Claude Champy wants and claims to be a potter having continuously
privileged the clay material and wanting to maintain a relationship
with the common-use object; however, he has become more and more involved
as a sculptor in that material, growing distant from the initial form
of the daily-use object. Champy entertains a body-to- body relationship
with clay; he kneads it, mixes it, folding it intensely again and
again in order to capture individual forms.
These forms do not come without fights, twists, conflicts, and even
some violence exerted by the artist against himself and against the
material in his quest for unknown territories. His aim, indeed, is
to give birth to forms elaborated on bases, always renewed, and yet,
paradoxically, relatively constant. Hence, the name we give them:
matrices. They mainly include bowls, vases, urns, dishes, balls, square
or rectangular boxes, and are put into shape and realised in successive
forms retain the imprint of the folding, torsion and violence exerted,
producing embossing, tearing, cracks, grooves and furrows, which contribute
to the structure and the texture of the surface. The artist refuses
the abstraction of a structure which would evoke the informal or the
anti-form as a result of a simple game or in randomly accumulating
or piling up matter.
Preferring the relative objectivity of the link with his initial form,
his aim is definitely not to produce variations of a known object
but to start his creative process from a guiding line in order to
look for a form possessing a framework which will become singular.
Hence, the name ‘form-objects’ we give to these creations.
These works started acquiring further freedom and expressive strength
when the artist devised a double-casing technique; he has gradually
moved sideways, both at the form level and in his way of leaving the
imprint of his hands on the material.
Since the mid-’90s, Champy’s approach has enabled him
to create a new form, the mural panel, which is now distinct from
the aspect of a form-object. It is made of several slabs, placed side
by side in groups of two or four, and forming a single set. There,
Champy distances himself from the form-object connected to the horizontal
to tackle the verticality of the wall. This new practice, as we describe
it, enhances the importance of the body-to-body relationship with
the material and the glaze on the planar surface. This approach also
provides the artist with an opening to the monumental.
This work on which Champy is concentrated opens to him a field of
possibilities he has not finished exploring. His research of the maximum
dimensions possible is another feature of this work and it is present
in most of the forms he has made. He keeps striving to take as many
risks as he can to reach for the limits of the possibilities of-fered
by the material and the forms.
Claude Champy entertains a body-to-body relationship with the glazing
process as well; indeed, his various glazes, contained in different
vats, are not applied with the hand or a brush, but thrown on the
structure. This set of gestures implies a dynamics involving the whole
body and leaves its mark on the surface to produce the effect expected.
However, submitting a piece of work to the fire introduces an uncertainty
or random factor that is included in the technique used, as revealed
by the overlapping of glazes which sometimes may not have been wanted,
and by the pouring and dripping of the glaze.
After firing, the piece takes on a rather pale hue, most often pink
or blue, with variations on the surface that stand out against a white
background and is scattered with flat intense blacks which contribute
to its structure. That surface is covered with lines that appear in
the form of multiple stripes and dots produced by the liquid dripping
or by salt oxidation. It conveys the feeling of the core of a mineral
world, without yet raising the impression to see reproduced the forces
of chaos. The set of gestures involved in the creation of that surface
does not allow any confusion: according to the terms of the philosopher
Gilles Deleuze, the artist holds his territory, exhibiting a surface
that contains an authentic singularity.
following its evolution, this work appears to be more and more animated
by flows of energy and forces of differentiation. Sure enough, the
artist has acquired a heightened relationship with his clay material,
a greater freedom in his practice of glaze application, a more intense
knowledge of the relationships of his forms and glazes with fire,
but all this cannot entirely account for that work’s development.
The concepts borrowed both from Gilles Deleuze, the sculptural strength,
and from Jacques Derrida, the differentiating operative function,
shed insights on that work. The processing form together with the
style of glazing seem indeed to have become a forming strength endowed
with several features.
The dynamics emerging from these works evokes what Deleuze has called
“a muscular conception of the material which generates springs
everywhere”; indeed, we gradually feel a greater sensitivitye
to the energy spread by Champy up to the point it triggers the feeling
we open to a breach in the opaqueness of appearances; he leaves the
imprint of the vibration of the muscle torturing the material, and
of the gesture involving the whole body while applying the glaze.
This energy infused in matter is so present that we can qualify it
as organic. That sculptural strength has also a relationship with
flesh, with sensuality, as it seems to spark off a form belonging
to a space of desire; the artist manages to convey some of the feelings
he experiences while decorating his works; their imprints can be perceived
in the stripes and furrows preserved on the surface skin. Furthermore,
that plastic strength asserts itself in the force lines present in
the artist's structures; it results from an operative mode based on
the organisation of the force lines that constitute the form-objects.
One can see a confrontation at work, a tension between horizontality
Each piece possesses a predominantly horizontal or vertical axis,
and yet we can perceive a resistance of the opposite axis in all of
them. This work of transversality appears also in the gestural result
of the glaze on the surface. Lines, black flat tints, vertical or
horizontal according to the piece, run across or down it, but that
dominance is always counterbalanced by other lines and flat tints
running in the opposite way, which create an opposite tension; as
well they contribute to the structure of the tension inherent in the
work. Finally, the singular colour of the glaze provides a specific
light which renders the space palpable. This light is present through
the contrasts between the flat tints of intense blacks, the background
most often white with the different variations of hues scattered over
the surface. On one same structure, these contrasts produce blocks
of colour-lights crossed by ridges which, in turn, yield waves of
This plastic strength generates a fermentation, a breathing such
as it seems to carry vibrations. Using Paul Klee’s idea, what
emerges is “an in-between world where one doesn’t talk
and can’t see, but where one works”. Thus, the greater
the dimensions of the structures the artist confronts, such as those
of the mural panels, the more assertive that strength.
In addition, the artist has managed to produce a differentiating operative
function in each series created as well performing at the levels both
of form and of the glaze structuring the surface. He keeps managing
to escape into diversions from known territories in his quest for
interactions of forms and glaze surfaces. That differentiating operating
function acts while maintaining a coherence that allows the singular
identity of the work to be recognised.
Champy successfully achieves those transgressions insofar as he has
imposed on himself constraints and lines of research, while allowing
a potential of randomness to take place in the effect of fire over
the tensions given to form, as well as over the practice of glaze
overlapping. Thereby Claude Champy offers us the work of a sculptor
endowed with a singular sculptural strength and differentiating operative
function. This singularity in his work drew our attention as early
as in the 1980s, when he was awarded the Suntory Prize in Japan.
These features evoke those of two artists of the preceding generation
who have marked their fields, ceramics and painting, respectively:
Peter Voulkos in his relationship in folding and clay material, and
Jackson Pollock in his use of pouring colour.
Arnauld de L'Epine is a writer on the arts and a
collector, living in Paris. Translated from French by Marie-France
Desjeux, Fresnes (France). Photographs by Cecile Champy. Claude Champy's
new works, together with those of Bernard Dejonghe (France) are exhibited
at Gallery b 15 in Munich from November 23 to December 19, 2003, and
at Gallery Sarver in Paris from February 12 to March 13, 2004.