Alain-Marie Tremblay

Alain-Marie Tremblay at the wheel. 1970s

Alain-Marie Tremblay at the wheel. 1970s

Alain-Marie Tremblay Today

Alain-Marie Tremblay Today

Alain-Marie Tremblay: Capsule

Dates: born 1941, Montreal
Production Dates: 1960 to the present
Location: Val David, Quebec
Types of Work: sculptures, murals, installations, landscaping, doorways, concrete gardens; flower pots, planters, sculptural teapots and tea sets.5
Preferred Kiln Type and Firing Process: generally oxidation in a propane kiln; sometimes raku.
Preferred Clay: earthenware, stoneware, porcelain; bétonique (concrete clay).
Website: http://betonique.com/ 
Signature/Mark/Chop: Tremblay’s functional ware are generally incised on the lower edge or base with some combination of “tremblay”, “val david”, and “quebec”.

Tremblay incised signature "tremblay val david". Posted by collectoboce.

Tremblay incised signature “tremblay val david”. Posted by collectoboce.

Tremblay incised signature "tremblay val david quebec". AntiquePromotion des Antiquités du Québec. Posted by collectoboce.

Tremblay incised signature “tremblay val david quebec”. AntiquePromotion des Antiquités du Québec. Posted by collectoboce.

A-M Tremblay incised signature on betonique

A-M Tremblay incised signature on betonique

A-M Tremblay signature and seall

A-M Tremblay signature and seall

A-M Tremblay seal

A-M Tremblay seal

Alain-Marie Tremblay: A Short Biography

Alain-Marie Tremblay is an artist whose clay work I have been following for decades. I first met him in the early 1980s in Val David. He and his work have never ceased to amaze me. The number, the concepts and the scale of his work are like no other artist I have seen in Canada. His oeuvre is extensive to say the least, from functional and decorative ware, to raku, to massive sculptures, to architectural murals and facades,

Val David is a small community about eighty kilometres north of Montreal, home and studio to Tremblay for over fifty years. His beginnings in ceramics are almost storybook:

“It started when I was 3 or 4 years old on the shore of the Saguenay river, with the clay on the riverside. I made small objects and fired them in the fireplace, and broke a lot.” ¹

His father was to play a formative role for the future ceramist. Later, in the summer of 1950, around the age of ten, his father took him to a potter in Cap St Francois, Chicoutimi. The artist was Claude Coiteux (1916-60), one of the earlier studio artists in Quebec. Tremblay recalls he particularly admired Coiteux’s glazes. ¹

 A-M Tremblay. Preliminary model for a drawing course. 1956. Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf.

A-M Tremblay. Preliminary model for a drawing course. 1956. Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf.

Preliminary model for a drawing course. 1956. Tremblay’s later journey to ceramics was more circuitous. His early education, however, at the Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, in Montreal gave some hint of a ceramics future with the model head illustrated. But he also had to study subjects such as Latin and Greek. Upon graduation he told his parents he wanted “to work with his hands, not his head.” ¹

He would soon be studying in the l’ Insitut des Arts Appliqués de Montreal, formerly the École du Meuble de Montréal (i.e. the unusually titled “Furniture School of Montreal”). The school was the source of many noted Quebec ceramists. He went with his father to the entrance interview. Tremblay had not yet made up his mind as to how he wanted to work with his hands:

“I didn’t know I wanted to take ceramics because I had heard about the “furniture” school. I wanted to do furniture. … When I arrived I saw there were some design courses, and I wanted to do design because I liked to draw and paint. … I thought I wanted to work for TV or theatre in scene design but when I tried ceramics I decided this is what I wanted to do.” ¹

When I interviewed him Tremblay laughingly included his father’s role in the programme choice. During the interview his father announced:

“Oh, he has done ceramics with Claude Coiteux in Chicoutimi some years ago. Yes, he will go into ceramics.”  ¹

Decision made.

Tremblay stayed in ceramics with no more thoughts of scene design or furniture and completed the three year programme under Maurice Savoie. Glaze studies were under Madame Gilberte Normandeau. Maurice Achard was a fellow student who would play a role later in Tremblay’s career. Rosalie Namer was also there, taking afternoon courses. The student attrition rate was high: in the first year of his class group there were six students; in the second year, two; in his final year, one. ¹ The programme included art history and drawing. But there was no ceramic throwing component under Savoie, and Tremblay wanted to throw. ¹

“Maurice [Savoie] didn’t like my work. It was Gaetan Beaudin (1924-2002) and Jean Cartier (1924-1996) who inspired me.“ ¹

There was also the influence of periodicals:

“I discovered Constantin Brancusi and Antonio Gaudí in magazines. I dreamt of them during the night.” ³

He created his first big sculpture as a thesis work with Savoie, who must have had some lasting influence on him, especially when Tremblay later developed his skills and reputation in sculptural and architectural-mural work.

However, to learn to throw he went in 1960 to Gaetan Beaudin’s school in North Hatley, Quebec, for 1½ months, two summer sessions:¹

“I was very happy. I liked the way [Beaudin] thought, and liked ceramics more.”  ¹

Beaudin recognized Tremblay’s passion for sculpture and for bigger work:

“He said to me you should go study with Peter Voulkos. “ ³

Instead, the following summer he was hired by the ceramist Jean Cartier. Cartier wanted him to throw only big pots:

“It took me three days to get the size he wanted. Cartier gave me the ‘feu sacré.’ Ceramics was in my blood.” ¹

Tremblay showed an independent streak, setting up his first full time studio in Chicoutimi around 1960, and then a small studio in Montreal in 1961 for eight months. In other words, he did not attend nor finish school in Montréal in his final year. The school nonetheless sent him his diploma in the mail in 1961.¹

 A-M Tremblay Notre Dame, Paris. 1964. Ink on paper.

