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Sotis Filippides

Born Athens, Greece

While still at school Sotis, a promising young artist, developed a keen interest in three-dimensional art and subsequently enrolled in a four-year degree course at the Athens School of Ceramics. When he completed his degree, he decided to leave his native Greece and travel to the UK to learn English. However, he ended up enrolling on another ceramics course instead, with the intention of learning English as he went along.

His commercial career began while he was still at college when, having approached Liberty, Sotis was given his first commission. 'I was still producing coilwork at the time,' he says, 'long thin lengths of clay that are coiled round to make the object.' At the end of the Liberty contract, he realised this type of work was too time-consuming and turned his hand to the wheel.

Sotis's first commission using the wheel was for The Conran Shop and it was this contract that finally made him decide to settle in the UK. It also gave him the confidence to set up in business and purchase the small studio in Fulham, where he has now worked for the past seven years. Here, surrounded by his pots, clay, jars of oxide, ovens and wheels, he throws, fires and colours every individual piece himself.

Along with the lure of future work, another reason to stay in the UK was the clay, which is very

different from any Sotis had worked with before. He uses a clay from the home of pottery - Stoke-on-Trent - that is very rough and textured, with fine, stone-like sand particles, but highly malleable. This allows him to achieve his characteristic fine yet textured finish. He fires his pots-at 1,000°C and, once they have cooled, you can feel the tiny stones over the entire surface. However, prior to firing, he can alter the surface appearance by scraping away the fine stones to reveal small indentations.

Customers are always surprised by how light Sotis's ceramics are, but this is his intention. 'While I try to make my work as light and fine as possible/ he says, 'I want it to appear heavy, as if it were made from another material, such as wood or stone.' To Sotis the sign of a good piece is when people ask him what it is made of. Inspiration comes from many sources, but they are always organic. Current favourites include tree bark and black volcanic rock.

Although he has experimented with gloss finishes, he prefers mall glazes and natural oxides, such as copper and iron. His choice of colours reflects the objects of his inspiration: natural deep earthy-brown tones contrast with soft sky-blues, while charcoal-greys are teamed with chalky whites. It is fortunate that Sotis likes to work quickly, because once the powder oxides he uses are mixed with water, they dry out and revert to powder within a few seconds.

Then the oxides and glazes are applied and the pots are re-fired at 1,2HO°C. Working at such high temperatures and with such thin clay, much can go wrong. Pots have stuck to the bottom of the kiln, oxides have reacted to certain glazes, causing pots to warp and sometimes the kiln breaks down, which means pots are fired at the wrong temperatures. 'There is a lot of trial and error in my work - even the position of a pot in the kiln can influence the outcome,' explains Sotis, 'but this has led to some interesting and unexpected results.' He also finds that people like the surprise element of his work - they appreciate the fact that every piece is going to be different. 'It's the nature of handmade objects and as long as I like the results, I'm happy.'

This approach could be said to be the philosophy behind all of Sotis's work. 'I must be happy with my work in myself,' he says. 'It has to be something that I really want to do or I don't think that it would come out right.'

Sotis Filippides produces work for The Conran Shop and the Conran Collection, for interior designers and galleries, such as Cecilia Colman and the Craft Potters Association.