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Terpsichore: the ceramic art of a muse

By Meri Charitonidi

TERPSICHORE, also known as Terps, is a ceramic artist whose sculptures are both aesthetically pleasing and culturally significant.

Terpsichore Savala, Ferocious Urbanites, Athens Art

For the past 8 years Terpsichore has mainly lived between London and Athens, while also having spent some time in Paris. Today, she is currently located in Copenhagen. Even though she has been professionally involved in advertising and trends forecasting, her artistic lust won over this promising career, due to her natural inclination for the tangible art of ceramic, which she has exclusively and successfully been exercising for the past 2 years. Her education on History and Archaeology(BSc) and Media & Communication(MS), along with her travels and long summers on the cycladic islands have formed her into a person whose versatile experience has driven her creative inspiration into an artistic practice of singular character and distinctive style.

Her ceramic sculptures and minimal line drawings state the diverse stimuli to which she has meticulously and inevitably exposed herself in her quest for feeding her restless spirit.

Terpsichore Savala, Ferocious Urbanites Athens Art

Terpsichore is a creative, determined and curious person whose artistic expression is clearly influenced by her mediteranean heritage, broad understanding and inner interest for the arts and philosophy, that have carved her into some sort of a contemporary “homo universalis”. The elements of the sun, the sea, the drought of the Aegean islands, the feelings of nostalgia and the summery indolent sensation are visible in her handmade clay figures. Her aesthetic approach has drawn international attention due to her mindful work and formalistic language.

Terpsichore does not use molds for her ceramics, hence all of her pieces are absolutely unique. Her personal interpretation of the minoan and cycladic civilizations is transmitted through the matter of soil into her individual ceramic pieces. Via those decorative objects, Terpsichore presents feelings and daily aspects of life, such as the human

condition of boredom as an organic state of being.

Terpsichore Savala, Ferocious Urbanites, Athens Art

From her early steps, Terpsichore has collaborated with jewelry artists, fashion designers and photographers, while her pieces have also been featured in influencers and instagram magazine accounts. Her work can be found in various places such as the Earl of East in London, the Grocery and in Copenhagen and The Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. From the 4th to the 28th of March, her distinguishable vases and oinochoe pieces such as the “bored sailor” will be exhibited at Isnotgallery in Nicosia Cyprus as part of a group exhibition, curated by Andros Efstathiou.

Terpsichore Savala, Ferocious Urbanites, Athens Art

FU: Why ceramics and what if not?

Terps: While studying archaeology, I remember being fascinated by the fact that pottery is an art that hasn’t really changed since the prehistoric times. But it wasn’t until years later in London that I started working with clay. After working for years in front of a screen in abstract and perhaps non-directly useful projects in advertising, the idea of transforming a material that looks like dirt, into something beautiful and then further changing it by firing it, seemed therapeutic. It’s tangible and real and at the end of the day you can hold something that you made with your hands and that you and only you created. It’s a completely analogue and personal experience, the direct opposite of most contemporary office jobs.

FU: Triggers: Where do you draw your inspiration from & whose -fellow artists- contemporary work do you consider significant today?

Terps: When I started working with clay I was taken by the work of Lucie Rie and Frans Coper, both of whom fled Nazi occupation from their respective countries and made studios in Britain. Although their work differs a lot, they have a very similar sensibility that I find touching and that I cannot describe. Even when I see a simple small bowl by Lucie Rie I can tell it is hers and I can almost imagine the way her fingers held the shape while it was still malleable and liquid. And her vessels, although her technique was unquestionable, were never perfect, the human touch is always present, a characteristic that I aspire to have in my work too.

Coper on the other hand was more of a perfectionist but he used the wheel in ingenious ways, taking traditional shapes and connecting them in ways that I haven’t seen before, turning them in futuristic sculptural forms. At the same time he wasn’t scared to pronounce his work as functional, a thing most contemporary artists would be scared to. I consider Coper’s vases sculptures, but they are still vessels, they were made to contain things and that is beautiful. I don’t think sculptural work should be decorative only to be considered art. See for example the work of a ceramic artist I hugely admire, Ana Kerin. Her work is (for the most part) functional. She makes items that people can use everyday, such as cups, plates, bowls. But they are little sculptures and you can see her finger traces all over them. This makes her work even more inspiring for me as she challenges people to appreciate art in their everyday life and meditate over a small creation of hers while drinking their coffee in the morning thus making that moment infinitely better.

