The humble complexity of Diane Alexandre’s designs
French ceramicist and artist Diane Alexandre’s sculpted beauty matches that of her creations – fired up to fragile perfection. With the Aegean blue and Apollonian light offering as much inspiration as Greek mythology, Diane’s aesthetic vernacular is shaped by that of her adopted home.
Diane, you’re a multi-talented personality and you’ve worked with different media – from ceramics, to paintings, web design and video clips – is there anything you don’t do? How does your understanding of one medium inform the other?
As my graphic design teacher in second year in Arts Décoratifs school repeated, « the medium is the message ». I have always been drawing, before I was reading or writing, I would spend hours inventing characters, imaginary landscapes or fabulous animals. At first, it was the most reachable technique for a kid. Growing up, I remained in the universe of flat images. I was representing visions, dreams, stories but they were always a representation. I never considered them as « being » for you could only look at them from one single angle. Moving on to lino engravings and then ceramics and sculpture was another step for me. I now shape beings. These objects have a more dense existence for me. They are hit by light, they form shadows, they look different from one angle to another. This is why I can place in them a part of my soul and feel them being alive. Which, I guess, is the thread that links all my creations.
What brought you to Greece? And what is it that inspires your art and your everyday life?
I came to Greece out of love. Love for a man, of course, but also for myself. I was longing to change my life, be closer to Nature, to light, to… the gods in a way. In Greece, I found not only my true place on this earth, but I also started the process of finding myself. A few months before leaving Paris, I had this awakening vision. I was transported back in time, in my childhood garden, the day of my seventh birthday. I had no idea of what the future would bring, I was utterly free. Coming back to my senses, I contemplated the immense gap separating me, as an adult, from who I was, as a child. I decided that these two persons had to start walking toward each other and be reunited. I left everything and began craving for life. The hunger I felt took me to new places, new people, and finally, after moving, traveling, dancing, drinking, I stood still and it was time to dive inside myself.
That is where I find the most of my inspiration. My memories, my feelings, my dreams, my beliefs. All of them are magically enhanced by the Nature here, bright and wild, the light that pierces through everything, and the history, that connects me to all the past beings that walked through the same landscapes.
What fascinates you about ceramic as a medium for your designs? Your ceramic work has found its way into collaborations with jewellery lines such as Lito Fine Jewellery and at the Cycladic Museum Shop. You’ve described your totems as ‘witnesses of your past’. How would you describe the wearer of your jewellery and what is it that you hope to convey through your minimalist designs?
Ceramic is basically earth. I find this material at the same time humble and primordial, biblical. It is the first matter to have been used by ancient men to shape whatever was true to them. I like argile, as I like wood, paper, stone. Because they come from Nature, and there is no greater creator then her. Argile is alive, it breathes, it moves. This is why it inspires my totems. It already has a soul.
My Scarab pendants are hand crafted and engraved one by one. I spend a lot of time on each of them, for I never do the same design twice. Each piece is the opportunity for a thought, a silent prayer, a warm feeling towards someone. I began being fascinated by them, visiting the Egyptology department of the Louvre with my grandfather when I was a child. I would always carry a blue one he had offered me in my pocket. Later on, when I met my love, I noticed immediately a blue scarab tattooed on the side of his wrist. I believe in signs, I look for them always. This was a good omen and has proven to be true. He is my protector and he elevates me. I want to make this gift to others, with my pendants and my totems. Protection and elevation.
You’ve been working on a series of ink drawings inspired by your exploration of Greek mythology and eroticism with your partner – how hard is it to maintain the integrity of your style while working together?
It was a process of a week really. First we tried to match both our styles, but it did not work so well. To be honest, his style is very strong, and I am not sure I can say I have a style. But we came up with a system. We would agree on a theme, then produce separately two drafts, then pick the most interesting one. Then, with tracing paper, we would modify the drawing and offer it back to the other, so he/she could continue. We could offer the draft up to 7 times until we were both satisfied with the outcome. Then Théo would ink draw the final work, for he has a steadier hand and a nicer line than I do.
I was used to work in collaboration before, and for me, the ego was not in question. Théo was more disturbed at first but he really got into it and it felt natural after a few days. We realized it was fun, and at that time of our new love, that really was all that mattered to us : sharing good times.
