Alain Girel was born in 1945 in Savoie (in the French Alps), to parents who were teachers. At the age of 12 he discovered pottery at school along with his younger brother Jean (who would later become a talented and famous ceramist himself, and was also presented by Maison Gerard). Two years later, the brothers set up a ceramics studio in the basement of their family’s home. The Girels’ first show took place in Chambéry at Maison des Jeunes et de la Culture in 1962.
After graduating from high school, Alain chose to move to Paris and study sculpture in Szabo’s workshop at the Académie du Feu in the artistic quarter of Montparnasse. From 1967 to 1973 he settled in Provence, practicing mostly stone sculpture and woodcarving. He also organized pottery courses and in one met his future wife, the ceramist Jeanne Grandpierre. It was under her influence that began to transition from sculpture for ceramics.
The couple decided to move to La Borne in 1973, a small village in the center of France, internationally renowned for its wood-fired stoneware pottery. Over the following decade, surrounded by talented and passionate potters, followers of Jean Lerat and Vassil Ivanoff, Girel carried out numerous ceramic experiments with stoneware, his style evolving gradually from abstract shapes to figuration. Proof of his investment in the artistic life of the village, Girel created and directed the first international ceramic symposium of La Borne in 1977.
A knowledgeable and generous man, his desire to teach grew steadily and soon became essential. In 1981 he obtained a teaching chair, with a speciality in ceramics, at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Mâcon in Burgundy. He and Jeanne settled in Chasselas (in the south of Burgundy), delighting in the sunny vineyards and landscapes reminiscent of the Tuscany he cherished so. Thenceforth, his style emphasized a luxurious and generous approach to earthenware and colorful glazes. His training in sculpture and insatiable curiosity pushed him to experiment with innumerable techniques related to earthenware, glazing, and the inclusion of objects such as shells, gilding, trompe l’œil painting, and the use of mosaics. Girel practiced a daring art, made up of experiments and technical discoveries, one that served his limitless creativity. The grandiloquence of his work was accentuated by the monumentality of his pieces—retables or vases of six and half feet high, for example, that raised the object to the rank of sculpture.
Girel’s work is an homage to art history, and especially to Italian Quattrocento, Barocco, Antiquity, and at times, even, to the Flemish masters (at least in a very theatrical way). He incorporated in his earth chromolithographs masterpieces of the glorious and glamorous past, often framed, fragmented – pieces from his personal ideal museum – set in peaceful Tuscan landscapes, and adorned by angels, animals or vegetation treated in relief. These figures emerge from painted surfaces which often imitate marbles, porphyries, granits, precious stones like fragments from some sumptuous vanished palace. Girel’s work must be seen as archaeological vestiges, as digesting the magnificent totality of art history — as testimonies of what humanity has done best in times gone-by.
Alain Girel’s work is displayed in public collections throughout Europe, notably in the musée des arts décoratifs of Paris, the musée national de la céramique in Sèvres, the Darmstadt Museum, the Ostende museum, the musée du cinquantenaire in Bruxelles, and the Royal Museum of Delft, among others. During his long career he created designs for the famous French crystal firm Daum, jewels for the Haute Couture fashion designer Christian Lacroix, and ceramic murals for the windows of Hermès in Paris. One of his most prestigious collectors was the French president François Mitterrand, who often offered Girel’s pieces as gifts to foreign diplomats – in one notable instance to the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.