Franca, Expressive Ceramic

Franca, Expressive Ceramic

France Bocognani and Caroline Bartoli are inseparable. And there is a 20-year age difference between them!”It’s unusual in friendship,” they concede with a smile. Unusual, yes, but powerful. Age, in fact, is one of the very few things they don’t share. Both originally from Corsica, the two women run Franca together. A creative joint venture they were lucky enough to embark on back in the early days, while they were still learning their craft. The two ceramicists from Marseille learned their traditional skills in the workshop of Maggy Champsaur – mother of the architect and designer François Champsaur. Within a year, Franca was up and running. The “free ceramicists” established themselves in the Saint Just neighbourhood, where they have a small property. There, they show their collections, welcome their customers, and run workshops which give interested parties a behind-the-scenes glimpse of their working practices through making plates and vases. France and Caroline are genuine enthusiasts. Handmade products are an integral part of their lives! Their craft lifts their spirits, and the clay they love allows them to express themselves to the full. Clay has a will of its own, and working with it is a non-exact science, encouraging them to push their boundaries further and further. Their pottery, deliciously curved and irregular, is the reflection of an imaginary world full of artistic references, childhood memories and the warm light that floods into France’s apartment. It is here, surrounded by pieces bought from friends – Nicolas Veidig from the Double V Gallery, the Puces de Fifi antique dealer collective – or pots they have made themselves, that the girls receive us. A joyful interlude, when time stands still, as they talk to The Socialite Family about the spirit of Franca. “The return to hand-made objects, simple pieces that richly reward the time taken to make them” but, above all, a combination of their two personalities united under the same identity.

Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic

France, Caroline: tell us about yourselves, please.

France & Caroline

We are Caroline Bartoli and France Bocognani. Both natives of Corsica, we live in Marseille. We both work in the communications sector. The thing that most characterises us – and it’s undoubtedly what brought us together – is our manual skill, the pleasure we have in creating all sorts of things, in tirelessly modifying and customising them. Bouquets of flowers, embroidery… Ceramics came along by chance really, but it immediately became an important part of our lives.

How did you two meet?

France

There is a 20-year age gap between us, which is unusual in friendship! The way we met was not so unusual: a mutual friend introduced us to each other six years ago. We started by meeting at the same dinners, at the same parties, and then we worked together occasionally on events. Many things in life have brought us closer together. One frantic weekend in Paris, we were discussing this and that at the bar in the Hotel Pigalle. I think that’s when we came up with the idea of creating something together.

Why did you want to explore the field of ceramics in particular?

Caroline

We’ve both always felt the need to be creative. France used to make hats and garlands of flowers, whereas I used to embroider and weave. The idea of ceramics came to us one day when we were sitting watching a sublime sunset in our friend Francois Champsaur’s cabin. He acted on it immediately and offered us ceramics lessons with his mother, Maggy Champsaur, a well-known ceramist in Marseille. The beginnings of our project appeared at that moment! A year later, Franca was born.

Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic

Who is Franca?

France

First of all, Franca is a girl’s name, a name that comes from the south, like us. And it quickly became obvious that we should create a shared identity. The “Fran” of France and the “Ca” of Caroline. Bringing together light and shade, sunshine and shadow, strength and softness, blonde and brunette, a blend of our two personalities. Franca, or a sunshine girl, as we like to imagine her!

With Franca, you are trying out different techniques: which ones? How do they differ?

Caroline

Our teacher Maggy Champsaur taught us all the traditional ceramics techniques. We model, but also use pinching, slabs, coiling, and press moulding to create our pieces. We tailor our projects to our expertise, and we may use a combination of several techniques on the same creation. We don’t rule out learning how to use a potter’s wheel, or casting and moulding. France was able to put her professional activity on stand-by for a year so she could start a ceramic decoration training course not far from Marseille, and I continued to learn with Maggy. Ceramics is an infinite science, the clay is practically alive and can behave quite unpredictably. Each creation enhances our learning experience.

Where do you get the inspiration for your creations?

Caroline

A painter from my village in Corsica immersed me in the plastic arts from a very young age. She organised courses every summer. We worked in painting, watercolour, pottery and so many other activities! We learned the basics by reproducing the landscapes surrounding us, still lifes and anything else we could see. My mother also played a part in this by teaching me embroidery, crochet and everything else that I’ve been able to do with my hands so far. I enjoy learning these “forgotten” activities that resurface over time. My creations are inspired by travels, landscapes, memories of my childhood, objects found in my grandparents’ attic, encounters and meetings, elements from architecture… Artists such as Joan Miró, with his vivid colours and shapes, Fernand Leger’s frescoes, Brancusi’s vertiginous and surrealist sculptures and César Manrique’s raw architecture and abstract art all inspire me. So do Matisse and Picasso’s ceramics. They make me want to do more and more and to discover new techniques.

