Eskil Lam – Fire Tongues

Excerpt from the catalogue “Wifredo Lam – Fire Tongues: Ceramics”, published by Galerie Gmurzynska on the occasion of an exhibition at the gallery spaces in St. Moritz and Zug.

Excerpt from the catalogue “Wifredo Lam – Fire Tongues: Ceramics”, published by Galerie Gmurzynska on the occasion of an exhibition at the gallery spaces in St. Moritz and Zug.


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Wifredo Lam


galerie gmurzynska

Fire Tongues by Eskil Lam

Perhaps the most significant thing

my father ever taught me he taught

me by example: Life does not end

or, in the best of circumstances, even

slow down at fifty, sixty, or seventy.

My father, Wifredo Lam, was in his

late fifties, after all, when he began

experimenting with ceramics and in

his seventies when he inaugurated

his first solo exhibit at Albissola’s

Ceramics Museum in 1975. These

ceramics we are celebrating here in,

Fire Tongues, Wifredo Lam Ceramics,

are the work of a mature artist, whose

own, unique language has become

earth, fire, water, air. But they are also

the outcome of his involvement in an

artistic community that revolutionized

our notion of contemporary art.

Beyond the legacy my father has left

me—the rather mixed blessing of

becoming a world famous artist—

he has bestowed me with the open

book of a fascinating, subversive and

essential history of art.

My father never tired of innovating

and discovering new forms of

expression, thanks in part to his

encounters with such luminaries as

Picasso, Breton, the poet Césaire, and

later, the post-war internationalists

who made Albissola their favorite

meeting place for bringing about

another revolution in art: Asger Jorn,

Enrico Baj, Guy Debord, Lucio

Fontana, Crippa, Karel Appel….

But I am not only thinking of his

fortuitous, notable encounters with

major artists; he was equally at

home with writers, statesmen and,

no less, the artisans, those skilled

craftsmen, who became his friends

and assisted him in ceramic work and

printmaking. Nelson Herrera Ysla,

writing about my father, concludes

his essay by pointing out that:

Lam managed an extraordinary

balancing act between continuity

and rupture, which only the greatest

artists achieve as the result of a long

process of emotional and intellectual

maturity. Part of this process was the

artist’s ongoing contact with great

anthropologists and people of modest

economic circumstances, as well as his

experiences in cities such as Havana,

Madrid, New York, Paris, Marseille,

Puerto Principe, Fort-de-France and

Albissola in Italy.”

When my father fully embraced

ceramics, he had already chosen

Albissola on the Ligurian coast as his

permanent residence. This is where

we came together as a family over the

holidays. My boyhood memories, to

be honest, are filled more with sunny

days frolicking on the beach than

with high-brow discussions on art or

watching my father paint, sculpt or

etch. After a long day at the beach,

I would often join up with him at

the ceramics factory of San Giorgio,

where he was still busy at work.

I remember having to be quiet and

careful as I wound my way around the

workbenches to find him and Poggi

bent over a still damp plate or vase,

encrusted with strange materials.

You could always tell by my father’s

mood whether or not his ceramics

had survived their night-long firing.

There was no small anxiety involved

in that long wait: the slow rise to

temperatures of 1000° and the long

cooling down process, discovering

how the glazes had turned out or if

anything had broken.

It comes as no surprise, in retrospect,

that my father took so readily to

the art. The medium was an ideal

material for expressing that unique,

personal world we are so familiar

with in his paintings and drawings.

What luxury to be able to mold his

creatures into clay, to give them that

frightening, final test of fire, letting

them metamorphose at will.

No wonder the surrealists, situationists

and CoBrA group took to this

medium with such enthusiasm. By

its very nature, ceramic work offers

the skilled artist a full range of play

and experimentation, and no small

amount of humility—for things do

break and fail constantly. But this

ancient tradition is also what suited

these artists’ thirst for dialogue,


for expanding their horizons,

for changing the stakes of their

achievement. This is a medium that

cannot be fully dominated and it

takes a certain trust, I imagine, to let

oneself go and enjoy it. In my father’s

case, this did not happen from one

day to the next and may never have

happened if it had not been for the

insistent encouragement of Asger

Jorn. How could he resist getting

his hands in clay, humanity’s most

ancient, shall we say “primitive,” art

form? So here they are: the figures

of his inimitable world—daunting,

menacing, transparent, masked,

dancing, immobile, proud—set before

us in the shimmering circles of plates

that are not plates, or rising up from

the gentle slopes of unusable bowls

and vases. They are the inventions of

an accomplished artist, an important

player in postwar art but one who

refused to be labeled with anything

but his own name.

Lou Laurin-Lam, Eskil Lam and Asger

Jorn in Albissola, 1961

Eskil Lam

1. Herrera Ysla, Nelson, “Wifredo

Lam ahora,” in Biennale di ceramica nell’

arte contemporanea (Biennial of ceramic

in contemporary art), Albissola,

July 21- August 31, 2001.



Fire Tongues

Ceramics by Wifredo Lam

20 February – 20 March 2012

Galerie Gmurzynska St. Moritz

25 April – 30 June 2012

Galerie Gmurzynska Zug

© Galerie Gmurzynska, 2012

Concept: Krystyna Gmurzynska, Mathias Rastorfer

Texts by: Anne Egger, Lou Laurin-Lam, Eskil Lam, Jeannette Weiss

Translations: Unity Woodman, Zena Li, Francesco Trabaldo Togna, Donatella Zazzi, ManRey Übersetzungen GmbH

Design and realization: Edoardo Pepino

Coordination: Jeannette Weiss, Maria Florut

Printed by: Grafiche Step, Parma

Images rights:

© Wifredo Lam Estate

© Paolo Zappaterra

© Christophe Laurentin

All rights reserved




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