Parley founder Cyrill Gutsch meets the French designer to discuss his new ocean-based series


French designer Mathieu Lehanneur’s latest ceramic series explores the subtle shades of the world’s seas – a spectrum of gentle blues, sparkling greens and steely grays. Like Pablo Reinoso’s Paysages d’Eau series, Lehanneur recreates the ever-changing waves as a solid, stationary mass. None of the circular pieces is quite alike, both in color and waveform. Suspended like floating miniature samples of the sea itself, each is based on a real location – from the Gulf of Guinea to the Bay of Bengal. Parley founder Cyrill Gutsch caught up with Mathieu recently in Paris to learn more about his work and inspiration.


So Mathieu, what’s your relationship to the ocean?

I grew up in Paris and I still live there – but I felt since I’m a kid that I need to be closer to the ocean. I have that experience, just like everybody, when you are in front of the seas you do not need to talk. You do not need to think. You do not need to make love. You do not need anything. You’re just enjoying the fact than you’re there and you’re living. That is a kind of miracle.

Is this what inspired 50 Seas?

I wanted to see if it would be possible to get the same feeling, that necessary feeling, but at home. I started trying to reproduce the ocean but I didn’t want it to just be an interpretation of the ocean. I wanted to wait for the right moment, and the right moment came when mathematicians and programmers and geeks basically are now able to reproduce the equation of the sea. And they do not do that for mathematics or even for art, but for Hollywood movies. Since they are not able to recreate an animation of the ocean for every shot, they created an algorithm that is able to play with force and create the faces of each wave…

…without repetition, without getting boring, more like energy fields…

Exactly, like something dynamic and real. I use this software, and what is interesting is at the end of the day I do not design every single piece. I just play with currents, play with force, with winds – just like a miniature God. And the waves appear. So I can decide if I want to get a quiet ocean, I can make a storm in the ocean. My best moments, for me, is when you feel that become more and more strong and more and more stormy, but just before the storm. 

This build up of power. 

Yes and just like a human being you can (Mathieu makes a wind sound). The pressure is going on. With 50 Seas, it is not one ocean or one sea or one liquid landscape, but every single part of this world. According to the deepness, according to the city around, according to the phytoplankton, according to pollution… the color will change. Sometimes dramatically, sometimes in very tiny shade – but it’s very interesting to get this vision in front of you.

Why fifty?

I decided to make fifty because the Inuit famously chose fifty words to describe snow. So I get in mind that maybe fifty is a kind of maximum to describe white and then another white… I think with blue it might be the same thing. So I decide to make it that number too. So I put fifty pins on a map. 

At random?

Yes, somewhat randomly. Maybe close to a delta, maybe close to a gulf, maybe when the ocean is touching the sea…  intersection points. From that, I keep the point, and I get the GPS address and a satellite company will provide me with a shot exactly at this point.

What does it mean to you that the oceans might die?

I cross my fingers, and I do my best to think that in five, ten, twenty years, if somebody would do the same work, I hope they would not get a lot of change.

What kind of feeling do get standing in front of the sea?

For me it’s a kind of synchronization with the movement of the water with my inner movement; with my heartbeat; with my blood pressure. I don’t know, but I feel that there is a moment when that balance appears.

I grew up in a large family – I have six brothers and sisters – so when I was in front of the sea during our holidays when I was a kid, it was a moment that, OK, I feel my uniqueness. I’m not more unique than other ones, I’m just like everybody, but you are in front of this infinity, in front of this movement, and this is one of those rare moments. I’m breathing, my heart is beating, I’m alive – and this is a kind of miracle.


See more of Mathieu's work: