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February 2005

Form & the Formless

- by Priya Sunderavalli

Michel reaches for the elusive through matter


These days, it is getting more and more difficult to review shows by Auroville artists. There is no vocabulary to express the inexpressible. How can one review an exhibition like Michel's ‘Form and the Formless'…? What does one say? One can only gaze in contemplation at each creation, marvelling at the words of Sri Aurobindo (see box) which seem so fitting a description of the works on display. Words that have integrally captured the essence of true art…

However for my own mental clarity, I feel the need to write about it. And also to share something of it for those who have not had the opportunity to stand in front of any one of these creations.



What is striking about Michel's works in this exhibition is texture. Texture with a certain lightness in quality and almost extra-dimensional sensitivity. There is a delicacy even in the gouged-out grooves buzzing like a textured vibration on the clay surface or in the scar-like reliefs stamped-out on the clay body. The use of matt glazes and slips (coloured clay) gives a supra-dimensional depth to the surface, and each work appears to extend energetically beyond its material boundaries. Any moment you feel as if the piece will dissolve into thin air and disappear into the ether.

There is a quality to his work that is mellow. When asked about it, Michel says, “It is a choice, of course. Probably it goes with age because I observe that many young people like things that are flashy and colourful, while I rarely find something both colourful and beautiful at the same time. So I am extremely critical of putting in colour just to make something more alive. There are very few things that I really like integrally. Actually in my last show at the Tibetan Pavilion I was not using any colour. The pots were wood-fired and had earthy tones and flashes to it. The only colours were brought in by the flowers of Valeria, but I was really enthusiastic about that.” In fact, over the past year, having discovered new pigments that withstand high temperatures reached by the wood-fire kiln, Michel's works are displaying more colour than ever before.

Michel's works at the show can be divided into four categories – platters, bottles, vases, and sculptural forms. What strikes the viewer about the forms is their size. He confides that it was only recently that he ventured into the world of large surfaces. “I don't even remember how it started. It came from deep dissatisfaction with the work. While I was always involved in production work, it did not bring any fullness inside. And at some point, you have to find something otherwise you just have to stop.” Michel's inspiration came without thought or plan. “I just went there and said ‘Ah, let's try this',” and discovered that he had hit something. “At the beginning I just liked them for their size, and I was busy with the technique of making big shapes which would not break before or during the firing.” It took Michel months before he became comfortable with the technical aspects. In that period of intense creativity and work, he even declined an invitation to the prestigious ‘Peace and Harmony Show' in New Delhi for International potters. “The announcement came when I was fully into large pieces. I was not into thinking about exhibitions or shows. Secondly there was a ridiculous limit on size – 40 cm by 40 cm – which was unrealistic for me as my pieces were really large at that time.” He acknowledges that it was a lost opportunity .

For Michel, the ultimate destiny of a pot is for it to find a place with somebody who likes it. “That's the aboutissement, the end of the process. It is not that you are talking only to yourself. That is also possible, and I could imagine making pots like that just for myself. I do keep that state of mind when I make these pieces; I am not thinking at all of exhibition, or price or whatever. But in the end, I am very happy when my pot finds a home.” And this freedom, he confesses, comes from the stability of a workshop which has been established for over 20 years.

My favourite piece in the exhibition is a vase almost half my height, balanced on a tiny base. With a dark brown body and a horizontal flame of beige-orange girdling it, it plays visual tricks on my eye. It curves up at an angle as if preparing to take a leap. The small triangular mouth at the top edge appears mysterious and dark. As I leave I cannot help leaning over and blowing softly in. A cold draft whooshes back, carrying the scent of moist earth after the rains, accompanied by the sounds of the ocean.



“For there is, concealed behind individual love, obscured by its ignorant human figure, a mystery which the mind cannot seize, the mystery of the body of the Divine, the secret of a mystic form of the Infinite which we can approach only through the ecstasy of the heart and the passion of the pure and sublimated sense, and its attraction which is the call of the divine Flute-player, the mastering compulsion of the All-Beautiful, can only be seized and seize us through an occult love and yearning which in the end makes one the Form and the Formless, and identifies Spirit and Matter. It is that which the spirit in Love is seeking here in the darkness of the Ignorance and it is that which it finds when individual human love is changed into the love of the Immanent Divine incarnate in the material universe.”


Volume: 23-24 [CWSA] (The Synthesis of Yoga), Page: 160

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