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February 17th 2023
Jean-Pierre Thibaudat
journalist, writer, art advisor
Mediapart subscriber

In Daniel Pontoreau's dialogued artworks

"Avant le paysage", an exhibition of artworks by sculptor and ceramist Daniel Pontereau, magnificently staged at the major ceramics centre in La Louvière, Belgium, has just opened.

Daniel Pontoreau Mediapart Galerie Berthet Aittouarès

arche noire © jpt

"I can take any empty space and call it a stage. Someone walks through that empty space while someone else observes, and that's all it takes for the act of theatre to be initiated." These words, taken from The Empty Space, Peter Brook's most famous, most translated and most influential book, do not appear on the front of a theatre, but are displayed at the heart of an exhibition by a sculptor practising ceramics: Daniel Pontoreau. His exhibition Avant le paysage, bringing together artworks from recent decades, has just opened at Keramis, a major ceramics center in La Louvière, Belgium. This museum, with over ten thousand artpieces in its reserves, adjoins the former Boch factory, some of whose gigantic bottle kilns have been preserved.


Daniel Pontoreau may have designed a number of exciting sets for the Kilina Crémona dance company in the past, and enjoys going to the theatre, but he is not an insider. Nonetheless, his artworks establish strong dialogues between materials, and his exhibitions are an art of staging.


Arche noire, one of the first rooms, sets the tone: forming an imposing arch of black sandstone, an assembly of eight blocks with a slightly striated surface. Underneath, a circle of tiny, shapeless white porcelain heaps is laid out on the floor, like a gathering of watchers. There is no assigned meaning to this or any other scenography, no symbolism, but a dialogue between forms and materials that will be found throughout the exhibition.


For example, the combination of terracotta and porcelain, is present here in Pierre étoilée (2014) and there in Froissée (2020). Petite montagne et fil blanc (1981) is a beautiful dialogue between a mass of very dark terracotta and, flirting with the curvature of its shape, the curve of a light, airy white cotton thread whose sides are lost in the air. Further on, near the old bottle kilns, two long columns with similar shapes, standing side by side, form Deux pièces faciles (2018), a dialogue between stoneware, porcelain and glazed terracotta. Elsewhere, in close proximity to other pieces, Deux formes (2017) combines stoneware and refractory clay between two forms, one straight, as if at attention, streaked with vertical lines, the other, of the same height, more opaque, all curves.

Paysage © jpt

Another story unfolds between Paysage horizon (2017), refractory clay and porcelain, Paysage (2021), stoneware and porcelain and Avant le paysage (2022), stoneware and slip. These three artworks (and there are others) range from the ochre of the perimeter or sub-base to the white that dominates the heart, and are pierced by a narrow gap, a gash. This is where the story of their enigma begins, inviting us to wander. The beauty of the hollow appears as an inner movement without anything moving, a call. "I distance myself from anything that can make an image, that is to say anything that fixes things in a single interpretation", insists Daniel Pontoreau, a sentence that could be applied to the acting of the greatest stage actors. "Nothing calms me down more than the idea of landscape," adds the artist. In fact, a stroll through his exhibition is both soothing and deepening.


In the book published for the occasion of this major exhibition, after quoting Paul Klee ("art removes the sting from the eyes"), his friend, the ceramist Philippe Godderidge writes: "Daniel Pontoreau's work shows us the sacredness of common places. A stroke of light and a few stones are enough to create solemnity. Nothing in these sculptures is sophisticated. Nothing is spectacular. In contrast to the chatter, the silence is earthy, the sand warm. Here, it is calm that surrounds us, punctuated by the presence of works heavy with material and meaning. And yet there is little glaze and few colours. It's a far cry from decor. Attached to the roughness, the softness barely comes from the traces of a kaolin yellowed by the fire. A few small pieces of feldspar are enough to make the stones precious. Beauty finds its geological quality in a limited range of colours decided by the kiln". There's no better way to put it. Such as these Griffures (2020, 2022) in refractory clay, the fruit of stays in Japan.


Daniel Pontoreau, Avant le paysage , exhibition at Kéramis (La Louvière, Belgium, 200 m from the station), centre de la céramique de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, until 20 August 2023. Bilingual French-English catalogue published by Prisme Editions.

Jean-Pierre Thibaudat

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