Fantastic Beasts by Johan Creten

Johan Creten is a non-repentant traveler. He travels in the artistic and cultured spheres that have nurtured him since childhood. He travels the world, driven by his curiosity and sensitivity, wherever he can learn new techniques. As a nomadic artist, he will therefore have itinerant workshops where the exhibitions lead him and where the craftsmen, whether ceramicists or founders, will attract him. Always looking for new workshops where you will find other inspirations, other countries, other enamel traditions, other ovens. Until May 29, La Piscine de Roubaix exhibits the marvelous and unsettling world of the artist.


A child of Lucio Fontana

We find him in disarray in Nice, in a hacienda in the Mexican desert, in the Beaux-Arts in Paris, in a garage in Sète, in an immaculate studio in Miami, at Alfred University in New York, but also in a factory in Wisconsin , in Hong Kong … And a few years at the Manufacture de Sèvres, where we met him, ran from workshop to workshop, the wick in battle, feverish as the rabbit ofAlice in Wonderland. He boasts of being the first artist that David Caméo, then director of the premises, had invited into the residence, and of having put an honor in the manufacture of stoneware, the production of which had been stopped since the 19th century!

Johan Creten, L’Hippocampe secret, 2019-2022, chamotte white sandstone, work sculpted in the mass, hollowed out and then assembled on a plate made of sandstone slabs, burning at high temperatures in a gas furnace, metallic enamels, “blister” e-mail » , traces of majolica and red enamels at low temperature, 155 x 70 x 70 cm / 180 kg, unique and unpublished work © Creten Studio and Gerrit Schreurs Courtesy Galerie Almine Rech, Brussels

His 1980s in Sèvres were crucial; he slept there, compiling, checking, designing sculptures to the maximum size of the furnaces from which his first Smell of Femmina. Similarly, he experimented with fun blends of enamels after studying the Palissy rooms at the Louvre for a long time. Years that were all the more important as the view of ceramics was changing and Johan Creten had a lot to do with it. ” I was a pioneer. What I was doing was taboo. In the art world, pottery was considered totally old-fashioned “. Ceramics was still a matter of ceramists being classified in the less decorative arts and certainly not with noble sculpture, although Gauguin, Rodin or Carriès excelled in it!

Johan Creten, La Mouche Morte, 2019-2022, chamotte white stoneware, metallic enamels and Solfatara enamel, 69 x 119 x 6 cm © ️Courtesy Galerie Almine Rech, Bruxelles / Creten studio and Gerrit Schreurs

John Creten, The dead fly2019-2022, chamotte white stoneware, metallic enamels and Solfatara enamel, 69 x 119 x 6 cm © ️Courtesy Galerie Almine Rech, Bruxelles / Creten studio and Gerrit Schreurs

In 1987, at the great retrospective of Lucio Fontana, drawn up by Bernard Blistène at the Center Pompidou, the public was amazed and greatly surprised by the many ceramic “sculptures”. We still did not know in France that this avant-garde Italian-Argentine artist, the inventor of Special concert and conceptual maker of holes and slits, had also from the 1930s created much of his work in polychrome clay, modeling women, riders, crocodiles and other animals. Fontana’s pottery, tortured, aggressive, sexual, cracked, baroque, was a living material that shone with multicolored enamels. Fontana wrote in 1939: I am a sculptor and not a potter an opinion that Creten has also certainly given for years. This influence seems obvious, especially with regard to works by Fontana such as Woman with fire of 1948 or Conchiglia and polpo from 1938. Already flowers and animals.

Skin stories …

With Crete, abundance, expressionism, mannerism, the attraction of mythological or societal issues are obviously not the same, especially as he often asserts his deeply Flemish and more political identity. Some of his sculptures show only a delirious cluster teeming with cells lined with flowers or myriads of shells until they form an iridescent, dripping shell that barely emerges from the ocean floor, a living organism like a shaggy coat suddenly petrified , transformed into mineral. concretions like the petrified wooden poles that support Venice’s palaces … Most recently at Art Geneva, he showed two kinds of Venus covered with a fishing net in pastel colors, a kind of skin with an elegant fishing net.

