Thursday, September 07, 2017

Michel François's artistic tea wares

Bai Lun black glazed porcelain bowl
Michel François is a French artist who lives and works in Cornwall, UK. There, he has opened the Falmouth Pottery. But before becoming a ceramist, Michel François was a sculptor and used to carve big blocks of white Carrara marble. He had a shot at fame in the modern world of art for millionaires and big foundations, but he quickly found out that this wasn't the life and art he had been dreaming of. He didn't want to make big monuments for the (vain) satisfaction of today's financial elites. He wanted to create art that could be used and bring beauty to the lives of a great number of people.

Bai Lun black glazed porcelain bowl
That's why Michel François became a ceramist instead. One of his essential inspiration comes from 'The unknown craftsman, a Japanese insight into Beauty' by Soetsu Yanagi. Tea plays a big part in this book and in Michel's life. Tea is where the functional beauty of the accessories is most appreciated. That's why Michel François is mostly making tea ware that is meant to be used.
Bai Lun black glazed porcelain bowl
Thus, Michel François follows the same kind of inspiration as David Louveau, Petr Novak, Jacob Bodilly, and Dalloun Dalloun. As a tea blogger, it is my greatest pleasure to exchange ideas and tea with all these potters. Each time I receive a package from one of them, it's like opening a Christmas gift as a kid! This summer , while in France, I received a big package from Michel François. (These bowls and cups are now available in my selection.)
Bai Lun black glazed porcelain bowl
In this article, I am testing the Bai Lun black glazed porcelain bowl and the black glazed porcelain bowl with a blue comet with matcha.
These bowls are inspired by Sung dynasty black glazed bowls, sometimes also named Tianmu bowls. The most classic bowls came from Jianyang, Fujian province and were made with dark clay. However, in northern China, some kilns imitated these glazed bowls, but used white clay (Jizhou kiln, for instance). So, using white porcelain as clay for a black glazed bowl isn't a modern innovation. It's actually in the spirit of ancient times, because potters would always work with the same local clay that they could get near their kiln.
This porcelain clay is one of the major characteristic that sets Michel François apart from the other potters I have mentioned above. Except maybe Jacob Bodilly (who is a very good friend and former co-worker of Michel François), the other potters are not porcelain specialists. Stoneware clay will always appear rougher and more natural, while porcelain will tend towards more purity and elegance. I don't mean to say that one approach is better than the other. In terms of pairing, unglazed stoneware cups are better fits with puerh tea, while porcelain cups work well with all other teas.
And the choice of porcelain as Michel François clay of choice is in harmony with his more artistic and aesthetic approach. That's why he has spent time to find very high quality porcelain: it comes from New Zealand and has a high kaolin content and purity. This use of excellent material that hasn't been industrially refined makes his wares better and more valuable.
The shape and size of his bowls is very similar to that of Sung dynasty bowls. They perform their function well when you use them to whisk green tea powder. The thick black glaze is a nice contrast to the light tea foam. The bowl is stable and retains the heat well.
Michel François's innovation on these bowls are natural wood ashes that he adds on his glaze and that will give this blue color on the black glaze. Blue was one of the most difficult color to obtain on Sung dynasty Jianyang bowls. The most famous example is displayed in Tokyo's Seikado Bunko Art Museum.
These blue spots may look like comet hair or even like far away galaxies in dark space... The mind is drawn to new horizons while admiring these bowls. This makes the tea experience even more heavenly!
When tea ware is made by hand, there are always some irregularities. Here's what Yanagi has to say about this: "Now, although I am not personally drawn to works in which distortion is purposely attempted, I believe that truly beautiful objects usually contain in them some element of irregularity. (...) Beauty dislikes being captive to perfection. That which is profound never lends itself to logical explanation: it involves endless mystery."
These black glazed bowls can also be used as Jianshui, waste water bowls. Their dark color is elegant and hides impurities. It's the opportunity to use hand crafted tea ware made by a porcelain artist at a very reasonable price. And with last year's Brexit, the British pound has never been that low! The timing couldn't be better.
If a bowl is too expensive for your budget, you could consider one of Michel François's green celadon tea cups or his light blue ones. Where else is it possible to own, admire and use a smooth, elegant and unique piece of art for less than 50 US dollars!?
Thank you, Michel, for creating these artistic tea wares that add beauty and meaning to our tea experience! And thanks to my readers' support, I will soon make another tea exchange with you. May my teas give you new inspiration to continue your way.
Merci l'artiste!

1 comment:

Michel said...

Dear Stephane

Iam touched by this well written article.
I remember reading your blog 10 years ago and wanting to be able to work with you one day.

Im still learning and i will be till I make my last pot..

Thanks for your friendship I very much enjoy getting your feedback.