Johan Creten, clay and gold

Johan Creten, a contemporary artist nicknamed the Clay Gypsy, has one foot in the earth and another in gold. His works play with gold, between kitsch decoration and subversion.


A universe of shapes


Johan Creten (1963) is an unclassifiable contemporary Belgian artist. Graduated, among others, from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, he discovered the possibilities of the clay in the 1980s. A painter by training, Johan Creten found real potential in this technique and in this material (sandstone and porcelaine). He chose it as a new medium and contributed to its renewal. He is also often nicknamed "The Clay Gipsy".

At the time, this material was taboo in the art world: considered dirty, wet, old-fashioned, popular (like the straw and basketry that he sometimes used) ... In addition, J. Creten is also perceived "as a usurper who transgresses religious prohibitions by taking the place of "God". The earth also symbolizes "Mother Earth", and again the magical earth, modeled by God to create Adam. She binds the sacred to the layman ... Thus, we will not be surprised to see his interest in gold, his other favorite material (along with bronze).


His universe is made of intermingled organic masses in hybridization, between the figurative and the abstract :

  • humans (especially the female body, vulvae and flower-women)

  • the plant (cluster of flowers, petals, fruits of the date palm)

  • the animal (roosters, squirrels, eagles, vultures, bats)

  • and in particular the marine world (interlacing of seaweed, mussels, pearl oysters, sea urchins, fish, octopuses, etc.)

These subjects vary between ancient mythological re-readings (Trojan Horse, Gorgon, Adam ...), realization of zoomorphic jugs, gigantic animals and a certain number of indeterminate objects (almost undergoing metamorphosis before our eyes).

Johan Creten likes to play with clichés (and twist them) by positioning himself on the limit where art can turn into decorative kitsch.

But what also characterizes his art is this balance between beauty, decorative, preciousness and utility. Because these works all have strong subversive, existential, political, ecological and economic resonances.


Creten's gold


Gold, when it does not appear in the hidden form of the "golden ratio", is recurrent in this artist. Usually used in a shiny, glistening way.

It plays with its tinsel-bling-bling aspect, but also its sacred connotation, for either :

  • accentuate the kitsch side of his works

  • maintain a relationship with History and the history of art (sculpture, the Baroque period, the grotesque ... and the Origin of the World)

  • play with light and lighting (an aspect to which he pays great attention during exhibitions)

  • bring a preciousness of jewel, a fragility (with the polysemy that he still practices) in opposition to the robustness

  • add a layer of meaning (literally and figuratively) positive or critical (notions of vanity, religion, magnified natural beauty, mythology, mystique ...)

  • sublimate by magic (Creten's works often call for touch, such as statues of saints ...) and thus create new divinities specific to the contemporary world.

[Photos of Johan Creten's works are also on Pinterest].