Fifth-generation pottery maker Andreas Makaris is one of the most sought after artists for ceramics on Santorini Island in Greece.
The Greek islands like islands all over the world are home to remarkable people who are often more self-reliant and enterprising than their compatriots who live on the mainland. Some might say that islanders can even be just a tad quirky; in any event, their self-reliance and creativity, perhaps a fruit of the solitude in which they live, has allowed them to persevere in sometimes very tough economic conditions over the centuries.
One such man is fifth-generation potter Andreas Makaris, originally of Athens, who has kept up his family’s proud tradition of creating beautiful pottery. Now, he creates his art on the volcanic island of Santorini, known for its craggy cliffs, stunning black volcanic sand beaches, and white buildings clinging to the sides of the mountains.
The lines on his forehead mirror the lines his fingers make on his pottery as it spins in his workshop and studio, called “Choma kai Nero (Earth and Water) Art Pottery Studio” in Megalochori. As he sits at his wheel with clay slip spatters decorating the elegant representations of amphorae on the wall behind him, he presents a timeless picture of the potters of the Greek islands.
Pottery & Ceramics: The timeless art of the Greek Islands
The amphorae portrayed in rows behind him were designed by Greek potters just like him, who lived thousands of years ago. It somehow seems as if it doesn’t matter just what their names were, though, because their gift for creating beauty lives on in an unbroken line through Makaris today.
In an exclusive interview, Greek Reporter spoke to the master potter about his art, how it has developed in the Greek islands over the years, and what he sees for the future.
Speaking of the paradox posed by the malleable clay that he uses, he declares “Clay, or mud, is a beautiful creation that many are disgusted by. Many don’t even want to touch it… but it can become a masterpiece.”
Makaris is a natural artist and teacher, who clearly was destined to take up the wheel and throw clay as his forefathers have done for centuries, passing on his knowledge to the next generation.
“I was born in a pottery studio,” he relates without a great deal of exaggeration.
“I was raised with clay. I studied at the school of ceramics in Athens and I have created my own art. Now let’s see how it’s done,” he says as he energetically throws a new lump of clay into the center of his wheel.
“Those were the years of clay”
“When you hold the clay,” Makaris explains, “You can’t speak because you need to also hold your breath. Many times I hold my breath for two minutes,” he adds, explaining how crucial these first few moments are when beginning to form a new piece.
“I’ve learned this profession from my parents and grandparents. I studied at the ceramics school in Athens, then became a teacher at this school for many years,” he recalls. “At the age of 32 to 33, I had a desire to leave Athens and go somewhere else.”
“With my wife Christy we came to Santorini. Back then we were in love, but not married; we were here on vacation and we made the decision to stay here in 1985. It’s been 36 years. Since then we have lived here and worked here; we have our own vineyard and chickens,” he explains of his idyllic life in the Greek islands.
“I am 70 years old—I have worked since I was born in pottery studios, helping my father and my grandfather while going to school. It’s a very tiring job, especially at my age,” the potter admits.
“Even my toys were ceramics”
“I’ve been working in ceramics since I was twelve years old while still going to school,” Makaris reveals. “After I helped my father and grandfather, I would go to school. It’s a job that requires strong hands, the mind to work well, the eyes to work well—everything to be working well. Everything’s difficult in pottery, it’s a difficult art.”
“Ever since I can remember, even my toys were ceramics. We were always inside pottery studios—we played, we fired pottery in the kilns—we even caused some damage,” he admits sheepishly.
“Those were the years of clay,” he says nostalgically.
“Then I studied, while I kept on working at the same time—and became a teacher. I left after many years and came to Santorini,” he recalls.
“I started accepting students as soon as I came to Santorini; there are four workshop studios on the island,” Makaris relates to Greek Reporter. “I am still teaching both those who choose it as a hobby and those willing to become professionals. I have students not only from Greece but also from abroad.”
“There aren’t many in the world who work well on the wheel”
“They do one week or ten days or a month, basically working on the wheel. The wheel is the most difficult aspect of pottery,” he says. “There aren’t many in the world who work well on the wheel.”
“I believe I am leaving a good heritage behind me,” he states of his legacy. “Good students who will become better than me.”
“This art will stay alive. The sad fact is, though, that Greece doesn’t have a school of ceramics,” he notes. “It is the country which most likely is where this art was born—and back in ancient times had already reached very high levels of attainment—and now there is no one school to teach it.
“Even without a school we have good professionals in ceramics who have won international awards. And why is this?” Makaris asks rhetorically. “The sun! The Greek owns it as a memory, it’s in our DNA, everywhere we go. Even when we dug for the metro, there were pottery vessels everywhere,” he explains of the vast riches of pottery treasures that were discovered under the streets of modern Athens.
“They are part of Greek life. We were eating yogurt in ceramics,” he says, adding that “even the water we were drinking was in ceramics. We have it, it’s inside of us and our culture. As artists, it has to do with many things—the sun, our temperament, many things.”
“Always with some tradition”: the art of the potter today on the Greek islands
“When we started modern art—but always with some tradition,” the master potter hastens to add, “my father would come to me, watching, then tell my mother, ‘Dimitra, those kinds are doing some stupid things!'”
“And he was sad that I had to do those kinds of ceramics…But I was winning awards one after the other. I had six awards in the Panhellenic Exhibition of Ceramics—using modern art but always with some part of tradition,” Makaris notes carefully.
“For example, this vase we have just created, something similar also existed in Ancient Greece. Of course, we made it a bit more modern,” he says. “It’s taller, thinner on top, it is changed, but the core dates back to 2,500 to 3,000 years ago.”
Makaris notes that Greece’s glorious history of fine ceramics forms the basis of what students must learn today. “When I was teaching at the school of ceramics I tried to show both traditional—because I’d like someone that gets started in it to know the connection, to know what it was back then—and to know what he will find now” in modern ceramics, he explains.
“I did well,” he says of his accomplishments in that part of his students’ education.
“As my wife says, I was in the middle of modern and traditional art because, back then, students were going to Europe to study this art…since schools in Greece were small, the degree was undervalued. After completing school here, they were going to France or England to study.,” he says.
“Thanks to me and other teachers back then, we managed to create a new generation with international careers and many awards,” Makaris notes.
After confirming that his son has indeed followed in his footsteps on the Greek islands, forming a sixth generation of potters, Makaris speculates that his accomplishment will be even greater than his own.
Currently studying at the Athens School of Arts, he will join his father and mother this summer in the studio, so they will soon work all together once again. Referring to the future of the art of pottery in Greece overall, however, the master potter asks rhetorically “All went well, but what do we do now?”