tamara al-issa

Enveloped in an entrancing kind of blue that sucks you in like a black hole, Tamaras hand-built, earth-born vessels are meant to be shared by community. We are utterly enthralled with Tamara Al-Issa’s work and way of being, and so grateful to hear a bit more about her and her process this March. <3

There is something about your blue collection that is utterly striking– set in your neutral, homey studio, the blue is breathtakingly vibrant. Blue has been the fascination of many artists (first to mind are Yves Klein, the aptly named Bluets from Maggie Nelson, or even Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul…) What can you tell us about this collection, and what the color means to you?

Funny that you mention Yves Klein and Maggie Nelson. I visited the Yves Klein exhibit at the Pompidou in Paris shortly after reading Bluets and was completely taken aback by how painfully captivating the colour was. I found it interesting that the colour blue exists everywhere in nature, yet this particular blue looks synthetic and behaves like a black hole, absorbs all light and dimension into it especially in its matte form. In between projects over the past few years I tried to recreate the blue which was a struggle due to the kiln’s heat changing the colour outcome. You sort of go in blind when firing ceramics, you never know exactly what colour or visual texture you’ll get out of the kiln. Finally, I mixed a pigment that evoked the same unsettling yet entrancing blue that I had experienced at the Pompidou. I never really planned on putting it on one of my large vases… In fact, I initially mixed the pigment for a chess set I was making. But one day I thought it would be interesting to take one of my ancient forms like my amphorae or single-handed jugs – shapes that we have commonly seen in classical pottery – and coat it in this synthetic blue. It looked two-dimensional and photoshopped in the best way possible.

Honestly, I don’t exactly know what the colour means to me. I’m sure many can relate to the fact that there’s something haunting, surreal yet grounding about this hue. In my deep blue exhibition, I related this ultramarine colour to the sensation of being submerged in the Red Sea, which was one of my sanctuaries as a child. I think that’s the closest to contextualizing my love for this colour that I’ll ever get to.

You often create “vessels,” usable objects that might hold a liquid or be used or gazed upon at a dining room table. The vessel carries such rich historical symbology implying a receptive, protected space, and to us, this conjures feelings of the warmth of community and home. Does your work with vessels reflect this kind of energy in your daily life? How do you share with and show up for your community, and vice versa?

Vessels have always represented the divine feminine womb energy to me. Pots themselves (the feminine shape of an amphora, the way the vessel protects whatever is inside of it) as well as the act of sculpting a vessel conveys a strong sense of maternal nurturing. Working with earth as a material is extremely grounding and further connects me to my body. In terms of connecting with the community, I love encouraging loved ones to drink from my cups and eat from my bowls. In the Philippines (where my maternal family is from), the Palayok (ceramic pot) is the central element in which communities share the sacred ritual of eating together. Ceramics are a vital component to the act of gathering and I find that sharing my ceramics with my community is the truest form of sharing my love.

We know you work primarily with clay, a medium that is inherently tactile and movement based. Where do you find the most inspiration for this type of work? Do you have other favorite modes and mediums of creative expression?

I find that the west imposes such clean, modernist, square-like architecture which imposes square-like, boxed in ways of thinking and existing. Ancient shapes, colours and textures, especially from the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Mediterranean have always inspired my work. I try to bring these traditional pieces into the west where I reside. It brings with it a particular type of familiar warmth that we can all feel but not quite identify. Other than clay, I often play music and sometimes write. It’s good to take breaks from one type of creating and pouring energy into another.

In the Pacific Northwest, March means the budding blooms are juxtaposed with endless rainy days and icy, brisk mornings and nights. Of course, we are taking care of ourselves with long baths, candlelit reading sessions, and late-afternoon walks just before dinner (usually a hearty homemade stew). What are your favorite ways to take care of yourself this season?

My form of self-care during this season is diving heavily into work and exploring new forms. With the energy of rebirth that spring brings yet consistent freezing rain storms, I tend to stay in my home studio for days on end in isolation. This inevitably surfaces new ideas and unexpected bouts of energy in which I release through impulsive building. I believe this is where I discover my best works but also simultaneously recharge mentally and spiritually. In all honesty I find it very difficult to sit down and relax. I reckon my self-care looks a little different than most. Recently I’ve been using certain self-care tools as encouragement to slow down such as my new Rachel Saunders ceramic massager, my tuning forks, my favourite candles and my two recent favourite books by my bedside.


Tamara on Instagram: @___solem
Photos by:
Pao Dungao @p.dungao
Mattea Marrese @matteamarrese