Guy Ba­reff.


This has got to be one of the best re­dis­co­ve­ries of the last twen­ty or thir­ty years. Guy Ba­reff’s clay sculp­tures ear­ned him quite a big fol­lo­wing in the 70s, to­day he is dra­wing new ad­mi­rers by rein­ter­pre­ting the vi­sual vo­ca­bu­la­ry of his pre­vious work from a contem­po­ra­ry stand­point.

It is the end of an im­por­tant per­iod and the start of a whole new one: Guy Ba­reff is lea­ving Baux-de-Pro­vence, where he was in re­si­dence for five years and mo­ving in­to a lar­ger stu­dio, one that is bet­ter sui­ted to his cur­rent, pro­li­fic, crea­tive ac­ti­vi­ty. We went to meet him where it all be­gan. It’s a unique sto­ry and the man him­self is tru­ly fas­ci­na­ting. You could say that Guy Ba­reff has li­ved se­ve­ral lives, but for him it is the cur­rent one that gives him the grea­test sa­tis­fac­tion and fee­ling of ful­filment. “Inau­gu­ra­ting my new stu­dio in May was real­ly im­por­tant to me”, he confides “be­cause the kind of pieces I am crea­ting

now, these ar­chi­tec­tu­ral pieces, be­gan back in May 1968 with a first ex­hi­bi­tion in Mar­seille. That was 50 years ago.” When he was a child, Guy Ba­reff wan­ted to be an ar­chi­tect. He used to spend all his free time dra­wing houses, ho­we­ver his ce­ra­mi­cist fa­ther had a dif­ferent idea and obli­ged Guy to leave school and come to work with him. The ac­ti­vi­ty was more de­co­ra­tive and uti­li­ta­rian than ar­tis­tic, but al­though Guy didn’t real­ly think much of the whole idea, he was im­me­dia­te­ly ta­ken with the wheel and the phy­si­cal contact with the clay. “There’s so­me­thing ma­gi­cal about crea­ting a shape from a ball of clay. I found I real­ly en­joyed it. It gave me a feel for the tac­tile that I still find use­ful to­day. And I conti­nued sket­ching things just for fun, wi­thout rea­li­sing that in fact I was dra­wing what my life would la­ter be­come.”

The ar­chi­tec­ture of life

One day, Guy made a ce­ra­mic ba­sed on a photo of a shell, using plas­ter ins­tead of clay. “I like shells. They are ar­chi­tec­tu­ral: a house with an ani­mal li­ving in­side. One day, I saw this photo of a poin­ty shell ta­ken from above. It loo­ked like the sun. It was as if light was co­ming out of the shell and that’s where I got the idea for this piece. I put it on the

wall and it was a re­ve­la­tion.” Ad­mi­ra­tion, praise and en­cou­ra­ge­ments fol­lo­wed. More crea­tions, the first ex­hi­bi­tions, trade shows… and suc­cess. In the 70s, Ba­reff ex­hi­bi­ted in va­rious gal­le­ries and com­ple­ted international com­mis­sions for luxu­ry ho­tels as well as pri­vate vil­las. He had in­ven­ted an ar­chi­tec­tu­ral ap­proach, a way of pla­cing a concea­led source of light in his ultra sculp­tu­ral sto­ne­ware crea­tions. The light was dif­fu­sed, whil­st illu­mi­na­ting the ob­ject it­self. A mar­vel. “I star­ted ma­king illu­mi­na­ted sculp­tures be­cause of my in­te­rest in ar­chi­tec­ture. To my mind, these pieces had to create a fee­ling of mys­te­ry and an in­ti­mate at­mos­phere, be­cause a buil­ding’s in­ter­ior is part of our pri­vate life.” And then life took over. Ma­ny years went by. The sculp­tor tur­ned to other ac­ti­vi­ties—pain­ting, mu­sic, theatre, wri­ting and yo­ga. It was on­ly some ten years ago that the ad­ven­ture be­gan once more, when a gal­le­rist and an­tique dea­ler duo spe­cia­li­sing in pieces from the 50s and 60s bought a red ear­then­ware lamp by an ar­tist they had ne­ver heard of. Ma­ny months went by be­fore Hé­lène Bré­hé­ret and Ben­ja­min De­prez ma­na­ged to fi­nal­ly track down Guy and se­ve­ral more be­fore the sculp­tor be­gan ma­king his sculp­tu­ral lights again. That was 5 years ago.

Raw ar­chi­tec­ture

“From a tech­ni­cal point of view, bis­cuit is the term used in ce­ra­mics for un­gla­zed clay that has been fi­red once”, Guy ex­plains. “I use bis­cuit be­cause I like this ma­te­rial and the way light soft­ly re­flects off it. It’s won­der­ful - my crea­tions al­most seem to be made from stone.” His sculp­tures are like small ar­chi­tec­tu­ral construc­tions, both in their ins­pi­ra­tion and the way they are made. “I draw eve­ry­thing. Each of my works is first drawn to scale. My sketches pro­vide a permanent source of re­fe­rence, first be­cause that’s the way I work and then for the ac­tual pro­duc­tion pro­cess when a life-size dra­wing is ne­ces­sa­ry to create the vo­lumes. I do se­ve­ral dra­wings just like an ar­chi­tect— plans and ele­va­tions—and so­me­times I even build a clay or plas­ter mo­del, es­pe­cial­ly when the piece is a bit com­plex, just to make sure.” And then Guy mo­dels his sculp­ture, laying out sheets of clay that he has left to firm up for ea­sier hand­ling. He then cuts them using tem­plates he makes him­self and as­sembles the va­rious pieces, sha­ping the form and brin­ging it to­ge­ther, using moulds and crea­ting curves. It’s as if he

were buil­ding a house. “Wor­king li­fe­size has been use­ful for lots of crea­tions as it en­ables me to see where I am going, what I want and what I don’t want and iden­ti­fy the dif­fe­rences with my pre­vious pro­duc­tion in the 70s and 80s. I have rea­li­sed that I want my shapes to be much more as­ser­tive, clear­ly de­si­gned and de­tai­led and that to achieve that I have to fi­nish them off with sand­pa­per. This was a ma­jor change, just as was using cha­motte.” Dis­con­cer­tin­gly simple in ap­pea­rance, his works are ac­tual­ly the fruit of a ca­re­ful­ly control­led pro­cess. In­deed his mas­te­ry is tru­ly mind­blo­wing when you rea­lise the sheer amount of com­plex ope­ra­tions that goes in­to ma­king each piece, as well as the trials and tri­bu­la­tions that come with wor­king with clay and fi­ring in the kiln. Ac­cor­ding to Hé­lène Bré­hé­ret and Ben­ja­min De­prez (from Ga­le­rie Des­prez-Bre­he­ret that has ex­clu­sive re­pre­sen­ta­tion):“The ob­ject it­self is so in­trin­si­cal­ly beau­ti­ful and well de­si­gned that it is at home in wide va­rie­ty of lo­ca­tions, from tren­dy ho­tels and New York in­ter­iors to Hauss­man­nian apart­ments and ho­li­day homes on the Ba­lea­ric Is­lands” To­day Ba­reff pro­duces his unique pieces, to­tems and illu­mi­na­ted sculp­tures on a ve­ry small scale in li­mi­ted se­ries of 1-10 num­be­red pieces

P. 56

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