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Olivia Cognet’s monumental ceramics look back to the iconic 70s eclectic expression
Vallauris lamps reimagined by Olivia Cognet
Image: Courtesy of Thierry Lebraly

Olivia Cognet’s monumental ceramics look back to the iconic 70s eclectic expression

The French artist and designer takes inspiration from the 70s to craft her recent ceramic collection of giant lamps and functional art pieces called RÉTRO-FUTURE.

by Anushka Sharma
Published on : Nov 28, 2023

The eclectic appeal of the 1970s is much talked about, where the changing political and socio-economic environment was colouring everything from fashion to art and lifestyles. The creative scene was adorned with new art movements and novel themes in art and culture, that spoke of rebellion, protest, and human emotions. The decade, hence, became a canvas of bold imagination and enthusiasm coming from numerous artists working across a range of different media. This technicolour canvas now becomes a muse for many contemporary artists and designers, among whom is Olivia Cognet.

The French artist and designer injects her ceramics with boundless creativity. Through this versatile medium, she explores an entire spectrum of shapes and sizes, sculpting an oeuvre encompassing monumental totems, vases, lamps, chair designs as well as bas-reliefs. The 'Vallauris' lamp tribute and the RÉTRO-FUTURE collection are recent additions to her diverse oeuvre, both drawing inspiration from iconic designs and creative visions of the 1970s.

Cognet’s desire is “to further develop the projection of an allegory in ceramics that will bring together facade architecture and sculptural art, integrating art within architecture—to bring together the intentions, gestures, and the structure itself, [towards] something more and more monumental."

Since moving to Los Angeles in 2016, Cognet has channelled her creativity through the fertile medium of ceramics. Her unique work is handmade in her ceramic studio, now based in Vallauris, South of France. An aesthetic language that is highly abstract and graphic ties the different pieces together. Cognet takes cues from the landscapes that surround her, interweaving modernity and traditional decorative arts in work that is functional and evocative in tandem.

Putting her ideas to paper first, she then proceeds to work with stoneware, the local clay that she uses in three natural tones. Her creations cultivate the strength of contrasts as her geometric and minimal lines engage in dialogue with a more sensual and organic vocabulary. “The austere aesthetic of raw earth combines with the finesse of glazes that emerge in crackles, sources of unique evocations,” the French designer explains. She believes in the necessity of interdisciplinary encounters, especially in the face of the major challenges our society is confronted with.

The giant lampshades from the 1970s in Vallauris are treasures of French design and craftsmanship history. Vallauris, a small town on the French Riviera, has been recognised for its ceramics and pottery production since the 19th century. However, it was in the 1970s that the town became famous for its giant lampshades, now iconic of that era. These lamp designs were often crafted using ceramics in giant scales, where the domineering lampshades created a bold visual impact within interiors. Many of the lamps featured vibrant colours, intricate ceramic patterns and decorations, often inspired by nature, geometric motifs, or abstract art.

Today, these lampshades from Vallauris are sought-after collector's items among vintage design enthusiasts, reminiscing a time of artistic experimentation and inspiring Cognet’s new collection of monumental sculptural lamps enrobed in a contemporary spirit. Conforming to her sculptures and bas-reliefs, these lighting designs pay homage to the rich history of the Ceramic City, where Cognet now dwells.

Cognet’s ensemble of retro-futuristic ceramic art reflects the 1970s vision of the future—a dive into the simmering imagination of that era. The functional art in this new collection features strong geometric shapes and sleek lines, emulating spaceships, robots, and other elements of science fiction from that period. This ceramic artist nods to the vision of the future as it was perceived in the 1970s—the optimism, imagination, and creativity of that time while offering a unique artistic and aesthetic experience. Each piece narrates a story, reminding the world of how its vision of the future evolved over time.

“These pieces are always highly rhythmic and graphical. They emerge, ascending and massive, in the places where they are installed—a Provençal mansion, an old bastide in St. Tropez, or a law firm in Manhattan. A meeting between the curves and sensual lines of these stoneware modules, each one handcrafted,” Cognet shares. The troupe of product designs includes a floor lamp, a planter, a coffee table and a podium.

Nourished by the genius of the great masters of the Vallauris school, from Picasso to Roger Capron, passing through Derval, Cognet makes ceramics a cornerstone of architecture. The sculptural artist's intuitive process reimagines the poetic experience of creating art and sculpting a material by hand. The artisanship melts into a contemporary beauty, brewing a concoction of functionality and art that enhances everyday life.

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