“Zellige” means tiles in Arabic, all tiles. But, by ignorance of the true meaning of the word, we have reduced its use to the traditional glazed and cut by hand terracotta tiles of Fez. And in fact it is almost a missed act as it is obvious that these tiles can symbolize unconsciously the quintessence of the Arab knowledge in the matter. So, this shift of meaning barely disturbs me, whereas I now know the full meaning of this word. As if everything were suddenly summed up in a simple square of colour, which, to use a slighly easy but nevertheless perfectly relevant phrase, “is never quite the same, or quite another” than its neighbor. The singularity of each of these pieces is ultimately the best -in my opinion- in the simplest version, rather modern compared to the traditional use of multicolored mosaics : that of a monochrome surface, where nothing comes to distract the mind from the subtle game of colour variations. No anecdote, only a very old technique, very artisanal and perfectly illustrative of all the manufacturing defects that industrialization has sought to eliminate, by means of ever more lucrative rationalizations.
The moral of the story is that where an industrial tile now arrived at perfection of realization exudes boredom and monotony, the small zellige of Fez, all dented, all imperfect, just like we are full of defects and repentance, touches us. As if, to control everything, we had lost most of the magic. When the too refined earth seems as artificial as plastic, when the forms out of a mold are all exactly the same, when the passage by the fire is so dominated and policed that it does not let appear of its wild participation in the process, and there are moreover no longer kilns where burn wood or olive stones but energies duly channeled : gas or electricity.
So, the moral of the story, prominently on the walls of my kitchen, serves me every day to accept the accident, the intervention of natural and human activity, and to consider that these contradictions are a source of wealth. It’s a lot of effects for the small enamelled terracotta squares sized to a wall, but really their visual power is so intense that they are a reference in my approach to everything I produce. And, as every time I deviate from this logic I am disappointed, I am not about to get tired of it.
The zelliges are made in Morocco in Fez, only with the clay of Fez, … the only clay that remains capable to create this magic !
Firing in a primitive kiln powered by sawdust, branches and olive stones, is nevertheless conducted with a sharp knowledge of charging and fire, based on a long tradition.
After glazing, the tile is beveled by hand in order to achieve a very fine joint.The traditional shapes will compose geometric decorations (the heart shape here is just an exception for the visitor !).
We have also considered this marvelous traditional know-how to resurrect the decorations created in the 16th century in India by their distant cousins, the Mughals.