His creations, the pyramids of the ages, have turned the hearts and crowned years of hard work, with the prestigious Prize Bettancourt in 2010. Claude Aïello is a ceramic turner … of lives! Those of people of nations which he molded so that it becomes beautiful demographic jars; Those of his two younger brothers whom he trained in the profession; Those of the designers of the world for whom he will create unique and beautiful pieces; Those of the students and professionals for whom he’s a model and leader to become as well turners of works of art. With great humility and true mastery, Claude the craftsman continues to innovate in his workshop of Vallauris, pushing the boundaries of his art ever further to create vibrant works before our eyes.
The elder brother who shows the way
Claude Aïello comes from a family of three generations of ceramists of Italian origin. “I am the eldest of 7 children. My grandfather was a ceramist. My father also became so, and his specialty was the wood-burning ovens.” At the age of 13, he arrived in France to follow his father who settled down in Vallauris, and he took up the ceramics because “he had to work as well.” But since the beginning, he was attracted by the turning of pieces and how from a ball of soil, one can create a shape! His father spoke to his employer and as soon as they find a wheel, they installed it for him. “Later, my dad even bought me a mechanic potter’s wheel- which is still in the basement.” He then began his apprenticeship in a traditional fired-clay factory, and he had been trained by several ceramic turners from Vallauris. One of them, Jacques-Fernand Orsini (Best Worker in France) will become a Master, instilling him a taste for the job. “He taught me to create and think out of the box to find my own way.”
At the beginning, however, his orientation will remain classic. He will start his own business in 1974 making a local production; mainly pots and kitchen tools. While his orders were exploding, he will flip totally the other way. He was thinking of expanding his workshop by installing a dryer, but his wife will suggest that he turns to single pieces and limited series. “I felt a bit of lassitude and my brothers had just left. As a result, I became more oriented towards the turn, which is an excellent creation tool.” And from there, in the 80s, he will start his collaboration with Orsini and the designers.
The ceramist of the designers
Very quickly, he creates unique and tailor-made pieces. Inquisitive about all subjects, and thanks to the influence of the trend-setters designers, Claude Aïello will work fashionable colors and shapes. The success will come in 1998 with the operation “Two designers in Vallauris” launched by the Ministry of Culture and Communication. The aim was to highlight the know-how of local craftsmen and to build real alliances to renew the production of earthenware. Ronan Bouroullec and Frédéric Ruyant will call him and the success is immediate. Similar partnerships will follow soon, and his unique know-how will be rewarded in 2010, with the highest distinction of Liliane Bettencourt Prize for The Intelligence of the Hand.
His art culminates in these prized artworks. He admitted it himself: “I could never have done this creation ten years before. And he will stress for 5 months, overcoming all difficulties. The project is titled “The Age of the World” with designer Mathieu Lehanneur: a series of pieces that model the age pyramids of the populations of different countries such as France, the United States, Japan, Russia or Egypt. Each piece will weigh 100 kg in the end and will all be turned by hand, without any machine intervention. A feat at each stage of manufacture! Both in the metering of materials to resist cooling, turning itself and shaping. “To achieve this part, I took 36 kg of clay almost 2 bags. I made it upside down on a tray, and once it was turned, there was a return to the horizontal which was very difficult.” Claude Aïello then created a base frame inside the piece to make it hold. “I had never done that in my life and I learned so much despite all my experience.” In the end, he will give birth to works of an incredible beauty, with precision of exactly 100 strata, all laid there in his workshop. It was magical! And all visitors will encourage him to present the pieces in a contest, in addition to the Vallauris Biennale that he will won. But the most emotional memory for Claude is when his friend, a painter from Auvergne region, will see the pieces and will go to weep. “Today, he is no longer of this world but I feel his benevolent presence in the workshop.” And there, it is his artisan friend who is moved to tears …
The pleasure of creating
The most important thing for the master-ceramist is to create, and it is possible at all stages of his craft. It is also to keep the same wonder, and it’s still magical for him, after 45 years of practicing, to forget the notion of time when on the wheel, giving birth to objects. To do so, it is necessary to exercise without becoming discouraged, until mastering the shaping, the drying, the constraints of the fire and the placing in the oven. And know all the parameters and the different types of clays: the red, brown or white ones and not to mention enamelling with different colors and materials. These craft is learned with perseverance and passion, and there is great patience to acquire because it will take at least 8 years of experience before having pleasure at work.
Today, Claude humbly recognizes that he can create all forms. This art ceramist shapes unique pieces and finds his joy in succeeding each of them. His mastery made him one of the few craftsmen to be able to turn parts of large sizes. “With each project, I have a challenge to meet and I am satisfied when the piece is finished.” Claude Aïello continues his collaboration with designers from all walks of life, and dares atypical associations like textiles and ceramics, for example. He also has models he designed for a personal collection. “I made a nice table recently.” Each time, in an inspired way, with resolutely modern forms, which bring innovation and creativity.
Transmitting his art
In Vallauris, world capital of ceramics, Claude Aïello continues to create, with the genius of a Picasso valuing a long line of tradition pottery. “This trade dates back to the Gallo-Roman era! ” He exclaimed proudly … “A client even showed me a local amphora dating back to 2,500 BC.” His business is now classified as a Living Heritage and he teaches every week in an art school, advising relentlessly to transform the trade and perpetuate vocations. “There were nearly 32 factories in the middle of the 19th century that have disappeared, but the pottery continues evolving towards artistic ceramics.” An ancestral know-how with a need to innovate that he transmits in his improvement courses. With his students, Claude encourages to find their personal way of expression.
Earth is his element. Roundness is the form he likes, and there is in Claude Aïello’s art a great maternal fruition. He is sensitive and generous, and full of simplicity, with a great openness to others, in his small workshop in Vallauris. For there he began his career and there, he chose to become a ceramist of art, being a precursor of a trade that is now lived with and for the others. His exceptional manual intelligence and total mastery of his craft made him become an actor, incubator, inspiration and life leader, showing constantly how to turn and return to the essentials: the origin of life.
Interview held by Carine Mouradian on July 22, 2017, at Vallauris (Provence Côte d’Azur)