2 Jean Paul Azaïs: Alchemy in the Aspres 2

3 by Ellen Hall 3

The drive up the D615 from Ceret to Llauro affords views of the green Albères. As you enter Les Aspres, the colour of the earth changes – reds, ochres and yellows dominate. From this local material Jean-Paul Azaïs makes the pots he exhibits in Galerie Terres d’Aspre.
Objects of desire, mysterious and insular, they keep to themselves the secret of their perfection. “Oeuf” resembles a planet of lavender rivers, tawny deserts and mountains dusted white. The surface of “Tronc” shimmers like raw silk.
The secret of these zen-like meditations on form is Azaïs’ reinvention of techniques used by the Neolithic inhabitants of these same hills and the artist’s variation on Greek, Roman and traditional Catalan objects.
A slight man with greying hair askew, Azaïs says that working with nature has moulded him as well as the objects. From his early passion for plants, he envisioned a career in research until he became fascinated by a pot made by a friend. Curious about the process, he built his own oven and started to experiment with local clay. The scientist and the artist united in a single quest to produce the stuff, quite literally, of “smoke”!
Working with fire, wood, earth and water, Azaïs studied the interaction of the elements. Observation of the process guided his experiments with different natural clay varnishes – scooped from the crust of puddles. “A mud puddle, ” he says with wild-eyed intensity, “is a window on the world”. The effects of light, wind and animal footprints on the wet surface are his inspiration.
His current project is a book about his life, research and discoveries. The shelves of his workshop abound with pieces of clay, reflecting the history of Mediterranean civilisation. His own production is a play between ancient tradition and modern design.
Jean-Paul Azaïs feels the responsibility of the artist is to teach others “to observe nature – its powers, balance, harmony and light.” He shows me a pot with golden sheen. Its surface finely polished, a perfect globe, pregnant with “the vibration of the earth.”
After a triumphant spring exhibit in Valencia, Azaïs’ next show – Magie d’Aspre – will be in the Musée Arts et Traditions de Thuir from 1 July to 27 September. Go and see what can become of a simple clod of earth in the hands of an artist-alchemist.

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