A-M Tremblay Notre Dame, Paris. 1964. Ink on paper.

Notre Dame, Paris. 1964. There was a brief diversion in his ceramic career when he left for Paris for three years (1962-65).³ Although he did visit Madoura, Picasso’s potter, and spent a term at the Menard Ceramic Workshop in Valauris, France, ² he didn’t have the money or the space for a clay studio. He spent most of those years painting and etching, exhibiting at such places as the Museum of Modern Art, Paris. He made sketch books of the sculptures he wanted to create.¹ He also created drawings to sell to tourists. They were at the same time good drawing practice. ³

His return to Canada proved a bit of a disaster but he said, laughing:

“I lost all my luggage. I don’t know where it [went]. I have no proof I had been in Paris. My books, my paintings, my clothes. “ ¹

Except for his exhibition history, some paintings in le Vieux Galerie de Paris, the Galerie du Haut-Pavé, quai Montebello, ³ and some drawings that he sent to his father he had little other evidence of his having lived there. ¹

Meanwhile In Quebec things had moved on while he was away. Tremblay did not recall the pottery field in Quebec as being large when he left for Europe. He found it much expanded on his return and attributed this growth to Gaetan Beaudin and his summer school. ¹

When he returned from Europe he was clear as to what he wanted to do: instead of teaching ³ he wanted to have a functional ceramic studio to make money, and to build another studio to make sculpture.¹ However, he did not want to make sculpture in metal or stone, except as ‘thought-pieces’:

“I decided I would do sculpture as a potter, sculpture in ceramics.” ¹

A-M Tremblay at a craft market, Val David, QC, 1977. Photo Ronald Crooks.

A-M Tremblay at a craft market, Val David, QC, 1977. Photo Ronald Crooks.

He re-connected with former fellow-student, Maurice Achard, and asked if he could share his studio in Val David, although initially he would have preferred to live nearer the St. Lawrence River or in the Eastern Townships.¹ Achard agreed. Tremblay paid him a monthly rent. He now shifted from his earlier use of earthenware to using stoneware since that was the clay Achard was using. After a year Tremblay bought himself an old wood chalet in Val David and decided:

“I am here. I will stay here.” ¹

But, and there is a big “but”, he would say, laughing;

“There is only one thing I don’t like about Val David. There is no clay!” ¹

He would fantasize about finding his ideal clay, bulldozing a hole beside the studio and bringing in truckloads of clay to dump and age in the hole. With this he would imagine experimenting, making bricks, sculpture, unique pieces, nothing functional. ¹

He has, nonetheless, stayed in Val David since and produced works ranging from the small and functional to the large and architectural. When asked as to where he sees himself on the so-called ‘art-ceramic’ spectrum Tremblay says:

”For the craftsman I am an artist; for the artist I am a craftsman. … Clay is not a job for me. It’s the thing I like to do.” ¹

Although he has worked in and joined organizations such as Conseil des métiers d’art du Québec, as a director, and Ceramists Canada, as president, he admits to being too busy working to being a joiner, ¹ a familiar dilemma for ceramists of his calibre.

Tremblay has travelled the world. He has visited India, the birthplace of his wife Indira, to study local village pottery-making. Other stops included Japan, Thailand, and New Mexico.4 When in New York or Paris he visits the galleries; however, generally when he travels internationally he is not an avid museum attendee.¹

Tremblay’s exhibition history is extensive and international. In addition to the many Quebec and Ontario venues he has exhibited in the Netherlands, New York City, Paris, Châteauroux and  Vallauris, in France, Namur, Belgium, Colorado, Los Angeles, Boston, and Atlanta.

Alain-Marie Tremblay can be seen as a potter, sculptor and artist-engineer. He makes simple, small pots and creates large facades and architectural structures. He has experimented with new materials and forms, extending the definition of ceramics. He has chosen to live and create in a small town in the Laurentians. Yet paradoxically he also exhibits and is collected on an international scale as well as close to home.

 

Gallery

Some Initial Thoughts:

The variety of styles and forms that Alain-Marie Tremblay has created over the years is encyclopaedic. Only a small selection can be displayed here. For a fuller appreciation of the scope of his oeuvre take a look at his website; http://betonique.com/ .

  • He invented bétonique which has sometimes mistakenly been called stoneware. In the beginning he called it ‘’ceramised concrete’’, but later, changed it to betonique. It is a clay which is fired at 1250° C. ³
  • Clay source:  Tremblay tried many clay companies. An obvious and earlier one was SIAL. However, while conducting a workshop he found he had problems throwing the clay. He later tried using other sources such as  Plainsman Clay from Alberta. ¹ He now uses clays from England and Quebec. ³
  • From an art historical perspective Tremblay is eclectic. He had some liking for the surrealists such as Rene Magritte, but he especially admired the Abstract Expressionist/Pop Art work of Jasper Johns, and generally the American School and Peter Voulkos. He also particularly appreciated the sculptures of British artist Anthony Caro and the American, David Smith. ¹ The influence of the Europeans Constantin Brancusi and Antoni Gaudí was also important for him.³
  • His interest in industrial and architectural techniques and work is typical of a strong trend in Quebec ceramics as also seen in the work of Gaetan Beaudin and Maurice Savoie.

