History Through the Art of Ceramics
Bitossi Ceramiche is rich in history; not just in ceramic creation through five generations of the Bitossi family but also in production technicalities and design collaborations that have brought to its collection, a rare mix of innovation through traditional methods and research. Bitossi teams with British artist Faye Toogood to produce a rare collection of ceramic art that celebrates the tradition of the brand as well as the inventiveness of the artist.
In the large exhibition halls of the Salone, during the Milan Design Week 2022, it is but natural to have missed some gems of the Italian handmade history, especially when they are tucked between large and exquisite designer furniture and lost in crowded conduits. But if you happen to spot these handcrafted ceramic beauties, you will be amazed by the history behind their creation and then the story behind their contemporary designs that gives a whole new dimension to the brand.
We are talking about Bitossi Ceramiche, a ceramic manufacturing company with a history of five generations of creation located in the same premise since 1921. The Bitossi family was documented in the territory of Montelupo Fiorentino as far back as 1536. Over the centuries they have been kiln workers, sculptors, painters, but especially potters in this area with its ancient ceramic traditions, only a few kilometres away from the city of Florence. In the 20th century, a designer Aldo Londi introduced an extraordinary stylistic and formal renewal in their production. Thus, the story of Bitossi is inscribed not just because of its historical pedigrees but of a revival of traditions through modern interpretations in its production as well as its later design revamp.
Bitossi Ceramiche, exists in its historical premises of 1929, has been run for generations by the original family: from Vittoriano Bitossi to his daughter Cinzia, then his niece Ginevra Bocini, always representing the Italian handmade excellence throughout the world. In 2014, Bitossi was listed in the Register of “Historical Italian Companies” and lives true to its handmade excellence.
All this is not evident as you enter the small space within the Salone where Bitossi revealed its new collections and also stored its signature collections from the 50s that is still a vital part of its success. But a quick glance through the design collaborations, the finesse in production, the lines that celebrate design curatorship and artistic know-how, reveal the subtlety of the brand that celebrates ceramics as a work of art.
And history reveals in layers as we walk the small space at the Salone with Ginevra Bocini and find ourselves immersed in the deep facets of the past of the Company.
In 1921 Guido Bitossi founded the “Maioliche artistiche Guido Bitossi” factory, proposing a type of production still linked to the tradition and classical styles of the past, combined with research and a study on the ceramics products. Later in 1946, Aldo Londi entered Bitossi and since then he led the design inventiveness for 50 years, first as a painter, then as artistic director, and finally as tireless researcher of styles and examples to be emulated.
“Bitossi now invests primarily in research and design of designer ceramics while continuing to interpret the tradition by proposing Aldo Londi’s iconic subjects. It is no coincidence that many external collaborators, architects and designers are inspired by the techniques of the past that are documented in the Historical Archives, in the incessant search for balance between know- how, innovation and research,” says Bocini.
Over the years many designers have contributed to the productions of Bitossi, interpreting tradition and giving life to new lines. First and foremost was Architect Ettore Sottsass, who began to frequent the store in 1955 in order to experiment and create new ceramics. His collections opened up a new chapter in the history of Italian design.
And it is these collaborations that define the growth of this ceramic company, of the different aesthetics and working principles of each designer imbibed into the growth of Bitossi.
Over the last 30 years, many work relationships have been fabricated and nurtured with artists like Antonella Cimatti, Arik Levy, Benjamin Hubert, Cedric Ragot, Dimorestudio, Elma Lisowski-Choung, Fabio Novembre, George Sowden, Gerard Taylor, Karim Rashid and so on.
What we see at the Salone is the beautiful Rimini blue series, a masterpiece by Londi launched in 1959 and still a much favourite in the design world. Londi who was supported by the owners, who channelled his impulses into meticulous stylistic and production research and thus was born this famous Rimini blue series, which has been in production for over 60 years and is certainly the most important for the quantity of the production.
Each design collaboration takes a year and a half in its process of design, manufacture and then documentation of the process for further studies. The most recent collaboration that is on highlight here is of the multidisciplinary British artist Faye Toogood’s limited-edition range table sculptures launched exclusively at Salone del Mobile 2022.
The tradition, age-old expertise, research, and study of ceramics of Bitossi meet the non-conformist, rigorous, and poetic style of Faye Toogood.
“Both share a strong passion for details and an expressive spirit in excellent craftsmanship, culminating in a collaboration of great creative synergy. The five-design range, titled Uncovered, is a series of subtly anthropomorphic pieces that complement and play off one another, evolved from Toogood’s larger-scale Family Bust sculptures which premiered at the Downtime Exhibition at NGV Triennial in 2020. The fluid, organic centrepieces are cast in a range of ceramic finishes – from matt tones of earth and chalk to rich gold and aluminium glaze – and proudly bear the hallmarks of their creation: the wrinkled imprints of corrugated cardboard, the rough scratched surface, and tantalising traces of the sculptor’s fingerprints,” explains Bocini.
These series are part of Bitossi Ceramiche’s on-going effort in interpreting traditions and giving life to new lines through creative dialogues with designers who continue to be inspired by the techniques of the past that are documented in the historical archives at the Museo Bitossi of Fondazione Vittoriano Bitossi.
The Fondazione Bitossi was created with the aim of documenting, preserving, and perpetuating the art and know-how of ceramics. In their incessant search for balance between craft, innovation and research, the historical archives is where all collaborating designers begin their project exploration – finding and experimenting techniques, textures, forms and functions.
But our eyes cannot help but go to the other highlights of the display at the Salone Milano; the Formafantasma and their range of torn edge ceramics; or the fluted designs of Christoph Radl.
“What we like is to collaborate with inspirational designers who allow us to experiment with new techniques. Like Toogood has a very interesting way of working with different mediums, especially with ceramics. It is beautiful to work with such synergies that brings out challenges in the way the final product is formed,” says Bocini, “Experimental freedom is what we want the designers to use to the maximum.”
Bocini’s favourite collaboration is with the Italian brand Formafantasma’s which produced the torn edges ceramics.
Bocini’s cause for this particular affinity towards the Italian designers had nothing to do with the similarity in origin but due to the process they indulged in to produce the final collection: “They spent a lot of time in the factory understanding the medium and its properties. It was not just the research and design of the project but also on how they experimented a lot and their solution was hence a right compromise between tradition and innovation.”
This deep love for the material and the process defines Bitossi and gives us an insight into the formation of the Fondazione Bitossi, for this reverence in material and method needs to be documented for generations to come.
All Images Courtesy Bitossi.