In 1950s – 1960s, the ordinary shops that sold pottery at the bazaars of many cities of Uzbekistan, resembled a small museum of ceramics. After only a few years the situation has changed. The shelves with pottery gradually began to disappear, they moved in the rare art salons. Not only the field for sale of products made by the national masters of ceramics has narrowed, but the number of craftsmen themselves has diminished. The same fate befell in the mid-twentieth century to the splendid blue ceramics of Ferghana, famous for its thousand-year history. Many renowned masters passed away, others left the craft that became unprofitable. However, there were those who not only have remained true to their craft and the age-old traditions, but who had made monumental efforts for their conservation and creative conversion.
Usto (master) Sharafiddin Yusupov is a remarkable ceramist, who lived well through difficult times, when the unique technology of blue ishqor ceramics of Ferghana was almost forgotten, and who was the main initiator of its revival and subsequent successful development.) Today Sh. Yusupov is being called the elder of Rishtan school of ceramics, although this status does not quite fit his dynamic and emotional life style. Perhaps somewhat exotic, but entirely appropriate is the definition of him as “Paganini of Rishtan”: early in the morning, wearing a traditional white shirt with an open collar, the master sits on his favorite couch crossing his legs in the Eastern manner, and takes a brush in his right hand, while his left hand presses the plate to his left shoulder preparing to paint it. He reminds the Maestro, getting ready to the first magical touch of the bow to the strings of a musical instrument. This feeling is amplified when Sharafiddin draws amazingly beautiful patterns on the surface of the dish sometimes using sharp, sometimes gentle strokes, but always firmly moving his hand. Yusupov not just paints a graphic pattern – he alternately changes the brush-bow using different paints poured into small cups. Realizing that the roasting the paint will change its color, his imagination instantly “draws” a picture of a future pattern in its color incarnation. Applying a pattern on the plate, Sh. Yusupov knows in advance what color a particular motif will acquire and what color range he will get at the end. So, painting a plate in the spring of 2012, in his yard, he said: “…here is a pattern of pomegranates, I paint it with a dye made of iron, therefore the color will be brown, and here on the edge are the images of birds – I am painting them with cobalt – they will be of blue color, and the sprouts I will paint by copper – they will be green, etc.”
Sh. Yusupov was born in 1945 in the family of the hereditary ceramist – Isamiddin Yusupov. Remembering his childhood, Sharafiddin said that in the mid-1950s, there used to be a large pottery workshop in their house, where 40 craftsmen and apprentices used to work. When in the 1960s the ceramic plant was built, equipment and many tools from his father’s workshop had been moved there. Only his father with several craftsmen remained in the home workshop. In 1959, after the death of his father, Sharafiddin has become an apprentice of Hatambay Palvanov, who formerly was an apprentice of Sharafiddin’s father. In the early 1960s, the artistic workshop has been created under the factory. Sh. Yusupov had learned there from the famous Usto (masters) Muso Ismailov and Hakimjon Satarov. Thanks to the craftsman – Usto Holmat, Sharafiddin Yusupov had embraced the tradition of depicting the motifs of pomegranates and kumgan (pitcher). So, even before his service in the army, in the early 1960s, Sharafiddin began to accumulate the initial experience of working with clay and brush. In the late 1960s, he began to study the tradition of Rishtan ceramics, which began to fall into oblivion due to the establishment of the Rishtan Ceramic Factory in the early 1960s, while many craftsmen have chosen to work in the local industries. By this time, the technique of the famous blue ceramics of Rishtan was getting neglected, which was hardly revived in 1974, however many of the previous technological and artistic techniques were endangered. Young Sharafiddin Yusupov has enthusiastically began to revive the glorious traditions of Rishtan ceramics at the artistic workshop, set up in Qoqand, where he built a hand-mill, equipped his workshop and actively participated in the exhibitions. At the same time, it was possible to achieve the true style of Rishtan ceramics only using the famous ishqor glaze, which confers the specific blue color to the clay after its kilning.
Since 1976, Sharafiddin began to receive prizes and awards at the numerous exhibitions. Continuing to enrich his knowledge of traditional ceramics of Ferghana, this master of ceramics visits the Tajik villages of Kanibadam, Chorqu, Isfara and other centers of ceramics of Ferghana Valley, where the well-known craftsmen worked successfully. He studies the museum funds and private collections, gets consulted by the art historians and prominent artists, which had considerably predetermined his future. By 1977, the period of his work in Qoqand has come to its end, and in 1978, Sh. Yusupov returned to Rishtan.
