It is in a café bistro, its privileged place, that the meeting took place. There he loves to interact with everyone, surrounded by his sculptures with enigmatic expressions, which mark their timeless femininity. 27 years ago, Jean-Philippe Richard has become a sculptor and protector of the “girls” he shapes with his hands, marrying them tenderly to selected clients or places, for a life that is both modern and romantic. Rose, Charlotte, Lucie, or simply She, in a thousand and one examples of them. When you meet them one day, you will desire to install them forever and to accede to this chance to dream with the most beautiful story to write.
This has always been the primary concern in our family meetings. “Find the idea that will allow us to make something original to sell, and then gain our life with it.” Jean-Philippe Richard grew up with this concern for entrepreneurship. Eldest of a family of 4 children, he was the artist with an insatiable curiosity. “I have always been a self-taught person and I learned by practice a lot of different techniques.” He began to make mosaics with a new system he developed himself: carving stones with the natural stone of Solnhofen and painting these shapes. Then at the end of the military service, he met with a painter and opened together an art gallery in Charente Maritime, its region of origin. “I was graduated from a business school and soon I convert it into a craft shop, then a restaurant.” He then moved to Provencal Drôme, in his current studio, to embark on silkscreen printing. I did not know what to do at all, but I learned how to work with suppliers. And again, he wanted to create something different. “A system with films in silver”, to turn then to the serigraphy on glass and aluminum. In the context of his meetings, he will also produce sundials. “I wanted to make one for my terrace and with a mathematician friend, we converted learning to geometry.” He then launched an ingenious system enabling them to be etched on lithographic stones. “I was very much in technique and aesthetics and I liked the brass measuring instruments.” An aviation enthusiast, he will even set up an ULM learning school, then go into plaster molding of low-relief carvings, to finally return in 1990 to artistic creation.
There, in a sculpture workshop in Avignon, he will learn how to work the grog clay that he still uses today, and it is a revelation ! “I was trying to find shapes by letting myself be guided by matter and I got a pregnant woman.” He was at that time in southern Spain but “I knew it was my first piece of art.” And then, 27 years have passed since Jean-Philippe Richard has become a sculptor.
It is the beginning of a great adventure. “I do not know why, I began to create cylinders stacked with a head up; and it is sculpture that I still do today.” The same line. All different and all the same. Sculptures of women who are still in a finished form and under a squared base. And the contrast is striking between the slender silhouette of a woman like a stem that comes out of the raw material, as if it escapes from it. “Everything is imaginary, without any model.” The artist avoids even to be interested in the sculptures of others, for fear of loving some and being influenced.” Keeping the spontaneity of his beginnings, he ceaselessly shapes the material, with wood and some pebbles. Dozens of women appear in enameled clay, bronze or crystal and the artist starts a great paternity by giving each one a name. “Whenever I start a new piece, I say to myself: This one will be the design of the age. I’ll see the most beautiful! And when they are finished, they live; that’s why I give them a name that I like, according to the memories of the moment.”
Very sensual and delicate, they are also mysterious with expressions of their own, “and this takes shape as work progresses.” For, when the global form is finished, the artist obtains an attitude. He will then work the face according to this and above all, position the head to create an identity. Provocative, gentle, dreamy, modest, a little androgynous often and sometimes, more sexy. With their young girls side, it is the artist conception of femininity. They are also streamlined to give free rein to the dreams. Hands in the drape. Feets in the material. Eyes often closed, “because these women, facing nature, are in full meditation.” Besides, one imagines their eyes with the shadow carried by the part of the forehead “and digging more or less to change this flat and curved shape.” Then begins a whole journey so that they take their place of messengers, benevolent and protective presences, in the private or public gardens. “They will marry these places and each visitor will have his own interpretation.” It is a fundamental association of these relational sculptures and this is what makes them an art work.
In 1998, Jean-Philippe began to create models for Daum the crystal maker. The most famous sculpture will be Charlotte, in glass paste of 135 cm, launched in 2007 and still reproduced today. Its elongated S-shaped silhouettes, with their vertical lines and serene faces, both strong and soft, will captivate the eye and settle in romantic gardens all over the world. For example, in Austria, Eze, Ramatuelle, Chateau de la Messardière in Saint Tropez or in the bastides of great starred chefs such as Michel Bras and Jacques Chibois. “They mark and you keep it in your memories. Then, when we see them again years later, the emotions flow again.” This is why the artist himself chooses these places: “I want them to be beautiful with its environment leading to musing. They will, have to tell something, in addition to the sculpture that will come to intervene.” For an emotional work that could be read endlessly.
