Meet : Hélène Morbu

Portrait | August 27th 2018

RENCONTRE AVEC HÉLÈNE MORBU, CRÉATRICE DE CÉRAMIQUES

Ceramics designer Hélène Morbu combines simple shapes with luxurious textures. Through her work with clay and colour, she creates collections of unique table decorations, vases and lights, displayed for the first time exclusively at Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche.
Hélène Morbu has dedicated herself to her experimental work at the meeting point of haute couture and design.

What attracted you to ceramics work?


Unlike other materials, working with clay felt more immediate, concrete and instinctive to me... maybe because the main tool is your hands. As I took more and more of an interest, I discovered the huge potential of this material: the diversity of techniques in terms of shaping, firing, surface work, glazing... It seemed obvious to me to explore this craft by playing with all these factors to develop my own language.
It's an ancestral practice which, despite everything, has remained an empirical one, which is what makes it so magical. It’s very rewarding but also disconcerting, because nothing can be taken for granted, you have to learn to converse with the clay.


Opposite: Demi-Lune collection, cups

Your work is split into 3 collections: the “one-off pieces”, the “small editions” and the “lights”. Can you talk us through the specificities of each one?


I am very fond of utilitarian objects, so I began to develop a collection of ceramics (cups, bowls, teapot, etc.) for day-to-day use. These objects are produced in small editions in my workshop, I make them either using the wheel or through slip casting. Each model is developed and produced according to a precise design.
The “UFO” lights are the product of an experiment using the properties of the mould and the transparency of porcelain. I have developed a casting method that produces different thicknesses of porcelain, which creates a gradation of light when you turn it on.
The one-off pieces are my most recent, later and more experimental work. Here, I’m more interested in the aesthetic qualities of the clay to create quite complex textures, along with work on coloured clay and glaze. These pieces currently take the form of a vase, each of them unique or produced in a limited edition of five.


Opposite: Saturne collection, bowls in coloured stoneware

The appearance of your collections (particularly items from the “one-off pieces” collection) is sometimes unusual. What technique do you use to create textures reminiscent of caning or lace?


The textures are the result of a process that is quite simple but demands a great deal of precision, patience and concentration. It all lies in the repetition and consistency of the technique. I use tools that I have specially made, combs with different-shaped teeth. I then press or make incisions in stoneware slabs by moving the comb evenly, line by line, and the textured slabs are then hand-moulded and shaped. I also create contrasts between clays that I colour solidly which remain matte and shiny glazes. This makes for even more complex textures and reinforces the impression of weaving or caning, with the surface shining or quivering depending on the light.


Opposite: Akan collection, vases K47, K50 and K45

To what extent are your creations inspired by the Art Deco movement?


I grew up in St Quentin in Picardie, a town devastated by the First World War and which has a wonderful Art Deco heritage thanks to reconstruction in the 20s. It’s a movement that has always inspired me, I think it’s very bold, with a timeless and sometimes almost futuristic elegance. It inspires my creations as they are often the result of a combination of elemental geometric shapes. These shapes are clear and precise, with pure and strong colours. I pay close attention to proportions and details and aim for a kind of clarity in my pieces.


Opposite: Codex collection, vase X7

Unlike other materials, working with clay felt more immediate, concrete and instinctive to me... maybe because the principal tool is your hands.

You place a great deal of importance on colour, and particularly blue, which seems to be recurrent in your work, especially in the “small editions” pieces. What does this shade mean to you?


I do place a lot of emphasis on colour, which can make objects softer, brighter or more dynamic. The utilitarian pieces are designed individually and in a group, I like the idea that they can be combined or stacked in colour ranges. If blue has more of a presence it’s because it’s a serene colour, it calms people... even electric blue is never too aggressive. Blue is a clear choice because it has a kind of ease, every shade of it is appealing, from pale blue to indigo. I’ve noticed this even more since I recently started working with reds and yellows, which are riskier colours that are harder to appreciate depending on the shade.


Opposite: “Caïro” collection

Finally, what does it mean to you to have your work displayed at Le Bon Marché? What do you like most about the store?


Le Bon Marché is an institution, it represents a great deal of recognition for my work and makes me proud to see my pieces in such a beautiful setting, alongside major names in design whose work I admire. What I most like is the atmosphere of the store, it’s majestic and calm at the same time. The glass domes with their metal structures are incredible.


Opposite: Akan collection, vases K12, K3 and K10