Every master of Rishtan ceramics, adhering to the general principles of work at all stages of preparation of the clay, creation of the forms, decoration of the products, glazing and kilning, retained his individual characteristics. Sharafiddin Yusupov sticks to these collective traditions, observing, and sometimes reviving the forgotten techniques and recipes. An important component of the preparation of glazed pottery is traditional alkaline glaze ishqor made of the herbs. Gathering herbs (gulak, gulab or kirk bughin) is a laborious process. In autumn, in the open steppe a huge amount of grass used to be collected and then burned, which ashes were used for ishqor production. In 1970, it was no longer produced in Rishtan. However, ishqor was successfully applied by the craftsmen of Gurumsaray – another famous center of the blue ceramics in Ferghana Valley. In Qoqand, Sh. Yusupov met the outstanding Gurumsaray masters – Hakim Satimov, Mahmoud Rakhimov and Maqsudali Turapov, who used to bring their products to Qoqand. Yusupov for the first time went to collect the ishqor with Mahmoud Rakhimov in 1975, where he got his first 10 kg of precious ishqor, which sufficed him for one year. In 1976, already together with his assistants, he went to the area near the highway Pap – Namangan, where they picked about 400 kg of ishqor. This is when the mature period of his creative activity has begun: the knowledge of the traditional techniques of drawing the patterns has been completed with the ability to work with ishqor glaze.
According to tradition, the craftsman kilns the product twice: the first roasting – hompaz is the semi-roasted biscuit without glazing. After the first roasting the ornaments are applied and the process of glazing takes place. After the first kilning and drying, angobe provides the background of white color. Still it is not a finished product. The master takes the bowl (lyagan) after the first roasting, paints it with brush using the dyes such as cobalt and copper, and then glazes it. The second roasting is done at a temperature of 1000°C: when the products are placed in the oven after painting and coating them with glaze.
Creations by Yusupov differ in their subtle taste, refinement of motifs and the free and graceful craftsmanship. Perfecting various techniques of brush painting, he achieves a true beauty and artistry in composition of motifs and transition of the tones of subdued color range. Yusupov works primarily on the manufacture and design of large bowls – lyagan. In the decorative ornamentation of numerous bowls made by Sh. Yusupov (their size is 30-40 cm in diameter), one can identify a fairly stable group of elements and motifs at the bottom of the plates and in the form of centric, balanced symmetrical and asymmetrical “multi-figure” compositions that give the dynamism and liveliness to the figurative system of the products.
The classification of the compositions by Yusupov, made on the bottom of flat plates, allows us to identify the following consistent groups:
A decorative motif based on the variations of the quatrefoil “chorbarg” pattern or “shashbarg” (six-leaved) and “hashbarg” (eight-leaved);
Variations of the traditional pattern of “bodom-gul” in the form of single, paired and multiple images; the fruits and branches of pomegranates; traditional images of kumgan (pitcher) and knives;
Semiabstract elements of the plants, geometric and zoomorphic motifs such as cypress tree (sarw), dandelions (guliposho), star sockets (yulduz-gul), nets (chetan), scorpio (chayon), ram’s horns (kuchkorak), cow’s eyes (chashmigaw), etc.
There is a leitmotif in every group that permeates the content of their ornamentation. The result is a series of different compositional designs of the bowls and plates, and by analogy with music – a kind of Suite on the “prosperity” theme (the motif of the almond flower – “bodom-gul”), “fertility” (the pomegranate), “still life” and “landscape sketches”, etc.
In his compositions on the “bodom-gul” subject, Sharafiddin Yusupov uses two versions of this pattern that can be found in the ornamentation of the Central Asian ceramics: bodomi chetan (hatched) which is used the most, and bodomi gajak – a repeated silhouette inside a larger “bodom-gul”. Specifics of this pattern are in the works of Sharafiddin Yusupov, who adds an organizing principle to the composite design, emphasizing its leading role in the ornamentation of the plate. The sense of freedom, special festive mood and cheerful intonation have the compositions of his plates, on which the freely spaced patterns of “bodom-gul” in combination with pomegranates are naturally scattered on the surface of the plate. Another inflection is felt in the composition showing a single motif in the form of a large pattern (on the entire plane of the bottom of the plate) surrounded by floral coils. Power, strength and confidence are expressed through them brightly. In all of the variants a sense-making function of formal methods can be observed. Thus, the images of graceful kumgan in combination with the pomegranates and other fruits and delicate twigs of plants or rosettes invoke the feeling of the festive mood of the plate’s composition. In the compositions of the plates produced by this master, another traditional pattern is often found – a stylized image of a knife, the symbolism of which is associated in popular imagination with the male power and a talisman against misfortune. This motif occurs both jointly with kumgan pattern, on both sides of which two knives are depicted, or as a separate image drawn inside the figure, reminiscent of the motif of almond surrounded by twigs.
