Lunch at the Ariana

I am early for a lunch meeting at the Ariana Museum. I take a seat in the discrete little restaurant. The tables are as yet empty. There is a display of large china dishes and vases. Not so surprising given this museum’s standing in the world of ceramics and glassware.

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Jan De Vliegher “China Blue V&A” 2014 Acrylic on canvas

Then a double-take. This is not a display case. It’s a painting! I approach Jan De Vliegher‘s “China Blue V&A” in awe. The realism is extraordinary.

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Detail of China Blue V&A

More extraordinary still is that the tones, perspective and depth of field have been produced by a combination of the boldest of brush strokes, splashes and drips; a technique rarely associated with, let alone accomplishing, realism. I can’t draw my eyes away from this painting. This is master-class beautiful stuff.

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Paul March “In Pulverum Speramus” Clay, 2015

After lunch, I look around the rest of the museum. In a corner by a door I stumble upon something recognisably from the studio of Paul March. Five smooth ceramic forms are arranged in the pose of a sleeping dog. I want to pick up each part and heft it in my hand. The whole is pleasing. Although caught between abstraction and canine imagary, the piece captures the awkwardness of man’s best friend lying on a hard floor. The title is “In Pulverum Speramus.” My schoolboy latin tells me this reads something like “We hope in the dust.” (Perhaps Paul will tell us the “why” of this title?) His work has a way of finding corners in the Ariana. Remember his spider?

Nice day! Lunch with surprises! But then the Ariana has a way of serving up surprises.

Jomon Spider Kit by Paul March

A fitting tribute to Paul March’s “Jomon Spider Kit” completed in 2013 is that it is currently exhibited at the Ariana Museum.  The team from Talking Beautiful Stuff go to see it. We find a huge gangling arachnoid laying in a corner as if dead for weeks. “Wow!” says Angela on seeing it. “That is so cool!”

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JSK is composed of smooth monotone clay and chunky stainless-steel links. The workmanship stands out. The authentic spidery whorls on its thorax and abdomen make for an appealing biological contrast with its metallic components. The whole is elegant but nevertheless provokes discomfort.

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I want to pick it up and rattle the legs. I even house a tiny desire to return at a later date with several metres of fishing line to revive it as an enormous spider-marionette.

Ariana Spider 4

I am intrigued and somehow intimidated. I would like an insight into what was in its creator’s mind when he put it together. I meet Paul at his Geneva studio. I am surprised to see no other completed works there. The surfaces and walls are taken over by – for want of a better term – a variety of bits and pieces; they include recognisable parts of what might be JSK2.  It seems his creative process involves cycles of tentative cutting, moulding, building, matching, linking, pressing and melting.

We chat. He has a ready smile. This former clinical psychologist from UK came to Geneva in his late thirties. He studied fine art and developed a particular interest in ceramics. We chat some more. I ask him about his influences. The smile broadens and he laughs at the banality of my question. An hour and a half later I am no closer to an answer. The discussion has ranged from subliminal fears (arachnophobia?) to art as a Dawkinsian extended phenotype. I am out of my depth! Later, I confess that I have not grasped what his creative world is about and that it will be difficult to write about his work. He is delighted! He would have been disappointed if I had grasped it! Whatever is inside this extraordinary mind and the creative process it drives, it has produced JSK. I know I’ll never understand. But now that I understand that I’ll never understand, I simply think “Wow! That is so cool!”