Johan Creten, Why does Strange Fruit always look so sweet ?, 1998-2015, bronze with multicolored patina, leaf gold, 305 x 114 x 102 cm © Creten studio and Gerrit Schreurs

John Creten, Why does Strange Fruit always look so sweet?1998-2015, bronze with multicolored patina, gold leaf, 305 x 114 x 102 cm © Creten studio and Gerrit Schreurs

Creten has a talent for enlivening surfaces with sensual and bizarre skin, attractive or repulsive. You have to think that mixing the clay in this way naturally pushes against animal subjects. In the case of Crete, imagining animals allows him to approach the theme of animalism and its morbidity. The eagles appeared in 1993 in his exhibition at the Villa Brandstiftelse in Nice. ” My birds are hybrids between cormorant, eagle and owl. The eagles also appeal to the image of Rome, Napoleon, America. His disagreements always indicate a bit of humor and want to get people to react. If he also uses bronze, a smooth and clean material, so far away from dirty soil, it is also to provoke the bourgeois! Irony is never far away.

animal metaphors

Johan Creten is a fine and sophisticated creature. Dandy, he always receives, even in full-time work, elegantly equipped in colored jackets signed Etro, never smeared with earth, the fine features and the mischievous eye, which refers to the self-portrait of the Flemish painter Antoon Van Dyck. To prepare for the exhibition at La Piscine de Roubaix, where we are greeted by the huge black bat that already reigned in Rome in Villa Medici’s garden during the exhibition “I Peccati” in 2020-21, he left to work for three years in the Struktuur 68 workshop in The Hague. In these gigantic spaces he was able to cook his latest bestiarium. And develop beautiful and brand new glazes.

Johan Creten, The Flamingo 1, 2019-2022, chamotted white sandstone, work sculpted in the mass, dense chamott, hollowed out and then assembled on a plate made of sandstone slabs, several burns at high temperature in a gas oven, matte enamels and diamonds • 100 x 112 x 74 cm / 235 kg, unique and unpublished work © Creten Studio and Gerrit Schreurs Courtesy Galerie Almine Rech, Brussels

Johan Creten, The Flamingo 1, 2019-2022, chamotted white sandstone, work sculpted in the mass, dense chamott, hollowed out and then assembled on a plate made of sandstone slabs, several burns at high temperature in a gas oven, matte enamels and diamonds • 100 x 112 x 74 cm / 235 kg, unique and unpublished work © Creten Studio and Gerrit Schreurs Courtesy Galerie Almine Rech, Brussels

Topics in a cruel game

That Grasshopperthat dead dogthat poisonous beaverthat Large snailthat HedgehogI’dead spiderthat Harethat Pelican… These beasts sculpted in chamotte white sandstone are fired most of the time at high temperatures. Either curled up around themselves or flush with the daisies, they are harmless, a little stiff, especially when dead! Completely stuck in their glory, in what people consider dirty.

The Flemish artist in front of his famous bat (2014-2019), who toured in Europe

The Flemish artist in front of his famous bat (2014-2019), who toured in Europe

The animals of the Cretan no longer tend upwards like his former vertical sculptures, but look downwards, in a disturbing horizontality. They are not animals glorified as heroes, such as the lion king in the jungle, but rather small predators that are not usually loved, who are disgusted, drool, spend their time chewing or growling, such as. dirty boar in the middle of what looks like his excrement. Yet these beasts appear, which often fascinate as much as they frighten children, sometimes, as in Fables de La Fontaine and many others, in human poses. Thus dead fly, reminiscent of a woman on her back giving birth. They look like abandoned toys in a cruel game. Absorbed in their animal-silence, these creatures frozen in their poses, lifeless, seem to be waiting for their instructor. Placed on their base as good little soldiers, at times a little naive, enigmatic, they are toys in colorful colors, but immersed in a dazed mourning.

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