Axel Vervoordt Gallery is pleased to present Resilience, an exhibition at Kanaal's Terrace Gallery that places the work of the Belgian ceramicist and sculptor Pierre Culot (Malmedy, 1938 – Incourt, 2011) in dialogue with recent paintings by the Japanese artist Tsuyoshi Maekawa (° Osaka, 1936).
Although Culot and Maekawa never met, striking conversations and correlations arise when viewing the artworks together. Both artists have a profound admiration for materiality. Their distinctive approaches display an overwhelming energy and never-ending urge to give life to matter. They created art out of total freedom, without any dogma or scholarly academism. The title of the exhibition takes direct inspiration from the artists' expressive oeuvres, and the word's physical and metaphysical meaning. Maekawa aims to heal the wounds of post-war Japan by stitching his burlap canvasses, whereas Culot's monumental clay sculptures stand silently like sanctuaries, or walls, while conjuring opposing notions of embracing or defending the space they occupy.
Pierre Culot was a Belgian artist who wanted to build a bridge between British, Japanese, and French traditions. Culot saw nature as the sole generator of life and beauty and he considered earth or clay as his primary material, forming the heart of the process. His works evolved from basic forms and shapes, such as bowls, plates, and jugs, to more daring, elaborate forms shifting beyond functionality towards architecture. His works are marked by monumentality and freedom, but overall, by a love for materiality.
Working with Bernard Leach, Culot discovered the traditions and finesse of Japanese ceramic art. During trips to Japan, he was inspired by the gestural approach to ceramics, marked by fingerprints, scratches, and edges pressure-welded into what appears to be unfinished shapes. He abandoned round shapes in favour of square and rectangle. In most cases, he worked with 'slabbing', which is attaching slabs of clay together by guillochage, a robust technique that allowed him to create large pieces.
Resilience presents a selection of works from the early 1990s: ten huge vases, partly glazed. These large vases embody proportions similar to a human torso. "They are the affirmation of my permanence," Culot said. He added a touch of dark green or grey-green glaze to the edge of a vase or to its interior, achieving an unexpectedly decorative effect of dripping paint. He paid considerable attention to the edges, which gives a perceived sensitivity to the two planes. The idea of building sculptures by extrapolating his pots was a logical next step. In 1990, Culot presented his first "Homme debout" (Standing man), tall quadrangular stoneware works combining several hollowed-out, glazed elements designed to accommodate plants. The exhibition includes one of these monumental sculptures.
According to Rudi Fuchs, "They are objects of impressive craftmanship, developed in a vivid and contemporary artistic understanding of form, material, and process. Though when we see their strong and compelling presence as objects, it becomes irrelevant whether they are art, craft, or both. What is important, however, is that they are pottery, because Pierre Culot is one of those rare artists who has been able to prevent pottery from slipping into futile preciosity, and to give this craft back its ancient nobility".1The exhibition also presents three capitals, or chapiteaux, produced in 1993. These sculptures—with no underside—are made of terracotta struck with a piece of wood, a very primitive technique related to African traditions. They are made of grey clay, coloured with chromium oxide, and influenced by cuneiform writing executed with sticks. During the process, Culot and his assistant Pascal Slotmakers saw the resemblance with Greek pleated garments and made the comparison with the Winged Nike of Samothrace, the masterpiece of Greek sculpture now in the Louvre.
Throughout a career spanning many decades, Tsuyoshi Maekawa, a former Gutai member, has never stopped working and continues to use his sewing machine as a medium to suture his canvasses resulting in woven paintings. The act of stitching and bending canvasses into folds and pleats resembles a form of therapy. He used his art to heal the wounds of the war, not to reveal them. Even at the age of 87, Maekawa returns to his studio daily with the same drive for creativity. The exhibited recent works are being shown to the public for the first time.
Maekawa returns to his preferred burlap material for its raw, rough texture. Made from hemp fibres, he appreciates this humble and ubiquitous material that was used as bags for rice and grains. He focusses on the material composition of the artwork, not on its presentation. He incorporates sewn, wrinkled, and twisted waveforms in canvasses airbrushed with acrylic paint, exploring the material's infinite possibilities.
Often compared to the work of Lucio Fontana—for his sculptural investigation of the canvas —and to Alberto Burri—for his love for burlap sacks—Maekawa, faithful to the Gutai philosophy, refuses to be compared to other artists. "I have been creating works for over sixty years now. I think I have concentrated on exploring matter. In particular, I have been persistent about investigating cloth and experimenting withit."²
Resilience is one of the first major exhibitions featuring Pierre Culot's work following the artist's death in 2011. The exhibition coincides with the publication of a recent monography, Pierre Culot. 1938-2011 (Mercatorfonds, 2023). In the 1970s, he had solo exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and V&A London, Palais de Tokyo in Paris among others. Maekawa has been part of the gallery's roster for many years.
1. Rudi Fuchs in 'Terre, Eau, Feu, Pierre Culot : Architecture en terre, 5 April – 25 June 1990, Palais de Tokyo Paris.
2. Maekawa in an interview with Axel Vervoordt Gallery in 2022.
Press release courtesy Axel Vervoordt Gallery.