“ I wanted to do sculpture and murals first. I like it when it is difficult.” ¹

  • His sculpture is often modular and include thrown pieces that are

    “beaten, cut, to get my idea.” ¹

  • Some works are joined together with cement, some are one piece. ¹
    He designs works on a sketch pad and takes elements of one or another and then combines the changes.¹
  • He has done wood firing but he prefers a propane gas kiln, mostly oxidation, playing with the dampers to achieve his copper reds; and some reduction to achieve tin and chrome oxide pinks. He like bright colours. ¹ He says his discovery of his blue was accidental. ¹
  • Although he has produced functional and small works Tremblay thinks and works large, especially in his totemic columns of various styles, and in massive doorways and door-like structures.

Early works

In his early works Tremblay gives a distinct nod to European Modernism. Already he is displaying a variety of styles, particularly with the use of voids and bas-relief surfaces, and in massive boulder forms.

 A-M Tremblay. Shade and Light. 1961. 1m. Red clay and grog. photo: Daniel Gagné.

A-M Tremblay. Shade and Light. 1961. 1m. Red clay and grog. photo: Daniel Gagné.

Shade and Light. 1961. This large work comes from the time just around Tremblay’s art school graduation. Already in his early work Tremblay is demonstrating his later interest in being a sculptor, but a sculptor in clay. The one metre piece is substantial in size for so early a time. That it is a one-piece work is impressive enough. There is an almost futuristic, architectural feel with a more open play of voids and serpentine lines on the left and more solid geometric quality on the right side. It shows perhaps a European, modernist influence, but whatever its inspiration the work is a decided shift from the tradition of Quebec sculpture of this time.

 

A-M Tremblay. Sculpture from the 1960s. photo: Alain-Marie Tremblay

A-M Tremblay. Sculpture from the 1960s. photo: Alain-Marie Tremblay

Sculpture from the 1960s. In a style reminiscent of the modernist British sculptor Barbara Hepworth. The work still seems rough and unfinished on its surface giving the effect of a study. There is the traditional play of positive and negative space. The body has a soft edge contour and nasal swell, but then sharply cuts into the central void. The ovoid shape is one that Tremblay would use in later sculptures.

 

Functional and Decorative Ware

The varieties of shapes, surface treatments and colours hint at a searching for form and design that can be seen in his larger sculptures. The variety is extensive. Tremblay will frequently shift between simple forms with exuberant surface decoration, and complicated forms with simple surfaces. He was very much the experimenter.

 

A-M Tremblay. 1970. creamer and sugar bowl Photo: Michel Goyer

A-M Tremblay. 1970. creamer and sugar bowl Photo: Michel Goyer

A- M Tremblay. Two Mugs with Lug Handles. Undated. AntiquePromotion des Antiquités du Québec. Photo : collectoboce

A- M Tremblay. Two Mugs with Lug Handles. Undated. AntiquePromotion des Antiquités du Québec. Photo : collectoboce

Left: Creamer and sugar bowl, 1970 and right: Two Mugs with Lug Handles. The applied handles of the creamer and mugs are reminiscent of Gaetan Beaudin’s bold designs that sought to integrate handle and body as one form. The creamer has ergonomically placed appliques and the mugs have step-like lugs to assist the thumb and fingers in holding the form. However, the sugar bowl, with its celadon-like glaze and naked clay on the other hand is a simple lidded cylinder. Sometimes a bowl is just a bowl.

 

A-M Tremblay Pitcher. 1972-73 stoneware, 20.3 x 17.8 cm. Photo A-M Tremblay..

A-M Tremblay Pitcher. 1972-73 stoneware, 20.3 x 17.8 cm. Photo A-M Tremblay..

Pitcher. 1972-73.  The pitcher, again with an integrated handle, is part pitcher and part sculpture. The handle is a smooth projecting arc that flows with the same curve as the belly shape and slip design. Because the design is unexpected the pitcher teases the eye and mind with clean cut lines and deep shadows.

 A-M Tremblay. Vase. 2004 . cone 6, Photo A-M Tremblay

A-M Tremblay. Vase. 2004 . cone 6, Photo A-M Tremblay

 A-M Tremblay. Vase. 2004 . cone 6, Photo A-M Tremblay

A-M Tremblay. Vase. 2004 . cone 6, Photo A-M Tremblay

Two vases. 2004. Tremblay can also introduce a sensuality into his vase shapes. The left from has a distinctive feminine form that is overlain by lines and bands of coloured slips that play over and around the body parts. The right-hand vase form is a more complicated shape with its undulating, dancing lines. The surface though is simply coloured by red and white slips, and textured by tightly and precisely spaced sgraffito-like bands. The effect is reminiscent of village pottery produced in the Indian sub-continent.

A-M Tremblay. Coloured Vase porcelain cône 9/10, painted with a colloidal engobe, around 25.4 cm high. photo A-M Tremblay.

A-M Tremblay. Coloured Vase porcelain cône 9/10, painted with a colloidal engobe, around 25.4 cm high. photo A-M Tremblay.

Coloured Porcelain Vase. Tremblay has always studied the work of other cultures in his travels. A time in New Mexico would also have a brief influence. This vase reflects a Southwest Indian colouring and design. Precise bands of washes of pinks, yellows, blues and blacks encircle the form. Black lines of grass flow around the belly. The form is simple, traditional, uncomplicated. Such works display his throwing ability and a sensitivity in his design. Interestingly the design is a landscape motif. Landscape in it various forms and seasons are a constantly recurring theme in his work.

