Cybele Beaudoin is another Canadian ceramic artist doing interesting things with a lighter, more lyrical tone. (What’s with all the Canadian creativity? Is there something in the water?)
Cybele describes herself as a 30-year old French Canadian and a full-time ceramic artist for almost 4 years. She works at home in her small studio (in her garage) in a very urban area in Montréal, Québec. Cybele studied ceramics at Bonsecours Ceramic Center in Montreal
Cybele completed a 3-year intensive technical program at Bonsecours offered by the provincial government, leading to a post-secondary degree. She also has a university degree (BAC) in communications, a field she worked in before making the leap to ceramics.
“I was always drawn to surface decorations,” Cybele says. “Ornamentation takes a big place in my work as much as in my speech about it. I address pattern as a form of visual communication through functional art. I work with patterns from my French Canadian cultural heritage (quilting, candy molds, Popular TV show openings credits, etc.) and transpose them into my ceramics. Each collection is the result of an endless amount of variations on the same theme and all the pieces are one of a kind (i.e., different).”
JW: You say, “I do not seek perfection in the form. I like weirdness and ambiguity.” I really see this in some of your tripod pieces. Do you consciously push your forms further and further toward “weird” and “ambiguous”?
CB: In fact, it’s the heat that makes the legs bend and sometimes gives the tripods the appearance of a living insect. I know that a certain leg’s length will provoke a curve. It’s both random and wanted at the same time! There is a part of randomness in ceramics that is always present and it makes it such a painful material to work with but also very fascinating and exciting at the same time.
I stopped throwing my pieces on the wheel this year to push the organic look of the shapes a little more. I want to get as far as possible from industrial aesthetics, straight lines and perfect geometry. I also have more fun making my shapes like that and this is an important aspect to consider in manual work! The gold, the elaborate ornamentation and the porcelaneous clay give a little “princess” touch to my pieces which contrasts with my sometimes rough and weird shapes. Nothing consensual really exists but yes, I like to work with ambiguity because it brings out the particular, the uncanny.
JW: What attracted you to ceramics?
CB: Handicrafts have always attracted me. I’m an object lover. When I was little, my grandparents took me to decorative arts museums and I remember that I wanted to become a glassblower. I was fascinated by quilt designs, jewelry, and wooden miniature circus.
Studying communications at university was a more rational and safe choice for me but at the same time, I was taking evening classes in jewelry. Once an adult, with diploma on hand, I had enough courage to follow my heart. I enrolled in ceramics on a whim, as I had never made a pot of my life! Clay was a material that attracted me because of its large potential. At the time, I was working for an environmental organization and I was reading a lot about fermentation and vermicomposting. In my head, I was going to reinvent the fermentation jar and create a vermicomposting pot. I didn’t do any of that but I fell in love with ceramics!
JW: Have you explored other art forms?
CB: Before ceramics, creation has always been part of my life. My twin sister is an author and my parents were visual artists when I was little. However, my relationship with the art world is ambiguous mainly because I have very bad memories of that time in my life. So I have always approached projects with an artistic twist while simultaneously rejecting the art world. Choosing ceramics was maybe, in a way, a rejection too. Now an adult and a mom, I am surrounded by artists in my life and have accepted who I am. I also think that ceramics is a valid art practice. I don’t have an academic degree in arts but that doesn’t stop me from creating art!
This year, I had the chance to make murals and transpose my patterns on large surfaces. My life partner is an illustrator and he helps me a lot with those projects. I would like to continue exploring painting but clay remains my favorite medium.
I am a material girl and love working with different media haha!
Last month, I played with beeswax and caste ceramic models to make sculptural candles.
An example is shown to the right.
Right now, I have the chance to do an art residency around ornamentation in my city. It keeps me awake and curious. I think that creation is not limited to one material, but I am profoundly interested in the everyday object and a pot is such a democratic and accessible artistic device! It remains my favorite form of art mediation!
JW: You say, “I create functional art for daily rituals. My work explores pop culture and patterns from my French-Canadian cultural heritage.” Can you tell me more about your sources of inspiration?
CB: I consider ornamentation as a second raw material in my work. (In a sense, the pot is also an « ornament of domestic life » ) I therefore work with patterns that I find in Quebec popular culture and in my immediate environment. I transpose them on my ceramics. It can be an old woven blanket, a quilt, an iron fence, etc.
For example, I live in a neighborhood with an industrial past that has been destroyed by globalization. There used to be a lot of food processing industries, mainly candy and cookies factories! I found beautiful patterns on a candy mold from one of those factories that I transposed on my ceramics. I like the idea that these designs not only have a second life, but that they were part of my grandparents’ daily life!
