Architect, ceramicist and illustrator, Marten Herma Anderson’s broader practice may be described as a harmony between this trio of varying disciplines, as he allows his work within each to inform and enrich the others. We became a fan of Marten on Instagram through his ceramic works, so it was a delight to connect with him and be invited to his studio to learn about the intricacies of his artistic, expressive and honest approach to design.
To open the discussion I asked why and how Marten began the journey he’s on.
“I just wanted to have fun with what I’m doing. I started studying architecture because I was afraid of studying art — I come from a lower educational background and University wasn’t something which was in the picture for anyone in my family… I thought that at least with architecture I could do something creative, but also I can get a job out of it later... But then, while studying, I ended up taking all the art classes and had a lot of fun.”
“I was born on the island Rügen in the Baltic Sea in the former GDR and grew up there. When I was 11 we moved to the north of West Germany - right off the coastline. And then I left and did a bit of travelling and working in different countries. In the US in New York, London and then Paris and Milan. And then I decided to study.”
I was curious how the experience of studying was for Marten, and where it took him.
“I went to the Bauhaus University Weimar in the middle of nowhere in East Germany, and there was nothing else you could do but study. But at the end it was a blessing - I was just able to experiment with everything. I would do architecture drawings but then actually draw them by hand and make cute illustrations out of it. With the models, we wouldn’t just take paper, but use clay or porcelain and all these different materials. It was so much fun. Later I did my Masters in Berlin and it was the same vibe… But when I was done and started working in an architecture office, I was facing the reality of just drawing floor plans, and, like, pushing toilets from left to the right, which was frustrating… That’s how I started trying to find something else, but related to architecture — and not in the classical way.”
“So I started this company with my best friend for illustrations and renderings for architects and clients. And that was super, super fun. After a while though it just became a job. And even though it was nice, I thought I needed another creative outlet where I’m actually using my hands, because I was basically just sitting for 10 hours a day in front of the computer... This is when I started ceramics.”
“Ceramics first entered the picture at university, as I did a lot of models out of ceramics. I was trying to find nice shapes and compositions and that was really easy to do with ceramics or porcelain. That was the first time I got in touch with [ceramics] other than as a child doing cute little things in kindergarten. And it was super enjoyable, I did like 10 different pots for my plants, and that’s how it started… I had some followers on Instagram back then, and they liked my work, so a few people started buying the pots. And then I started doing a lot more and stores/galleries and people working in that field saw my objects, so the demand made me do it a bit more.”
Two very different but similarly time-consuming practices, I wondered how Marten navigates the balance between his architectural work and his ceramics.
“Architecture is always a super long project. And it’s a very intense job, six or seven days working on projects for up to 12 hours a day. The first project I worked on in an office was a kindergarten which went on for four years… And then I did the renderings/illustrations and my own little architecture projects on the weekend. At some point I had enough clients to reduce hours at the office and focus on my own practice. But there are always times where I’m not doing many illustrations for clients, Since the ceramics started as a hobby, it was just really whenever there was some time. Later ceramics filled in those gaps. Today I still work a bit for another office in Berlin (Gisbert Pöppler) but have my own studio/atelier where I can work on the computer, paint or do ceramics. That saves a lot of time.”
We talked then of how Marten characterises his style within ceramics.
“I think it’s quite inspired by what I do for a living, so there’s an architectural approach to it. The shapes are quite sculptural and very geometric. Some pieces are actually built like how you would build a prefab house, like different slabs you put together.”
“The texture/pattern of the ceramic is inspired by the island where I’m from. The island is out of chalk, and if you go to the cliffs and it was a heavy storm the night before, you would see layers of the chalk on top of each other and it creates these beautiful layers of white chalk and then some black stone in between. So it’s a little bit of a mixture; natural textures, and then these really constructive architectural shapes.”
“When I started, I wanted to be a little bit more honest and do stuff with my hands, and so I decided it would be nice to keep the clay like it is. I wasn’t so into glazes. I mean, I love colours, but like, I want things to be honest, and a glaze is a little bit like sugar coating something.”
I was interested in any current avenues of exploration Marten’s travelling down through his ceramics.
“I started experimenting so now it almost looks like marble basically. Then let’s see what comes out with a more evolved process… It’s a little bit more like designing the surface, which is fun — but it’s just like different approaches. But it’s still not glazed from the outside, so it has this rough and honest touch to it.”
“Berlin is so inspiring as an architect. I mean, it’s truly ugly here and there — but there’s a little bit of everything. And every famous architect in the last one hundred years has at least one building here, and so there’s a lot of things you can get inspired by when you do ceramics and you’re into geometrical shapes… There are so many little details which are nice to just take as they are, and put into a new context. And I think that’s something you can really do with ceramics, as you can shape anything if you know how because the material itself is really haptic. It’s sculptural, but also it has so many variations with textures or whatever you want to do with it — so it’s the perfect material to imitate these shapes.”
“I work a lot but it doesn’t feel like work. So I guess that’s why I’m able to do a lot… I’m just trying to do what makes me happy. And what’s funny is there’s not so much concept behind it. I guess the concept is it’s going through my head and through my eyes and my hands. And since my interest is a little in architecture, colours, materials and nature — everything comes together.”
Thank you to Marten. You can find his links below.
Words, photography and video by Ewan Waddell.