Boyan Moskov: Aesthetics Over Utility

1 Jar with red graphics, 11 in. (28 cm) in height, wheel-thrown and altered stoneware, oxides, metallic and red glazes, fired to cone 6 in an electric kiln.

At 13 years old, Boyan Moskov’s art teacher told him that he showed great potential as an artist. “In my native country of Bulgaria, growing up was tough,” he says. “I just wanted to get away from my family, so I used these artistic skills to go out on my own.” His talents allowed him to attend a boarding school specializing in art in Troyan, Bulgaria.

Like most people at that young an age, Moskov’s career plans were anyone’s guess. When he began his education, he didn’t actually intend to become a potter, but ceramics was the main subject taught at the boarding school. “It turned out I was good with my hands from the start, so I didn’t have to practice as much as my friends—I was sort of a natural,” he recalls.

After boarding school, Moskov took a job working at a ceramics factory where he made everything from miniatures to small souvenir vessels and mugs. He was good at throwing fast, which allowed him to make a comfortable living.

Finding the Right Path

While working at the factory, Moskov attempted to follow the more traditional Bulgarian artist’s path: attending the Art Academy in Sofia. The prestigious school was very difficult to get into, and it took seven years before he was finally admitted. All the while, Moskov continued working at the ceramics factory.

Moskov quickly realized that a traditional art education was not the right direction for him. “Art school didn’t provide me with anything I hadn’t already learned in my daily work as a potter. I wasn’t suited for more academia and wasn’t that interested in a diploma,” he recalls. After two and a half years, he left school to try alternative routes.

2 Bottles, to 24 in. (61 cm) in height, wheel-thrown stoneware, cut and reassembled with slip, oxides, glaze, fired to cone 6 in an electric kiln.

3 Faceted vessel, 10 in. (25 cm) in height, wheel-thrown stoneware, carved, fired to cone 6 in an electric kiln.

His artistic journey took him next to Sweden to learn new and different approaches to pottery making. “Sweden was really interesting—it really changed my way of looking at pottery,” Moskov explains. Bulgarian pottery is characterized by bright colors with elaborate detail work. In Sweden, the style was just the opposite. “It was all pure, very simple stuff, with just a touch of color, but mostly white,” he recalls. This distinct aesthetic allowed him to see the ceramic process through the lens of an entirely new perspective: minimalism. He embraced this style enthusiastically, profoundly changing his own aesthetic in the process.

Taking what he learned, Moskov returned home and created very different pottery than Bulgarians were accustomed to. It proved to be very successful and well received. At this same time, he met his future wife, Anna, an American Peace Corps volunteer working in Bulgaria. Once they decided to get married, they chose to move to the US and settled in Contoocook, New Hampshire. Moskov explains, “I sold everything and started over almost eleven years ago.”

New Culture, Changing Focus

When Moskov first moved to the US, he returned to his roots, making utilitarian forms as a profit-making venture. For the first two or three years, he became well known in the area for making colorful mugs, bowls, and other more utilitarian objects. “They were brightly colored, hip and cool looking with a Mid-Century aesthetic, very different from what I’m doing today,” Moskov adds. However, like many people living in a foreign country, the cultural differences allowed him to see that this direction wasn’t working for him. When he looks at something created solely for making money, it feels inauthentic to him. First and foremost, Moskov tries to create work that is pleasing to himself as an artist. “It is fulfilling to me when it honestly represents me. If I look at the work and think: ‘This is who I am and what I like, then I know it’s a success,’” he says. With Moskov, what you see is what you get. He won’t say to himself: “I can’t do this because it won’t sell.” Of course, he hopes that all his work sells, but his vessels express what he’s feeling at the moment. “If I’m not happy with making something anymore—I’ll stop making it,” he explains.

He made the decision to change his focus to creating things that he enjoyed the process of making—to try to have fun making it, and if he liked it, he would fire it. Moskov concedes that being a stay-at-home parent gave him the ability to move forward in this direction.

4 Metallic vessel, 12 in. (30 cm) in height, wheel-thrown and altered stoneware, oxides, stain, metallic glaze, fired to cone 6 in an electric kiln.

When he goes to his studio, he tries not to have an agenda. The studio is his sacred space, a place to listen to music and be creative. “I don’t even know what’s going to happen. I just get up and go to my studio and work to make things that I am happy with,” he says. He has about 50% of a picture in his head of what he’d like to make and will work on a series of pots until one looks good enough. “I am always looking for something that excites me,” he adds.

As a 13 year old first delving into the creative world at boarding school, art had been a difficult idea for Moskov to wrap his head around. As he notes, “the whole concept [of art] was a mystery to me.” Even today, Moskov still struggles, explaining, “Truthfully, I don’t get art . . . I just make what I make.” Instead of calling himself an artist, Moskov’s perspective is that he is compelled to create.