Decorative elements are part of our lives and the « material » l find around me is infinite! Also, patterns are a form of communication that transcends cultures and has always been part of humanity. Humans adorn their environment as a way to make a space their own. Everyone is able to understand what a triangle, a circle, a square is. They are visual elements that connect us to others. In the western world, ornamentation is often seen as something that is meaningless and superfluous, for me it’s just the opposite.
JW: Is this an example of the Fanfreluche TV credits that some of your work references?
CB: Yes exactly! Fanfreluche was a very well know TV show here in Quebec originally broadcast in the sixties and seventies. Here’s an example of a pot made referencing this TV show:
JW: Many of your decorative designs seem very closely connected with childhood and childhood wonder. Is that on purpose?
CB: That’s interesting because I’ve never really thought about this. I paint my patterns without really wanting perfect straight lines, there’s a kind of naivety in it, yes. I want something accessible and simple. I use a lot of colors and contrasts and this is also associated with childhood since children are attracted to that visually. I also love playfulness. I love to think about my mugs as little clowns or candies. Life can be rough so why should a mug be serious?
JW: Can you “take me through” one of your pieces? Do you start with a clear idea, perhaps even a sketch, or is your process more spontaneous? What types of decisions do you make along the way?
CB: I always start a series of pieces with a pattern in mind. I try to define some variations of the pattern on paper before adapting it to cylindrical and circular shapes. Then, I select a color palette with light and dark colors. I try to limit myself to a maximum of 6-7 different shades. For some reason, candy pink and deep black are two colors that have always been present in my collections.
I then use a water carving technique to paint the skeleton of the design on my pieces. (Water carving is a technique usually performed on bone dry wares. A water resist material, most commonly shellac, is painted to the surface of the pot. The design is revealed only after the ware is wiped with a sponge. It creates a very fine relief surface as a layer of clay is wiped in the process.) This technique allows me to have a base design composed of an amalgam of different colors, different opacities that give depth, gradients, speckled patterns, etc. Once it is done, I add touches of color by painting in the negative spaces of the design. I then fire my pieces, glaze them and fire them to maturity. I add gold overglaze to enhance the pattern in a few places and fire the pieces one last time at Cone 018. In my practice, the possibilities of variations are endless. From the shapes to the main design, to the touches of colors and gold, each piece is unique. A collection is in fact the result of infinite variations on the same theme.
My first round of 3 firings is always difficult in the sense that it requires a lot of energy and I am never satisfied with the final results. Yet it is this batch that allows me to adjust my production, to see which patterns and color schemes work best together. You can have an idea of the result but nothing will replace a fired piece to give you the real visual result. From batch to batch, the pieces become more and more visually satisfying. At some point, I feel that I have gone around with a certain pattern and I change!
JW: Where do you see your ceramic art going in the future? You mention perhaps switching to low-fire processes instead of cone 6 firing. Any other changes you are considering?
CB: Yes I want to switch to earthenware for many reasons and also because it is the type of local clay that we found here in Quebec. Working with earthenware was never really valued during my ceramic studies and I realize today that this should not be the case. There are fabulous earthenware clays that are perfectly suited for an utilitarian production.
One of the reasons why people fall in love with ceramics is precisely the infinite number of things we can explore with clay. It can be transformed in so many different ways, it has so much to offer, it’s amazing! I always have a super long list of things I want to do in the studio and a very limited amount of time too! I would say that one of the things I would like to experiment with in the future is to include more local materials in my production. I’ve been reading a little bit about « roadside pottery » and I find it really interesting. The idea is to include elements found on the roadside in your clay or glazes! (I’m not a glaze oriented potter but was very good in chemistry and science at school haha) Even if at first glance, this is the antithesis of my production, I really like very rough pieces that could almost be confused with natural stones. I sometimes use reactive glazes in my production to simulate lichen for example. The contrast with my highly ornamented and glittered pieces is not uninteresting.
I obviously want to continue to explore painting and working my designs on other mediums than ceramics too.
JW: If 300 years from now an archaeologist uncovers 20 of your pieces, what do you think he/she will make of the discovery? What will it say of our time and our culture?
CB: Oh myyy! This is always a big stress for me. There is an aspect of my reality where I have to sell my things even though I’m not always in love with certain pieces. But people do not always prefer what I like the most! Knowing that my pieces can survive me and remain intact for hundreds years always goes through my mind! Surely, they will see in the pieces something like a desire of distance from industrial production and standardization of our times. I think, however, that ornamental language is something that has no age! My designs can certainly be understood (and hopefully appreciated) in the future!
More of Cybele’s work may be found on her website.