Pottery as a way to heal both the body and the mind
Tucked away in an old Victorian building in the heart of Edinburgh is Abbeymount Studios, a creative space that houses the ceramic studio of Borja Moronta.
Originally from Asturias, northern Spain, Borja completed his Architecture degree in Madrid, and moved to Edinburgh after undergoing a severe hand nerve repair surgery. In search of a fresh start, he began his pottery practice as a hobby to benefit from during the recovery process, far from thinking that this newly found pastime would become his safe haven and, later, his biggest passion and full-time job. For Borja, the wheel has become his sanctuary: the spinning wheel triggers a peaceful stillness within him, an ease he managed to find when everything else was crumbling around him, by reason of his health issues and discontent with his previous work. He strives to ensure that his work reflects that peaceful state of mind. Today, Borja is overbooked with commissions until the end of next year, and his crafts are to be found in restaurants and houses spread all over the world. Inspired by Japanese aesthetics, he is renowned for the fine lines and the calm and natural soft tone palette of his works, a simplicity capable of inspiring new interpretations of craft.
From Architecture to Ceramics
After graduation, Borja started working in architecture but quickly realised it was not a good fit for him. The creativity and the fun that inspired his theoretical studies didn’t find a match in the practical aspects of the job, mainly a desk-based job. The need to escape from the dullness of a screen, combined with his nerve injury, pushed him to find a new hobby that would bring art and inspiration back into his life.
He started out by joining Edinburgh Ceramic Workshop and attending classes on Monday evenings. Suddenly, Monday had become his favourite day of the week: after work, he would rush to his classes, one hand on the bicycle handlebar and the other holding a sandwich, to spend the following three hours falling in love with pottery. Upon completing the set of 20 lessons, Borja applied to become a regular member and, little by little, he started attracting attention from local businesses and restaurants. Without any intention of making ceramics his living, a natural transition took place, as the hobby gradually became a side hustle. Borja recalls how much he only wanted to lock himself up in the studio instead of going to work. Then came lockdown, and as social media became the only place where people could interact and connect, his Instagram account skyrocketed. To the point that once restrictions were lifted, Borja and his colleague decided to rent a shared studio in order to get down to a full-time ceramic production to meet the pile of requests received during the pandemic.
Except for the agony of being unable to work on his pots at the studio, Borja welcomed lockdown as a good opportunity. Finally, he was able to take a break from the hustle and bustle of his daily routine and think about how he could make things work. From getting a website to refining his glazes, he made sure of making things right. Several factors guided him in this process: one of them is the Incubator programme for emerging ceramists organised by the Edinburgh Ceramics Workshop. Another critical element was his experience with his previous job: working as an assistant manager at a furniture retailer, he learnt about logistics, production organisation, and stock levels. His studies were also crucial, as architecture gave him an organised and analytical mind frame, together with the ability to work simultaneously on a wide range of elements. Transferring these skills to ceramics, Borja always thinks of his pieces in terms of proportions: when trying a new shape, he brings the sample home and tests it for days, sometimes weeks, going over it over and over again in his pursuit of perfection.
Inspirations: Japanese aesthetics, Morandi’s still life and more
His pieces display simple, clean lines with a calm and natural soft tone palette: light greys, moss greens, slate whites with a tactile porous or matte finish. Japanese culture seems to have played a major role in inspiring these characteristics. During his junior year, Borja recalls participating in a Japanese traditional housing workshop. His research opened up a whole new world to him, way beyond architecture: he mentions the Japanese movie director Yasujiro Ozu who films from a low angle in order to capture the viewpoint of people living on top of the tatamis, or Tanizaki, who writes about the beauty of everyday things in his Praise of Shadows. All these elements are reflected in Borja’s approach to ceramics: he makes objects intended for a specific function, and function, in turn, determines the form, as in the Japanese tradition. But Borja’s efforts go beyond the practical function to embrace the aesthetics: he aims to be very precise and refined so that the appearance of the pots can also be appreciated.
His lines are minimalist and architectural: looking back at the architects that inspired his studies, it’s easy to see a thread. Borja refers to Japanese architect Tadao Ando or Swiss architect Peter Zumthor: their work is always sober, essential, mainly focused on the material, considered the key element for bringing character to the works. Some of the objects in his collection have a specific source of inspiration: his bottles, for example, were inspired by a Morandi exhibition in Barcelona he went to in April. That, combined with the painting classes he took back when he was 12 years old: Borja remembers painting still life and enjoying it a lot, taking in all those little elements such as bottles, cups, and bowls, that point towards the making of a work that is functional but beautiful as well, in its minimalism and neutrality. Last but not least, it seems safe to say that his subtly muted tones might take some inspiration from the surrounding Scottish landscape. Aesthetically, all of these elements seem to intertwine and cross the border between the potter and his pottery: Borja unconsciously dresses like his pots, as his clothes share the same soft palette of his creations. This taste seems to extend to his own house, made of wooden surfaces, neutral colours and natural fabrics. It’s an aesthetic that he has within him and that he transfers to his work, making ceramics a way of moving and living in space.
The clay, the glaze, the design: Borja’s brilliant creativity
Each item of his is exquisitely unique due to the handcrafted nature of his work. Borja makes his own clay, mixing three different commercial clays. He spends a lot of time experimenting to achieve different specifics. For example, density handles thermal shocks well, and therefore it is suitable for pots destined to hold hot drinks or food. Borja also mixes his own glazes, a skill he gained from a course in glaze chemistry, and that allows him to make the needed adjustments in order to get a pebble feeling effect or a smooth surface. The clay is modelled upstairs in his studio, where there are two throwing stations and drying shelves. Downstairs is where the glazing and firing (carried out at 1260 °C) take place. The design is something Borja works on at home, as he always designs something he wants to use or that he could potentially use at home: a bowl for his breakfast granola, a cup for his morning coffee, a tea cup with a thick foot so that he can hold it at the bottom without burning his fingers.
Pots that speak to the heart
Borja’s pottery is all about everyday life: wares that sit on a table where people gather to talk, share meals and live precious moments together. In this way, what started out as something extremely personal turned out to hide a broader meaning. Retracing his story, Borja approached pottery as a form of therapy for his hand but it suddenly became his personal peaceful place, a meditative antidote to the online world and the dullness of everyday life. He found a way to reconnect with himself, but also with the beauty and the art he felt he had lost touch with. He developed a dialogue with the clay, with its flowing visceral quality: an intimate connection between motion and emotion that permeates all his pieces. And these pieces in turn connect with those using them, they become part of other people’s lives. And therein lies the beauty of ceramics: the ability to turn earth into art, pieces rooted in beauty, simplicity and utility that speak to the soul suggesting shared human experience: good food, good company and homely comfort.