definition of mindfulness.
“And it’s interesting to see people walking into the studio looking a bit stressed and ten minutes into their practice a sense of calm starts to set in. They might say, ‘Ah, I’ve had a really busy day at work’, but suddenly there’s a change – to pure joy.
“Giving yourself that couple of hours each week is really important. We all have the need for a creative outlet, no matter what you do. So it’s nice to hear from people who say, ‘I’ve been looking forward to this all week… and I’ve got this idea about something I want to make’.
“These are the things I really appreciate about my job.”
Explaining how pottery making is an extremely ‘calming discipline’, Attila describes: “One of the first stages of making on the wheel is called ‘centring’. And I think that in itself speaks volumes. You have to be ‘centered’ yourself, otherwise it’s just not going to work.”
Attila says there’s been a real surge in interest in recent years when it comes to pottery making, thanks in part to the popularity of Channel 4’s The Great Pottery Throw Down.
And Attila, born in the rural town of Hajduboszormeny, eastern Hungary, before moving to the UK in 2006, is no stranger to showbusiness either.
In 2014 he was working for Liverpool-based Glacial Art Ice Sculptors, specialists in ice creations, and helped to create an ice ‘henge’ – a circle of jagged frozen shards – for a nail-biting episode of Game of Thrones, in which the infamous ‘Night King’ character was seen for the very first time.
Attila – who also worked as a Senior Resident Tutor at Hope, supporting students in halls of residence – laughs: “The shoot took two days, which resulted in less than a minute of footage. It was an eye-opening and brilliant experience.”And while there are times when pottery goes horribly wrong, creations crumble and the clay has a mind of its own, these frustrations and set-backs might actually help to improve someone’s mental resilience.
Attila, who worked as a painter and decorator when he first arrived in England, reveals: “Those frustrations are all part of this idea of mindfulness.
“Mindfulness isn’t just about ‘being in the moment’ and paying attention to what’s in front of you, it’s also about learning at the same time and solving puzzles.
“If you’ve been working on something for a long time and it falls apart and you lose it, after a while it teaches you that, yes, it will happen again, and it’s only a matter of time before it happens again. But you learn to laugh at it and accept it.
“Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you fail, and the two things are not set against each other. They’re part of life and the reality we experience.”
Introductory sessions at Altar Pottery are £50, which covers everything from basic technique to health and safety and prepares you for the evening classes, which cost £15.
Attila adds: “It can take three to six months before you have the confidence and skill to start your own project but within a month or so people are able to make things they’re really impressed with, which helps to spur them on and to stick with it
“It’s like an instrument – you have to learn the skills and make sense of what the machine can do, the ‘boring’ bits, before you can really create.”
Attila’s creative practice and research revolves around the ‘vessel’ and the ‘rich symbolism that surrounds it’, he says.
He adds: “The vessel, both as a concept and as an artefact, is intimately entwined with our ideas and rituals surrounding the phenomena of birth, growth, worship and death, which to a large extent define us as a species.”
The new exhibition will see him showing off an installation that consists of six different ceramic bowls – each identical in size but with different silhouettes. For Attila, it speaks about the ‘perfect form’ that a potter chases their entire life, and which is ultimately a ‘ghost’.
He adds: “You get close to it, but never close enough…”
Meanwhile Attila says his education at Hope, where he studied for a BA in Design before graduating in 2016, gave him the creative freedom to really find his ‘voice’.
He says: “You need to experiment and find an identity for yourself as a maker.
“That might not necessarily mean that you’re making the most unique pieces in the world but you need to be able to try different techniques, new ideas, different methods of making… you need to spend time with your practice so it can open up a space within you. You work with a material and you get hooked and drawn in.
“And what Hope gave me was the flexibility and also the opportunity to really pursue these ideas.”
Later this year following the expansion of Altar Pottery, Attila and his team will be reaching out to school children, disability groups and community centres as well as opening the space up for team building events.
As the big reopening, Attila smiles: “It’s definitely good vibes in here. I’m ready to go.”
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