Terracotta has found its way to modern homes, in the form of mural art works, portraits, idols and replicas of famous paintings.
The charm of terracotta is evergreen; ‘ever-earthy’, to be precise. From pottery to tiling to roofing to wall, terracotta, the literal meaning of which is ‘fired earth’, is known for its beauty, durability and economical properties. Terracotta dates back to Roman era when people used to build pots to church domes using clay material. Though its popularity slowly vanished by the mid-20th century, terracotta is back in business in modern and contemporary forms.
Walls and wall art have been the specialty of artist Sunil Babu, who has been creating wonders out of clay for the past one and a half decade. Based in Nilambur, Sunil and his team have been making mural art works, portraits, idols and replicas of famous paintings, all on clay. “Earlier, we used to make clay tiles. But now, we work on mainly wall cladding. From the walls and flooring of lower middle class homes, terracotta has grown to adorn the living rooms, visitor’s lounge and roof of contemporary homes, hotels and offices,” he observes.
The choice of wall art depends on clients’ needs. “Based on religious preferences, people demand Last Supper, which is the most sought-after work, followed by Radha-Krishna and Krishna and calves. For contemporary spaces, wood designs and bamboo designs are preferred. Then, there are orders for animal figures like cows and deer. We also get orders for family portraits in terracotta,” he says.
Terracotta works are not easy. First, they take the measurements of the wall. At their workspace, they flatten clay in quarter-inch-thickness in the required size. The carving is done and they bake it in their kiln for four days. “It’s as tough as heating iron. For the first few days, we just smoke the kiln to avoid moisture retention and then the clay is burnt till it turns red hot. It’s not an easy job, especially during monsoons. Also, some types of clay change in colour and size when baked, depending on the moisture content. It takes 20-25 days to complete each work.” And then they fix it on the wall it is intended to adorn.
Sunil and his team never use colours in their works. He says, “For that extra red, we add red soil to the clay. For the off-white colour, white soil is used. To get the black shade, activated charcoal is added.”
What attracts people to the fiery red walls? Pat comes the reply, “Durability, charm and zero maintenance.”