Chile's desert sands take shape in a concrete jungle

Fernando Casasempere displays rare grit in his first London show.
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The Independent Online

Fernando Casasempere was entwined in such an intimate embrace that I felt I shouldn't be witnessing such a tender moment. His long body was wrapped around a tall, slender clay sculpture.

Fernando Casasempere was entwined in such an intimate embrace that I felt I shouldn't be witnessing such a tender moment. His long body was wrapped around a tall, slender clay sculpture.

As he unfurled himself, you could see the indentations in the form made by his shoulder, arm, neck and head, his gesture indelibly imprinted into the now hardened material. He was showing me how he had made the work, and I spent the morning watching him fit his body into the shapes it had made in the pieces in his east London studio.

Casasempere's preoccupation is that man is not just a mass which inhabits a space, but something full of life and energy. He is trying to capture these forces and to show how they impinge upon the space around us. He strives "to solidify the void". The work has none of the fragility we often associate with clay. It doesn't even look like it is made of clay - more like stone. There is something primeval about it. This becomes less surprising as he tells of the inspiration he has found in pre-Columbian art, and of his interest in man's early tools.

Casasempere is a Chilean ceramicist who, at the age of 41, is successful and established in his own country. Yet three years ago, he came to work in England, starting out with no studio, no gallery, nowhere to live and, worst of all, no English. It has not all been easy, but the opening of his one-man show at Galerie Besson is a tribute to his persistence and talent. "At times I have agonised over whether I made the right decision, but now I see the work for this show I am satisfied that I did the right thing," he says. "I like the English approach to ceramics; it is very subtle and you don't have to make something big to make an impact. There is an appreciation of the finer points of the work. You also know where you are with people here. They don't say they like something unless they genuinely do."

Another important aspect of Casasempere's work is environmental. Several years ago, on a fellowship from the Andes Foundation, he travelled around Chile investigating sustainable sources for materials. Waste from copper mining and oil refining are used in his work. Copper waste sometimes makes up 50 per cent of his blend, turning the clay the colour of slate. Sand from the Atacama desert adds a sprinkling of gold to several of the pieces. He also uses pumice from The Vale of the Moon, in the St Pedro region of the desert - ground-up scallop shells and the crushed rock found at the base of glaciers. When you go to the show, touch, don't just look. Get someone in the gallery to show you how Casasempere moulded each piece, and hold it yourself in the same way. It's incredible.

Casasempere is at Galerie Besson, 15 Royal Arcade, 28 Old Bond Street, London, until 27 July. Tel: 020 7491 1706 Fax: 020 7495 3203 E-mail: anitaatgalerie besson. co.uk

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