Born in 1955, Roland Summer is one of those Austrian ceramicists whose work is definitely of an international standard and whose products are correspondingly sought-after. This is evidenced not only by the fact that his ceramics are represented in the major museums worldwide and that he has received numerous prizes for his oeuvre, but also by the impressive names of his collectors – from Norman Foster to Robert Wilson and even the Duke of Devonshire.

Die Neue Sammlung is now, for the first time, presenting an exhibition of the work of this renowned Austrian ceramicist at the International Ceramics Museum in Weiden. In fact, this exhibition could also be described as a retrospective; since the show in Weiden contains not only Summer's latest work but also a number of items from earlier phases of his career. It is hard to imagine anywhere that would be more suitable for this exhibition than the International Ceramics Museum with its collections from all kinds of different eras and continents.

Ultimately, it is the shapes and techniques that are used by Summer that demonstrate his interest in past cultures in other parts of the world. Africa, and especially the Sudan, plays a role, as do Asia and, of course, Europe. Summer works with raku, an ancient Japanese pottery method, originally inseparable from Zen Buddhism and the tea ceremony. As important for his work is the use of terra sigillata, which originated in Italy in the Roman period, and which he applies in a very specific way. However, Summer’s broad knowledge of ancient cultures and techniques is merely the starting point for his own creations which are situated in the present – the here and now – with traditions transcended and the future mapped out.

Roland Summer turned to ceramics relatively late, having first completed his studies in architecture at the Technical University of Graz (1974-80). Although he finally decided against a career in this field, his association with architecture and the questions it throws up, which are at the very least questions for mankind in general, as well, was to remain a lasting influence. Above all, his encounter with Hugo Kuekelhaus (1900-1984), one of the most important initiators of teaching in the disciplines of sensual perception, architecture and ecological approaches, was in retrospect the decisive impetus for Summer’s turning to ceramics. Impressed by this versatility and ability to assemble the most diverse matter before the mental eye, he decided to create something using his hands, not in order to plan extensively, but to create and build in detail.

The time factor plays a major role in his working process. And his vessels make this clear, in a very positive sense. He does not work with the "rapid" potter's wheel, instead he builds up his ceramics centimeter by centimeter. They grow out of themselves slowly. Summer's shapes are organic and softly rounded, ideally suited to his preferred technique using terra sigillata and to the latter's characteristics.

Summer has, therefore, in this way, developed an entirely individual technique. After the biscuit firing the vessels are covered with a separating slip, earlier in combination with a glaze. Lines are drawn into this, even though, without this treatment, crackles will still appear after the raku firing. The coating splits and peels during the cooling phase when plunged into water, leaving a negative image on the surface in the form of smoke traces.

At a certain distance the pieces look like conventionally glazed ceramics, but on closer inspection irregularities become evident; lines and crackle patterns begin to blur. They do not really exist, only their negative images. At the same time they form an inseparable part of the vessel by not appearing as an applied coat but as the material itself. This is the difference between Summer’s work and glazed ceramics. For him the glaze is a supplement, a surface covering that does not arise out of the piece itself. Typically, his glaze cracks away. It is only a medium for the purpose, not part of the completed object.

Although Roland Summer's vessels possess a certain severity and great precision, they still have a sensual, corporeal feel to them and are full of refinements. Almost imperceptible irregularities, minor displacements, slightly crooked lines instead of straight ones mean that these shapes always express life and tension – underscored by the chance qualities of the traces of smoke.

The same applies to Summer's so-called " pairs" which have kept cropping up in his work since the mid nineties. It is not merely about placing two vessels side by side, as they do not only correspond with the space around them, but above all with each other and by establishing a relationship. The space between appears as negative space (“empty space”) and gains in this sense a special importance. Out of this juxtaposition of the vessels emerges architecture in space. It is made evident, particularly in the case of the “pairs", how Summer’s view of space is influenced by his earlier studies in architecture.

Different lines of development are recognizable within his work – as in the case of pairs growing together or merging into a single shape. Some pieces, reminiscent of fruit shapes, have their origins in this development, while others follow a further line, such as porcelain objects which were produced as a result of an exhibition project at the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory in 1999. Even if Summer did not pursue this route any further, it did provide him with important stimulus for his oeuvre.

What all Summer's works have in common is their particular meditative character that has something to do both with his focus on their external shape and with the process-oriented nature of his modus operandi. This is complemented by his open way of looking at things and the associated pleasure he takes in experimentation. Nevertheless, every step that he takes is well-considered and has been thought through. This intellectual approach is, at the same time, an attitude recognizable in all his ceramics, and one that makes his oeuvre so unmistakably idiosyncratic.



Text for the catalogue published for the exhibition at International Kermikmuseum Weiden / Germany