France

I’ve always had an affinity with art. I studied architecture, and I’m strongly influenced by everything I’ve studied. My tastes are eclectic, with a penchant for the old. I love hunting for antiques, I’m a nostalgic person. I gave my first presentations on Le Corbusier; I admire all of Charles Catteau’s work, his art deco style and his decorative technique known as “cloisonné”. I would love to develop that further. I like the work of lots of ceramic artists, for instance, the American, Betty Woodman, and the French Valentine Schlegel and her superb work in Hélène Bertin’s book with her crazy chimney sculptures. But I think, if you leave aside the works of Picasso, Roger Capron is the person whose work I never tire of discovering. I love everything about his ceramic work.

Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic

Our respective creations show our preferences quite well. I designed the Dunes collection, created in mixed, marbled clays (also known as agateware), and the Funghi and Jules & Jim vases in red clay. France designed our Bohémiennes and Végétales pieces, press-moulded and stamped by hand, as well as our decorative plates (...)

Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic

What are the next steps for your growing project?

France

A few months ago we moved in and renovated our small workshop, a little house with a garden in the Saint Just district of Marseille. We decided not to sell through anyone else for the moment so that we can talk to our customers, tell them our story, explain our skills and welcome them to our workshop whenever possible.We have very little stock and have chosen to produce mainly to order. Our objective is to satisfy others by pleasing ourselves, to offer unique pieces made by hand, designed jointly and produced by us, here in Marseille. From time to time, we organise pop-up sales in collaboration with certain places to showcase limited editions, but that’s all. Currently, a lot of projects are under discussion, and we very much hope that they will come to fruition!

Where are we likely to find you in Marseille?

Caroline

Marseille is a big city and, at the same time, a small village. We all have our favourite warm, comfortable places where we meet up regularly with the same groups of friends. First of all, you have to taste Céline and Fabien’s fish on a Friday lunchtime (if possible) at La Boîte à Sardine. Then follow that with an aperitif at sunset on the terrace of the Café de l’Abbaye overlooking the bay of Marseille, or at Viaghji di Fonfon in the small port of Vallon des Auffes. You need to prepare a picnic before you go off for a stroll along the coast, and La Fabriquerie with Marine, Pierre and Sandi is an absolute must! For dinner with friends, head for La Mercerie, run by Julia, Laura and Harry, a group of brilliant Anglo-Canadians, freshly landed in Marseille. You can have your lunch and dinner on our plates, too. As for shopping, the most iconic of the Maison Empereur drugstores is just a few metres away. And do make the most of the opportunity to discover the authentic Père Blaize herbalist’s shop. Lovers of good food should head for the Panier district to enjoy the Navettes d’Accoules, the city’s signature biscuits at José Orsoni’s, or the Vallon de l’Oriol for the pastries from Les Bricoleurs de Douceurs.

France

On Saturdays, I like to have breakfast at L’Épicerie L’Idéal. We eat wonderfully well there, and Julia has a gift for conviviality. I feel I’m “part of the village”. The Noailles district is 10 minutes away from my home, so it’s perfect. At aperitif time, I go to the Bar de La Relève at Les deux Greg’s. I regularly go to the Puces de Fifi for a spot of bargain hunting. I always find some little treasure there, like this wicker bull’s head from the 1950s, this ceramic tile coffee table, my light fittings… I never get tired of going there, it’s a collective of nine antique dealers. So nine different worlds and nine different personalities! The second place that enchants me every time a new artist is exhibited there is the Double V Gallery, established three years ago by Nicolas Veidig. He selects emerging artists, and I love betting on the future! I recently bought a small piece by Ugo Schiavi and a painting by Caroline Denervaud. I love to tell myself that, in my own way, I’m supporting somewhere that makes us look differently at the art gallery. Finally, if I had to name just one place in Marseille, it would be the La Bonne Mère pizzeria, run by Jérémy at the oven and Mahéva serving the tables. I have all my celebrations there! Any excuse is a good one when it comes to enjoying the best pizza in the world (laughs).

Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic
Franca, Expressive Ceramic

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