It is great news for the ceramics world that a gallery specialized in ceramics can keep celebrating anniversaries. And hitting 40 is an achievement only for the happy few.
Marianne Heller (Heidelberg, Germany) founded her gallery in one of the rooms of her home in 1978, and since then it has kept growing to become one of the most prestigious references with regard to ceramics.
For the occasion, Marianne Heller's gallery has organized a solo exhibition with the Spanish artist Rafa Pérez, a top-notch show that will certainly meet everyone's expectations.
Rafa Pérez (Spain, 1957) has a very personal approach to clay as an artistic medium. He uses it for his recognizable black and white abstract sculptures, but also in murals and even paintings. In fact, painting was the discipline that saw him enter the art field, and one that he keeps practicing today. His drawings feel light-hearted, more like a game, colourful and varied, with a plastic language of its own. As if the artist could feel liberated from the technical restraints that clay imposes on the brave ones that dare to search for a very personal path.
But going back to ceramics, Pérez' creations find their place in the wave of various ceramists who have worked on the recovery of a primitive sense of ceramics since the beginning of the 20th century. From then on, ceramics has not been merely a craft any more, nor a material for figurative work, but a medium that allows the artist to withdraw and let the material talk its own language. Naked clay and natural processes – so real, tangible and immediate – are more than enough to express abstract, refined and very contemporary meanings. The potter works here like an orchestra director of the elements, who sets the guidelines but is not the final player, who trusts the team and doesn't strive to control. The outcome is partly unexpected because it depends on many other factors, which gives the work a plus of vitality and depth.
As Rafa Pérez himself recognizes, this unpredictability is one of the highlights of his job: opening the kiln and surprising himself. To be worthy, every artwork must be a find.
This element of amazement comes from the fact that his artworks are a narration that tell a story of transformation to their very creator. Born from the hands of the artist, each piece develops under the influence of the elements, living a life of its own. A life that can be read between the lines and stratums of the sculpture.
His base materials are apparently simple: a white clay and a black clay. And with these two elements that he himself has formulated, the Spanish artist has built up a whole personal universe starting out from geometrical compositions. The white clay, a low firing porcelain taken to its vitrifying point, is the inert structure, the retaining wall that gives strength to the sculptures and tries to contain the expansive black clay that blows up during the firing. Instead of shrinking in the kiln, Pérez&apos clay grows and expands, but also cracks, bloats, tears, rips and bursts to promote an infinite range of textures and shades.
Pérez tirelessly layers slabs of both his clays, which can get to paper thin, to get a stratified material that becomes his building blocks, and from there he develops his own techniques. His sculptures can grow to large scale by mounting different structures in a steel or wooden frame, becoming modular works that are lighter and easier to transport, and are often mounted to the wall.
A multidisciplinary artist, even though ceramics is his principal material, Pérez uses concrete, steel, plaster or wood to find creative solutions to get past any straightjacket and create the structures that best serve him to establish his artistic proposal.
The results are pieces with a certain geological echo, but not so close to nature as to be confused. Everything taken to its limit shows its veritable nature, and that's what happens with this artist's sculptures. Pérez searches around the limits, puts materials under unusual conditions and combinations to promote different behaviours. But Rafa Pérez' artworks are not the result of a chaotic process out of the artist's control, but the result of an intense process of experimentation. Obsessed with testing, he keeps trying until he gets what he wants. Far from a scientific approach, he rather follows the path of intuition and spontaneity, trial and error, in an anarchic methodology, led by passion, enjoyment of the learning process and a very personal sense of beauty and expressiveness.
Difficult to classify, as with any artist of interest, Rafa Pérez plays with abstraction out of the search for transcendence or symbolism, looking for the plastic value of volumes in a neatly contemporary language, an evocative play between freedom and technique, control and wilfulness, nature and culture.
Rafa Pérez was born in Haro (Spain) in 1957. He studied Business Administration in Bilbao, but his artistic drive took him to Barcelona to study painting and ceramics. Despite the isolation of Spanish artists during Franco dictatorship, the bohemian lifestyle of the city during the 70s was a bonus for the development of the young artist, who opened his mind to new ways of expression through clay and painting.
Member of the International Academy of Ceramics since 2007, Pérez is one of the most outstanding ceramists of the international scene today. He has won awards in Europe and abroad, and has a long list of shows and conferences around the world.