 

A-M Tremblay. Cup, Raku. 2005. 10.2x11.4 cm. Photo A-M Tremblay. Collection Murli Nair, Toronto.

A-M Tremblay. Cup, Raku. 2005. 10.2×11.4 cm. Photo A-M Tremblay. Collection Murli Nair, Toronto.

A-M Tremblay. L'O bleu. 2004, Raku, 27.9x22.9cm. photo A-M Tremblay.

A-M Tremblay. L’O bleu. 2004, Raku, 27.9×22.9cm. photo A-M Tremblay.

Left: Raku Cup, 2005. below : L’O bleu. 2004, Raku. Tremblay has been producing raku since at least 1980. These two works show the immediate and long-term influence of his visit to Japan. They also reflect his ability to change scale as he explores form and surface. The cup is simple, not deformed with a curved belly and flared lip. The glaze is subtle but complex with earthy browns and creams; the craquelure and gobs of dripping glaze flow down the sides like roots and worm-burrows. L’O bleu from 2004 is a large, square-shouldered vase, rough, pierced. Its blue surface with iridescent flashes of red and purple read like slag, pitted and scabrous. Such a work shows that while Tremblay could be relentless in his research and follow-through of a technique or theme, he nonetheless constantly re-visits earlier functional roots.

 

A-M Tremblay. Théière-sein et set de thé miniature. 1975. porcelain with tin/chrome glazes in oxidation firing. Tea pot, H.10.2x11.4 cm. Cups are 3.8 cm high. Collection Ève K. Tremblay. Photo A-M Tremblay.

A-M Tremblay. Théière-sein et set de thé miniature. 1975. porcelain with tin/chrome glazes in oxidation firing. Tea pot, H.10.2×11.4 cm. Cups are 3.8 cm high. Collection Ève K. Tremblay. Photo A-M Tremblay.

Théière-sein et set de thé miniature. 1975.   Yet Tremblay could create works from the architecturally large to the toy-sized small, to the personal and intimate. This child’s tea set was made for his daughter, Eve. Tremblay made many tea sets; the tea pot often based on the breast theme. The inspiration was the sight of his wife nursing their daughter.4 Here in soft pinks and greens he reproduces his cup forms with appliqué handles. The teapot with its little heart decoration has its own special integrated handle. It is a work of love as well as purpose.

 

Sculpture

A-M Tremblay Contrepoint pour ordinateur. 1974, Grès/Stoneware,. Maximum height 2.74 m. lieu immeuble groupe embouteilleurs Pepsi (PBG), Chicoutimi, (architecte: Jacques Coutu). Collection Pepsi Bottling group, Saguenay. Photo. Ellefsen.

A-M Tremblay Contrepoint pour ordinateur. 1974, Grès/Stoneware,. Maximum height 2.74 m. lieu immeuble groupe embouteilleurs Pepsi (PBG), Chicoutimi, (architecte: Jacques Coutu). Collection Pepsi Bottling group, Saguenay. Photo. Ellefsen.

Contrepoint pour ordinateur. 1974. The arrangement here for a building interior resembles a view of a kiln-interior following a successful firing. Such earlier, sculptures commissions have a pronounced vertical emphasis, playing off pierced cylinders and ovoids as though they are some form of binary code of ones and zeroes. The colouring is subtle in shades of red-orange, yellow and white; glazes are variously matt or glossy. These elements hint at a later and larger style of exterior works, that would become more organic, off-balance, as his use of bétonique became more confident.

A-M Tremblay. Xipéhuz # 1. 1982. 120x25x120 cm. porcelaine et colloïdes de porcelaine. 1280° Collection Musée National des Beaux-Arts de Québec. photo Daniel Gagné.

A-M Tremblay. Xipéhuz # 1. 1982. 120x25x120 cm. porcelaine et colloïdes de porcelaine. 1280° Collection Musée National des Beaux-Arts de Québec. photo Daniel Gagné.

Xipéhuz # 1. 1982. Tremblay consistently experimented with materials and forms. The early 1980s work is multi-piece. A large cylinder is punctured, sliced and filled. The pure white of the porcelain is covered in a stained colloidal mixture to give a grey-black granular coating to the body and its horizontal cut-off. The white of the porcelain strongly contrasts in the cut out borders. The cylinder is stacked with smaller white porcelain cylinders, their ends uniformly stained with bands of yellow, green and grey. The work has an industrial, modular look like some industrial soft-drink machine spilling it contents.

A-M Tremblay Untitled, undated. Collection Dimitri Dimakopoulos, Montreal. photo A-M Tremblay.

A-M Tremblay Untitled, undated. Collection Dimitri Dimakopoulos, Montreal. photo A-M Tremblay.

Untitled Pot-Sculpture. Sometimes several thrown forms are combined: a lidded vase on a base, in a surrealistic play of cuts, shapes, projections and voids. A simple surface design of lines and squares, of blacks blues and subtle red bonds the shapes together. There is a play of curves and clean cut edges against a roughly scratched matt surface, The theme is similar to Nymphe, below, but now softened, in its curves and counter curves.

