Clive and Pip

When we first came to Aberystwyth Peter and I lived for a year with our friend Pip Koppel. During that time I worked with Pip in her ceramic studio, and together we made a plethora of decorated tableware that would eventually come to serve in the kitchen at Ty Isaf. For the most part Pip threw at the wheel, and I worked with slip-trailers and brushes. Occasionally I’d coil a piece for myself, but for the most part we worked together. When I started to build salt-kits in the forms of owls and mermaids, candle-holders of stout ladies with their hands on their hips and lamps in the shapes of fish, Pip would throw the component parts on the wheel, and I’d then cut and assemble them into the shapes and figures I wanted. I’ve previously posted most of the earthenware we produced in this way, but today I came across a few pieces that somehow never got shown.

Foliate-head milk-jug

Mermaid candle-holder/salt-kit with spoon

Above and below: candle-holders

Coil-built, partially-glazed lamp with bird

Pip threw the jug. I added the handle, modelled the foliate-face and decorated the jug with slip

Terracotta candle-holder of a girl with separate chicken

There’s great pleasure to be had in making things used every day in the home.

the tale of two muses

Marais and Cocteau at the Venice Film Festival, 1947

There can be no denying that Jean Marais was Cocteau’s muse. But it must be said that Cocteau was equally Marais’ muse, as was clear both in their cinema collaborations and in the work that Marais turned to when his screen career was largely over. From the moment they met the artist was inspired to fresh creativity by the young actor’s beauty, charm and character. Cocteau effectively re-made Marais, educating and finessing him for the role of film star. It had been what Marais had yearned for since he was a boy, and with Cocteau’s help, he triumphantly fulfilled his dream.

Both on stage and in the cinema Marais became the perfect interpreter for Cocteau’s work as a playwright and director, and in the films we have the lasting examples of what they achieved together.

In La Belle et la Bête (1946), L’Aigle a deux têtes (1947), Les Parents terribles (1948) and Orphée (1949), we see the flowering of Marais as a film actor, and Cocteau as a visionary of cinema. (Cocteau always referred to himself as an ‘amateur’ in the matter of making films, though he clearly meant nothing pejorative by that term, using it instead to imply that he was an ‘artist/poet’ using film as an expression of creativity.)

Notwithstanding his homosexuality, during the second world war Marais was briefly married to the actress Mila Parély. With his relationship with Cocteau in the ascendency, the marriage failed, though in 1946 Parély appeared as Beauty’s sister Félicie in La Belle et la Bête.

Parély, left, as one of the two vain sisters in La Belle et la Bête. The actress was the last surviving cast member of the film when she died at Vichy in 2012, aged ninety-four.

Marais’ film career was a relatively long one. He made over twenty films in the 1960s, and though there was a sharp tailing off of acting roles through the 1970s – 90s, he continued to make occasional on-screen appearances up until his death in 1998.

In the early 1970s he reinvented himself as a ceramic artist, setting up a workshop in Vallauris where he made decorative objects, frequently in his trademark ‘gunmetal’ finish. Even in this field of the plastic arts, the mood of La Belle et la Bête haunted much of what he produced. So many of his ceramics look as though they could have been found in the Beast’s palace.

Ceramic owl made by Jean Marais

Marais was made an Officer of the French Legion of Honour in 1996.

Jean Marais is buried at Vallauris, where his tomb bears decorative testimony to the role he is most famous for:

la Bête

Jean Marais: actor, artist, muse

1913 -1998

enamelware versus china

The china plate.

Two plates here, both decorated with the same design, though one is made of china and the other enamelware. The grounds impart completely different qualities to the drawings on them, the enamelware lending itself to vibrantly dense and hard-edged imagery, while that on the china has a much softer appearance.

The enamelware plate.

But which is the better? Hard to judge. I like the graphic, folk-art clarity of the enamelware. The ‘porcelain paint’ is bright and hard on the surface, and it’s as though the materials were made for each other. However china is undoubtedly better for serving food from. I’m thinking on these matters because I’m going to decorate plates as Christmas presents for friends and family, and I have to decide which to stock up on. The china is easier to work with in matters of sharpening the edges of the drawings with a scalpel, but in every aspect of visual preference, it’s enamelware that works best for me.

phil gets creative with a porcelain pen and a 50p purchase

Over at Hedgecrows, my friend Phil Cooper has been making his submissions for the forthcoming Artlog Alphabet Soup online exhibition. He’s using ‘Islands’ as his theme, and with collages snipped from paper he’s monoprinted for the purpose, he’s been producing simply fantastic images. They’re beautifully assembled, with dynamic shapes and compositions full of the sense of wind and air and the tumult of sea and weather. His monoprint textures capture the eddies of water streaming over sand, and masterfully conjure the rearing flanks of rocky outcrops in inky seas.

