A Harvest of Crystals

When you hold up a pot by Salman Ikram to the light, floating crystals sparkle from beneath the translucent glaze. Focusing on a limited palette of somber golds, greens and a few blues, Salman confesses that his recent focus has been to perfect Crystalline Glazes. This body of work was exhibited during the summer at Chawakandi Art, Karachi.
What one sees on the glazed surface are tightly packed iridescent clusters with a darker nucleus that fan out in shimmering haloes. With bigger crystals the scale changes dramatically as the pattern wraps around the pot surface. In other works, tight formations with inward curling shapes take on a floral spray-like configuration. The characteristic glow of theses crystals in often muted and organic, that brings to mind mother-of-pearl in different hues. When it occasionally lights up with a spark, the sharp reflections of faceted crystal is instantly recalled. The crystal formations may be an extension of a natural process but only a technically proficient ceramist can control the firing process to harvest crystals on the bed of the primary glaze.
Elaborating on Crystalline Glazes, ceramist Beth Peterson on her website elaborates. "The glaze on a fired pot is an amorphous super-cooled liquid. As the glaze is melted and cooled in the kiln, glass molecules melt in random strings. Crystals occur if the glaze is fluid enough to allow molecules to move more and hot enough and long enough to allow the glaze molecules to arrange themselves in structured strings or crystals. For this to happen there must be and extended time at high temperatures to allow time for crystal growth and the glaze must have the right type of chemical composition".
The range of crystal size and its configuration indicated knowledge and experience as it requires close monitoring to ensure confident replication. Salman is the only Pakistani ceramist who has pursued crystalline glaze to this extent and his work has acknowledged by his peers in different parts of the world. After extensive exhibitions in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi in Pakistan, he is now showing in Spain and at other location. His professional website with an on-line sales facility has not only increased his outreach globally but enabled an interface with the larger community of ceramists.
In the last decade, Salman Ikram’s name has become synonymous with exhaustive glaze experiments. Pursuing a fulltime career as a ceramist in a short period, he has single-handedly pushed the bar higher by setting new standards in glazed ceramics. After working with Copper Red and a range of high temperature matt and dry glazes, he turned to Volcanic Glazes which was diametrically opposite to the burnished gloss of the Crystalline Glaze we see at this show. The Volcanic Glaze mimics hot lava as it bubbles and spurts before settling down in a heavily textured surface; what made the work even more interesting was in the way the ceramist conceived it in synthesis with innovative sculptural forms.
Salman explains that symmetrical tall forms allow the glaze to flow uninterrupted for an optimum effect and that is why so man of his vessels in the show are tall or wide vase-like pots. But one is not totally convinced, as these mundane shape may help the audience to concentrate on the glaze, but underplays his capacity as an inventive thrower. To marry his glazing expertise with stimulating shapes could have helped to transform the visual energy of the show. Two dimensional works for the walls, to ambitious vertical pieces that grew out of this previous asymmetrical oeuvre are possibilities that could have given the Crystalline Glazes an engaging substrate.
Niilofur Farrukh, Editor, Nukta Art