Ronan Bouroullec: Hands to Clay
Following Daily Drawings, shown at the Hôtel des Arts, Toulon, in March and April 2023, Ronan Bouroullec presents Les mains à l’argile (Hands to Clay), the second part in the triptych of exhibitions on his work with Villa Noailles, along with Recent Productions, the third and final exhibition in the series.
Drawing has been an essential part of Ronan Bouroullec’s artistic practice since the beginning of his career. The freedom and exploration that comes with drawing acts as form of free expression that stimulates creativity and leads to new ideas. In recent years, ceramics has also taken hold on the designer, a way of connecting physically with the material and working on ideas – for experimentation as well as for specific projects.
A couple of times a month, Bouroullec goes to a ceramic workshop in Burgundy where craftspeople prepare sheets of clay and without preparation, “in a very fast and sensual way”, he very quickly and intensely begins to cut shapes. He then decides on colours, glazes and eventually the type of frame to fit each piece. A selection of these bas-reliefs are seen in the exhibition “Les mains à l’argile (Hands to Clay)”, on view at the Galerie du Canon in Toulon. “The exhibition speaks about ceramics in different ways, from the industrial to the handcrafted,” he explains. It features a variety of objects and installations, all in ceramic, that come together in a very harmonious way. The installation completely transformed the generic white space into a visually engaging, textural and dynamic exhibition. Beige-toned industrial-style bricks are part of the works on display and also used in the scenography, as is a wall of deep green cut tiles, both made in collaboration with Italian brand Mutina. This playing around with object and art work reflects Bouroullec’s unconstrained approach to making and to exhibiting his work – these pieces are both beautiful and interesting in their own right, yet they are meant to be functional. Viewers can appreciate both sides to the story. A selection of the bas-reliefs made in Burgundy are installed on the green ceramic tiles, an aesthetic pairing that brings out the colours and textures of these pieces, which are framed in different materials such as painted anodized aluminium, which provides an appealing contrast between the more natural ceramic material and the industrial metal. While these pieces are about geometry and form, framed on the wall, they also appear to be about landscapes, close-ups of stones, a fragment of sea or sky. They become more poetic, abstract and almost painterly.
In a collaboration with Mutina and Bitossi, Bouroullec designed a series of columnar Rombini vases that continue his exploration of shapes and relationships of forms. Like the bas-reliefs, they are very geometric – circles, triangles, cylinders, come together in tones of glossy greys, beige, dark green, cream and brown. Scattered and stacked around the space, they become architectural yet their functional use as a vase is on display as well. In some ways, the shape feels machine-like, yet they are beautifully handmade and artisanal, embodying the craftsmanship that runs through every piece. Also on display is a selection of Sosei vases, the result of a long collaboration with Tajimi ceramicists in Japan that embody the heritage and traditions of the region. The Sosei vases are columnar in form, with panel-like cut out and coloured shapes applied on the surface in different ways and hand painted in custom glazes.
Bouroullec explains, “The exhibition is about pleasure and it reflects a mix of different aspects of my life [and] the type of works that I can do – from almost banal 13 x 13 constructed industrial bricks to Japanese vases that are the result of centuries of knowledge to colour and homemade collage”.
Concurrently on display as part of Design Parade Hyères, Villa Noailles, is Recent Productions, an exhibition which presents just that, recent productions by the designer that present the diversity of his work and the multiple links that unite his creations. Included are a screen project with Kvadrat, vases, lamps and studies for ecclesiastical furniture, part of an upcoming exhibition in a small chapel in Brittany. The exhibition pays homage to the Bouroullec’s very first exhibition 25-years ago, which took place at the Villa Noailles, offering a point of reflection onto the prolific designer’s career.
Les mains à l’argile (Hands to Clay) and Recent Productions are on view through November 5, 2023.
All photos are by Camille Lemmonier and Courtesy of Ronan Bouroullec Studio