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Claude de Soria, Michael Gibson, 1988

Beaux-Arts Magazine, issue 60, September 1988

Claude De Soria’s work reveals the plastic qualities of a material traditionally thought of as unworthy. Forms, perhaps figures, are born from pouring cement and allowing it to set on a plastic sheet. Modelling is reduced to the minimum. What the sculptor does, here, is accompany.

Claude de Soria’s work is born of a visceral reluctance to impose form on material. That might not sound promising. But in Claude de Soria’s undertaking, the manner in which she overcomes this obstacle is enlightening and throws precious light on the way the artistic creation functions.

De Soria’s creative strategy is unusual. In 1962, she decides she no longer wants to work from life. She models a fired-earth bud, 20 cm in diameter. Then comes a period where she cannot imagine imposing a “subject” on herself. Then ten years later, after she has begun working in cement, she throws a small amount into a plastic bag and twists it shut. When she opens the bag, the dried cement turns out to be identical to that bud she had moulded out of clay years earlier.

Amazed at this unexpected signal from the heart of the material, De Soria chooses to regard it as a sign or material omen, pointing to the direction she must take. Henceforth, the material will decide.

The choice of cement is itself accidental, coming about when a workman leaves a bag in the courtyard outside her studio. She lays it onto a piece of flat glass and tries to work it. The experiment proves disappointing. Cement will not retain form. She leaves it overnight and goes home. The next morning, using a razor-blade, she removes the glass and is surprised to find the surface of her cement spotted, pitted and polished.

But the most attractive and unexpected aspect of her work came about in 1985 when she started to make her Lames and Contre-Lames. These are tall shapes, up to three metres in height, made by pouring liquid cement on plastic sheets which are then folded back. Each of these pieces are as elegant as jade knives and each and every one contains something to surprise its maker, when she unwraps the plastic: the subtle variety of colours that tend to blue, to black, red or green.

Her most recent shapes are like giant wheels, up to one metre in diameter. Again, the work is the result of no specific decision, but is determined by a physical process which imposes itself upon the artist, from the artist, as obvious. The folds, gaps, stains, and marbling are unpredictable. Sometimes, though, a piece is rejected as being too obviously representative – a central slit that seems too clearly sexual and thus banal.

Michael Gibson