The art of making an entrance

Out of her Montreal studio, Pascale Girardin creates luxury dishware and award-winning architectural design pieces for the hospitality industry around the world. Some of her more recent projects include a large-scale installation at the Printemps Hausman in Paris and the Four Seasons Place in Pudong, Shanghai. We caught up with her to talk about her design career and creative inspirations.

Tell me about how you started out.

In six months I’ll be celebrating 20 years in the art profession as a ceramicist. I did a Bachelor in Fine Arts and eventually switched to ceramics — I needed to learn the technical skills because all of my formal training has been in fine arts. I decided that functional dishware was a very pragmatic way of doing art and realized that if I wanted to make a living out of it I needed to get the right clientele. Also I’m very familiar with the world of luxury because I always loved beautiful things and I liked to travel, so I started out selling artwork dishware at Felissimo on 5th Avenue in New York City.

When you say artwork dishware, do you mean not for use?

It’s dishware, but I do still consider it a form of art. So after that I started doing dishware for chefs in Montreal, particularly a Japanese restaurant called Soto. The Japanese have a culture of chefs working with a potter in a lifelong relationship. If you develop that relationship, it stays, and I just really like that. Here we don’t do that, really.

You’ve also done decorative ceramics for interiors. How did that start?

Yes, that really started in 2000. It had been four years since I’d opened my studio and I was getting a little antsy. I felt like I needed to do larger pieces and I was thinking of murals and muralists, like Jordi Bonet. So I actually did a trade show. I showed my mural here in Montreal at SIDIM. I didn’t have a client yet, but they had lots of texture and expression. I think it was something that was easy to translate into luxury interiors. So I got my first backsplash that I did for a Japanese restaurant.

Where did the idea for suspension ceramics come from?

I thought, “Okay, I’ve covered the walls, where should I go next? Now that I have taken this, where else can I go?” I wanted to go mid-air. One or two years later I thought “I haven’t done water yet,” so I did a reflective pool at a trade show and put ceramics in there. I can make ceramics float as well. I haven’t had the chance to do that in a while. There wasn’t any particular person or artist that I had in mind, so that sort of got me into another world.

I was doing the design shows, which has always been very good for me, and I started working on suspensions. I thought I would suspend some ceramic pieces in mid-air. That got me some contracts—a lot of people come to these shows. I never showed products, I always showed conceptual spaces that were a little more difficult for the common person to understand immediately what you are selling; but it definitely triggered the right reactions for the right kind of client who were saying “I like the way you think, I like your universe. Let’s discuss something, I have this space.” They got it, they were like “Okay, you understand space and you want to work within it, so you know lobbies, atriums and things like that.” So then I started more suspended pieces and I did a lot of work.

The good thing is having a competitive edge from the experience— now I know how to install all sorts of things in complicated spaces. The sky’s the limit. We did a Revel casino in Atlantic City with a 90-foot drop and huge platforms, 20,000 aluminum pieces, because the pieces were much too big for the weight of ceramics; they would have been breakable and a massive headache. That’s the kind of thing that I can do because of the years I’ve had ahead of the game. It’s good because it is reassuring for clients: they know that whatever the complexity of a space, we can work things out.

Who inspires you?

I was definitely inspired by Jun Kaneko. He is an incredible artist with the colours he uses and the way he applies it on the ceramic surface. It was the first time I can say I was influenced by an artist; usually I just go in my own world. But this one there was something about it that I said, “Oh my goodness…” There was something I needed to translate for my own sake. So I started doing vases and then going from vases and developing big pieces, thinking I should do some tables and seats and benches. So I’ve been doing some table bases with steel top that are gold-plated and nickel-plated. I am aiming at developing a big collection, maybe 12 or 15 tables, and maybe a couple of benches. They are going to be functional art pieces.

What is it about Kaneko’s work that you’re attracted to?

The material, the thickness of the glazes that he puts on it, the dimensions of his work… He also does costumes for theatre. There is a freedom in his approach. It’s not just ceramics; he’s got drawing and illustrations. I paint, I just don’t think of bringing that into my universe that often.

There’s also Marie St-Pierre, she is incredible. She is a friend, but definitely a role model. We have similar lives in some ways, similar visions. Even how she works… we both are like “Sketchbooks, what’s that?” We just grab stuff and start building.

Do you have a consumer client base?

I have a very small consumer client base. Soon I will have an online store. It’s going to be limited for the first [few] months to Quebec and Ontario, just because we are trying to figure out shipping costs. We are desperately trying to launch in November, hopefully before Christmas!