This unassuming storefront set back from Carpinteria Avenue was once a machine shop. Today it’s the atelier and showroom of one of the area’s most interesting contemporary artists. Fatmir “Miri” Mara would likely respond with a modest shrug to this description, but an afternoon spent browsing among the many exquisite bowls and vases assembled in his showroom will leave one convinced that this work could only be the product of a unique and sophisticated sensibility. A wide range of ideas and approaches fits easily into a larger sense of unity and purpose at Mara — every piece is at once an original and a part of the bigger concept.
Mara initially found success as a fashion designer in his native Italy; so much so in fact that he was able to retire in his early forties and move with his husband, Rick Perkins, to Montecito, where the pair bought a house on East Mountain Drive. Following through on an obsession with all things Japanese, Mara enrolled in a ceramics course at SBCC. Once he discovered his knack for managing the tricky, multiday sequence of steps required to create clay slab ceramics, Mara moved on to what he describes as an “alchemy” approach to glazes. Mixing traditional materials and methods with improvised production techniques, and incorporating an eye for industrial design, Mara developed a concise vocabulary based more on a variety of tapering cylinders and conical sections than on the sphere. A typical classic Mara bowl, for example, is only curved like a cup on the interior. On the outside, these wide and exceedingly stable-looking objects present a flatter, more hard-edged cylindrical aspect, creating a contrast that’s often accentuated by a second color. Mara’s bowls have what one looks for in a great design — they’re recognizably original, yet they also seem inevitable; it’s as though they’ve always been around.
That double sensation of novelty and familiarity extends through his range of vases, which reveal Mara’s inspiration in mechanical things even more directly. Scored with a variety of techniques and glazed multiple times, these axles-turned-on-end often mimic the visual presence of bronze or brushed steel. Mara uses such nontraditional techniques as applying glaze with a fishnet to create surface patterns that suggest movement and capture light.
It’s a testament to the resiliency of this artist that, after the original collection of images and objects upon which he based his earliest ceramic designs was lost in the Tea Fire, he was able to regenerate his aesthetic so completely, in the process breathing new life into an already productive imagination. The opening of this studio and showroom at 5292-B Carpinteria Avenue, Carpinteria, in 2013 was the product of a collaboration with architect Michael David, and today it stands as one of the county’s most fascinating and successful examples of the repurposing of an industrial facility for art. The showroom is open Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturday-Sunday, noon-5 p.m. Call (805) 220-6285 or visit mirimara.com for info.