Interior or How do you get the sentence when the shape comes from inside?

Jérôme Havre

October 23 to November 9, 2018

Exhibition October 23rd to November 9th, 2018
Opening Tuesday October 23rd, at 6 pm

Jérôme Havre’s Interior moves away from program-based exhibitions and marks a return to studio work. Volumes, shapes and materials are central to the artist’s reflection as he comes back to large-scale works after several years spent traveling light. This exhibition borrows from vernacular architecture and the illusions of stage design to call into question the limits to our control over domestic spaces.

The central piece is made of wattle and daub, a construction technique common to all parts of the world in countless variations, used here for its rustic appearance. It stands in contrast with clay sculptures finished in brilliant, nickel-like enamel, which seem to belong to no specific time period, as if they were fossilized. The arrangement of colour, light and texture is inspired by industrial design, at once utilitarian and esthetic.

Interior is a work based on architectural principles contained within the four walls of a gallery, which serves here as a container, thus shifting our perspective by blurring the line between the spheres of culture and nature. Nothing here is quite what we think or quite where expected.

Jérôme Havre

Jérôme Havre is a Toronto-based artist who works mainly in sculpture, shapes and spaces. His works foster reflection through an immersive and theatrical approach. His preferred methods arrange and stage his pieces like elements of a rebus puzzle, making spectators become active agents in decoding its meaning.

Exhibition Partner

From the Outside In: Decoding Jérôme Havre’s Interior

an accompanying text by Pam Nelson

“Wow! They let you do this in here?!” …was the first thought that crossed my mind when I entered the Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario. Toronto-based artist Jérôme Havre was in the process of a month-long residency at the GNO where he was experimenting with clay as a building material. This is not the sort of work one would normally make indoors which is why I was surprised when I walked into the gallery. Allow me to describe the scene: In the center of the room, a floor to ceiling mud sculpture was taking shape, and around it were all the building materials. There was a palette of bagged red clay, two or three bails of hay, buckets of water, several garbage bags of sawdust and pails of sand. Protected by a large tarp, the floor was covered in wet, muddy footsteps tracked from a long, rectangular wooden box lined with plastic (built by GNO staff and volunteers) as a trough in which to mix the various ingredients.

I’d met Jérôme at Thanksgiving dinner a couple days earlier, when he invited me to assist him in building his “mud sculpture”. Of course I was 100% interested in doing so. I was curious to see what Jérôme was up to, and am grateful for the brief time I spent working with him. Having the opportunity to work with an artist affords behind the scenes insight into their creative process, and can be as interesting as the final work itself. When I arrived at the GNO, the distinctive smell of wet soil was obvious from outside the gallery and it was even more intense inside. The room looked and smelled like a barn!

Jérôme explained to me that he wanted to work with this material and that’s how the project began. Clay, sand, water, straw and sawdust come together in a sticky, muddy mixture that is pushed one handful at a time onto a supporting structure. This technique is called wattle and daub, which, like other like rammed earth methods of fabricating with mud, goes back thousands of years and is still in use today. I was curious about the difference between wattle & daub, adobe and cob methods so I did a little research. The main differences are as follows: Wattle & daub uses a supporting structure – the wattle – which traditionally was made of thin strips of wood or sticks, woven together and then covered with the daub, a mixture of soil, animal dung, and straw. The sticky material would be built up against the structure, and when the wood eventually rotted away, the earthen walls remained standing. On the other hand, adobe is a technique where clay and straw are made into bricks that are baked in the sun. The bricks are then stacked with mud in between to form the desired structure. Finally, cob is a technique of building with clay and straw without the use of a supporting structure. Rather, the cob is laid in a thick layer and allowed to dry for a time in order to set and strengthen. That layer is then trimmed level and another layer placed on top.


Aside from his wattle and daub sculpture, Jérôme also worked to produce a number of other pieces to assemble a playful and whimsical installation. A theatre of sorts. For the exhibition, the gallery is painted a midnight blue, the colour of the sky just before nightfall, and around the space are smaller objects in ceramic, a lighting piece and a mural. Because of its sheer size, the wattle and daub sculpture is undoubtedly the central piece. It is round in footprint and steps upward from wide at the bottom to narrow at the top, nearly reaching the ceiling. Is it an object or a space? There is no door nor openings of any kind, although it is “decorated” with forms that imply such elements. Architectural in scale, it divides the room, causing us to negotiate its presence as we move around the exhibition discovering the other pieces. The small sculptures are hand-built of red, low-fire terracotta clay, and through their material language, relate directly as a different version of the same material. Similar to the wattle and daub piece, they have no function although they are of a functional scale that we would expect from ceramic objects. They also speak to architecture in their form, built with circular elements that loosely reference Art Deco, although their unfinished aesthetic is contradictory to the clean lines of that style. These juxtapositions are intentional however, as they reflect Jérôme’s desire to allow an initial gesture to be the final piece.


Jérôme is interested in the aesthetic of Art Deco, a style of design from the 1920’s and 30’s, as being inspired by/appropriated from African cultures. “Primitive” cultures made “modern” through appropriation by the European intellectuals. The idea of the primitive was a topic we discussed at length. The word primitive can have a judgemental flavour when referring to outdated notions about what is considered modern versus what is considered from the past. But at its purest meaning, the word primitive means “first” and that is an interesting topic to consider. The idea of his ceramic pieces being an initial/first gesture, a pure, unfiltered, unrefined output. We also spoke about the clay-based building material as primitive. A material that has stood the test of time, having been used for thousands of years in many cultures around the world. By considering the primitive as the idea of “first” or “initial”, we are beginning to think about time – the present, the past, the passing of, and how time can be manifest in the physical. Jérôme’s work also investigates contemporary time. His “primitive”, first gesture ceramics were subsequently glazed in multi-coloured designs giving them a playful, psychedelic aesthetic (a modern aesthetic?). But what the unknowing viewer won’t realize is that these lines trace the shadows in the room, documenting the passing of time while he worked. He also created a large mural using shades of pink, yellow and green chalk scribbled onto the dark blue wall, mimicking an imaginary shadow of the mud sculpture throughout the day as the sunlight travelled across the front of the room.


By juxtaposing initial gestures in his clay-based sculptures using materials and techniques that cross both time and space – that are on the one hand local and on the other hand from another place – along with the “of the moment” tracing of shadows, Jérôme pokes fun at preconceptions around the “primitive” versus the ideals of “modern.”

I will leave it here and conclude by mentioning that Jerome’s work is evocative and layered, a veritable theatre of elements in which we play a part. But my words in this article capture no more than a few threads, a blend of my personal observations and those of the artist. It has been a pleasure to get to know Jérôme Havre, a lovely human with a positive and gentle spirit. As an artist myself, the experience of witnessing his process, attending the exhibition, and later discussing and reflecting upon his work is invaluable to my own practice, and is why I title this article From The Outside In. Thank you to the GNO and to Jérôme for inviting me “in”.


A Sudburian currently living in Toronto, Pam Nelson is an interdisciplinary artist and designer whose work in sculpture explores the connection between raw material and human culture.

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