 

In the 1980s Tremblay began to explore a formula incorporating the use of what is normally considered a refractory cement with ceramic granulate. Many of his architectural, sculptural and garden works were developed out of a blend of concrete and ceramic. He called this process “bétonique,” combining the word beton (concrete) with the end of the word ceramique. Again , there might have been a latent influence of Gaetan Beaudin and Jean Cartier and their interest in industrial processes and architecture

Sema-Clef (exterior view) 1984. 43 X 30 x 28 cm. Assemblage, Porcelain, betonic (concrete clay). Photo: Richard Cyr

Sema-Clef (exterior view) 1984. 43 X 30 x 28 cm. Assemblage, Porcelain, betonic (concrete clay). Photo: Richard Cyr

 

Sema-Clef (interior view) 1984. 43 X 30 x 28 cm. Assemblage, Porcelain, betonic (concrete clay). Photo: Richard Cyr

Sema-Clef (interior view) 1984. 43 X 30 x 28 cm. Assemblage, Porcelain, betonic (concrete clay). Photo: Richard Cyr

 

Left : Sema-Clef (vue extérieure) 1984. Below : Sema-Clef (vue intérieure) 1984. Many people would be surprised that industrially concrete is considered a ceramic.7 Sometimes Tremblay will use bétonique in a Brutalist fashion. Sema Clef’s exterior is a contrast of raw, pitted and fractured planes, flanked by an intricate bas-relief that looks lie a labyrinthine circuit board. The work is monochrome, grey. The sharp angle gives it the feeling of a cornerstone fragment. The interior view shows that the work is a two-sided work incorporating a white, geometric, sculptural form against a marked and scratched wall. The porcelain shape is whiter, cleaner, a hieroglyph, nestling an egg-form. There is a hint of old and new, of decaying antique and merging new. The work also hints at a merging, an architectural-sculptural integration.

A-M Tremblay. Nymphe. 2003. 53x23x20 cm bétonique and stoneware. photo A-M Tremblay.

A-M Tremblay. Nymphe. 2003. 53x23x20 cm bétonique and stoneware. photo A-M Tremblay.

Nymphe. 2003. Some works seem experimental. Here bétonique is poured into one of his sensuously curved vases with the inevitable shattering of the brittle clay. The “vase” and its solid core, mounted on a bétonique rock can be seen as several things: the technical, destructive power of a confined and curing concrete mass; or the creative birth of a new sculptural technique with form shedding its old skin, a pupa-in some ceramic metamorphosis.

Once he had control of the technical side of the bétonique process Tremblay could now expand his oeuvre into larger exterior elements and arrangements.

A-M Tremblay. Automne-Printemps. 1980. Height 3.4 x 4.6 x 2.1 m. Maison d'acceuil Monseigneur Coderre, Longueuil, QC. Photo A-M Tremblay.

A-M Tremblay. Automne-Printemps. 1980. Height 3.4 x 4.6 x 2.1 m. Maison d’acceuil Monseigneur Coderre, Longueuil, QC. Photo A-M Tremblay.

Automne-Printemps. 1980.  Concrete-clay combinations now allowed Tremblay to stretch and bend his forms into a more exaggerated scale. Filled with concrete this grouping of seven columns of various sizes and poses have a similar basic modular construction of closed vase and cylinder forms that seem to sway in the wind with a suggestion of a social grouping. This work was illustrated in ‘Charlotte Speight’s ’Images in Clay Sculpture: Historical and Contemporary Techniques.’ 9

 

A-M Tremblay. Untitled, 1993. (now part of the 1% integrationin Québec Court of Justice City. Photo A-M Tremblay.

A-M Tremblay. Untitled, 1993. (now part of the 1% integrationin Québec Court of Justice City. Photo A-M Tremblay.

Untitled, 1993. Inevitably, as the scale of his works increased so would the complexity of his forms and their relationships. These curving totemic figures seem to be communicating like two extra-terrestial life-forms. They are modular with an emphasis on curves and surface. The segments are thrown and distorted cylinders flattened at their bases and lips to provide structurally sound connecting surfaces. The heads are vase shapes with cut and pulled surfaces. The “bodies’ have a vertical linear flow of lines from head to toe that unites each element to create a an organic whole, an almost living entity. The form on the right is particularly ornate with a covering of a faux textile surface, that is three dimensional in its visual effect. There is also a device seen earlier in his work, the use of voids or holes: filled  holes, here packed with glossy spheres, cylinders and cones, some bursting out like seeds or spores.

A-M Tremblay. L'île de glace. 1990, self supporting modules. Bétonique, stoneware, plastic bolts, 120 x140 x15 cm. Collection of the artist. photo: Eve K Tremblay.

A-M Tremblay. L’île de glace. 1990, self supporting modules. Bétonique, stoneware, plastic bolts, 120 x140 x15 cm. Collection of the artist. photo: Eve K Tremblay.

L’île de glace. 1990. The planar and linear architectural potential of bétonique were also explored. By contrast this ‘iceberg’ is hard edge and geometric, an abstracted natural form, glacial blue and white in colour. Originally displayed in the 1991 retrospective exhibition ‘Architectonie comme accent’ at the Centre du Vieux Palais, St-Jérôme (now le Musée d’art contemporain des Laurentides) it forms part of his sculpture garden.  Although the “landscape” form is an iceberg the elements are industrial: pockmarked planar slabs stacked upon each other at a pronounced, approximately forty five degree, angle. Sharp, mathematical corners and edges contrast with the forest ambience of soft greens and brown-blacks of the verticals of trees and shrubs and the orange cedar chip bed. Likewise the grey-white of river worn rock forms a rounded backdrop.. The effect is like some Ice Age remnant locked into the present day.

A-M Tremblay. Garuda. 1989. Bétonique, glazes, colloids. 1.5 m. Shown in the exhibition De Davis à Beaufort, un voyage imaginaire. Centre d'exposition Circa, Montreal. Photo: Guy L’Heureux.

A-M Tremblay. Garuda. 1989. Bétonique, glazes, colloids. 1.5 m. Shown in the exhibition De Davis à Beaufort, un voyage imaginaire. Centre d’exposition Circa, Montreal. Photo: Guy L’Heureux.

Garuda. 1989. With the enigmatic title of a Hindu deity, made with betonique self supporting elements, the work was  exhibited in an “Arctic” exhibition. The basic elements of this work remind me of Anthony Caro’s sculpture. Here extruded I-beams and flat plates at a first, distant glance seem metallic, heavy, industrial. Tremblay has stacked the beams in a clock-wise fashion, like layers and shards of ice piling up on the shore in spring breakup. Yet he has tempered the white with colour, a dappling of black spots and radiating lines of blue and red. He would use this colour approach in architectural works as seen below. Meanwhile, the edges, bare and crusty bétonique, show the true nature of the material.

A-M Tremblay. Winteruin, Ruines pour le futur II.1997, Europeen Keramic Working Center (EKMC), Bois-le-duc, Netherlands.

A-M Tremblay. Winteruin, Ruines pour le futur II.1997, Europeen Keramic Working Center (EKMC), Bois-le-duc, Netherlands.

Winteruin, Ruines pour le futur II. 1997.  Exhibited in the Netherlands such a large work shows the scope of Tremblay’s international reputation. The installation of an involuted wall and scattered shards shows not only how Tremblay is increasing the size and space of his work but also playing with architectural elements and their potential. The effect is of an urban landscape now in ruins, some lost civilization. The two-part wall curves to incorporate an almost private space. The left side is of a black and white, like some Japanese sumi-e work. The centre and right are a simple, tile-like arrangement of blue and white. A black grid pattern covers and connects both left and right surfaces. Radially scattered in the foreground are vases, some surgically sliced and some fractured, as though now exposed in an archaeological excavation. The effect is at the same time foreign and domestically familiar, old and modern. The folded, but nonetheless flat, wall surface is separated from the three-dimensional foreground. But a foreground bétonique fragment unites the foreground with the curved wall, both sharing graphic design and colour. The rest of the foreground of broken and cut vases lies like bare, bleached bones.

 

Bas Reliefs and Pages

Bas reliefs and pages are a lesser known theme in Tremblay’s work, yet they form the foundation and modules for many of his sculptures and facades. They also speak to his award-winning status in Canada and internationally. Some such pieces are complete objects in themselves. They remind us that Tremblay also liked to draw and sketch.

A-M Tremblay. 1982. Le Saint aime la montagne Le sage prise l'eau. Poem by François Houang. Porcelain leaves and wood.book. Each tile is 30.5x30.5x .64 cm, mounted on oak. the Whole thing is 106.7 cm wide. Photo Lucien Lisabelle.

A-M Tremblay. 1982. Le Saint aime la montagne Le sage prise l’eau. Poem by François Houang. Porcelain leaves and wood.book. Each tile is 30.5×30.5x .64 cm, mounted on oak. the Whole thing is 106.7 cm wide. Photo Lucien Lisabelle.

Poem by François Houang. 1982. Tremblay would also make several works inspired by friends and others important to him. Here he has created elegant tiles, ceramic poetry and delicate illustrations. François Houang was a friend who actually helped Tremblay make a pivotal decision in his life, and left fond memories:

“François Huang was an important friend to me. It was he who convinced me to study in Paris instead of going to Alfred University [which] was my first choice. I mostly had good Chinese meals with him. We did not talk of art or philosophy. but good wine, good food, and our trips to the United States and France in the Beaujolais region.” ³

Who knows which direction Tremblay would have taken if he had gone to Alfred, New York, instead? The work is a tile triptych with two panels of images and Chinese text, and a central panel, exclusively text, mounted on dark, hinged, wood panels The effect is intimate, almost a delicate sanctity. The two side panels are subtle bas-reliefs. Tight, geometric fan shapes are combined with water-landscape forms that seem to flow from an ancient Chinese scroll. Here the work displays in its tile-nature, less of the sculptural, more of a truly literal content and subtlety of surface.

 

A-M Tremblay. Open Book: Haiku by Pierre Larivière. 1984. 60 x 140 cm. Six porcelain tiles with sandblasting. photo A-M Tremblay.

A-M Tremblay. Open Book: Haiku by Pierre Larivière. 1984. 60 x 140 cm. Six porcelain tiles with sandblasting. photo A-M Tremblay.

Open Book: Haiku by Pierre Larivière. 1984.  This multi-piece work received a mention at Fireworks in 1984, the Fifth Biennale Exhibition of Clay and Glass of the Ontario Potters Association, Toronto. The haiku, though itself a tightly structured literal format, loosely winds its way across several tiles: Le voleur avait/ laissé derriére lui/ la lune à la femme. The tiles are individual, each with its folds, dents, worm holes, or appliques. The assemblage is united by the soft glow of the porcelain base and the meandering lines of underglaze pencil. The effect is of antique parchment, almost a map, curling with age.

 

A-M Tremblay. À vol d'oiseau (As the Crow Flies). 1984. colloidal porcelain sprayed on porcelain. Each tile is 20.3x20.3x.95 cm thick. Photo A-M Tremblay.

A-M Tremblay. À vol d’oiseau (As the Crow Flies). 1984. colloidal porcelain sprayed on porcelain. Each tile is 20.3×20.3x.95 cm thick. Photo A-M Tremblay.

À vol d’oiseau (As the Crow Flies), 1984. International awards, collections and exhibitions ironically give Tremblay a recognition overseas more so than in Canada. The twelve-piece work is an aerial landscape: a soft white ground with purple and black washes and lines flowing through and connecting the squares. A subtle glow emanates from the centre. The relief was made pressing heads of logs into each porcelain tile. It won a silver medal in the IX Biennale internationale de céramique d’art de Valauris (France), and is now in the collection of the chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Nice, France.

Tiles are a constant interest of Tremblay’s. Such works lead naturally to the bas relief surfaces of his garden and mural works.

 

Architecture and Murals

The nature of his explorations into a material such as bétonique would lead Tremblay into architectural and mural work. These have brought him much recognition. Yet he simply says also;

“I like it when it is difficult.” ¹

 

 A-M Tremblay. Cônes, cylindres et oeufs au miroir. 1983, Each tile is 30x30cm, Stoneware, porcelain, glazes, mirrors. Installed in 8 areas of the cafeteria, Quebec City Courthouse. Architect, Dimitri Dimakopoulos. Photo A-M Tremblay.

A-M Tremblay. Cônes, cylindres et oeufs au miroir. 1983, Each tile is 30x30cm, Stoneware, porcelain, glazes, mirrors. Installed in 8 areas of the cafeteria, Quebec City Courthouse. Architect, Dimitri Dimakopoulos. Photo A-M Tremblay.

Cônes, cylindres et oeufs au miroir. 1983. The scope of his reputation and the ability to work on a large scale are seen in his numerous architectural commissions. Tiles, sculptures and mirrors  adorn eight areas within the cafeteria of the Palais de Justice de Québec in Quebec City. There are familiar items such as his totemic forms and also walls of tiles and bas reliefs, with “seed” laden spheres. The overall colour is muted in whites and earth tones.

Perhaps some words on Tremblay’s bétonique process are in order. His bétonique interest and research, however, started in the Spring of 1980. His three-part rationale was quite simple. Firstly, because he wanted to stay true to creating sculpture in ceramic for its colour and form; secondly, simply because he wanted to avoid crack and leak damage in his outside works from the weather’s freeze-thaw cycle3; and thirdly, to minimize vandalism8:

Through his research Tremblay discovered a method to give cement ceramic properties while also keeping its cement properties He would mix proportions of an aluminous hydraulic binder and pulverised alkaline rock. Refractory aggregates are added. The mixture is kneaded wet, poured and cured in a mould, and fired to high temperature. It is thus vitrified and is compatible with frits and ceramic glazes A fine ceramic surface quality can be achieved. The formula will vary according to the required specifications for color, temperature, and texture.8

“I do not use fresh clay. I used calcined kaolin or olivine as aggregates. Their grade is different depending on the thickness of the module or sculpture. …  I can already fire my work the day after I made it. … [at] 50°C per hour till 1000°, then … quick[ly]. But from my observations the result is better if you fire it like stoneware or porcelain, … [I use] oxidation or reduction, depending on the colours I want to obtain.” ³

 

By 1991 he was more assertively integrating his sculpture with architecture. While his earlier work was for interiors, still in porcelain and stoneware, he now begins to exploit bétonique on the exterior of buildings.

 

A-M Tremblay. La Course du Soleil. 1991. Sundial. Glazed bétonique (concrete clay), bricks. Ecole Val-des-Monts, Prevost, QC. Photo A-M Tremblay.

A-M Tremblay. La Course du Soleil. 1991. Sundial. Glazed bétonique (concrete clay), bricks. Ecole Val-des-Monts, Prevost, QC. Photo A-M Tremblay.

La Course du Soleil, 1991. Much of Tremblay’s architectural work is exterior. The bétonique is well suited to the rigours of a Laurentide Quebec winter. Here “I-beams” seen before in Garuda above are now pure white and decorated in primary colours, red, blue, yellow, and some off white. The primary colours are most appropriate for an elementary school environment. The strongly linear beams cling to the wall-and buttress at an angle to the brickwork; they frame and contrast with the circular hole in the wall as Tremblay exploits voids, surfaces and lines in an effect that is predominantly architectural with no hint of his totems, and pods of earlier years. There is a subtle hint of Gaudí evident  here.

 

Garden and Landscape

Arranged like follies around his Val David garden are numerous free-standing works. Some are from prior exhibitions, some site specific.

A-M Tremblay. 1995. Part of the Gate of the Sun. Ruines pour le futur dans le jardin bétonique. Betonic (stoneware) porcelain sculptures. Collection of the artist. Photo Claude Guérin.

A-M Tremblay. 1995. Part of the Gate of the Sun. Ruines pour le futur dans le jardin bétonique. Betonic (stoneware) porcelain sculptures. Collection of the artist. Photo Claude Guérin.

