Roger Capron, the fire of creation

A life spent drawing. The son of a bank executive, nothing predestined Roger Capron to ceramics except this taste for the line which made him notice from an early age by a teacher, in Enghien-les-Bains (Val -d’Oise), where he grew up. At the other end of France, in Vallauris (Alpes-Maritimes), he will become the only French ceramist of his time who has both accomplished an important artistic work and founded a leading industrial company.

“Making beauty within everyone’s reach”, such was the ambition of Capron – according to the formula of René Gabriel, his master at the School of Applied Arts –, which led him very early to produce in series. In the movement of rediscovery of ceramics of the 1950s, at work for a few years, its production remains very coveted, explains Jean-Jacques Wattel, expert in decorative arts of the XXe century (and collector of artists’ ceramics from the 1950s), “particularly because his colored earthenware is very emblematic of the period: after the war, young people arrived with the desire to break with the austerity of the 1930s. Their creation is very fresh, there is great freedom, great gaiety… Today, all that pleases”.

In fact: out of print for several years, the monograph dedicated to him by Pierre Staudenmeyer is reappearing this spring in a very beautiful expanded edition (Norma, 208 pages), responding to the urgent requests of amateurs.

Set of tables, earthenware, around 1960.
Floor of the former Byblos dance floor in Saint-Tropez, now the patio of the spa, created with Jean Derval in 1968.

Better to have a guide to follow the thread of the work of this man who will never stop renewing himself. Because behind the signature there is a past life to be created. Not only vases, lamps or tables which today are snapped up in auction houses or galleries, but also gigantic decorative panels or sculptures several meters high. “There is, in the work of the potter, not only the element to contain but also to build”, affirmed Roger Capron who, very early on, asserted his taste for architectural ceramics.

It is this facet that particularly affects Olivia Cognet, a French ceramist who, after spending a few years in Los Angeles, where she trained, chose to settle in Vallauris. Avenue Clemenceau, it occupies part of the Labyrinth, Capron’s former boutique gallery, which can be identified by a beautiful sandstone medallion in two shades of white that he himself sculpted and cast into the ground on the sidewalk.

The summer kitchen on the patio of Roger Capron's former boutique gallery, now partly occupied by the ceramist Olivia Cognet, in Vallauris.

For Olivia Cognet as for her neighbor Tino Aiello, seventh generation of potters, there is a certain pride in working in these places which still bear the mark of the master – from the patio with its summer kitchen to the samples of tiles making up a carpet of variegated ground. Around 5 p.m., the lights flicker. With a smile full of respect, Olivia Cognet and her team evoke the idea that Roger Capron might sometimes drop by to greet them… Picasso, who lived in Vallauris between 1948 and 1955, is not the only specter hovering over the city.

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