Like many great artists, ceramist Rachel Grenon began her practice because, in her words, she needed to “express something”. And though that “something” remains open to interpretation, there’s no questioning what prompted the free-spirited French-Canadian to take a shot at the kiln.
“I got interested in ceramics by being in the surroundings of British Columbia,” she explains in a phone interview during a visit to Vancouver. “All the pieces of ceramics here were always very lively. The idea of me working with clay essentially came from here.”
Born and raised in Saguenay, a region just north of Quebec City, Grenon was introduced to the art of ceramic-making during a 15-year stay on the West Coast, the bulk of which she spent working in Whistler. She recalls making the cross-country trek in a bid to improve her English, but soon found herself drawn to a slightly more visual form of language.
“Every place you walk into in Whistler, there is a piece by Vincent Massey,” she says, referring to the accomplished B.C. potter. “Binty is what they call him, no one calls him by his real name.”
Grenon was fascinated by Massey, who is renowned for his robust and uninhibited designs and his ability to craft functional wares with his bare hands—so much so that she enrolled in a ceramics class in Pemberton and, later, a professional program at Emily Carr University of Art + Design to begin honing her own craft.
More than a decade later, Grenon continues to draw on the skills she learned in school and, in a welcome turn of fate, during a three-year apprenticeship with Massey himself to produce an assortment of plates, bowls, and oversized serving platters in her Bromont, Quebec, studio. Handcrafted from slabs of smooth white porcelain and finished with a shiny glaze, each piece is instilled with a calm, almost organic sensibility and can move easily between dinner parties and gallery walls.
“It’s funny, because my work doesn’t look like any work of the people in Quebec,” she says. “I have my own signature, and I think it’s because of my B.C. influence.”
A glimpse at Grenon’s latest work—an exclusive collection of handmade dinner- and serving ware, starting at $55, for Vancouver’s Provide Home (1805 Fir Street)—speaks plenty to this assumption. Splashes of sunshine yellow, earthy greys, and vibrant turquoise dance gracefully atop dramatic trays, naturally curved teacups, and silky, wood-topped vases, evoking picturesque scenes where West Coast sun and sky meet beach, mountains, and ocean.
Strikingly simple in form, the line commands a quiet attention that’s not the least bit boastful, and best of all, it’s one-of-a-kind. “You know, if I have a party, everyone has to have their own platter,” Grenon says of her distinct wares. “Everyone has their own personality. It makes for a very unique work—I try not to make any one dish alike.”
In an effort to create a more complete tablescape for her works, the ceramist recently turned her attention to linen design as well—a method she calls her brouillon, a draft or sketch that adds to the creation of her ceramic pieces. But rest assured: Grenon is also taking time to enjoy the comforts of familiar quarters.
“I’m very happy to be back in B.C.,” she says. “To come back and be able to show my work, I feel very proud.”