Andalusian Tilework (Mosaic of polygonal ceramic pieces).
Fátima Quesada has specialized in the reproduction of geometrical designs with the qualities of the ceramics (mechanical and aesthetic) we find in our historic heritage. She has retrieved this exquisite and laborious decorative ceramics technique developing a product which reappears as both possible and viable in the 21st century.
She studies each project and carries out a technique of “pre-assembly” which enables her to adapt and personalize the decorations with geometric mosaic (motives, formats, colours and types of pieces) depending on the requirements of the project (dimensions, two and three-dimensional aspects, style and functionality).
She uses a specific clay for constructive purposes from suppliers who guarantee the homogeneity of it and mainly a good quality in terms of its cleanliness and composition. It is a low-temperature traditional kind of clay (temperature below 1100ºC) with a composition based mainly on calcareous components and very scarce in ferruginous ones to ensure her tiles have:
Good mechanical resistance to bending (242 Kg/cm2).
Good adherence to mortars and glues (greater porosity than terracotta).
Low deformation and warping (during the ceramic process) due to its lower plasticity.
For the glazed tiles she uses the common metallic oxides present in medieval ceramics: kaolin and lead silicates for the composition of the glass and also iron, copper, cobalt, manganese and tin as the colouring oxides, to give the tiles their glazed finish.
The process of elaboration is the following:
Forming of sheets of clay, with the adequate thickness, laminating the clay by means of a clay extruder to which different nozzle outlets are added. These are specifically manufactured for the different pieces, which may be flat or with a certain angle.
Manual cutting of the different shapes of the tiles. This process is carried out thanks to the laser-cut steel templates which Fátima designs and which a specialized company manufactures. The process of cutting is done one piece at a time, manually, using scrapers, blades and cutters -avoiding the use of more modern systems such as dies or moulds- because their cut is chiselled, as it was with old types of tiling. This way each tile remains strongly linked to the mortar, creating one only piece with the wall itself.
The heat of the kilns is used to ensure the pieces are completely dry before their first firing or process to obtain the bisque tiles.
For this last process, the pieces are placed within the kiln on top of a grid, leaving several pathways to ensure the flow of hot gases and so that all the fired elements are homogeneously fired. The firing of the “biscuit” is carried out at 1050ºC to guarantee the tiles have the maximum hardness within their genre (low-temperature ceramics). This firing takes between 7 and 8 hours.
Combustion firing kilns are used in order to obtain the quality and tones of the glazed tiles which characterize the work of Alizares (since the oxides of the enamels are affected by the carbon of the combustion gasses). They use, as far as possible, digital pyrometry, insulating and modern refractory materials and firing programming.
Once all the pieces have gone through the process to obtain the bisque tiles, the pieces are glazed manually applying a superficial coat to them. No industrial mechanical means are valid for this part of the process due to the kind of shapes which are manufactured. To fire the pieces, these are placed in industrial saggars, which are reinvented to adapt them to the different small tiles.
Their colours are glazed, following her own formulation in order to obtain the medieval Arab palette which is present in her range of colours and which she has achieved after successive calculations and trials. Moreover, she uses the minerals and original oxides which produce the old Arab colouring, avoiding the forgery that supplanting these materials would mean by using other more economic raw materials, currently used in modern manufactures.
The firing of the glazing also takes around 7 hours and is carried out at 1000ºC. Its phases and the conditions of oxidation-reduction in the atmosphere of the kiln must be extremely under control and will be key in obtaining the very special quality of the colours of the tiles.
Design and pre-assembly:
The first phase of work starts with the design, with the aim of elaborating a personalized project and because it will be possible to create with it the spreadsheets which will indicate the work to be carried out in the different areas of the workshop (what sort of pieces, the quantities, the colours, and how to prepare them for the order).
All the models are commercialized pre-assembled generally in different “assembly modules” (groups of pieces adhered to a layer of film) which can be easily assembled with one another to cover a specific area without the need of cuts or their re-setting out on-site. They provide the plans and a “map” with the modules, numbered, indicating their position in the wall tiling.
She discovered ceramics (in its totality) thanks to a short monographic course at the School of Arts and Crafts in Granada.
The School of Arts Villalar in Madrid was able to open her eyes to the world of design and ceramics and helped her understand them as part of the art from the 20th century. At the Official School of Ceramics in Madrid she graduated in Ceramics and was able to take part in workshops, learn about tools and other necessary basic knowledge.
However, without a doubt, the Masters which have meant the most to her professionally belong to the Alpujarra:
– Mr. Antonio Orellana, the last (genuine) potter of the Alpujarra (Órgiva), who showed her how to “understand” clay, to learn how to treat it with potter’s hands and above all helped her discover the craft.