Clean, Pure, and Minimalistic

For Moskov, less is certainly more. “My process is just like my house: very clean, all pure white with a little touch of dark wood—very minimalistic with small things here and there. I like vessels that are very basic. That feeling that comes from the minimalistic aesthetic—such as Japanese or Korean ceramics—it’s very simple and natural,” he says, continuing that artists use these limitations to propel creativity. “Let’s see what we can do with a piece of clay and a little bit of glaze or oxide, the less you have to work with, the harder it is,” he elaborates. He likes to relate his aesthetic to food, saying, “I don’t like barbecue sauce. It covers up the flavor of the meat.”

His vessels are mostly inspired by Greek and African design. He describes an iconic Greek pottery form, one with a small base, large mid section, tapered neck, and flared rim as a “romantic and classic shape,” Moskov notes. He explains that based on his experience so far, “In the US, some of the aesthetic influence seems to come from Asian designs. For me, my influences are rooted in European, specifically Eastern European designs, which ripple back to antiquity where these shapes were first created. The Greek vessel is organic and very strong, so I seek to understand what makes it so good. I don’t want to just replicate it; I want to understand more about it.” Moskov has come to the conclusion that they have an enduring quality and strength because they are bold, simple, very organic, and not overdone. Simply put, they have a clean aesthetic.

5 Patchwork tea set with creamer, sugar bowl, and teapot, dark brown stoneware, applied glazes.

The influence of African pottery is more about the use of color for Moskov, in particular the simplicity of the burnished black clay surfaces really speaks to him. “I use black clay for that reason,” he says. He sees traditional African pottery as clearly communicating a handmade quality, with throwing lines and distinct coil-built exteriors central to its overall appearance. “It’s not precise, I like to see that loose look; you can tell it’s handmade.” He combines these techniques with shapes reminiscent of ancient vessels that you would see in a museum. Moskov equates his vessel designs to cooking, putting together what he sees as the best flavors from each style to create his unique work. “One of the best things about the US is that cooking takes ingredients from different regions to create a entirely new dish. That is what I try to do with my pottery. Adding the rich colors available in modern times to that, and I’m able to create so many different designs,” he explains.

When it comes to surface design, Moskov keeps things simple for aesthetic and practical reasons. “I’m not into carving, because it’s so time consuming,” he says. “I just don’t have the patience for it.”

He admits to being a perfectionist, explaining that is his aesthetic. He observes that while being drawn to minimalism, within that style he primarily responds to things that are distinctive and stand out from the rest in his work.

7 Wall platter, 24 in. (61 cm) in diameter, wheel-thrown stoneware, cut and reassembled, oxides, metallic glaze, fired to cone 6 in an electric kiln.

6 Twisted bottle, 18 in. (46 cm) in height, wheel-thrown stoneware, altered, carved, metallic glaze, fired to cone 6 in an electric kiln.

Expression of Creativity

Moskov understands that his approach is more about aesthetics than utility. Though his vessels maybe not be utilitarian, as they are meant to be purely decorative, they still harken back to their original intent. He doesn’t think of his vessels as something he would use, but rather as an object of art, a sculpture. He wants his pieces to add to, but not interfere with, their surroundings. “My objects are simple and elegant with clean lines. At the same time, they stand bold and strong: a beautiful accent, not a distraction.”

The most defining characteristic of Moskov’s work is an experimental surface texture. “I like to make things look like they’ve been buried for thousands of years and have just been excavated.” While this is certainly the case with some of his pieces, the defining characteristic to his current work is embellishment designed to give his vessels a timeworn quality. He finds that he prefers when things don’t look new—aged surfaces give a sense of history and provide more for him to connect to.

To produce this aged effect, Moskov uses a lot of stains and oxides, rather than glazes. He had grown tired of the bright colors that he’d been using since his days in the ceramics factory, explaining, “When I decided to switch to a different style, I tried not to use any of the materials I used to work with. That way, everything was different.” Oxides gave him a richer look, while still complementing the clay. He also began using a white stain in combination with oxides to give a bit of an accent. Moskov prefers dark or black clays because they are more vibrant and richer with more personality and drama. If he does use glaze, he’ll use a manganese-based glaze to create a surface sheen.

8 Bowl with metallic rim, 8 in. (20 cm) in height, wheel-thrown stoneware, altered, oxides, metallic glaze, fired to cone 6 in an electric kiln.

When thinking about his intentions with the pieces he is making, Moskov explains, “I try to get away from the formal, stiff shapes to a more natural, organic form where the technique can be seen in the final product. I want someone to be able to look at my vessels and tell what I did to create them, for them to have the story of their making in the final piece.”

The journey Moskov has taken to this point has transformed him from a child seeking escape through art, to a production potter, and now to someone creating sculptural vessels. Don’t expect him to stay put for too long though. As he points out: “I get easily bored. When I feel like there is no longer any excitement, I’ll move on.”

the author MK Bateman is a writer, potter, and ceramics instructor based in Warren, Vermont.

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