Jean Girel—ceramist, poet, technician, dreamer—credits such disparate influences as the rich soil of his native hills, the metallic sheen of oil slicks, and the extraordinary ceramics of the Song Dynasty. The latter, made in China between 960 and 1279, are revered for their elegant simplicity of form and the complicated and varied technologies required to produce their lush glazes. This powerful alchemy of earth, water and fire inspired Girel’s quest to uncover the mysteries of the universe through his own work in ceramics.
Born in Savoie in 1947, Girel apprenticed with a traditional potter at age 14, then studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Mâcon, earned a degree in visual arts in Paris and became a painter. By 1975, however, he was devoting himself exclusively to ceramics. With characteristic intensity, Girel began the unorthodox practice of making his own porcelain paste and experimenting with natural materials to create unique glazes. He spent decades developing original recipes, protocols and tools—including designing and building seventeen of his own kilns—and in the process became a master in his field, published author and sought-after authority. For his wealth of knowledge—and passion for sharing it with others—Girel was named Maître d’Art in 2000 by the French Minister of Culture, one of just two ceramists ever to receive this honor; later he was also made Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. In 2004, Girel and his wife, fellow ceramist Valérie Hermans, were invited to the National Palace Museum of Taipei in Taiwan, renowned for its prestigious collection of Chinese antiquities. Girel was recognized as a national living treasure and, in an unprecedented honor for a contemporary artist, the museum opened its own Jean Girel gallery, acquiring eleven of his pieces to showcase there.
The great diversity and originality of Girel’s work is the result of his wholly unique approach. His techniques are not found in any ceramics textbook, but in the laboratory of his mind. His materials are not procured from the usual suppliers; the clay and minerals come from the hills around his home and are excavated in his travels. His art is of the earth, quite literally. He observes natural phenomena and attempts to replicate in his kiln the “secret metamorphoses of the planet”. And he succeeds in the way that all great artists do: by illuminating the unknown and making the familiar newly compelling.
Musée national de la Céramique, Sèvres, France
Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris, France
Musée d’Art moderne du Nord, Villeneuve d’Ascq, France
Musée Déchelette, Roanne, France
Musée des Ursulines, Mâcon, France
Musée savoisien, Chambéry, France
Musée Faure, Aix-les-Bains, France
Musée de Saint-Amand-les-Eaux, France
Musée du Cinquantenaire, Brussels, Belgium
Ministère des Affaires culturelles, Belgium
FRAC Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Fondation Baur, Geneva, Switzerland
Musée Palissy, Lacapelle-Biron, France
National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
Ganjin Celadon Museum, Ganjin, Korea
Lauréat du Salon des Ateliers d’Art, Paris, 1979
Médaille d’or de la Biennale de Vallauris, 1980
Grand Prix départemental des Métiers d’Art, 1980
Mention spéciale, Grand Prix Palissy, 1991
Maître d’Art, promotion 2000
Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, 2008