– With Dr. José Vera Palomino – who had a PhD in Chemistry and who changed his work at the Junta de Energía Atómica in Moncloa for a life as a ceramist in Órgiva – with him she built her first kilns, she experimented with ceramic materials from the soil and got to learn what the indispensable molecules and silicates are in ceramic chemistry. She worked as his assistant in the formulation and preparation of numerous trials for the courses he delivered on glazed ceramics.
– Essential were also two well-known foreign ceramists who took with them to the Alpujarra the techniques and knowledge from the best schools in the field. These two ceramists were: Jonathan Trust (originally from North America, who came from the Bernard Leach School in England) and Akio Ukon (Japanese ceramist who brought her close to the creation of porcelain and the art of decorating with a small brush).
– The key figure and most appreciated one – who determined the specialization of her work – was that of her neighbour, master and friend Donald Gray: Architect and designer, originally from Australia, a pioneer on the study and development of the Andalusian-Arab architecture during the second half of the 20th century. Donald was the director of the two Schools/Workshops where they worked together for 6-7 years (Lebrija, Seville and Fondón de Andarax, Almería) and introduced her to design and Andalusian-Arab geometry, showing her the importance of the science of proportion in art and its application to projects carried out nowadays.
Ceramics teacher at the Restoration Workshop/School in Lebrija (Seville): giving theoretical lectures and practical classes regarding all the techniques of manually-shaping pieces; decorating ceramics and investigation on traditional motives; design and construction of kilns for ceramics and firing with gas and wood; construction of installations for the preparation of clays parting from local soils.
Hired by the Town Council in Lebrija, she delivered a 100 hours course on techniques and ceramic chemistry for the Cooperativa Cerámica Lebrijana, which she advises on the resolution of problems related to the manufacture of ceramics.
Ceramics teacher at the Restoration Workshop/School in Fóndón, Almería. The students built their own 1 m3 kiln (for wood), being able to produce daily: tiles, tableware, manual bricks and plates for naming streets, used in the construction of the “artisanal village” and in municipal decorations. She delivered theoretical lectures on ceramic chemistry, history of ceramics, technical drawing and geometric design.
She worked for F.I.S.A. (Fundación Internacional de Síntesis Arquitectónica), delivering courses in Saint Louis, Senegal, and organizing the creation of a local cooperative for the manufacture of ceramics.
She has published the article: “Nuevas tecnologías aplicadas a la producción artesanal” (New technologies applied to artisanal production) within the Guía de las nuevas tecnologías para artesanos (Guide of new technologies for craftsmen), edited by FUNDESARTE.
Development Cooperation Programmes oriented towards the craft sector in the north of Morocco: Interventions carried out between the years 2008 and 2012 in the women’s ceramics cooperative in Indardouchen (Al-Hoceima) for the technical advisory and development of new Berber ceramic prototypes.
She delivered several 40 hours courses in CEARCAL (Centro de Artesanía de Castilla y León): “Introducción al Diseño Geométrico y a la realización del alicatado tradicional granadino” (Introduction to geometric design and manufacture of the traditional tiling in Granada).
Lecture at the Seminar “Mujer y Empresa en el Mundo Rural de Andalucía y Marruecos” (Women and Business in the Rural World in Andalusia and Morocco), Fundación Tres Culturas (Seville): “Posición, valores y buenas prácticas de las empresas artesanas en el siglo XXI” (Position, values and good practices in artisanal businesses in the 21st century).
Named “Mater Craftswoman” by the Department of Tourism, Trade and Sport within the Junta de Andalucía.
Presentation of her work at the International Seminar on Architecture and Traditional Crafts in Construction (Universidad Politécnica de Madrid) celebrated on the occasion of the Rafael Manzano Prize 2016.
– Socles for the pool of the Hotel Meliá, in Sierra Nevada.
– Bathrooms for the dwelling of Mr. Francisco Romero (bullfighter) in Elviria, Málaga.
– Rehabilitation of the building of “El Suizo”, in Granada.
– Ceramic borders for the Hospital of El Ejido, Almería. 200 linear meters.
– VIP Restaurant within the Theme Park Terra Mítica, in Alicante.
– Tiling for the Casa Club, in Sotogrande, Cádiz. 900 m2.
– Pool for the decorator Ann Ward, in Burgos. 30 m2.
– Access arches and fountain in the Alhambra del Golf, Guadalmina, Málaga. 50 m2.
– Rehabilitation of the restaurant La Cabaña, in Sotogrande.
– Moorish Pavilion, bathrooms, kitchen and pantry for the Olsen family, in Norway.
– Hammam Al-Andalus, in Málaga
– Rehabilitation of a dwelling located in the Sacromonte for the guitar player José Romero.