In surveying the field of contemporary art it is possible to discern some works in stone positioned in public spaces, on gallery floors and even scattered outdoors. These presences point to the existence of a rare and subtle body of work, the product of an equally elusive artist: Daniel Pontoreau.
How can we interpret these works that seem not to immediately offer up the secrets of their origins; that seem sometimes like testimonials to a larger artistic gesture that resists our scrutiny? Meteorites from some unknown sphere? Monoliths erected by some long since disappeared civilisation?
Do not expect Daniel Pontoreau to offer up any definitive reading of what you see before you. Even the term “stone” is deceptive. Refractory material, cast iron, ceramic and porcelain represent only the starting points for any attempt to demystify these works.
When Pontoreau installed the imposing “Pierre trouée” [Pierced Stone] (2003) in a square in Strasbourg in homage to his friend and fellow sculptor Jean Clareboudt, the piece asserted its singular mass as if evoking the magnitude of its earthly force, unleashing powerful currents that draw the passer-by irresistibly to the work.
When he situated “La pierre couchée” [Reclining Stone] (1996-97) at Ivry sur Seine, the sculptor brought together two unfamiliar glazed cast-iron forms creating a curious dialogue between the two works that evaded definition. Already in 1992, Daniel Pontoreau had installed “Champ du feu” [Fire Field] in the Vosges Mountains, bringing together his large megalithic structures and five hundred blocks of Indian marble.
“Each element appears linked to each other by invisible lines, just like the planet’s network of telluric fields”, he explained.
In light of these examples we can begin to define a rubric that will help us to approach this esoteric body of work. The sculptor does not commit to a certain form just for its own sake. In his mythic “Pierrot le Fou”, Jean-Luc Godard has Jean-Paul Belmondo read the following text by Elie Faure:
“After reaching fifty, Velasquez stopped painting definite objects. He was inclined towards ethereal objects with atmosphere, with twilight… He sought to picture only those mysterious worldly exchanges that merge together forms and tones… For him space reigned…”
To draw us along in his search, Daniel Pontoreau explores that elusive space, using the stones to mark a path leading towards the worldly relationship he first initiated more than forty years ago. A nomadic artist, in his extensive travels from America to India and Iran to Mali, the artist seeks out ancient civilisations in search of the various ways mankind has responded to the perpetual question of our place on earth, of our relationship to the planet through magnetic fields, telluric currents, volcanic energy, and of the perpetual confrontation of earth and fire. Earth reveals itself therefore as the symbolic element that the artist invokes both for its cosmogony and for its immediately accessible materiality.
“I wonder if the land has something to say. I wonder if the ground listens to what is being said. I wonder if the earth has come to life and what then sustains it”, proclaims the Chief of the Native American tribe of the Cayuse.
Daniel Pontoreau recasts this anxiety in his own way and makes the earth the very matter of his relentless interrogations. In establishing dialogues between the primary elements of his ceramics, the artist leads the viewer towards a symbolic revelation. Be it his 2014 exhibition at Galerie Fatiha Selam in Paris or the very one that is open today; be it Ceramix, the ambitious international exhibition in 2016, or the sumptuous black pieces created for the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park in Japan in 2009 (works recently acquired by the Museum of Ceramic Art, Hyogo), one always finds the same interrogation operating simultaneously in both Pontoreau’s large-scale sculpture and in his more two-dimensional works constructed of successive layers in relief or intaglio. Taken together the work is subject to those currents that make themselves known in the most unexpected contexts.
Daniel Pontoreau is passionate about astrophysics and is interested in the universe itself, where for him “space reigns”. Worldly presences are not limited to the planet. At the point of approaching his material in all of its component parts, one could say that Pontoreau sees the key to unlocking the universe’s secrets as being the very earth itself.