Ceramicist Cécile Mestalan – making her (handmade) mark on Lisbon

It was French-born ceramicist Cécile Mestelan’s move to Lisbon that triggered her pursuit of the art – after studying sculpture at art school in Switzerland, she and her husband made their move to the city to fulfil residencies at Portugal’s premier porcelain makers, Vista Alegre, where Cécile found her métier.
Cécile quickly established herself in Lisbon’s art & design scene when she set up a collective for potters in a shared studio space in Estrela; Olho, and got to work.  Her style over time evolved from simple, white, minimalist vases made with molds, to a more organic, ‘hands on’ use of coils to create larger, more sculptural and geometric shapes.  Some of her best known work possesses a narrative element – the collection ‘Totem’ has an almost figurative quality; these curious shapes connote artefacts of a mysterious and unknown civilisation.
Cécile’s interests in form are architectural; concerning intersections of angles, shadows and planes, but with an important stroke of imperfection.  “There has to be an element of tension,” she explains, “or we miss the humanity that makes a piece more alive.”  It’s this particular human touch which guides her approach – a painstaking effort, as she details: “To make the handle on only one of my new collection’s cups, I spend 20 minutes per colour to hand-mix and prepare all the clay, and then the time it takes to hand-turn the cup on the wheel is another 15 minutes; then I glue the handle. Finally it’s fired for a first time, then glazed and, last step, fired again! All this with my hands. Enjoy, it’s not plastic!” 
‘Le Rayon Vert’ is the name of Cécile’s newest collection, whose palette of bright and warm colours speak of summer and of Portugual’s beachy coastline — not just in vibe but in actual texture, where many pieces feature actual sand, collectedly Cécile and friends in the Azores Islands in summer and in winter, at Praia Grande in nearby Sintra.
Cécile’s work has become a staple on the tabletops of many of Lisbon’s new restaurants & bars, like chic new venues Prado and Attla, and at The Vintage Hotel’s leafy ‘V’ rooftop bar, via commission by Foster & Bloom.  Cécile created organic tableware pieces in bespoke colourways for each space, with deep hues inserted directly into the clay and then revealed with transparent glaze on top. “It’s always a surprise” what the final results will be once removed from the kiln, Cécile tells me. Her use of strong colour pigments is elemental; inspired and grounded by the natural world.

Foster & Bloom also asked Cécile to create a few pieces for clients’ use in the The Vintage Spa – an opportunity for her to showcase these ceramics with sand-imbued textures.  The tones of these ceramic pieces – cups & saucers – and their earthy, organic form perfectly compliment the spa environment at The Vintage and were customised with the guest’s experience in mind. A blend of herbal tea served to clients after spa treatments allow a reflective pause – time to note the state of deep relaxation that comes when we  connect body, soul and mind.

You can find Cécile’s pieces for sale at her quirky new shop in Lisbon’s fashionable São Bento area.  Home to a former goldsmith’s/clockmaker’s, Cécile jumped on the chance to renew the space with her art.  She has beautifully retained or remade many of the shop’s original shelves & fittings. Where once perched jewellery and watches, Cécile’s work now shines.

An adjacent tiny room – previously the jeweller’s office – now hosts a tarot card reader / fortune-teller space (yes) called “Estrela3”, a brainwave by the ceramicist to make use of the shop’s unique layout and history.  Find it at number 3, Calcada da Estrela, opposite Lisbon’s imposing parliament buildings at São Bento Palace. To allow Cécile time to create at her nearby atelier, Olho Ceramica, her shop is open weekday afternoons and Saturday 11-7.
Photos of ‘V’ Rooftop Bar by Luis Ferraz, The Vintage Spa by Carlos Luque, Cécile Mestelan shopfront by José Carlos Carvalho in Visão.  All other images by Foster & Bloom.

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