Describe a typical day – do you know if you’ll draw or fire up a kiln when you wake up?
I must say I haven’t had a day without drawing, lino engraving or shaping, trimming, painting or glazing clay since… four years! Saying it now really amazes me. I am a bit of a compulsive personality I confess. I tend to feel anxious if my hands are not busy, and it would be depriving myself of such a joy to be honest. My days are organized, I know what I have to do, to meet orders, make something for a friend, prepare for an exhibition or simply to keep up with the material pace. Clay and specially porcelain, have a specific cycle. Respecting drying times and attending to cracks or deformations are key. When I start something, I know that it will be a continuous process for weeks at times. The idea is to juggle with my different pieces. When I arrive at the workshop at Sealed Earth, the thing I do is uncover one by one all my pieces, to assess their state, if they need anything, if they are ready for the next step.
Which area of Athens do you live in? What do you see from your balcony?
I live in Koukaki, and I am really lucky to see Filopapou hill from my flat, but also the whole city going down to the sea. When the weather is clear, I can see Aegina, Angistri and the distant mountains of the Peloponnese. It ’s magical.
Can you describe a quintessentially Athenian sound, smell, taste and sight?
The sound I hear the most is the songs of birds living in the hill. The smell is changing depending on the season, but the one I love is the petrichor, the smell of the asphalt after a heavy summer rain. The sight is the golden Acropolis, framed by eucalyptuses when I am up on the hill, walking my dogs.
What is the one experience you’d recommend to someone visiting Greece ?
I would advise anyone to dedicate a few days to Athens instead of leaving for an island right away. It’s a city wonderful to get lost in, full of hidden places that deserve our time and curiosity. Then, I would recommend one of the best ferry trip, long but worthy: Athens to Anafi on the legendary Prevelis! But my main recommendation would be: avoid beaches with umbrellas and mattresses, pools and loud places. Find a safe and remote heaven to bathe naked and alone and feel part of the world on your own.
Any favourite shops or boutiques that showcase Greek design and creativity?
A lot! Greece is a country of great designers.
– I recommend of course the boutique of the Cycladic Museum, always beautifully curated and staged.
– If you are looking for jewelry here are 4 names for you : Lito Fine Jewelry, Eleni Marneri, Neso Studio, Liberta Store
-If you need to dress up, check up : Noble Store, Zeus & Dione, Faye Chatzi
– If you are in Paros, run to Electric Paros
– Then you have to visit the most elegant More Than This in Antiparos
– If you want to immortalize your stay, get a tattoo at Vlinki
– If you want to bring back an original gift, or have it directly send, then check the Limited printed edition of Printsin
– If you just want to look at the most beautiful pieces of design or art, go to Martinos Gallery
– If you dream of the perfect urban getaway, book a suite at Shila
What are the most positive changes you’ve noticed since you moved here?
When I arrived four years ago, my neighborhood had suffered greatly from the crisis and everything was closed. Slowly, Koukaki came back to life, new shops opened, people from other neighborhood are now coming to have a lunch or a drink, and it has become more lively, and not only touristically, Athenians hang around too.
I also noticed more and more people are adopting rescued dogs. The attitude of the Athenian family has shifted. A few years back, kids would be afraid, mothers would shelter them from the sight of dogs, even on a leash and well groomed. Now, when I walk my dogs, kids stop and want to pet them, parents aren’t so skeptical about them anymore.
A lot of food and beverages businesses are adopting the no-plastic concept, which is a real need here. And I am glad about it, but there is still room for education to respect the environment. I see trash every day on the hill and it is one of the things that makes me mad. People come for a beer, they leave their cans, their cigarette butts, their empty plastic bag of chips… I am truly in awe of the volunteer women who clean the park every morning, and I thank them. If only all of us could be volunteer workers for our environment.
Diane’s prints are exclusively sold by Printsin. Some selected ceramics are sold at More Than This in Antiparos. For Diane’s necklaces, paper weights, wall decorations and sculptures contact directly via email firstname.lastname@example.org or send a dm on her Instagram handle. http://www.dianealexandre.fr/