How to Make It
Barcelona-based Amarist Studio celebrates the formal and conceptual qualities of alabaster
White, translucent, and easy to carve, alabaster stone has been prized as a medium of artistic expression for millennia—across time and cultures. The Warka Vase, for example, found in the temple of the Sumerian goddess Inanna in southern Iraq, dates to 3,000 BCE. Nearly 2,000 years ago in Mexico, the great civilization centered around the city of Teotihuacan created ritual masks in alabaster that would later be collected by the Aztecs, followed by European colonizers and today’s global encyclopedic museums. While the raw stone is found in deposits around the world—usually in arid regions that were once home to ancient seas—the most precious, purest white alabaster originates from the Ebro Valley of Spain, not too far from Barcelona, where designers Clara Campo and Arán Lozano launched Amarist Studio around ten years ago.
Campo and Lozano were childhood friends who met in a small village in the Pyrenees, in an environment enlivened by natural beauty and regional crafts, which left a lasting impression on the duo. They forged their professional partnership around their shared interest in working in the gray area between art and design, where natural materials and artisanal approaches thrive. They began experimenting with alabaster almost from the studio’s inception, attracted to its deep history in the Iberian Peninsula as well as to its unique properties, which arise from the fact that alabaster is composed only of water and calcium sulfate. Campo and Lozano have since developed a range of hands-on processes that exploit alabaster’s innate fluidity, embodied in the studio’s Fuego Amigo and Aqua Fossil collections.
Campo and Lozano's focus on revealing the stories embedded in materials has earned the studio a number of accolades, including being named in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in 2018 as well as being picked up for exclusive representation by Dutch gallery Priveekollektie Contemporary Art | Design.
“We are fascinated by the unique material and techniques that Amarist uses, and we wanted to give them the platform they deserve,” says Priveekollektie co-founder Miriam van Dijk. “The series in alabaster perfectly demonstrates what our gallery stands for: the merging of contemporary art and collectible design through pieces that highlight personal approaches, intense craftsmanship, and extraordinary concepts… Amarist’s alabaster works draw a connection between history, nature, and creative freedom, which is very appealing to patrons of collectible design today.”
We reached out to Campo and Lozano to learn more about their signature material and what makes it so special.
For those who may be new to your work, how would you characterize your practice?
We focus on the creation of furniture and sculpture that stimulate thought, inviting viewers to reflect on the world around us. Driven by critical, restless curiosity, we like to explore the impact that humanity has had throughout its continuous evolution, observing the imbalances and the gaps that occur in various cultural and natural contexts—whether socially, economically, politically, environmentally, or technologically. This leads us to create pieces that highlight certain themes, often questioning the status quo.
At the same time we have a lot of passion and respect for craftsmanship and the purity of the materials. We like to investigate and explore techniques as we aspire to evolve as creators, not only from a conceptual point of view but also in terms of our skills as makers.
What attracted you to alabaster?
Alabaster stone is extracted from a desert-like area near our studio, which millions of years ago was an ancient sea in the Iberian Peninsula. It is a material that speaks of where we are from; it is a part of our ancestors’ history, and we want to put a value on that. Extracting alabaster is like recovering treasures submerged in eons-old layers of natural sediment.
Alabaster stone also presents some unique physical characteristics. It is made of only two molecules: water and calcium sulfate. If you leave it in the sun, it dehydrates. If you immerse it in water, it dissolves. It is fragile and precious, full of nuances that are discovered in the light. Poetically described, it is a stone formed of fossilized water.
Explain more about how the material tells a story of place, time, and value?
In the first instance, natural materials are witnesses to and recorders of the geologic passage of time. These materials tell us the history of the planet and its constant transformations. In the case of alabaster, it is the consequence of the Alpine orogeny, when the African plate and the Indian subcontinent collided with the Eurasian plate, forming great mountain ranges such as the Himalayas, the Alps, and the Pyrenees. The sediments of this last chain accumulated in an interior sea that lost its connection with the Mediterranean, and the climatic conditions of the environment ended up generating this unique mineral.
Natural materials also tell us about the rise and fall of different human civilizations; of art and architecture through the history of humankind. When a material is first discovered and begins to be used, different techniques develop regionally and then are exported to other parts of the world. In our area, remains of alabaster mining operations can be traced to Roman and Al-Andalus Empires and onward through the Catholic Monarchies, when the alabaster arts reached maximum splendor.
Tell us about the way you work with the material and the processes you employ?
Given the proximity of the quarries to our home, our connection to alabaster began at the beginning of our studio. We’ve always had access to this very special mineral and to the artisans in the area who have mastered it. The material has always been used in a very traditional way—like carving or lathe techniques—but we wanted to use it to create contemporary objects.
After experimenting with traditional techniques, we decided to explore new possibilities and invent a new way of working with alabaster, combining free hand sculpting with resins. The goal is to develop greater freedom and to create pieces that have never before been created in this stone. This is how our current body of work, Aqua Fossil, was born.
What are you working on these days?
We are currently focused on the further development of the Aqua Fossil concept. We are creating a whole series of designs, mainly light sculptures, made with our new innovative technique. It is a body of work that tries to reinterpret alabaster as a plastic, moldable material, returning it to its aqueous origin. This collection will immerse the viewer in a world of unknown nature, where water appears to be in a fossil state, seemingly belonging to both the past and the future, both earthly and extraterrestrial.
With this work we will soon carry out a virtual exhibition where we will introduce the sculptures in landscapes that are characteristic of our area, where water has played a starring role in drastic environmental changes. Our aim is to raise awareness about the importance of preserving natural resources, especially water. ◆