The union between art and technology

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In the 1980s, the Crogiolo was Marazzi’s research centre for freely experimenting with craft techniques and arts applied to ceramic materials. Far from a nostalgic workshop, it was a hotbed of ideas that were ahead of their time and promoted the spread of design culture.

When porcelain stoneware was achieving high technological standards and increasingly efficient industrial production, Marazzi was carrying out parallel research into the artisanal nature of ceramics. In the 1980s, Filippo Marazzi junior dedicated the company’s first industrial warehouse in Sassuolo, dating back to the 1930s, to the new research centre: the Crogiolo. During that decade, international artists, architects and ceramists came together here to freely experiment with creative uses of the material, drawing on tradition and the applied arts. Today, under the name Crogiolo, Marazzi is relaunching a type of ceramics that revives the craftsmanship and manual skills of ceramists. Warm materials and tactile surfaces for small-size tiles inspired by the imperfections of handcrafting. The Crogiolo collection unearths a dormant story that tells us about the fundamental role of a company in the production and spread of material culture.

Crogiolo was a hotbed of applied experimentation “to explore alternatives in the use of ceramics” – as stated in the 1980 brochure – inserting, thanks to the close collaboration between designers, artists and the company’s ceramists, handcrafted solutions, forms and graphic ideas into industrial production processes. We see, therefore, small-size tiles with parts in relief, reliefs with decors, modular shapes, trichrome effects or tactile surfaces, made with craft techniques and inserted within industrial ceramic coverings. Or we witness the introduction of new decorative approaches, which elevate simple representation to a sort of narrative cycle or a tool to create scenic backdrops. A deep bond is established between design, in its artistic-aesthetic research formula, and technique as a productive tool. And the tile becomes an expressive medium that lends movement to surfaces, dilating and defining spaces.

Although the company is aware that just a small selection of Crogiolo’s proposals will be produced for the catalogue, it recognizes the research centre’s strong intellectual stimulus and cultural contribution. In the 1980s, ceramics were freely interpreted by artists and illustrators such as Roger Capron, Amleto Dalla Costa, Original Designers 6R5 (G. Bossi, F. Roggero, B Rossio), Saruka Nagasawa and Robert Gligorov, as well as photographers such as Luigi Ghirri, Cuchi White and Charles Traub.

With ceramicist Roger Capron, the Crogiolo questions the relationship between uniqueness and mass production, art and industry. Together they develop imperfect tiles, unique pieces in 30×30 cm white ceramic stoneware, made with a single-fired (1200 °C) substrate on which, while it is still unfired, coloured oxides are applied, shaded with the fingers or engraved with a burin to define the contours, or screen-prints are applied to the backgrounds that create patterns on the tile. The decors feature animals and everyday objects that enliven the surfaces with delicate, naive poetry.

Together with Amleto Dalla Costa, the research centre investigates the theme of screen-printing as the art of multiplying a pictorial work and decor as illusion. Dalla Costa does not design a single tile, but a ceramic mural consisting of 30×30 cm glazed modules that alternate solid colours with life-size silhouettes of women, the focus of the interior. The woman with the cat is part of a cycle that could be described as narrative, almost conceived in episodic frames. Ceramic, therefore, becomes a blank canvas for expressing oneself and experimenting with the space, which in turn becomes a theatrical backdrop.

Therefore, through wall and floor coverings the domestic environment can be transfigured, illusory spaces can open up through colour fields and imaginary decors. Such is the case for the line designed by the Milan-based Original Designers 6R5 group, which proposed a series of monochrome single-fired tiles (31.5 x 35.5 cm), smooth or with a relief effect, juxtaposed with designs of trees divided into six parts. This research was clearly expressed in its 1982 display ad: “They were created at the Crogiolo. This means that they are different from all other ceramics: because at the Crogiolo we have researched new technologies. Imagined new relationships between form and colour. Completely rethought ceramics’ function as furniture. Because at the Crogiolo we have rediscovered ceramics.”