Tsuyoshi Maekawa, Pierre Culot

Group exhibition

Axel Vervoordt Gallery is pleased to present Resilience, an exhibition at Kanaal’s Terrace Gallery that places the work of the Belgian ceramicist and sculptor Pierre Culot (Malmedy, 1938 – Incourt, 2011) in dialogue with recent paintings by the Japanese artist Tsuyoshi Maekawa (° Osaka, 1936).

Although Culot and Maekawa never met, striking conversations and correlations arise when viewing the artworks together. Both artists have a profound admiration for materiality. Their distinctive approaches display an overwhelming energy and never-ending urge to give life to matter. They created art out of total freedom, without any dogma or scholarly academism. The title of the exhibition takes direct inspiration from the artists’ expressive oeuvres, and the word’s physical and metaphysical meaning. Maekawa aims to heal the wounds of post-war Japan by stitching his burlap canvasses, whereas Culot’s monumental clay sculptures stand silently like sanctuaries, or walls, while conjuring opposing notions of embracing or defending the space they occupy.

Pierre Culot was a Belgian artist who wanted to build a bridge between British, Japanese, and French traditions. Culot saw nature as the sole generator of life and beauty and he considered earth or clay as his primary material, forming the heart of the process. His works evolved from basic forms and shapes, such as bowls, plates, and jugs, to more daring, elaborate forms shifting beyond functionality towards architecture. His works are marked by monumentality and freedom, but overall, by a love for materiality.

Working with Bernard Leach, Culot discovered the traditions and finesse of Japanese ceramic art. During trips to Japan, he was inspired by the gestural approach to ceramics, marked by fingerprints, scratches, and edges pressure-welded into what appears to be unfinished shapes. He abandoned round shapes in favour of square and rectangle. In most cases, he worked with ‘slabbing’, which is attaching slabs of clay together by guillochage, a robust technique that allowed him to create large pieces.

According to Rudi Fuchs, “They are objects of impressive craftmanship, developed in a vivid and contemporary artistic understanding of form, material, and process. Though when we see their strong and compelling presence as objects, it becomes irrelevant whether they are art, craft, or both. What is important, however, is that they are pottery, because Pierre Culot is one of those rare artists who has been able to prevent pottery from slipping into futile preciosity, and to give this craft back its ancient nobility”1.

Throughout a career spanning many decades, Maekawa, a former Gutai member, has never stopped working and continues to use his sewing machine as a medium to suture his canvasses resulting in woven paintings. The act of stitching and bending canvasses into folds and pleats resembles a form of therapy. He used his art to heal the wounds of the war, not to reveal them. Even at the age of 85, Maekawa returns to his studio daily with the same drive for creativity. The exhibited recent works are being shown to the public for the first time.

Maekawa returns to his preferred burlap material for its raw, rough texture. Made from hemp fibres, he appreciates this humble and ubiquitous material that was used as bags for rice and grains. He focusses on the material composition of the artwork, not on its presentation. He incorporates sewn, wrinkled, and twisted waveforms in canvasses airbrushed with acrylic paint, exploring the material’s infinite possibilities.

Resilience is one of the first major exhibitions featuring Pierre Culot’s work following the artist’s death in 2011. The exhibition coincides with the publication of a recent monography, Pierre Culot. 1938-2011 (Mercatorfonds, 2023). In the 1970s, he had solo exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and V&A London, Palais de Tokyo in Paris among others. Maekawa has been part of the gallery’s roster for many years.

Artists: Tsuyoshi Maekawa, Pierre Culot

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