Épices de cru has been, since its creation, a family enterprise. Ethné and Philippe gave their children the same passion for culinary discovery and travel, a passion which was then transformed according to the tastes and experiences of each. While his sister launched herself into the world of tea, Arik chose to work with his hands- not far from the world of gastronomy- in creating objects that allow us to appreciate the splendour found on a plate or in a cup of tea. Arik’s ceramics occupy an honoured place in our store in the Jean-Talon market and, with the tea and spices, it well illustrates the lifestyle and philosophy of the de Vienne family.
What first attracted you to ceramics?
I had my first contact with ceramics when I was around 6 years old, with a great aunt on my mom’s side who was a ceramist. I remember really enjoying the experience. After my studies (I didn’t have any interest in pursuing literature), I took a moment to ask myself: “when was the last time you were really happy doing something?” The answer came clearly in my head: it was the last time I was making ceramics (I had taken a few classes at Cégep.) I’m sure that growing up in such a culinary family played an important role in pushing my towards this craft.
How would you describe your style?
Very classic style and above all entirely functional. It’s very important to me that each piece is first able to fulfill its role. Of course there is a more modern touch I add when designing the final.
Have your many travels influenced your creations?
Travel allows me to escape rigid boundaries and get outside the box to create my own personal style. Without a doubt, there’s an influence from my many family trips that can be found in, among other things, the little injections of colour in different pieces. I would also say my different travels have inspired me greatly. In practice, one can’t exist without the other: travel is a source of inspiration and inspiration incites new travels. It’s a great way to explore different cultures and meet other artists.
Is it important for you to use material from Québec?
Absolutely, because I know exactly where it comes from. Sometimes, I need specific information for a very specific kind of material- particularly for ceramics destined for daily use- and I can discuss it with actual person who supplies it. The quality of Quebec clay is incomparable. Its so pure it requires very little processing, which is greatly desirable for a ceramist. Quebec soil is rich in limestone, which creates natural plasticity. Why order a synthetic clay from China when I can have a quality product that comes from Quebéc and support local producers?
What is your creative process in designing new pieces?
It’s a long process done in an organic manner. I draw a lot and I sketch constantly over several months, with a felt or calligraphy pen. I also do a lot of supplementary reading on design and architecture. I take particular inspiration from 50’s classic design.
Once you have an idea in your head, explain the steps behind the making of a piece.
When an idea starts to be clear, I first make a 3D clay model and then I test firing, glazing, and coloring. Once that version is finished, I can really develop the piece. Still, after all that difficult work, the final test rests in firing in the kiln. It’s difficult to predict how a piece will react to the heat of the kiln. I often end up with something completely different and still find myself in front of a failure. It’s in the field of the unexpected that makes the real craft.
On average, how long does it take to develop a new piece?
Often, I develop an idea in my head, one that really grabs me, but I’m still confronted with the reality of time and other constraints. The initial composition of pieces takes several days. Since I’ve chosen not to have any mechanical assistance in my studio (except of course for the kiln firing), assembling the entire collection demands an enormous amount of time. From start to finish, it takes about 9 months. Similarly, when I produce a smaller line, I like to take the same amount of time to see if it works or doesn’t or if I can make this particular part or not.
Who has inspired you or influenced your style?
There’s a Sri Lankan architect who influenced me greatly that I learned about from my mom, Geoffrey Bawa. There’s also Jon Alameda, a magnificent artist that truly inspired me. He started by making large, complex pieces, and now he only makes miniature pieces, on the scale of inches. He puts incredible care into his work, and every time I have a chance to appreciate his work, my ceramist’s heart is touched. I also like the work of Issey Miyake. In all honesty, I should say that, when I’m really in need of inspiration, I open a cookbook. I have a nice collection at home, so I consult my books, and look at the photos and make connections with the recipes. Food is intimately linked to ceramics, so looking at cookbooks gives me new perspectives and new ideas.
It attention to detail and precision important in your work?
Yes, but less and less. I’m a person who, for a long time, felt that everything should be perfect; it’s a kind of testament to the way in which I was trained. With time, I’ve come to appreciate imperfections and even how to work with them. I’ve discovered that imperfections can give character to a piece, and I also consider the care given to a piece is a form of respect for the earth with which I work. It’s clear that with time I’ve gotten much more confident in my work. It’s really become second nature to me- I spend less time thinking of each step in my work and can do it in a more organic way.
What ideas do you want to communicate to people through the work you do?
First, I want to say that time spent together around a table with people, be they family or friends, is very important for me. That’s what I want to communicate through my ceramics. I make pieces that encourage the sharing and exchange between people. It’s important to take the time to sit together and discuss good and bad things, your day and your life. It’s, for me, a question of transparency and honesty. I believe we need very little to be happy, and it’s always interesting to be surrounded by stories. You find it often in a cup of tea or on a plate. It allows you to take time to meditate, take a break, or deal with your everyday stresses.
I also can’t forget to mention the great pleasure I take from making ceramics, since that’s the core of my work. Clay evolves constantly throughout production. It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that the piece you hold in your hands existed first in malleable form and then became a solid object. It is, in the end, a fascinating reflection on materiality and all the possible transformations in life.