Clay, chaos and urban detritus merge in Daniil Antropov’s ceramic sculptures

29 July 2021

Created from a heady swirl of colours and textures, each of Daniil Antropov’s sculptures is its own distinct ecosystem: the surface of a distant planet, or a visceral memory hardened in ceramics. In one sculpture from 2021, charred grey glass drips over porous ochre clay. In another, an orange stem protrudes from a viscous blend of indigo blue and moss green.

Antropov has been working with sculpture for over a decade, has exhibited in Moscow, London, and Tokyo, and was nominated for the Sergey Kuryokhin Contemporary prize in 2020. Moreover, interest in his work spans beyond the contemporary art world, thanks to its evocative nature, constantly pushing the boundaries of form and material.

“My journey into sculpture started with an academic art education. After I graduated, I could’t give a fuck about art anymore; I didn’t want to draw at all. After trying a few other things, I remembered my roots: my father used to do ceramics. I travelled to Japan, where I completely reconsidered my approach to the craft. When I moved back to Moscow, I started making ceramics but could sense that the practical framework is too constructive for me. That is how I started thinking of myself as an artist,” Antropov says.

Ceramics is often perceived as a practical field, rather than a place for experimentation. But in recent years, several emerging Russian artists have adopted it as a medium of choice, including Alina Zolotykh and Apollinaria Broche. Antropov seems to have an infinite interest in playing with the medium’s variables: harnessing chaos and experimenting with shapes, whether abstract or more figurative. “Sculpture is a shape, and you can play around with a shape infinitely,” he says. “But in ceramic sculpture, material is also a factor, and a single lifetime would not be enough to learn everything about its nature. It will never be boring. There is always a challenge.” Much of his outlook, he says, was shaped by this time in Japan, where he learnt, “accidents are not accidental. Beauty doesn’t need to be perfect — it’s in the eye of the beholder. Love what you do, and do it with love”.

Antropov’s experimentation means that each work in progress will undergo seemingly endless steps and stages. “At the beginning of my career, I always used to work from an image in my head. I would start the process, and it could radically change. Now it’s different: there is a 3D rendering or a drawing,” he says. “Then comes the process itself. It is still not free from improvisation, but it’s more contained. First, I make fragile parts, like flowers, and they are fired [in the kiln]. Then I attach them to the main shape to dry and get it fired again. Then it’s usually fired another five times, at different temperatures.”

Even the idea of ceramics being formed from clay is just another boundary to be broken. Antropov will often throw other materials into the mix: glass or PU foam. “The result is somewhere on the edge of art, which is very satisfying,” he says. “For example, it was amazing for me to find these old discarded windows, painted in the 1960s. I place painted fragments from the frames onto another sculpture, so that after firing it melted and made a new surface. I love the idea that the grandma who painted these windows has become my collaborator, even if she has no idea.”

Currently based in Moscow, Antropov says that he loves the energy of the Russian capital. While his work transcends geographical location, he plans to continue working in Russia. “The main drawback is that we’re at the periphery of contemporary art,” he admits. “The artword’s current agenda and the agenda from Russia’s Ministry of Culture are polar opposites. On the other hand, everything here is inspiring. Life in this tragicomedy is an artist’s dream.”