About the Torique collection, realised in collaboration with a Ceramicist called Claude Aïello in 1999. (copyright Phaidon, 2003)
Extracts from the book “ Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec” released by Phaidon in 2003.
When I met Ronan, he was working on his own. That
was right at the start, in 1999; he was just leaving school and finishing his education. The project commissioned by the town of Vallauris and the Direction Régionale des Affaires Culturelles was intended to bring a designer and a craftsman together. Ronan came to Vallauris and visited
a number of studios. He was certainly attracted by the pieces that were in my studio. He asked me some questions, but he didn’t say anything to me. Then the project organizer called me up to say, ‘Mr Bouroullec would like to work with you.’
I’m a turner. My father, both my grandfathers and my great-grandfather were turners. Italian by origin, I arrived in Vallauris in 1964, at the age of thirteen. I’m the eldest of a family of seven children. My first school certificate was from Italy, and subsequently I went to school in France. I left six months later to take a three–year apprenticeship for my certificate as a ceramic turner. As there were a lot of children in my family, my father guided me towards a trade rather than into academic study. He was lucky that I liked it, and that I took it seriously. I served my apprenticeship with Saltamacchia, one of the biggest manufacturers in Vallauris. My father worked there as a kilnsman.
In 1974 I started up in my own right and began working to commission. Today I have clients all over the place, in France and even abroad. I also work a lot with Moustiers Sainte-Marie, a village of potters. Over the past few years I’ve stopped making multiples, and started specializing in single pieces.
Ronan worked with me throughout this project. He came perhaps six or seven times, during the weekend arriving on Thursday evening and staying until Sunday evening or Monday morning. We preferred weekends, when the mind
is calmer. Ronan came with sketches, including the one for the « Torique » jug. He was surprised to see me turning the form he’d designed in record time; it takes a quarter–of-an-hour, half-an-hour at most to make a bottle. You go through a sequence of different shapes, you widen it, you narrow it, before reaching the desired object. He was fascinated by the malleability of the material, the ease of working with the fingers, and all that gave him other ideas. Hand-turned pottery allows you to get close to the forms of any sketch, although it does get more difficult once you start moving away from rounded shapes.
I start by taking a mass of clay that depends on the size of the piece I want to make, turning the material with my hands until I’m getting close to the desired shape. I work with an electric wheel. Then I leave the piece to dry for twenty-four hours. Next comes the finish: I refine the base or I add it on, I make collages, I add some relief. Then I leave it to dry for between forty-eight and seventy-two hours.
After that I put the piece in the kiln that has been preheated for one or two hours to get rid of any moisture.
I fire it at 1000 degrees for between five-and-a-half to six hours, all depending on the load in the kiln at the time.
I leave it to cool for at least ten hours outside the kiln. After this first firing, the piece is called biscuit.
Then I apply the enamel: it’s a powder that comes straight from Limoges; I dilute, mix and apply it to the piece. Once the enamel has dried I fire it again, but for a shorter time than previously: four-and-a-half to five hours at between 960 and 990 degrees. I make pieces ranging in size from an egg cup, a candlestick or a thimble up to a piece measuring eighty centimetres or a metre: it could be a dish or a vase made in a number of pieces.
The objects designed by Ronan are more pointed than most of the objects that I usually make. It will never be possible to make them in large numbers, because of their shape. The spout of the jug, for example, took a lot of work: you have to open it up like a window and then do some gluing, some modelling. It’s quite pointed. We started with
a placemat, a kind of fairly thick doughnut. Then Ronan had the idea to hollow a trench into the thickness of the doughnut’s rim: that was the birth of the two-sided vase. Technically it’s fairly complex, particularly for the big model, because you have to ensure that the two sides have the same thickness. We made a coat hook, an oil lamp, a fruit bowl, a stool, a necklace: we couldn’t stop. Eventually we had to, because we were limited by the number of pieces. Otherwise the project wouldn’t have been accepted. We weren’t working for ourselves, but for a commission.
It was a fantastic experience. I love the purity of the lines, the forms. With my wheel I try to refine the shape, to get as close as possible to the original sketch, to apply the finishing touches. Sometimes you encounter a few technical problems, as with the double-sided vase. It was hard to get two sides of equal thickness and equal height, because the external side needed to have greater mass than the internal one. Then Ronan wanted matt and gloss enamels on the same piece, but when it came to firing it, a thermal shock was created in the kiln because the internal part of the vase was much colder than the outside, and when the temperature rose, the piece shattered. It took me a few months to solve the problem. But in the end the vases are perfect. I don't regret any of those difficulties, I've learned a lot.
What was very interesting was the exchange of knowledge. Both Ronan and myself were totally immersed in that project. We worked through osmosis. Ronan’s initial ideas evolved along with our collaboration. He consulted me, asked me if it was possible to do one thing or another. Sometimes we erased everything or went further, refining the form.
Working with Ronan is a pleasure. It’s always a joy to meet passionate people. My job allows me to earn my livelihood and I pursue it with passion – it’s the best thing you can do. And that’s rare.