I’m simply in awe of his abundant creativity at this time, because he’s also taken up the ‘porcelain pen’ challenge, transforming a little milk-jug with a tonal drawing on his current theme of islands. I’ve cheekily ‘grabbed’ an image from Phil’s blog to show it here. Too small I fear to effectively illustrate the detail, but it gives you an idea of what he’s achieved for the cost of  a thrift-shop jug and an inexpensive Marabu pen! Phil is an inspiration to us all! Pop over to his site to cheer him on.

le roi des lions

Finished the charger today. I accented with a touch of  cheer in the yellow of the crown and the falling leaves. This was an enjoyable distraction and I shall do more plates when I find  some old ones that I like.  Maybe not this design… I have other ideas I’d like to play with… but I’d certainly enjoy making a set that went together.

decorating ceramics

I found a handsome old china charger for £4.00 in the second hand shop that runs along a platform at Aberystwyth Station, and with a clutch of ceramic pens recommended Pauline Griffiths and purchased from her Art Shop in Abergavenny a few weeks ago, this afternoon I got to work patterning the border. The main body of the charger, which is to have a rather nifty lion design on it, will be done tomorrow, when today’s work will have set and there will be no fear of smearing it. The inks dry to ‘dish-washer proof in three days’, which given that we don’t have a dish-washer, should be more than resilient enough for regular hand-washing. (I hate what dish-washers do to good china and glass.)

Design for my £4.00 charger: Le Roi des Lions

Pauline commissioned  a number of Art Shop Gallery regulars to make plates in this way for her window display during the Abergavenny Food Festival, and so impressed was I by some of the results, that I decided to have a go at the technique myself. Just having a bit of fun here, but if it works well, then the charger is destined as a centrepiece for our dining-room table.

Here are plates made by Philippa Robbins, Cornelia O’Donovan and Alexis Snell for the Art Shop Show.

flinging clay

I spent some time today with Pip koppel in her pottery workshop. By lunchtime I’d produced a small bull that later this week I’ll decorate with slip prior to a firing next month. I haven’t worked in clay for quite a while, and so it was a real pleasure to be back with Pip while she sat at the potter’s-wheel throwing plates and I pinched and pummelled a wedge of clay into this sturdy beast. I also slab-built a night-light holder in the form of a toy theatre, though I wasn’t really concentrating hard enough and I fear it may collapse overnight.

I guess he’s related to this little horse, produced during my first dabblings in clay a few years ago.

two nichos for twelfth night

A box from the USA awaited our return from France.

Inside it I found this carefully wrapped parcel…

… containing the Christmas gift of a vividly imagined folk-art nativity from Marly Youmans.

It’s by Peruvian artisan Alejandro Chavez, and I particularly like his jaunty gathering of musicians on the lower level.

In 2010 Peter selected this beautiful ceramic by Meri Wells for the exhibition he curated at MoMA Wales titled ‘Art for Children’. At the time I discussed with him whether we might acquire the piece for ourselves, but he dissuaded me from the idea. (I’m not quite sure how!) Later when he gave it to me as a gift I realised that I’d been duped, though in a good way. For months it had lain carefully padded and hidden under a pile of blankets in a linen-chest at Ty Isaf.

I have always supposed it to be a ‘nativity of the beasts’ as it quite clearly references the traditional iconography, though with Meri’s unique cast of non-specific creatures. What in the hands of a lesser artist might have been questionable, in Meri’s becomes the most tender evocation of wonder at the miracle of life. Holes behind the central group let in light and mimic stars. I love the attentive dog.

Schematic trees flanked by birds decorate the side panels …

… scallop shells support the roof …

… and the heads of tiny animals gaze down protectively from above.

Both works are beautiful, and each exists confidently in its own universe. I thank both the makers and the givers. I count myself fortunate. The past year has been a time when many gifts have come my way, some of which I’ve shared here. I’m surrounded by objects that fill my life with inspiration, wonder and happiness. With the ‘Retrospective Exhibition’ behind me it’s time now to pull up the drawbridge, to place my spectacles firmly on the bridge of my nose and get down to work. Here goes!

Happy Twelfth Night!

pip koppel at ty isaf

Earthenware ‘Horse and Rider’ dish by Pip Koppel

The day we moved into Ty Isaf Pip Koppel arrived with a set of four mugs from her studio as house-warming gifts to us. Since then the cache has grown from year to year as she’s regularly added to them, and now we can sit many visitors down to tea and not be short of spotted earthenware mugs.

Such a part of daily life here have Pip’s mugs become, that they regularly turn up in paintings. In Flowering Nest Saint Kevin takes tea from one…

… as does Elijah in The Prophet Fed by a Raven.

And this blue on white fat-bellied milk jug…

… found its way into Night Hellebores with Pip’s Jug.

Recently Pip came-a-calling bearing yet more gifts of slip-decorated earthenware, and we added the ‘Horse and Rider’ dish shown at the top of this post to our Ty Isaf collection of ‘Pip-Ware’, plus the three dishes illustrated below.