‘Learning ceramic techniques was like learning life… I felt a true happiness finding a link between scientific knowledge, imagination and manual skills. I could see it since prehistory, digging its forms into the daily intimacy and usefulness as well as in the exaltation of a sense of timelessness and the sacred. I loved this alliance between earth, water, air, fire, the eye and the hands, joined to create a living form, fragile walls but surprisingly lasting, empty but given to light.
Overall, it’s the humanity of pottery that appeals to me, and I would also say its innocence’. Ceramicist Fance Franck (1931-2008).
Just around the corner from my apartment and nestled deep into Rue Bonaparte, you will find Atelier Fance Franck located in a modest apartment behind a huge Parisian door and through a sweet, open courtyard. Upon my arrival on Friday night I was greeted by Kumiko, a gorgeous Japanese woman who has worked alongside the custodians of the studio to bring a beautiful collection of names such as Arita, Iwanga and Jun Nako, from Japan to a French audience. Kumiko was friendly and kind, taking me step by step through the collection, all while explaining the relevance of each work and the motivations of each artist.
Until her death in Paris on August 5, 2008, Fance Franck maintained a famous curiosity and energy after a long career with the Manufacture de Sèvres. She worked tirelessly in her studio, taking many trips to Japan married with both curiosity and a long established knowledge of Japanese and Chinese ceramic techniques. Franck also maintained a strong working relationship with the Japanese manufacturing factories and she continued her contacts with the finest specialists, questioning them, as well as the works of art from the greatest museums.
As an American Parisienne, following her death the studio was taken on by her French family who have continued to share the space and her legacy with the public, by means of honouring her work and her legacy.
In the early 2000’s I was a student of fine art majoring in History and Ceramics at the Royal Melbourne Institute. Names such as Fance Franck and Bernard Leach were legendary, not only for their incredible talent, but also for all that they did as pioneers of ceramics as a contemporary art form throughout the 20st century.
In Francks studio on Friday I observed simplistic Japanese influences- from the back of the studio where she kept three kilns and a neat arrangment of chairs around a modest workbench (still intact and very much part of the furniture so to speak), as well as carefully stacked books on low lying, simple hardwood shelves. Poring through French editions on glaze and porcelain techniques, I found myself momentarily removed from the every day, oblivious to the chatter of the people around me.
I enjoy moments like these, where I lose myself in names and incredible aesthetic, which inevitably sees harboured thoughts and the (sometimes) mundane of everyday just disappearing like magic- if only for a minute, or an hour, or sometimes a day.
The the quote used to open this piece feels apt for this particular moment in my life. I regularly reflect on my time in the studio all those years ago and have found myself only recently feeling inspired to eventually return – it might not be this year, or oven this decade, but for me, learning ceramic techniques was just like learning life and I too recall developing a deep understanding of the link between scientific knowledge through experimenting with glaze, imagination and manual skills. For me, ceramic art is a favoured art form and I feel so grateful and newly inspired after being afforded the opportunity to see Francks studio first hand, along with remnants from her life there. Her legacy is amazing and the space, so peaceful and contemplative.
Earlier in the week I joined my wonderful amie culturelle at another exhibition, this time on the right bank at Galerie Tamenaga. After crossing Pont Alexandre III, I left the Grand Palais on my left and the Petit Palais on my right, breathing in the beautiful cool air typical to this time of year.
The Élysée Palace was lit up, a sign that le chef was in residence and, as I looked up at the highest window, I observed a lone woman working at her desk- ‘6.15, time to go home,’ I thought to myself.
The blue, white and red of the French flag formed ripples as it fluttered atop the palace and policemen patrolled alongside the high walls of the palace gardens, blowing cigarette smoke into the darkness that enveloped me.
Since 1971, Galerie Tamenaga has been operational in Paris after first opening it’s doors in Tokyo in 1969, with its initial purpose in Japan being to take Modern Masters of French and European paintings, including Chagall, Van Dongen, Dufy, Lautrec, Modigliani, Picasso, Renoir, Rounault and others, to a curious Japanese market. The gallery is situated in Avenue Mantignon, a short walk through the dark streets leading off the Champs Elysées and just moments from the Palace.
At Tamenaga I joined the beautiful and the informed at a viewing of works by Paris based Chinese artist Chen Jiang Hong- a highly skilled illustrator in traditional form who has developed a unique aesthetic by merging Eastern and Western painting.
His works are huge as they are magnificent, with his process of dripping, sweeping and splashing inks and oil with long wolf-hair brushes, on canvasses laid directly onto the floor, referencing Chinese calligraphy and the tradition of Western abstraction. Chen’s cultural syncretism is the means by which he captures the essence of a subject.
As people spoke softly under striking canvases, my eyes darted about, discovering a little abstract boat here and a tiny hut in the foothills of mountains there, and Hong danced around the gallery in an immaculate velvet suit, graciously accepting praise as his audience observed his works, overwhelmed by their sheer beauty.
I make countless observations during a week in Paris and I am quite often surprised when I sit down to write, just how much I’ve seen and taken in over a short, few days.
Thursday marked ‘Beaujolais Nouveau’ – a celebration of the famous red wine made from Gamay grapes produced in the Beaujolais region of France.
It is the most popular vin de primeur, fermented for just a few weeks before it is released for sale on the third Thursday of November. ‘Beaujolais Nouveau’ used to see heavy competition, with races to get the first bottles to different markets around the globe. The current release practice is to ship the wine ahead of the third Thursday of November, and release it to the local markets at 12:01 a.m. local time.
After class on Thursday, my friend Maria and I went for our routine debrief about countless verbs and endless frustrations. Our waiter proudly announced that he had taken delivery of ‘nouveau beaujolais’ just that morning, and while it’s not my favourite drop, I found myself ever obliging and surprised with its crispness after being chilled on delivery.
Whether it be making wine, art or conversation (the latter, particularly in another language)- all require a great deal of discipline and skill and I am so thankful for my new friends who I have made in this city, and who continue to share ‘their Paris’ with me- affording me new opportunities and experiences, sometimes just through newly opened eyes.
On Saturday morning I sipped coffee with a seasoned étranger à Paris, listening with intent as she shared tales of her life in this beautiful city, and I updated her on mine. I take great inspiration from these conversations, just as I get great excitement from observations made alone, in a café or on la terrasse.
While I had planned to centre this blog around Pierre, his lover and her lost phone, I am afraid I’ve become so inspired by the beauty that is art, conversation, new friends and wine, that you will have to wait until next week.
In Paris, I am also something of a sleuth. Please, call me Sherlock.
Picture: Fance Franck in her studio, Rue Bonaparte, circa 1950’s.