Turning architecture into art

Monash alumni Gregory Bonasera and Anthony Raymond put a revolutionary spin on an ancient artform to capture Monash's history and reinvigorate our campus.

Ceramicist Gregory Bonasera has always thought outside the mould. While many of his contemporaries focus their attention on one-off pieces, Gregory has committed his practice to creating and replicating objects of beauty.

“If you design something that's beautiful and clever and works well, why only produce it once? By using a 300 year old slip casting method, something stunning can be reproduced many times over and still have a major craft element.”

Equipped with a Bachelor of Arts (Ceramic Design) from Monash Art, Design and Architecture in 1987, Gregory’s ability to combine an industrial production ethos with ceramics expertise led him to work on major projects, including replicating the 110 year old tiles that decorate Melbourne’s famous Scots’ Church. There, he met fellow Monash alumnus Anthony Raymond, an industrial designer with a Bachelor of Industrial and Product Design. Anthony was immediately captivated by Gregory’s passion for working at the intersection of art, history and technology, and a partnership was born.

I was ignited by the whole process, and the way Gregory spoke about his work,” Anthony recalls. “To this day, it's like listening to an excited boy. His passion pulled me in."

Anthony and Gregory joined forces as Porcelain Bear, and quickly gained a reputation as being the only business in the world that approaches porcelain from an industrial design perspective.

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Anthony Raymond (left) and Gregory Bonasera (right) married high tech processes with an ancient artform to bring the black porcelain tiles in the Monash Chancellery to life.

In addition to producing original products and commissioned pieces, by applying high tech processes to ancient ceramic methods, Porcelain Bear is able to read existing clay material and replicate porcelain with unnerving accuracy. Recognising their specialist skills, Monash secured the alumni to replicate the black tiles within the Chancellery (pictured above), which were partly salvaged from the 1960s-era building that once stood in its stead.

To make their replicas, the duo took the original tile and modelled it in a 3D program, developing multiple iterations to get as close as possible to the source. After identifying the clay and glaze composition, they printed their 3D model in-house and used it to create a plaster mould to start the slip casting process.

“With the Chancellery tiles, we were essentially drawing a line from the past to the future,” explains Gregory. “You have to look into the history of the tile - the time that it was made, the glazes that were being used. It's our job to appreciate the detail of buildings and the love and attention that's been poured into them.

Brand new buildings can be great, but when a building references its history and beginnings, it's got more depth and more meaning. It's a beautiful thing."

“It’s an opportunity to show the history of ability,” agrees Anthony. “You can have incredible modern architecture or interiors, but when you reference the old you add to the story of the building. The past and the present charge each other. I get goosebumps thinking about it.”

Bringing art back to life on Caulfield Campus

Porcelain Bear are also deepening their mark on Monash’s campuses by undertaking specialised work to restore Michael Kitson’s Ceramic mural on Monash’s Phillip Law Building.

Installed on Caulfield campus in 1974, the mural saw Kitson collaborate closely with Monash colleagues to bring together an artwork inspired by constructivism, mathematics and graphic design.

Gregory and Anthony’s work on Ceramic mural provides another - this time deeply personal - example of their work connecting the past with the present. “I used to look at this mural all the time,” says Gregory. “I walked past it every day from where I parked my car to where I studied - it's on the building I studied in."

The intricate work is a welcome challenge for Porcelain Bear. Kitson used a Common Business-Oriented Language program written by Mauri Fabrikant to manage the colour firing sequence of 1,652 tiles, and brought in sculptor Cole Sopov to slip-cast and fire all the tiles in Monash’s Ceramics Department.

It's a pleasure to go back and actually help to bring this beautiful piece back to how it should look," says Gregory. "It's a real privilege to be part of the University’s future."

With a new showroom about to launch on Melbourne’s Church Street and major partnerships with institutions including Hyatt Centric, Porcelain Bear’s own future is looking bright.

“Our time at Monash gave us foundational skills and a love of learning,” says Gregory.

“If we didn't have that core skill set from studying, we wouldn't be able to continue with what we do and have a desire to constantly re-educate ourselves. We’re always going to be pushing the boundaries.”