Ceramic Arts & Perception — Ceramics Technical
Ceramics Art & Perception

Claude Champy’s Sculptural Strength -
Article by Arnauld de L'Epine

Claude Champy wants and claims to be a potter having continuously privileged the clay material and wanting to maintain a relationship with the common-use object; however, he has become more and more involved as a sculptor in that material, growing distant from the initial form of the daily-use object. Champy entertains a body-to- body relationship with clay; he kneads it, mixes it, folding it intensely again and again in order to capture individual forms.

These forms do not come without fights, twists, conflicts, and even some violence exerted by the artist against himself and against the material in his quest for unknown territories. His aim, indeed, is to give birth to forms elaborated on bases, always renewed, and yet, paradoxically, relatively constant. Hence, the name we give them: matrices. They mainly include bowls, vases, urns, dishes, balls, square or rectangular boxes, and are put into shape and realised in successive series.

Bowl by Claude ChampyThese forms retain the imprint of the folding, torsion and violence exerted, producing embossing, tearing, cracks, grooves and furrows, which contribute to the structure and the texture of the surface. The artist refuses the abstraction of a structure which would evoke the informal or the anti-form as a result of a simple game or in randomly accumulating or piling up matter.
Preferring the relative objectivity of the link with his initial form, his aim is definitely not to produce variations of a known object but to start his creative process from a guiding line in order to look for a form possessing a framework which will become singular. Hence, the name ‘form-objects’ we give to these creations.

These works started acquiring further freedom and expressive strength when the artist devised a double-casing technique; he has gradually moved sideways, both at the form level and in his way of leaving the imprint of his hands on the material.
Since the mid-’90s, Champy’s approach has enabled him to create a new form, the mural panel, which is now distinct from the aspect of a form-object. It is made of several slabs, placed side by side in groups of two or four, and forming a single set. There, Champy distances himself from the form-object connected to the horizontal to tackle the verticality of the wall. This new practice, as we describe it, enhances the importance of the body-to-body relationship with the material and the glaze on the planar surface. This approach also provides the artist with an opening to the monumental.

This work on which Champy is concentrated opens to him a field of possibilities he has not finished exploring. His research of the maximum dimensions possible is another feature of this work and it is present in most of the forms he has made. He keeps striving to take as many risks as he can to reach for the limits of the possibilities of-fered by the material and the forms.

Claude Champy entertains a body-to-body relationship with the glazing process as well; indeed, his various glazes, contained in different vats, are not applied with the hand or a brush, but thrown on the structure. This set of gestures implies a dynamics involving the whole body and leaves its mark on the surface to produce the effect expected. However, submitting a piece of work to the fire introduces an uncertainty or random factor that is included in the technique used, as revealed by the overlapping of glazes which sometimes may not have been wanted, and by the pouring and dripping of the glaze.

After firing, the piece takes on a rather pale hue, most often pink or blue, with variations on the surface that stand out against a white background and is scattered with flat intense blacks which contribute to its structure. That surface is covered with lines that appear in the form of multiple stripes and dots produced by the liquid dripping or by salt oxidation. It conveys the feeling of the core of a mineral world, without yet raising the impression to see reproduced the forces of chaos. The set of gestures involved in the creation of that surface does not allow any confusion: according to the terms of the philosopher Gilles Deleuze, the artist holds his territory, exhibiting a surface that contains an authentic singularity.

Panel by Claude ChampyBesides, following its evolution, this work appears to be more and more animated by flows of energy and forces of differentiation. Sure enough, the artist has acquired a heightened relationship with his clay material, a greater freedom in his practice of glaze application, a more intense knowledge of the relationships of his forms and glazes with fire, but all this cannot entirely account for that work’s development. The concepts borrowed both from Gilles Deleuze, the sculptural strength, and from Jacques Derrida, the differentiating operative function, shed insights on that work. The processing form together with the style of glazing seem indeed to have become a forming strength endowed with several features.

The dynamics emerging from these works evokes what Deleuze has called “a muscular conception of the material which generates springs everywhere”; indeed, we gradually feel a greater sensitivitye to the energy spread by Champy up to the point it triggers the feeling we open to a breach in the opaqueness of appearances; he leaves the imprint of the vibration of the muscle torturing the material, and of the gesture involving the whole body while applying the glaze. This energy infused in matter is so present that we can qualify it as organic. That sculptural strength has also a relationship with flesh, with sensuality, as it seems to spark off a form belonging to a space of desire; the artist manages to convey some of the feelings he experiences while decorating his works; their imprints can be perceived in the stripes and furrows preserved on the surface skin. Furthermore, that plastic strength asserts itself in the force lines present in the artist's structures; it results from an operative mode based on the organisation of the force lines that constitute the form-objects. One can see a confrontation at work, a tension between horizontality and verticality.

Each piece possesses a predominantly horizontal or vertical axis, and yet we can perceive a resistance of the opposite axis in all of them. This work of transversality appears also in the gestural result of the glaze on the surface. Lines, black flat tints, vertical or horizontal according to the piece, run across or down it, but that dominance is always counterbalanced by other lines and flat tints running in the opposite way, which create an opposite tension; as well they contribute to the structure of the tension inherent in the work. Finally, the singular colour of the glaze provides a specific light which renders the space palpable. This light is present through the contrasts between the flat tints of intense blacks, the background most often white with the different variations of hues scattered over the surface. On one same structure, these contrasts produce blocks of colour-lights crossed by ridges which, in turn, yield waves of light.

This plastic strength generates a fermentation, a breathing such as it seems to carry vibrations. Using Paul Klee’s idea, what emerges is “an in-between world where one doesn’t talk and can’t see, but where one works”. Thus, the greater the dimensions of the structures the artist confronts, such as those of the mural panels, the more assertive that strength.
In addition, the artist has managed to produce a differentiating operative function in each series created as well performing at the levels both of form and of the glaze structuring the surface. He keeps managing to escape into diversions from known territories in his quest for interactions of forms and glaze surfaces. That differentiating operating function acts while maintaining a coherence that allows the singular identity of the work to be recognised.

Champy successfully achieves those transgressions insofar as he has imposed on himself constraints and lines of research, while allowing a potential of randomness to take place in the effect of fire over the tensions given to form, as well as over the practice of glaze overlapping. Thereby Claude Champy offers us the work of a sculptor endowed with a singular sculptural strength and differentiating operative function. This singularity in his work drew our attention as early as in the 1980s, when he was awarded the Suntory Prize in Japan.

These features evoke those of two artists of the preceding generation who have marked their fields, ceramics and painting, respectively: Peter Voulkos in his relationship in folding and clay material, and Jackson Pollock in his use of pouring colour.

Arnauld de L'Epine is a writer on the arts and a collector, living in Paris. Translated from French by Marie-France Desjeux, Fresnes (France). Photographs by Cecile Champy. Claude Champy's new works, together with those of Bernard Dejonghe (France) are exhibited at Gallery b 15 in Munich from November 23 to December 19, 2003, and at Gallery Sarver in Paris from February 12 to March 13, 2004.


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