FU: Your own ritualistic steps of creation: how do your sculptures come to life?

Terps: I start with a broad idea which comes usually in random moments. It’s not like a “muse that visits me”, it’s more ordinary. Perhaps while reading a book or even looking at a friend’s or my partner’s face I may come up with an idea of a shape or a meaning I want to express. I do some sketches at first but they always change when I start working with clay, as the sketches can never depict the weight of the material and the real dimensions. Sometimes I have to decide whether I want to work on the wheel or hand build freely or combine the two. But there are ideas that I have in the back on my mind for months before I find the courage to start working on them.

Terpsichore Savala, Ferocious Urbanites, Athens Art

FU: On deciding to change your life and follow your art.

Terps: I realise that I’m very fortunate that I was able to do this as I know that not everyone can quit their jobs and do something they love. My personal decision took some time mostly because of identity issues. I mean how can you describe yourself when you don’t have a 9-5 job anymore? The whole society is around professional success and productivity so for some time when people asked me what I do I would still present myself as a trend forecaster or strategist and get side eyed by my partner. It’s easier and sounds more real. The word artist sounds really strange. Everyone is or can be an artist. The old lady who paints her yard in the village, the person who puts effort and care to cook something beautiful for their loved ones. So for now I say I’m a ceramicist even though I’m looking to expand to more media in the future.

Terpsichore Savala, Ferocious Urbanites, Athens Art

FU: What are your artistic future plans?

Terps: I always liked drawing, for fun, but it wasn’t until I started doing ceramics that people around me noticed it. And even though I hadn’t thought of painting per se, I started doing it more often as it is refreshing to get instant gratification by your work. You paint something and the final result is there in front of you to see and decide if you like it or not. No need to wait to see how the colour turns out after the second firing a few weeks later, and that if the piece survives. Of course I will continue working with clay as in a way I enjoy the uncertainty, but I will explore painting alongside.

I was asked to do some paintings/ drawings for some fashion brands. The first one was Me Then, an Athenian menswear that I already liked a lot, that asked me to make some paintings to be printed on shirts, scarves and other garments.

Then, after moving to Denmark, a Danish sustainable menswear brand, Another Aspect noticed some details on some of my ceramics and came to me with pictures and asked me to make an illustration to showcase their new collection, inspired by the mundanity and beauty of everyday life. Surprisingly, that painting was hung in the window of a store in a relatively central street and remained there for a few months. These collaborations help give me confidence to continue trying out a different medium.

FU: What would you like to communicate/share/express through your work?

Terps: When I started making the pieces you see today, I wasn’t aware that other people were going to see them. So it was very pure, in a way that I wasn’t thinking about what others would think about it, only about what I wanted to make and what I was feeling at the time. At that time the story I wanted to say was that it’s ok to feel existential dread, everyone does, even those stoic cycladic idols that look so assured of themselves and so serious. They used to be painted on with all kinds of colours but when you see their current image, so minimal, just basic features sculpted in white transparent marble, they must look even more divine than what they used to. That’s why I wanted to take the basic shapes of the idols but make them mine, I made them bored, and it was a bit of an inside joke with myself, they made me feel better. I still make stories for everything I make but I’m trying not to project this narrative too much so that people are allowed to create their own.

FU: Upcoming exhibitions and collaborations you can secretly share, for us to look forward to.

Terps: I’m currently working on a new body of work based on an idea that came to me during the current self-isolation. I will base my new pieces on the Attic Pottery shape of “epinetron”. It literally means knee guard, and it was used during the preparation of wool to protect woolworkers’ thighs. Penelope is usually pictured wearing one, so for me it is associated with an activity you do to help pass time while waiting for something, which is what most of us are doing while waiting for the covid 19 crisis to end. I have already finished some pieces while working from home but as I’m not allowed to access the studio, nothing is fired yet. I have spoken with a galley about a solo show in Autumn- winter 2020, but nothing is finalised yet as no one knows when this crisis will come to an end.

NOTE: Terpsichore: Muse and goddess of delight, dance and choral singing.

Τερψιχόρη: τέρψις / térpsis = enjoyment, delight + χορός/khorós = chorus, singing dance