The exotic garden of Eze has been awarded the regional special prize of flower and as a remarkable garden. Between Nice and Monaco, overlooking the Mediterranean sea, it provides a home for unique species of succulent botanical plants and offers an artistic journey rich in fourteen poetic sculptures by Jean-Philippe Richard with Chloé, Marina, Isaline, Justine, Isabeau, Rose des Vents, Charlotte.. “More than 150,000 visitors from all continents and social classes go there each year”, and this concern for accessibility is permanent for the artist who loves contact with the average man in the street as much as with its wealthy clients. “I want everyone to be touched. Since they do not always have the means to afford one of my sculptures, or after such a hard journey ! it is important that they be able to contemplate them elsewhere and have also access to this part of dream.”
His art flourished in Provence where Jean-Philippe Richard continues his work. “It is the creation that has always been my driving force.” Some of his pieces may enter museums and he will continue to look for places to expose them. An association with a renowned designer or landscaper is also topical because his sylphs love to exalt the beauty of the gardens. There remains the emotions to arouse wherever they are present and continue to model them with new sources of inspiration “like this 6-month journey that is scheduled in a year in Venice.”
Classic and resolutely modern, the sculptures of Jean-Philippe Richard have a message to carry to the world. “What I wish to express is freedom of femininity, that of contemporary women. She has her feet on the ground and her head in the stars, and it is from this harmony between reality and dreams that my characters are born, which are as out of time and reality.” A great mission in our present world: that of accompanying others to live the magic of the present moment and reach finally to their dreams !
Interview held by Carine Mouradian on September 2, 2017, at Mirabel-aux-Baronnies
“ What touches me is this genuine desire my clients have for my sculptures. They are very sensitive to the fact of acquiring a unique work and often, after 10 years or even more, they come to see me for that. They are mostly couples in love, seeking for beauty, and are marked durably by the elegance of these silhouettes and the finesse of their expressions. This gives me a precise role because by my art, I become creator of works that will closely blend attitudes and emotions, and link them to the memory of a place. I also inherit the duty of finding places where to expose them to contemplation, and put humanity where the atmosphere is still cold and rigid. I am like a father who marries his “daughters”, looking for the ideal garden or to know the future owner. And I always say that they need to be taken care of, otherwise they will issue signals of distress in my direction. It is so important this exchange, like coming to discover them in the workshop … it is a mystery that is unveiled!
For me, the feminine side is easier to represent because I myself have a romantic side, and I think that all human beings are romantic, at least at the beginning of their love life. I am proud of my sculptures which have this modern side, with a line that recognizes itself from the start. Visitors, even if they do not know my name, recognize them! So, I think I did well to stay in my line, without trying to find something more attractive, more fashionable, more contemporary forms for example. I did what my heart told me to do and in this I have always been genuine without trying to look like someone else. I also do it for myself, in the sense that I try to find a form and an expression that I really like, and which, from an aesthetic point of view, suit me very well. Then there is the verdict of the public and it is the one I prefer. For we have the real answer, not that of a professional who wants to sell, but of the public who wants to buy in truth, for himself. The words he gives you are right and we know then that the work is authentic. Thanks to this, I realized that what I wanted to express in the matter corresponded to my original intention and was received as such. The interpretation alone differs according to the sensitivity of each one, but in the end, the words are always true. This means that when a piece is finished and I really like it, I know it’s good and has a little universal side. And that’s what gives me the most joy.
In my art, one must be motivated to always create something new by dealing with the same theme and the same subject, and to have different expressions with the same attitude. I try in addition to refine to the maximum without going in the abstract or Brancusi. This method is adapted to the material that I work with and the result touches the essence and purity. Women who take shape are first of all interior before having an appearance. They have a delicate side, very feminine, graceful and at the same time strong and assertive. I also like working with contradictions. I make for example asymmetrical faces with a brow marked by worries, and a smile to the lips, which is of course softened so that it is not too obvious. Because of that, they become messengers of something very personal, and I like to give this freedom of interpretation to the spectator. Finally, we start telling a story by the sculpture itself, but it can be interpreted differently according to the history of each one, and that makes it a work of art.
Constantly, my sculptures represent a reassuring element that one has at home, and I consider that this work is made to be seen since it touches and reassures. I am therefore a creator of emotions. And it is important in our present societies to be back to the dream. We are too much in the stereotype and bonds are placed where there are none. Life is just the opposite! It is absolutely necessary to rediscover the naivety of the beginnings and open ourselves. Everything comes from oneself without calculating anything. And the story starts over again… without an end! ”
Interview held by Carine Mouradian on September 2, 2017, at Mirabel-aux-Baronnies