Artigas, Chapallaz, de Montmollin: Bards of Enamels / Musée Ariana, Geneva
February 4 – May 31, 2015
Combining in a single exhibition works by the Catalan Josep Llorens Artigas (1892-1980), the Swiss ceramists Édouard Chapallaz (b.1921) and Brother Daniel de Montmollin (b.1921) – active within the Taizé religious community in Burgundy – is not purely random. These three artists, who have each in their own way left their mark on contemporary European ceramics, have continuously enhanced their understanding of enamels throughout their careers, knowledge that all three have been keen to pass on through their teaching, publications and more generally by their openness and their availability towards colleagues.
Creating unique wheel-turned pieces, mostly with simple, pure lines, all three have endeavoured to sublimate these forms by clothing them, like a skin intimately fused to the clay, with enamels of infinite variety and depth. Bright or muted, matt or gloss, single or superimposed, fired in reduction or oxidation atmospheres, the enamels have an eloquence that is never, with these highly experienced masters, the result of chance. Fire certainly plays a major role and can sometimes have surprises in store, but it is mainly through knowledge, practice and experience – “a kiln without tests is a wasted kiln” said Artigas – the fruit of many years of hard work, that they have acquired over time a remarkable command of their art. All three mention the same source of inspiration: Chinese stoneware and porcelain. “Oxblood” “hare’s fur”, “oil spot” and celadon, the sensuality of Far Eastern enamels and glazes and their moving poetic names are a source of fascination and stimulation; they provide the model.
Despite these apparent parallels, the three ceramists have each followed their own path. Artigas placed his vast savoir-faire at the service of artists like Joan Miró and Raoul Dufy, while continuing his production of slender vases in delicate tones; Chapallaz, with his sound technical experience gained in industry, developed a personal approach notably through his interest in ceramic walls incorporated into architecture; de Montmollin, whose vocation as a potter is enriched by a spiritual dimension, has built up a near encyclopaedic knowledge of ash glazes, tirelessly scouring the surrounding countryside for raw materials.
Eminently respectful of their colleagues’ work without being very close, the three artists have met on several occasions. De Montmollin gladly went to Gallifa when in Spain. He remembers the delicious meals prepared on these occasions by Artigas’ Genevan wife. Artigas, for his part, enjoyed drinking tea at the Chapallaz’s home on visits to Switzerland. Through the intermediary of Philippe Lambercy, Chapallaz and de Montmollin met on several occasions.
Although enamelled ceramics did go temporarily out of fashion at the turn of the 21st century, being supplanted by bare clay and raw textures, it would appear that this type of coating is enjoying renewed interest today among young ceramists. The timeless enamelled vase, in all its simplicity and sophistication, has been more than sufficient for our three ceramists as a field of exploration to sustain a long career. The Musée Ariana’s collection, thanks in particular to gifts by the collectors Charles and Isabelle Roth and Csaba Gaspar, contains a significant ensemble of work by Édouard Chapallaz (169 pieces) and owing to a very generous recent donation by Brother Daniel de Montmollin, the body of work by this artist now numbers 39 items. As regards Josep Llorens Artigas, we have drawn on loans from Genevan private collections, given that the museum’s holdings only include three ceramics from his studio.
Museum hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 10am – 6pm.
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Musée suisse de la céramique et du verre
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Above: Edouard Chapallaz, Vase, 1993, Grès, émail marbré, H. 22 cm. Collection Musée Ariana. Photo by Nicolas Lieber.