The Flowers of Romance
Words and photographs Johanna Tagada
French artist Cécile Daladier combines her love of flora and ceramics to create delicate vases from her retreat in Southern France. ‘It is key to create, observe, listen… and mostly do,’ she says…
Musician-turned-artist Cécile Daladier has increasingly dedicated her work to combining her twin loves of pottery and gardening – or in her words, ‘the creation of vases and singular objects all linked to the botanical world’. Based in the isolated region of Drôme in southern France, Daladier cultivates her plants while shaping and firing the ceramic pieces to place them in.
For her recent appearance at the London Design Festival at the invitation of Norfolk-based gallery and studio The Cold Press, Daladier and her husband, the architect Nicolas Soulier, took a morning walk in the neighbourhood of Brick Lane – adjacent to their exhibition space at the Old Truman Brewery – to gather local urban flora to present as part of her show. In the backstreets of East London the duo – alongside Kate Lawrence, co-founder of The Cold Press – garnered Achillea millefolium, thistle and gramineae among other plants. Daladier then arranged the flowers in the single vases created for the occasion.
Over the past five months in her studio in Drôme, Daladier had created these pieces, along with a series she named Trompettes after the inspiration she had gleaned from the baroque music of Henry Purcell. It is clear from her approach and the way in which she presents her work that an appreciation of the elements, of water and the wild indigenous plants of southern France is required to understand her practice fully…
How has the use of different media developed in your work?
I see creation as a path, and flowers have been one of my major sources of inspiration. Flowers are subjects of wonder, there is a universal language surrounding them – different histories and interpretations, both tender and tragic.
I create with what surrounds me. When living in Paris [until 1990], I was painting on canvas, then for 10 years we lived in the South of France where I initiated outside works making my Capteurs pieces, which are landscape installations. On returning to Paris, I needed this nature at home, despite having no garden, so together with Nicolas we designed window boxes and garden mirrors to welcome plants inside. This project had more of a relation to architecture and design overall and soon afterwards I decided I wanted to make these vessels not in metal and glass but with my own hands. I was drawn to clay, as this material carries creation, life, and is appropriate to water. So in 2007 I asked someone who taught children’s ceramic classes for advice: I learned the basics and then simply started by myself.
Over the years – and with the help and guidance of a neighbour who was a former student of the great ceramist Camille Virot – I developed a line of work composed of raku technique. Later we built a wood-fired kiln outside my studio in Drôme.
Overall in my practice I have trusted myself and been confident that I would find the path to make what I wanted to make. It was clear to me that I wanted to create vases considering flowers; tulipiers for tulips, violettiers for violets, roseliers for roses and so on.
While some might be obsessed by technique and precision, you seem to be more concerned with achieving balance in your pieces. Can you tell us a bit more about the process of making your vases?
The material I work with is mostly faïence, which I source from Bermann in Paris. In regards to the glazes, I prepare these myself. The making of the vases is rather a slow process, which I enjoy – one needs to be patient about the results.
Sometimes I do preparative drawings on paper. Then comes the preparation of the material, getting all the air out. This is the moment during which the relation with clay starts: the medium has to answer, and let itself conduct, while I also have to pay attention to what the material itself suggests. By moments our relation is confrontational – this is when it is important not to give up. In fact, I cannot give up! All these feelings – to be angry, disappointed – are essential to be lived and experienced. With regard to creation, I think if one is open to receive, one can learn from life and take personal initiatives.
Since this work can be physically demanding, at different periods of the day I also make other little things with various mediums such as textiles. The atelier is a space of experimentation where I am constantly nurtured by my surroundings and welcoming of what comes to me there: I experience the wind, the plants and the birds.
‘My vases empty are sculptures. Once in contact with flowers and water, they are alive’
I’m interested in how your works aren’t simply complete when fired: how the foraging for flowers and the consideration of the levels of water in your vessels are also relevant and important processes in your work…
My vases empty are sculptures. Once in contact with flowers and water, they are alive. They are rooted in daily life and movements as they are constantly in presence of motion; the light turns, changes, the petals fall, the perfumes themselves modify naturally – hereby what is offered to view is changing. This is a metaphor for the different stages of life; to look at them is to look at our existence.
The composition of the bouquet is a key step; I give myself a huge liberty, as I do not feel I belong to a floral school. I think with very little one can compose and be in relation with nature.
How do people react to your pieces?
People at times say my vases are too small. But you have to notice; I use tiny flowers such as the violet. Its perfume is incredibly strong and its colour is so vivid. I believe such flowers deserve vases too.
Your installation offers a tranquil and solitary moment. How have you developed this approach?
Being 62 years old, life in general and having children has taught me patience, calm, curiosity and perseverance. I learned that one should not try to attempt to understand and know it all. It is key to create, observe, listen… and mostly do. My approach is rather minimal – so are the colours in my works: white, beige…
You have worked in close relation with nature for a long time and live in a rural house in the mountains of Drôme – how does your daily life influence your projects?
It has been a very big change, to move from Paris to Drôme. My husband and I bought this old farm that was in ruins 30 years ago and have been restoring it over the years while living in cities. I learnt that solitude can sharpen certain acuity: there are no surrounding habitants and the village is five kilometres away. My relation to time changed too. Being here, I experience the darkness of the nights, the extreme cold of the winter. Living in this place has also been an experience of self-trust: to not be afraid and remain confident.
My curious nature is nurtured here – and I am open to experiment further. Recently I gathered some indigenous clay from around our home, washed it and started working with this material. Small vessels the size of my hands began to form – naturally I started digging small bowls. These works have something raw; they have cracks and their own mind. It is wild soil, which is impossible to domesticate – I cannot put water in these pieces. I respected this ‘un-functional’ nature and worked on them for hours, after which they started shining.
The Cold Press commissioned Johanna Tagada to produce this series of photographs to record the installation of Cécile Daladier’swork as part of the London Design Festival. Daladier’s new pieces will be exhibited at The Cold Press Gallery in 2018; ceciledaladier.com; thecoldpress.com