by Zeva Bellel
Photos by Fabrice Fortin
French ceramic artist Claire de LavalleÌe draws on her skills from her former life as a baker to works her clay into brightly-hued organic shapes.
Surrounded by wall-to-wall cupboards, cutting boards and rolling pins galore, her wonderfully-cluttered Left Bank atelier has the look and feel of an industrial kitchen. But instead of turning out batches of rustic tarts or bulbous baguettes, she fills her ovens with handmade vases, plates, cups and bowls with gorgeously rough-hewn forms and earthy saturated colors.
âI would wake up in the middle of the night and take out my rolling pin and cutting board and instead of making pastries, I found myself creating objects,â says de Lavallée who worked at a Parisian tea salon before making a full-time move to ceramics in 1989.
The artisan couldn't have had better training—both jobs transform simple natural ingredients into something nourishing for the senses via massive amounts of heat.
While most artists specialize in one type of clay (earthenware, stoneware or porcelain), de Lavallée loves and works with them all.
âEven though I experiment with a lot of different materials, people have no problem recognizing my work,â says de Lavallée, whose naturalistic designs with their handmade electrifying enamels, metallic finishes and ambiguous textures are not only striking, but highly collectible.
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A childlike wonder for the natural world sets her work apart from her peers, in terms of both subject and technique. Unlike most ceramicists who use spinning wheels to make perfectly symmetrical functional shapes, de Lavallée makes free-form objects much in the same way that kids work Play-Doh.
After rolling out the clay into a flat pancake, she presses it against the surface of objects with shapes and patterns that amaze her, like apples and gourds, capturing their fabulous little bumps and crevices in 3D. "I am drawn to the natural world because itâs rich with forms and patterns that are organized, without being rigid and geometric."
Letting inspiration run beyond the natural world, the constellation of dots left by an urchin's shell recently sparked an obsession with the cosmos, light and figures born from dreams.
Her Celestial Basket made of brown enamel and silver painted earthenware strips, for example, looks like some kind of magical relic forged during the Middle Ages, while her Dreamers series—faceless, cream-colored porcelain figurines—appear to have descended readymade from an ethereal higher ground.
Like any good cook, de Lavallée keeps her recipes closely guarded. The secret to her unusual colors and surfaces can only be learned by visiting or taking a class at the artistâs studio—also one of the few places she sells her works.
Prices span €100-900, and items can be purchased at an upcoming holiday sale from 5-8 December 2009 in Paris, or sporadically at specialty stores such as Takashimaya, Bergdorf Goodman and Talents. Contact Paris By Appointment Only for more information.