It is always fascinating to learn of how and when people become artists. It can be from early childhood, or even late in life - think Grand Ma Moses. Whatever the timing, it is always wonderful if that turn towards art is indeed so deep that the resultant art not only fulfills the artist but also enriches us all as viewers. I happened on an example of a young Parisian, a musician, who took up ceramics at the age of 24 and within four years, is producing amazing work. I was at a large, summer exhibition's opening at the Contemporary Arts Centre atthe Château de Tanlay in Burgundy, "Hommage à Bénin". Twenty-one artists from Benin showed a huge diversity ofwork, in two and three dimensions, some good, some middling, some that moved me not one whit. But around a corner in the final gallery, quietly in a display case, three medium-sized ceramic pots/objects stopped me in my tracks. First of all, they were light years away in approach from all the other work, which was often an uneasy grafting of African culture onto European culture, or vice versa. These pots were quiet, sophisticated, distinguished. Definitely made by someone with more than a passing fancy for Japanese ceramics. The name on the wall was King Houndekpinkou.
I went to find the books with biographies of the artists in the exhibition. Not a world about him! In the very heavy, large catalogue of the show, he was just listed briefly. But I then poked around on the Web. And this was where I found that this beautiful work has been created by someone only four years into the ceramic world. Earlier, this young Benin artist, who was born in Paris, had been a musician working in England and France. However, he apparently took a course in ceramics four years ago in a Japanese gallery in Paris - and magic was born.
King has studied in Japan since then, and this is why there is this really interesting mixture of Japanese and African influences in his work. He is achieving the beautiful, often seemingly rough finishes beloved of Japanese potters, but on vessels that hark back to Africa in size and shape in many instances. One especially enchanted me - so subtle in its granulated grey-cream glazes, the top fissured as if life was bursting from it in the birth of the world, an odd egg shape with a flat base - its quietly commanding presence was magical. Naturally, I cannot find any illustration of it! But it is well anchored in my mind's eye. This photo is of a similar piece of work.
Already working with one of the top galleries in Paris, this young man has clearly had his entire optic changed completely by the sudden eruption of ceramics into his life. As he creates his work, he is conjugating the four elements of clay, fire, water and air, an alchemist in clay that he shapes and brings to life. These are the aspects of ceramics that first attracted him and changed his world.
Indeed, art changes not only those who enjoy it, but more especially, those who become artists. We need as many artists as possible to lighten our days in these complicated times in which we live: one celebrates a young artist such as King Houndekpinkou.