Earlier this year, at Atelier Vime’s exhibition during Paris Déco Off, artist Wayne Pate showed samples of ceramic murals that he’s able to custom create for our clients. It got us to thinking about ceramic murals in France and legendary ceramists like Roger Capron, Jean Derval and Robert Picault. Their workshop in Vallauris, l’Atelier Callis, was invigorating the southern city in the late 1940s, around the same time Picasso was also crafting ceramics in the region. While they may be more widely known for objects and tiled furniture, step foot into the nearby Cannes ferry terminal and you’ll see remnants of a sweeping ceramic mural Capron created for the facade in the 1950s. Or head over to Saint Tropez, where you can admire a sprawling floor mural that he and Derval installed at Hotel Byblos in the 1960s.
It's no surprise then that when French ceramist Olivia Cognet decided to return home from living in Los Angeles last year, it was Vallauris where she put down roots. But not just anywhere—the bright young artist purchased Capron’s former studio (watch the video tour here and you’ll spy a stoneware bas-relief he installed outside the front door). “I am a big fan his use of scale in ceramics and his huge architectural installations,” she says. Indeed, Cognet recently followed in Capron’s footsteps with an installation of her own at a hotel on the Côte d’Azure, left. Floating above a sprawling staircase at La Bastide de Saint-Topez, which reopens next month, the massive ceramic mural is in fact a series of small bas-relief pieces fit together like a puzzle. “Each one is like a small frame and not very heavy,” she says, so the wall did not need to be reinforced. The piece was chosen for the hotel by interior designer and JAG gallery owner, Jessica Barouch, who was charged with refreshing the public spaces during a recent renovation. Cognet designed the mural for JAG, drawing inspiration from those legendary ceramists of the French Riviera, along with the brutalist work of Italian sculptor and muralist, Costantino Nivola, who lived in the US during the mid-twentieth century.
Brutalism also inspired American ceramist Peter Lane, whose work can also be seen in Paris at The Hôtel de Crillon, and in the private suites of a handful of Chanel boutiques around the world (should you be so lucky). Recently, he was commissioned by designer Laura Gonzalez to create a bespoke mural, centre, for Cartier’s New York boutique—a c1905 mansion on Fifth Avenue. As the story goes, the building was swapped by its owner, Morton Plant, with Pierre Cartier, in exchange for a pearl necklace for Plant’s wife, and thus became the jewelry brand’s flagship boutique in 1917. Lane’s mural—a series of roughhewn clay panels glazed in porcelain white and dotted with golden orbs—harks back to Plant’s trade. “Part of my inspiration for the piece was the scattered pearls of the necklace. It’s a fun story and a beautiful evocation of the time,” he says. Equally inspiring was the idea of juxtaposing his modernist work in a historical setting. “My aesthetic motto is that everything beautiful goes together. There’s no sense in re-creating what’s past. Moving forward and making expression current is what matters. Everything was 'modern' in its day,” says Lane. Beyond these public-facing examples, Lane often works with architects and designers on private commissions. You can see the breadth of that work in his limited edition monograph, CLAY.
Continuing westward to Cognet’s former hometown of Los Angeles, designer Kelly Wearstler commissioned ceramist Ben Medansky to create a 40 foot long mural for the indoor pool at the Downtown LA Proper Hotel, right. Medansky, who is also influenced by brutalist architecture, referenced local motifs like tire treads, cacti and traffic signs in the work, abstracting them and piecing them together to create a modern montage. We also love the work of another Los Angeles ceramicist, Stan Bitters, whose projects for Wearstler, Studio Shamshiri and Commune are equally inspired.
Photographs: Matthieu Salvaing / La Bastide de Sant Tropez; Jeffrey Klapperich / Peter Lane; The Ingalls / Downtown LA Proper Hotel