Don’t get me wrong. Today’s wood-, concrete- and marble-effect tiles are magnificent and no one should underestimate the level of skill and investment that has gone into their conception and creation.
My frustration lies in the question: “Why stop there?”
With today’s digital ink jet decoration, advanced body preparation and pressing systems, sophisticated kilns, colourful inks and slick glazes, manufacturing technology is no longer need be a creative constraint. Indeed, I would argue that a modern tile factory is an even better creative springboard than the apocryphal ‘blank sheet’ of paper, because of the ready availability of highly tactile textures and infinitely variable tones.
And yet very few designers, it seems, are able to fully embrace ceramic tile’s potential, and run with it.
Which is what makes the work of Patricia Urquiola so remarable. Spanish by birth, but Italian by instinct, Urquiola studied architecture in Madrid before graduating from Milan Polytechnic in 1989. Her designs are unconventional and experimental, blending humanist sensibilities with technical expertise.
Urquiola’s focus has always been on craft, unlike so much of modern industrial design which focuses on materials and manufacturing.
Over the years she has forged a highly productive partnership with one of my favourite ceramic tile manufacturers, Mutina.
For me, this creative collaboration reached its zenith with Déchirer; a range of large-sized, unglazed porcelain stoneware tiles, where the 3D effect of the texture plays a fundamental role. Patterns that look like layers of memory alternate on the surface, creating surprising effects of light and shadow. The latest-generation Continua technology, combined with new large, hexagonal formats, made Déchirer a totally state-of-the-art product … and quite beautiful to boot.
An individual Déchirer tile could be framed and hung in any modern art gallery around the world; and would not look out of place. Each piece is a masterclass of detailing, with a highly subtle interplay of tone and texture which alters according to how the tile is lit.
When I first saw Déchirer at Cersaie in 2012, I sat down and stared at it for over 30 minutes in complete awe. It was the finest commercial ceramic tile I had ever seen … and I’ve seen a few!
“The main element of the collection is its inspiration of concrete sensations, with patterns that lie in the memories of the past. An industrial product with its own identity that contains apparent traces of previous stratifications, with its own identity. Different reliefs and levels, not decorations but rather what’s left of stolen memories. The ceramic floor and wall slabs in the Déchirer collection hold slightest, irregular hints of decor, filigree threads that run through the surfaces. Never evident, but which become clear as light and perspective change, with various heights and patterns creating large panels once the tiles are laid,” explains Urquiola.
On its launch, Déchirer was available in five colours – Bianco, Nero, Grigio, Ecrù, and Piombo – and two textures – Decor and Neutral.
An item on Déchirer by Patricia Urquiola for Mutina first appeared in a review of Cersaie in Tile & Stone Journal, November 2012.