It is a passion, working with clay, that drives Grégoire Scalabre. Both a sculptor and a teacher, he approaches ceramics with a new perspective that he reveals internationally, notably with his latest project at the Venetian exhibition, Homo Faber. Meeting with the artist.
1- Tell us about your first encounter with ceramics.
I had an unusual school career, because the educational model did not suit me. It is very young, at the age of 7, during a training course, that I discovered ceramics. At the age of 10 I knew I wanted to become a ceramist. I was lucky to have a family that helped and encouraged me towards this path. So, I went to the South to learn the trade from a ceramist before going on to higher education. It is a profession that I live with passion and that has completely built me.
2- How did you start sculpting?
Ceramic studies train us in the world of utilitarian pieces and not in creative development. I am, therefore, self-taught in drawing. It was when I entered a residency at the Manufacture de Sèvres in 2008 that I started sculpting and that my first accumulated piece, Astrée, was born. At that time, I was working on Haussmannian architecture. I was making curved sculptures inspired by Parisian interiors and moldings. With David Caméo, then director of the Cité de la Céramique, we agreed that I would carry out this research interlude on accumulation.
3- What is your process for creating your accumulations?
For Astrée and the accumulations that followed, I concentrated on the traditional technique of “clod turning,” a specific method where the upper part of a mass of clay is isolated to shape small forms – in this case, amphorae. It is a long and very meticulous work, because a piece such as Astrée is composed of more than 10,000 miniatures turned and then enameled!
4- You took up this work for your last project, The Ultimate Metamorphosis of Thetis, for the Homo Faber 2022 exhibition in Venice?
Yes, it was David Caméo, now the curator of Homo Faber, who contacted me to participate in the new edition. I immediately accepted because the place is prestigious and we had carte blanche for the production of the work. So, I took up the work of accumulation. It was a titanic work! First of all, with the help of assistants, I shot 70,000 miniatures that make up this 4m fiberglass and steel structure.2 And then by the composition which I facilitated the unfolding thanks to a system of Velcro to stick each miniature.
5- Besides the accumulations, you also work on Haussmannian architecture?
I like to work in phases. Focusing on the accumulations and then taking a break and starting another work. Over time, the Haussmann project became Mouvement Perpétuel. It is a more monumental work of modeling, which refers to torsion, concave, and convex forms. Here, I was able to play on the ambiguity of the material and thus blur the lines. One no longer knows whether the work is in marble or cast iron. For some pieces, I have, for example, used marble powder and skipped the enamel step. The pieces are just bisque fired, fired once, and therefore remain porous. I then sprayed several layers of marble powder on them, from light to dark shades, before sanding to remove the lighter layers. The pieces are then smeared, creating an effect of wear, of patina as seen on oxidized bronze.
6- Would you like to develop this project?
For this project, I would like to make the pieces evolve outdoors. The fact that they are only bisque allows them to change with the seasons and therefore to see vegetation appear, like a sculpture that would be draped in nature. I would also like to integrate my Akanta project started in 2010 in this interaction with nature. It is a ceramic crown work inspired by brambles.
7- You are a sculptor, but also a teacher. Is this an important role?
I’ve been dividing my time between teaching and producing sculptural pieces for 15 years. It’s something I really enjoy, a meeting with my students and an economic model. I wish to be able to convey this passion that drives me and, at the same time, take my time to produce my pieces and participate in exhibitions. Because ceramics is a work that I do for myself, to generate emotion and tell stories. I have therefore created modules that are aimed at people in retraining or professionals who can keep their professional activity, train in ceramics, and prepare the CAP. I am so grateful for this profession and passionate about it that I have an intrinsic desire to pass it on.