Sanjay Gupta and Ayushi Rastogi are a dynamic potter team who make pit fired burnished vessels and artwork.
We met very early into our Indian journey but because our plans were already set for South India we left, but vowed to be back to work alongside them. Upon our return to Dehra-Dun we quickly rekindled our connection and met regularly at their studio.
Sanjay is a clay connoisseur. It warmed our hearts to see him painstakingly refining his sourced clay: slaking it, cleaning it, sieving it (particularly fine). It has taken Sanjay a few years of ‘clay trial and error’ to find his sources, his method of purification and material combination and his familiarity with a particular self made clay body. He was dissatisfied with the clay and its quality available in the market and so he embarked on an experimental journey to find a solution himself. He is a rather multitalented man but his biggest asset is his belief that he can achieve anything he puts his mind to – and he does. Sanjay became a potter by precisely this conviction: he is entirely self-taught. Now Sanjay is also dabbling in sculptural work not only in clay but wood and metal too. We were lucky to have the privilege of learning in this highly electric creative environment.
Ayushi is primarily a hand-builder who makes paper-thin vases in all sizes and dimensions. Her style is very organic and flows with the energy of the moment: her vases are unconventionally exquisite. She too is a self-taught potter who discovered her love for clay and has not looked back since, despite all odds and stifling opinions. We made a great team of like-minded individuals.
The four of us spent many hours working and philosophizing. At the time of our ‘visit’, Studio AYRA was working diligently for a client on a Buddhist order: creating floatable lotuses and a self designed mural of Buddha’s feet. They had made a mould for the murals from their approved masterpiece and the completed murals were in their final stages of drying. The lotuses were meticulously made first on the wheel and then slowly finished by hand. Each piece was burnished to a shine with an agate.
The 30 odd lotuses in various sizes and the murals of Buddha’s feet were of a very delicate nature and required some additional consideration during firing. We began to construct ideas for suitable structures in which these items could be fired. On the day of firing itself, we spend the entire day preparing the metal containers and loading the work into their respective cassettes before placing them into the modified “pit” kiln. All their other pieces were placed in (damaged) bisqued pots and sealed with another such pot or large shards of broken bisqued ware: a saggar of sorts.
First we loaded, in-between the pieces and evenly throughout the bottom of the kiln, crushed dried cow dug cakes (procured from a local dairy farm). Then slowly we placed smaller pieces of wood orderly between any spaces from the bottom up till all the spaces in-between the saggars and containers were filled with dung and wood. Then we began loading the larger logs of wood till the kiln was full. Their kiln is only fired from on top and then covered with sheets of tin.
Just before dusk, we made an offering to the fire gods and light the wood with a piece of camphor.
The firing was an intense experience. The old wood was oily and burned faster than expected. After midnight we loaded the kiln one last time, covered it and left it to nature to finish it off.
Sanjay and Ayushi hold pottery classes for art students at the Kala Kendra art school in Dehra-Dun.