“Choses de flot et de mer” Connaissance des Arts
Sèvres-Cité de la céramique
FLOTSAM AND JETSAM
CONNAISSANCE DES ARTS
October 2008, number 4
NECKLACES FROM THE SEA
A successful partnership between the talents of Annabelle d’Huart and the Manufacture de Sèvres: a unique encounter between an artist who has finally found herself and an aged lady in the process of reinventing herself. Location: 107Rivoli, Paris.
The Manufacture of Sèvres has had the wisdom to add the discovery of a diverse and unusual group of new artists to the vast and irreplaceable examples of its workmanship, and to stick with them long enough for them to explore their full potential and become brilliantly proficient in porcelain, a medium that can prove difficult to master!
This is how Annabelle d’Huart’s atypical collection of three hundred original small pieces in porcelain came into being, with as many colors as there are types of pebbles, shellfish, corals, starfish or fossils left by the backwash on the sand. Delicately constructed, these mini-sculptures, whose tints the process of firing have made as shimmering as those of the ocean depths, have been structured into fluidly mobile, asymmetrical necklaces.
Annabelle d’Huart has alwys been considered as having a nimble touch, as well as a wealth of genuine—though elusive—talent. Working daily for a year at the Manufacture de Sèvres, acquiring a familiarity with the complications of the company’s techniques and stages of production, has completely transformed her into an artist with a rigorous approach, a humble sense of patience and a more radical inventiveness. This has entailed a year of research, a year of on-the-job training, a year spent in libraries reading scientific works and literary texts, drawing and photographing. A year spent in accomplishing this enormously ambitious project, co-produced with 107 Rivoli, the decorative arts store. Annabelle d’Huart has attempted to embody the colossal energy of the sea in objects of art, to transform the sea’s work at wearing away into a work of construction and smithing, into the work of a sculptor, to put it briefly. To succeed in expressing this force and this subtlety in miniature form, she had to use fragile, brittle porcelain, which was later to be subjected to a tyrannical furnace, creating the colorings she wanted. And then, at the very end, she had to rearrange these hundreds of small pieces, each different from the other, into the framework of a puzzle for which she alone possessed the key.
Accepting that things will break.
A year to learn patience, the humility to understand the space of time needed to develop a work, but accepting that things might break, as well, knowing how to “recapture the form” at the workshop for “repair,” where you recover what the fire has melted away. One day, in the space of a minute, she lost twelve pieces that had taken four months of preparation. As a consequence, she learned to keep mistakes in mind, to anticipate difficulties and make them a part of the process, to accept the hazards of chance, to organize the chronology of firings, to become satisfied with the slowness of certain rhythms, to become resigned to being dependent, to concentrate for a very long time, but often to make decisions on the spot. Excellently supported by all the players in the Manufacture enterprise, Annabelle d’Huart also realized that each step in this huge collective task was a step toward solidarity. Everything was held together like a great chain, like the links in a necklace… exactly like the depths of that ocean that so fascinated her within its mysterious abysses, where the secret of life was hiding, and the infinitely large could be found in the infinitely small. From this experience was born her desire to interpret the fusion between sea and earth, those two elemental matrixes: the sea, mother of life, and the clay that contains and nourishes it; both matrixes, both “wombs.” The form itself is the foundation, the nucleus of work at Manufacture. Without a mold for casting, there is no porcelain object.
The sea is the great sculptor of the universe. Helped by the wind, the sun, the moon, the rain, its ebb and flow as well as its immobility, it hollows, wrinkles, polishes, drains or eats away, swallows or disposes of everything that exists. In its lap, form and formlessness are constantly engaged in battle. The “mysteriously adjusted deformities,” or that “monstrous grace” mentioned by Victor Hugo, have, among other sources, inspired Annabelle d’Huart, who, in her rereading of Les Travailleurs de la mer (The Toilers of the Sea), created a perfect polish in the tradition of Brancusi just as effectively as she did the bristling velvet of a sea anemone or the lunar, phosphorescent suction pads of an octopus. She has succeeded in rediscovering these sensual textures, these pearly skins, as well as the pitted and crackled coarseness, the stringy oakum of old ropes or the gelatinous sheen of certain kinds of kelp.
The infinite variety of the enamel work at Manufacture has allowed us to recover old colors that have been forgotten by the ceramicists, but d’Huart has also dared, defied and invented, sometimes departing from tradition, or reinterpreting it differently. The result is remarkable. Exceptional. Whether you like her jewelry or not, each small sculpture is an esthetic, as well as a technical, stroke of inspiration. The colorings obtained for this little world of shells, corals, stars, horn, sponges, straps—every blunted and tender form, but also those that are wild and sometimes more aggressive—are a marvel, especially in the light of day,
or, as is the case for the pearls, on the skin. The porcelain, which has a reputation for coldness, possesses, in every way, an incredible subtlety. It radiates. It shimmers, changing the luminescence of its tones, going from Matisse blue to Nile green, from the tints of moss to those of the olive, from Chinese celadon to Persian turquoises, from coral to ebony, from garnet to emerald, from dark purples and cassis to eggshell beige and the grays of undergrowth, from gold to silver, from glassy to silky, from lobed to blistered. An endless delight. Annabelle was born under the sign of Pisces, and as a child, she was as hungry for colors as she was for candy… It’s not surprising that she found the secret of these forms, substances and shades that inhabit the waves and the seas. With the ease and grace of the mermaids, she has adorned the skin of the women who remain on dry land.
Above, top: Homage to Miró, pebbles, 9 copies.
Opposite, left: detail of the necklace Lenticular Cells.
Opposite, right: one of the pendants from Fleurs de grève (Shore Flowers), which grow on floating wood; green, blue, gray (high-temperature firing); (all fired at 1000 °C), linen, white gold, 7 copies.
Right-hand page: detail from the necklace Flotsam (high-temperature firing).
P. 84: Poisson Moires (Moiré Fish). Stenciling Technique: using a piece of transparent paper onto which the lines of the drawing have been copied, then transferred to porcelain, the painter hand paints the decoration in freehand.
Above: the somewhat forgotten technique of reticulation used on one of the openwork earrings from Les Noctiluques (The Noctilucae), fireflies from the depths of the sea. This work requires great delicacy: One must draw, then incise, each alveolus on an extremely fragile paste that will next be painted by hand.
P. 85: above: collection from Les Poissons Vagues, ou la fluidité d’une ligne ininterrompue (Waves Fishes, or The Fluidity of an Uninterrupted Line). In homage to Matisse, biscuit porcelain, gold, and gold chains.