Élisabeth Joulia was born on 30 July 1925 in Riom (Puy-de-Dôme). After completing her studies at the schools of Fine Art in Clermont-Ferrand and Paris in the art of frescos, she enrolled at the Fine Arts school in Bourges, where the ceramist Jean Lerat conveyed his passion for clay to her. On April 10, 1949, she moved to La Borne, a village of potters in the Cher department, where she would work until her death in August 2003. Upon her arrival in La Borne, Joulia broke with tradition to build a body of work without any equivalent in Europe or even the world. Choosing to live in austerity, she drew her inspiration from nature to draw, paint and create sculptures, as well as utilitarian items for daily use. In winter, she left La Borne, and during her travels, she would search for traces and signs that she saw in rocks, rivers and deserts. She built a body of work that was constantly evolving and shot through with great strength. Joulia has become a myth, a benchmark in the world of ceramists. Within nature, she sought out the very essence of life’s vibrations. Her Eclosions, swollen like ripe fruits, also take their inspiration from the female body. The skins overlap, covered with delicate textures and bursting under the pressure of the bulges. In Joulia’s hands, the clay creates an encounter that exerts a kind of carnal fusion on the person who discovers her art, a kind of enjoyment taken in the ability to perceive. The artist’s journey was constantly evolving along with her spiritual quests. It can be summed up as follows: The early abstract constructions, then the utilitarian pieces and sculptures are part of the fabric of simple things that she brought back from the forest: seeds, fruit, chestnuts, almonds that have cast off their hulls. Glaze to ash, clay collected and placed on the stoneware becoming moss, bark, lichens etc. Joulia established an immediate relationship of proximity with the world and, in the 1970s, achieved extreme sensuality with her almonds and compositions, inspired both by nature and the female body. From 1974 onwards, white, highly refined, almost smooth stoneware was born out of an inner meditation, where Joulia focused her attention on the energy of light. She wanted her sculptures to be transparent, meticulous and radiant. After1980, Joulia’s art appeared like an ascension with a progressive sense of stripping away, asceticism, a route to the very essence of viewing and life. In search of meaning relating to her existence in the world, she returned to what are both the origins of civilizations and to her own origins, her childhood. The compositions here are more intimate, more secret. They mirror a solitary life, dependent on a pain that is present all around her and that comes from a faraway place; and when she works with clay, she looks for the kernel, the thing within her that she tries to express to be able to share those moments of solitude. Between 1986 and 1990, her great winter journeys were to begin. Living in harmony with the seasons and the cranes whose arrival and departure she noted in her notebooks every year, Joulia left behind her freezing house for several months and sought to establish a deep understanding with a world stripped of all artifice in Fayoum, Egypt. Simple African smoked clay pieces were the result of her meditation. Joulia continued her quest for her inner self in the Sudanese desert in 1997 and 1998, finding a fascination with stones because she considered them to be fragments of the cosmos. She expressed her interaction with these shards of the universe by creating abstract sculptures or sharp forms into which she set stones that convey a sense of vital energy. In 1998, she sculpted “Les portes du désert” (the Gates of the Desert), a monumental sculpture, that she wanted to erect in SudaJoulia believed in the energy of the universe, in a single and same energy, an immense breath of matter and life. She sought it in the forests around La Borne and during the last few winters, on the banks of the River Aille in the Maures Mountains. She observed signs engraved in the trees, the rocks and the scrub. There is nothing she saw – the gaps of light in the water, movement in the trees, shade moving across moss-covered stones – that eluded her senses. In her final sculptures, she was to find again the inspirations of the 1980s (text: laborne.org).
Images: Ëlisabeth Joulia, portrait (source Galerie Prisme, Paris); Élisabeth in her workshop (source Wikipedia); cover catalogue 2019; vase (source Invaluable); two leaning vases "Chestnuts" (source Drouot); monumental champignon, 1970 (source Bonhams Paris).