With his works of art, the French creative reveals the process he follows to give shape to things when he designs

There is an almost ascetic rigor in the work of Ronan Bouroullec. We have discovered the serial progress of his artistic practice in recent years, since publications and exhibitions have made his everyday exercise public, using multiple techniques aimed at the definition of a language he identifies with the concept of assembly itself.

The works range from the terracotta bas reliefs, shown for the first time at the Galerie kreo in London in 2021, to the sculptures presented in Toulon in 2023; from the photographs on view at Licht in Tokyo in the fall of 2023, to the lithographic engravings and pen and brush drawings. Without overlooking the triptych on view for the centenary of Villa Noailles at Hyéres, and the monograph of “Day after Day,” a visual and methodological diary with a daily rhythm.

“If we take this vase, this chair,” the designer explains, “I believe that the core of my language is the way they are assembled, the way in which forms, planes and materials meet inside them.”

This montage of parts, this construction of morphemes and phonemes of his idiom, also remind us of the observation of atmospheric changes that trigger constant perceived transformation of objects we think are inanimate.

What comes to mind, in fact, is the series through which the Impressionists studied the most mysterious and evanescent of pictorial materials, namely light. The great legacy of the Impressionists is precisely the constant focus on one subject – sheaves of wheat, waterlilies, façades of cathedrals – making them take on various forms, where time and its mutable nature emerge in the serial practice, represented under the form of light to establish a perpetual motion of static elements.

Ronan Bouroullec’s approach could be seen as contemporary Impressionism, where the subjects are often the objects of his own design.

“Every day, with my phone, I photograph my drawings, my works, the light in the studio, an object we designed some years ago glimpsed in a display case, our chairs on the terrace of a café, the morning sun on a ceramic vase.”

And every day, the medium of photography is accompanied by that of drawing, through forms that have value more for the gesture that produces them than for the physical geometry that brings them about. The drawings, in fact, are often made with marker strokes that remind us of the lines of mortar on tiles as they are installed, but also of the coils of a potter, or the stripes of a knit: all manual practices, techniques of the body (as an anthropologist might say), that construct the form step by step, and where time and patience lead to the final result. Limiting the focus to form would be reductive.

This is why it is important that the designer has finally decided to make the pre-project phase of his everyday practice public, the phase that happens “without constraints, without goals, without prior planning, without the pressure to solve a problem.”

Because it is precisely here that the fundamental assembly of parts takes place, and the form is simply the final vehicle of a long process.

Some of the results where the practice is most visible happen in works of pottery or porcelain. The vases of Tajimi, for example, have been created by assembling five shapes, combined in groups of two, three, four or five parts, using a mechanical process of extrusion rather than molding of the clay.

All this seems to stem from the cutting of the block of clay, that dividing gesture that Ronan has captured in photographs repeatedly posted in that magnificent repertoire of available imagery that is his Instagram page.

There, in that simple, primordial beginning, we can see the basis of his bas reliefs and his vases. A practice that cannot help but suggest Zen and the Orient, in its intensity and concentration, where we discover that every exactitude has its completion in the unpredictable.

This is the moment in which the earth – the clay – is entrusted to the fire – the kiln – setting aside any arithmetical certainty. The magical alchemy of crystallization comes into play here, increasing with the rising of the temperature.

This is also what happened when Ronan come to terms with Sévres porcelain. Browsing through the archives of the historic workshop, he rediscovered old experiments on crystallization, recognizing the most suitable technique to bring an age-old practice into his contemporary language.

In this method, the glaze is crystallized during the firing and the nature of the process makes every piece inside a series become unique. Abstract motifs come to light, reminding us of what we find in the iris of an eye, or in heavenly constellations, which contain a margin of unpredictability inside a highly technical process, and chance becomes almost a co-author.

“Everything delicately explodes inside the kiln,” Bouroullec comments, “and when you remove the pieces you can never be sure they will be intact. They might seem like a sea anemone, a portion of the sky, a flash of light in space.”

The wonder of the unexpected arises from what he calls the “natural and uncontrolled” essence of porcelain. We cannot help but think back on the uncontrollable reliance on chance narrated by Ettore Sottsass in one of his most absorbing essays, on the “Ceramics of Darkness.”

The result of this work takes us back once again to the progressive glazing of Impressionist painting, to those backgrounds where the sky reflected in the water creates a depth in which the gaze can simply get lost.

Hence, perhaps, in the case of these works it would be worth having the courage to dust off a forgotten term that takes on new connotations today, that of ‘applied art,’ seen for years in a negative light as a historical and cultural heritage ready to be surpassed.

No other definition seems so pertinent in relation to these examples, in which the research and the techniques of art are ‘applied’ in the sense of being placed at the service of objects that for those capable of reading them bring the signs of a ‘lover’s discourse’ into the everyday dimension: the discourse between a designer and “colored impressions, blossoming forms, emotions.”

Horizontal cover photo: Mutina for Art, Ronan Bouroullec in his studio. Ph. Alexandre Tabaste. Portrait: Ronan Bouroullec. Ph: Studio Bouroullec