The main feature of this master’s works is the figurative and tenor uniqueness despite of the traditional form and use of the same motifs and patterns. Often the figurative and semantic hues in his ornamental arrangements reflect the mood of the master himself at the time of creation of certain composition. Therefore his plates have a personal touch and originality. Sharafiddin Yusupov skillfully uses color and technological properties of ceramics in creation of the ornamental image, adding more cobalt, bringing in the cold, somewhat intense blue hue; the addition of copper gives the turquoise color, while the manganese – the warm brown shade, enhancing the lyrical sound of decorative compositions. Yusupov efficiently “orchestrates” all of his means, in order to give his compositions a pronounced sounding. Boldly and skillfully implementing his creative innovations, Sharafiddin Yusupov continues to keep a strong connection with tradition of Rishtan ceramics.
Possessing a huge individual and author capacity, he still prefers the traditional ornaments, on the basis of which combinations he creates a sense of novelty solutions. One of the favorite decorative motifs of the master is an ancient symbol of abundance and fertility – the pomegranate. Although it is a leitmotif that runs through all the works by Yusupov, it is not similar in different plates. The same can be said about the motif of “kumgan”. Combining the floral patterns and figures, by varying the composition in the process, the craftsman achieves a great variety in the painting. For the decoration of ornamental stripes adorning the edges of the plates, Yusupov mainly applies the geometric (“chetan”, “chess”, “panjara”, “zanjir”, “nakhot”) and vegetative (“islimi hoshiya”, “bodom-gul”, “islimi kalampir”, “taroqi sang”, “chashmi-gul”) ornaments.
A peculiar feature of the style is the abundance of zoomorphic elements – “kuchkarok zanjira” – ram’s horn, “chashmi gaw” – the eyes of a cow, “chashmi bulbul” – a nightingale’s eye, “baliq” – fish, etc. The center of the plates is painted predominantly by variations on the theme of “pomegranate”, “kumgan”, “mekhrob” – altar arch, “olma” – apple, “bodom” – the almond, with the elements of patterns “gajac barg” – curl, “tugbarg” – mulberry leaf, “barghi madohil” – medallion, etc. The plates made in 2005 are interesting for their composite formation and colors. They include the motifs of Uyghur patterns “kora kalam” – black pen, the subject ornament “patnis” (tray), “toumor” (the amulet) and “chayon” (Scorpio). Using chromium oxide, which gives a greenish tone, Yusupov recreates the style characteristic of Rishtan ceramics of the 1930s. The relatively new elements can be attributed to such motifs as “sarw” (cypress) and stylization of the medieval architecture that appeared in the works by Yusupov in the 1980s. All products by this craftsman are distinguished by their exceptionally juicy and consistent colors. In recent years Sh. Yusupov began to turn to the motifs and techniques of Gurumsaray ceramics. Just so, in some of his works the use of the mirror pattern typical of Gurumsaray ceramics can be traced. It shows in the design of a broad fringe in decoration of some of his bowls created in 2010-2012 – the platter with the image of a pomegranate branch stud with fruits, another platter with a design of kumgan and the pomegranate branches in the center.
Sharafiddin Yusupov immensely loves his country; he is like the mythical Antaeus feeds on the life-giving juices of his native Ferghana. His creative work develops in line with traditional blue-white ceramics of Rishtan with its own characteristics. They relate mainly to the nature, content and style of paintings on the flat plates, vividly reflecting the unique skills of this craftsman and artist. Everything that was made by Sharafiddin Yusupov throughout many years and those things that he continues to create today is an original artistic phenomenon. However, life and work go on, and rich experience and unique creations by Sharafiddin Yusupov can be considered as a kind of Overture to the future creative achievements and new masterpieces by this craftsman.