Piet Stockmans exhibits a retrospective of his works with ‘The Archive’

Belgian ceramic artist and designer opens up his studio for a major retrospective exhibition that provides informative experience about porcelain as a material.

by Rahul KumarPublished on : Feb 07, 2022

Belgian porcelain artist Piet Stockmans recently launched a major retrospective exhibition  titled The Archive. Stockmans’ oeuvre uniquely combines his commercial ‘applied arts’ work with the artistic, free flowing expressionist creations. In 1987, he founded Studio Pieter Stockmans, specialising in the production of handcrafted hard porcelain, working with international Michelin-starred chefs, such as Sergio Herman, Alain Ducasse and Lanshu Chen.

Studio with applied work on display | The Archive | Piet Stockmans | STIRworld
Studio with applied work on display Image: Courtesy of Piet Stockmans

His practice has been extremely wide based, ranging from extensive research into finding the perfect shade of blue, to urns and jewellery in porcelain for keeping precious memories alive, and the iconic ‘Sonja’ cup, which he designed for the Maastricht porcelain factory Mosa in 1976 – a design that would go on to sell some 30 million cups in its first decade alone. Stockmans has exhibited in prestigious museums such as the Victoria and Albert Museum  in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art  in New York, and the Stedelijk Museum  in Amsterdam. This retrospective exhibition offers a unique insight into his life and work, and gives an overview of  Stockmans’ contemporary art practice from 1963 to the present.

Little Snow-White, 2006, porcelain, Piet Stockmans | The Archive | STIRworld
Little Snow-White, 2006, porcelain Image: Courtesy of Piet Stockmans

I speak with Flemish ceramist Piet Stockmans on the sidelines of his exhibition at his studio in Belgium.

Rahul Kumar (RK): A retrospective of six decades is something not many artists can boast of. As you look back at your creative life, what are the significant milestones and departures?

Piet Stockmans (PS): My life has been a series of initiatives to achieve the result I have today. For example, the choice to enter the industry after my higher art education has been essential for the work that has come into being as a result. The starting point in my work has always been the material, the research that I do and the actions that arise from that. The results then follow organically. I have been creative in my research and sometimes something personal and valuable comes out of it that tells something about me.

Signature blue of Stockmans | The Archive | Piet Stockmans | STIRworld
Signature blue of Stockmans Image: Courtesy of Piet Stockmans
Installation at the exhibition | The Archive | Piet Stockmans | STIRworld
Installation at the exhibition Image: Courtesy of Piet Stockmans

Rahul: In an attempt to ‘look forward’, you designed your own coffin. Why is it important for you to examine the idea of death? While inevitable, is it not more important to celebrate the life at hand, instead?

Piet: To be concerned with death is the same as being concerned with life. Life is the time between birth and death. It is one cycle. When you reflect on death, life becomes more meaningful.

Coffin, 2020, solid european oak , Piet Stockman| The Archive| STIRworld
Coffin, 2020, solid european oak Image: Courtesy of Piet Stockmans

Rahul: You have pushed the boundaries of your medium, porcelain. It is said that you underwent extensive research to find the perfect shade of blue once! Please recall that experience for us.

Piet: As soon as I had my own porcelain kiln in 1979, I started to research hundreds of raw materials. Naturally, blue dyes were among them. The blue colour that I use and that enthusiasts have named Stockmans Blue was chosen from hundreds of colour tests. These show that raw materials for blue give very good results at the high temperature (1400°C) at which porcelain is fired. From these, I chose a blue that has become very recognisable.

Multiples, design work of Stockmans | The Archive | Piet Stockmans | STIRworld
Multiples, design work of Stockmans Image: Courtesy of Piet Stockmans

Rahul: What has been more satisfying – your artistic endeavours or designing for function?

Piet: The starting points are different but I do not distinguish between them. There is a mutual fertilisation between the different types of work. It is the same person who makes everything. For the sake of clarity, the art exhibition is divided into various aspects of my work. I have to unravel it in order to paint a clear picture for the viewer. In practice, my experience is that people lump everything together. Many a functional piece of porcelain moves from the cupboard to the shelf as an object.

Display view of The Archive | The Archive | Piet Stockmans | STIRworld
Display view of The Archive Image: Courtesy of Piet Stockmans
Bust, 2002, porcelain, Piet Stockmans | The Archive | STIRworld
Bust, 2002, porcelain Image: Courtesy of Piet Stockmans

Rahul: Please talk about the three sections of the retrospective exhibition.

Piet: The exhibition had some general themes. Because of the confusion about ceramics and porcelain, I first provided information about the various types of ceramic products.

Then I explained the history of porcelain from the Far East to here. I also tell about my background. Then I explained what I designed as an industrial designer and who I worked with. Then there was a chapter on collaboration with companies in other materials, such as crystal, and finally, collaboration with artists who have worked in porcelain.

Stockmans extensively researched to develop shades of blue for his work | The Archive | Piet Stockmans | STIRworld
Stockmans extensively researched to develop shades of blue for his work Image: Courtesy of Piet Stockmans

All this was a prelude to the presentation of the designs for our studio, which were presented in a dark blue 25m-long corridor. Then my free-form work was presented in seven corridors in which my entire oeuvre is gone through. This ended with my last work in the large exhibition hall. In an additional presentation, all the work I have done over the years was shown. These have mainly been small series of which I have kept one piece.

Piet Stockmans | The Archive | Piet Stockmans | STIRworld
Piet Stockmans Image: Courtesy of Piet Stockmans

In 1988 Stockmans was awarded the State Prize for the Visual Arts. In 1995 he was a Cultural Ambassador of Flanders and a year later he received the prestigious Red Dot Award. In 1998 he accepted the Henry Van de Velde Prize for his entire oeuvre.

04 mins watch Wall Installation by Piet Stockmans | The Archive | STIRworld
Wall installation by Piet Stockmans Video: Piet Stockmans

The Archive is on view until the end of February 2022 on the first floor of Studio Pieter Stockmans in Genk, Belgium.

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