The artistic ceramics of Vietri sul Mare | Photo: Anila amataj, via Wikimedia Creatve Commons
Stories of Artists and Artists on the Coast
Among the aspects that have made the Amalfi and Sorrentine Coasts famous, is art, particularly artisan works, where everything got its start. Like on the Islands of Capri and Ischia, the traditional works that still fill the shops today are leather sandals and hand-made linens. But the two crafts that best represent this land are the ancient art of Sorrentine wood inlaying, a centuries-old tradition, which today, is having difficulty being past on to new generations, and the refined and colourful art of ceramics of Vietri sul Mare on the Amalfi Coast.
Artisan Michele Calemma of Sorrento tells us about his shop, located in Piazza Sant’Antonino, near the church of the same name and right near Piazza Tasso. Since 1910, the Calemma Family has been creating pieces of wood inlay with a highly complex and precise technique, which calls for the use of various woods - generally hardwoods - such as walnut, rosewood, ebony and locust wood.
“My grandfather opened the shop one-hundred years ago. He was a famous artisan who created the mosaics that are no longer made and which, in certain respects, were more complex than inlaying, an art unique in all the world. Our workshop is in the centre of Sorrento, not far from the shop. It’s possible to visit our workshop to see all the work that goes into our productions close-up. The time to create a piece,” Michele points out, “depends on two factors - the size and the details of the subject to be depicted. The colours we use are 90% natural and we use whatever wood necessary to create the tones we need as we go along.”
The colours used for the wood are 90% natural, such as the sea in some landscapes, among the most popular images by far | Courtesy of Bottega Calemma
An average-sized piece can take up to 3-4 months of work and the price (at the shop itself) can be as much as four-thousand euros, but it is an art form which is worth much more. “Our clients are happy because they know that they are buying a really prestigious work - we prefer only selling through authorised re-sale agents or in our own shop,” says Michele. “The most popular products are panoramas and boxes and we are well-known for our quality. It is a difficult art to learn, it takes years and it isn’t for everyone, just those that really have it in their hearts,” says Michele Calemma proudly.
One of the phases of production of wooden inlay: the design is sketched on paper, which is then covered with the small pieces of wood that make up the image in all its details | Courtesy of Bottega Calemma
Among the artisan products “Made in Italy” typical of the Amalfi Coast, majolica ceramics have a centuries-old tradition of excellence, and the company Ceramica Pinto of Vietri sul Mare is one of the sectors leading players since 1850. But there are those that took the tradition and went on to conquer America through contemporary art.
Mirko Guida, better known as Mirkò, tells of how his art takes form from ceramics and the colours of his land, and how it allowed him to meet Robert Zemeckis, Patch Adams and Rupert Murdoch, as well as create an exhibition in the recording studio of Queen in London in 2011.
Born in 1980, Mirkò creates conceptual art, far from the stereotypical local works, even though his roots are solidly planted in the gallery/studio on Corso Umberto I in Vietri sul Mare, where everything started, going all the way to America. In fact, the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, inaugurated the exhibition The Rainbow of the Seven Deadly Sins in 2005, where each work represents a deadly sin and visitors were invited to take the host offered under every work to “purify” themselves of their sins. Which tray was emptied of communion hosts first? Pride.
Mirkò, Eco e Narciso, 2015 | Courtesy of Mirkò
“I live in Vietri sul Mare, where there is a thousand-year-old tradition of ceramics. My work was born with Frans Brugman, the last exponent of the German epoch of ceramic production in Vietri, and thanks to his teaching, I developed a style which helps me stand out in terms of ceramic and painting techniques,” Mirkò explains, who, during his career, has even had his works displayed in Hawaii. “It all began in the nineties in Ravello, but in 2004, Rupert Murdoch, the famous media mogul, fell in love with my art and commissioned me to do some pieces. And so, I made it to California, but also Santa Fe in New Mexico, where I displayed three pieces which represented the past, the present and the future.” The painting of Adam and Eve which denounced several incidents out of American History, created an uproar in the United States when it was displayed in 2007.
“Even though I’ve travelled the world, Naples is still the city of my heart,” continues Mirkò. “Not only because my roots are from there, but also because it gives me a charge that I have never found elsewhere. I am working on the theme of the Labyrinth for an upcoming exhibition that calls for 5 large sculptures and 5 paintings, part of a developing project dedicated to Naples with its inspiration born at the Sansevero Chapel Museum in front of the Veiled Christ. It was suggested that I do the exhibition in Dubai, but I chose Naples.”
Mirkò, Europa, Detail, 2016 | Courtesy of Mirkò