Part of the Gate of the Sun. 1995. Ruines pour le futur dans le jardin bétonique.  The gate is blocky, rectangular, sitting amongst cedars and fronting a pond as though near a Mayan cenote, a sacrificial pool. The gate façade, anti- classical in its rectangular joins and elements, is covered in blue bétonique blocks, heavily incised with bas relief and arranged like Pre-Columbian glyphs. The top covered by a crowd of sculptures. Alain describes the work:

“These modules have diagonal composition molded from modeled clay. The arrangement of the block subjects makes an abstract pattern. Some are upside down others on the side, or standing normal etc. Then one can see a figurative pattern.” ³

A-M Tremblay 1997. Rann de Kutch. Faisant partie des Ruines pour le futur dans le jardin bétonique. /concrete clay, H:2m. Collection of the artist. photo Eve K. Tremblay.

A-M Tremblay 1997. Rann de Kutch. Faisant partie des Ruines pour le futur dans le jardin bétonique. /concrete clay, H:2m. Collection of the artist. photo Eve K. Tremblay.

Rann de Kutch, 1997.  Faisant partie des Ruines pour le futur dans le jardin bétonique. The Rann of Kutch is a seasonal salt marsh in the Thar Desert between India and Pakistan. A place of seasonal temperature extremes. Initially the work gives the impression of two columns, one rounded, the other rectangular. The work combines several features of Tremblay’s style: the involuted form, here tightly folded; the energetic yet orderly rows of bas reliefs; and the cascading boulder contents spilling out of the interior. The effect is at the same time archaeological and geological; human and natural; organized vertical and chaotically horizontal. If the works cannot be directly fixed to a structure then they become their own structure. There is an enigmatic quality to such works: are they sculpture or architecture? Or does it really matter?

 

A-M Tremblay. La porte du Nord - Deux chimères. 1995. Concrete clay, cast. Collection Pierre-Alexis Tremblay, Val-David. Photo A-M Tremblay.

A-M Tremblay. La porte du Nord – Deux chimères. 1995. Concrete clay, cast. Collection Pierre-Alexis Tremblay, Val-David. Photo A-M Tremblay.

La porte du Nord – Deux chimères.  1995. Openings and entranceways are a favoured motif with Tremblay. Here, as though an architectural remnant, an arch fronts a low ruined wall, and sits atop an organized mound of river stones. There is a visual play of a decorative pediment shape in the surface design against a stepped placing of the crowning blocks. The colour contrasts are more dramatic here, in blue-grays, terracotta and off- white. Two, curved, outward facing chimeras flank the opening. The total effect is of mirror-image symmetry. But this is not a door to be walked through; rather, its narrowness and elevation make it purely visual, only to be viewed through. A portal to the trees beyond. Its narrow opening plays with the view to the woods beyond, creating a negative space that seems to achieve a substantiality of its own.

 

Two Videos and Films On Alain-Marie Tremblay

2000.  Alain-Marie Tremblay, sculpteur-céramiste, Monument aux pionniers, Ville-de-Mont-Tremblant archives video on dvd.  Réalisation et montage de Christian Beltrami. Infografie et production dvd par Pierre-Alexis Tremblay

1997. Ruins For The Future by Don Terry Assisted by Eve K. Tremblay . Video documentary demo. Approx. 2 minutes. A nicely done short showing Tremblay working in his studio and walking through his garden and sculptures. Very good to get a sense of scale and detail.

 

A Selection of Collections

Collection Musée National des Beaux-Arts de Québec; Collection Leopold Foulem, Montreal; Burlington Art Gallery, Burlington; Kandi E. Abelson Collection, Geneva; Lawrence Langsner Collection, Montreal; M. Akerman, Collection Boston; Helen Stevens Collection, Île-des-Soeurs; Maurice Achard Collection; Dimitri Dimakopoulos Collection, Montreal; Musée National des Beaux-Arts de Québec; Centre de céramique Bonsecourt, Montréal; Ronald Crooks, Collection, Ottawa; Deepak Patkar, Collection Dubai. Musée d’art contemporain, Montréal; Musée de la Civilisation du Québec; Musée du Bas-St-Laurent, Rivière-du-Loup; Musée du Haut Richelieu, St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu; Fondation Le Haut Pavé, Paris (France); Centre de céramique Bonsecours, Montréal; Ville de Saint-Faustin, QC; Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Nice, France.

 

Endnotes & Bibliography

1. Alain-Marie Tremblay interview with Barry Morrison. May 31, 1981.

2. Alain-Marie Tremblay. Early, undated resume provided by the artist.

3. Alain-Marie Tremblay. Email correspondence with Barry Morrison, 18/8/15 ff.

4. Serge Fisette et al. Alain-Marie Tremblay Céramiste.. Marcel Broquet, Editor, Marcel Broquet, La nouvelle édition, Saint Saveur, Quebec. 2010.

5. Métiers d’art du Québec page on Tremblay

6. Alain-Marie Tremblay CV on his website .

7. Purdue University Chemistry Department. Article on ceramic materials.

8. Alain Tremblay. Alain-Marie Tremblay. L’’architectonie comme accent. Catalogue of a touring exhibition organized by le Centre d’exposition du Vieux Palais, Saint-Jérôme, Quebec. 1991ff.

9. Charlotte Speight. Images in Clay Sculpture: Historical and Contemporary Techniques. Icon Editions Harper’and Row, New York. 1983. Pages, 98,105,122,124.

10. Beaudry Dion, Jacqueline and Dion, Jean-Pierre. Céramistes Du Québec. 2nd Edition, pp. 64-65. ISBN 978-2-9812228-1-7.

 

 

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