A Journey in Clay: Francoise Dufayard

By Eden, Victoria | Ceramics Art & Perception, December 2007 | Go to article overview

A Journey in Clay: Francoise Dufayard


Eden, Victoria, Ceramics Art & Perception


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FRANCOISE DUFAYARD IS A DEDICATED CERAMIST AND a passionate traveller. Her life as a potter is a journey that is nourished by extensive journeys where the purpose of the travelling is not necessarily to arrive. Her pots are a synthesis of all she experiences. They are both an expression of herself and, as ceramics is the only livelihood for herself and her daughters, they are her work in the most profound sense of the word. Her occupation as a designer-maker would have won the approval of William Morris and the 19th century Arts & Crafts movement, for now, as in Morris's time, it is a life that demands creativity and skill but would soon stall without discipline and labour. The concept may be romantic but the practicalities are exacting.

Dufayard first modelled clay as a child and later, as a teenager, she took some pottery classes. These experiences were sufficiently meaningful for her to look for work in a pottery when, aged 22, she returned from travelling in Japan. At this time she had the good fortune to find employment with Gustave and Sylvette Tiffoche, fountain makers in Guerande, Brittany, where, in addition to large architectural stoneware pieces indented with pattern and texture, they also prod uced a range of tableware. It was here, over a period of four years, that Dufayard learnt to put energy and strength into a thrown pot. Hers was a rigorous training where she was urged on with cries of "allez, allez, pas de mollesse." (go, go, no flabbiness). A few months employment with Suzie Atkins in Cantal followed: here she discovered slip, visited the Marche de Potiers de Cliousclat and was impressed by the slipware of Jerome Plat, Patrick Galtier and Gilles Duru. In 1988 she returned to Rennes in Brittany, rented a studio and equipped it in order to produce traditional honey-glazed slipware.

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Almost immediately Dufayard discovered the strong black slip that is typical of her contemporary work. This, in turn, led to a range of greys and an appreciation of how to use these colours effectively under a ready-prepared Spanish transparent glaze that gave few crazing or firing problems. This glaze, which she still uses today, was a fortunate discovery, for it is one that has proved itself endlessly responsive and reliable. Suitable for functional and non-functional work alike, it amplifies the subtleties of her slip decoration.

Initially, Dufayard produced a simple range of domestic ware that could be used for the oven or table. The square dishes, which have established her reputation, just grew and grew until her largest pieces developed to a length of 88 cm. These became possible with the purchase of a sizeable gas kiln (1.5 cu m) in 1994. The dishes are prepared on a slab roller and then shaped in moulds, but the painting on the surfaces is never 'designed' in the formal sense of the word and is worked directly on to the clay.

Although Dufayard does not see herself as a painter, the application of the colour on to the slabs is undoubtedly painterly and is born of her interaction with the slip. She believes that marks must be made with 'energy and soul' and aims for a free brushstroke that can never be reworked. It comes as no surprise to learn that Dufayard values the dynamism of modern calligraphy, particularly that of Catherine Denis.

Clearly, her mind is a vast archive of information, both aesthetic and empiric, concerning the materials she uses. She appreciates exactly the colours and textures they can create and the power of the marks that can be achieved. This vital knowledge, analysed and synthesised by her imagination, is expressed directly on the clay surfaces. The immediacy of her approach floods each piece with energy and vital expression and so communicates the nature of her journey.

Travelling is in Dufayard's blood. All her family seem to travel and her recent journeys to Uzbeckistan and Tibet were made with relatives, of whom several were in their 70s and 80s.

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