This daring and very-demanding creator fascinates both by his own story and by his unique works, so incredible, almost hypnotic of beauty and refinement that take us on a disorientating journey. Julien Feller is a UFO in the world of contemporary artistic creation, who is more than leaving his mark with such a singular and sublime expression of lace, presented in trompe-l’oeils on admirable wooden sculptures. What an amazing mix of materials and shapes, with a seeking for a millimeter-sized perfection, and such transcendence of his work that challenges and delights the soul. And once again, that contrasts with an accessible and natural young artist who advances freely in the quest for himself, through listening, concentration and openness to the world.
Julien Feller was born in Messancy, a French-speaking commune in Belgium located in the Walloon region in the province of Luxembourg. “I had a normal childhood, in a small village, the most local and rural life in the flat land.” It was close to nature, yet close to a small town, Arlon and Luxembourg City. The shy and reserved little boy grew up in a family “with many teachers”: his mother but also two of his grandparents. “There was some rigor on both sides with important values like education, getting to the bottom of things and doing well.” As he was born near the Attert Valley Natural Park, he was very early introduced to outdoor sports and respect for nature and the environment. “My model was my retired grandfather, who loved growing his garden. He harvested a profusion of vegetables that he cultivated with rigor and love, dedicating his life entirely to his passion.”
At 11, Julien decided to study wood. His parents remember he had stars in his eyes when as a little boy, he went to meet the Vosges craftsmen who made hooves and small wooden toys. And at the beginning of high school, the teenager will check this option with enthusiasm. “I had a great time for a whole year learning techniques and gestures: how to use a wood saw, a file, a grater, make small works, and that is where it all began!” But he will have to stop to catch up in the fundamental subjects, and give himself one last chance for the general course.
“The following year, we could reorient ourselves and I went to the professional course over two years in “carpentry” or “woodworking”. Despite the skepticism around my family, my parents supported me.” It worked, even if the courses were not demanding enough for the young boy seeking for his vocation. He will do another year of restoration and creation of furniture in the continuity of the cabinet making and after all this, thanks to the precious advice of Denis Bruyère, cabinetmaker designer in Liège, he will finally find his place, entering the Institut Saint Luc de Tournai. “I remember the Open House Day with all these creations exposed there, and my key meeting with my future teacher, Patrice Degand, “The Captain,” who immediately saw my motivation and welcomed me with open arms in the Sculpture Formation.” Here, Julien Feller will focus mainly on wood, his favorite subject, for the time of learning which will last three years in order to master perfectly the gestures of the trade and acquire the intelligence of the hand. He would also learn to create and to meet challenges that are often very technical. “In a book of ornaments, I had spotted a model that will turn out to be a two-meter panel to be reproduced identically, after taking measurements directly in the Cathedral of Chartres!” Another challenge awaits him, in the second year, when he has the lightning stroke for a cabinet two bodies in ebony and pear, “with a magnificent decoration in high relief on the upper doors, of exceptional elegance”. He did it with great success, winning the Jury Prize. The artist-creator is born, with finesse and refinement as his signature!
Julien Feller is attracted to the masters of the Renaissance, but also to a Dutch man, Grinling Gibbons, considered as one of the most skillful wood sculptors in England. And especially, he liked his decorative panel “the Cosimo Panel” made for the Duke of Florence, and a lace tie for men carved on lime wood. “He left no trace of his know-how, but I was overwhelmed by this art of great delicacy, and it was there that I began to take an interest in lace.” The third-year student will find a Brussels lace exhibited in Versailles and decides to make it his project by diverting it, to carve it on a piece of wood. “I was looking for a model that was thick enough but not too thin at the same time and I had to figure out step by step how to get a finished result in trompe-l’oeil. This is where, in 2016, my first lace was born!”
In the meantime, he was looking for a job. He went to Texas for an internship at an antique furniture restorer and a French master’s furniture curator for the Dallas museum. He applied to stay there, but the paperwork was slow and would remain blocked. He then will contact another restorer Yannick Chastang, in Kent and set out for a 6-month collaboration on the re-creation of French furniture. “Thanks to this experience, I learned to sculpt completely independently and take the rhythm of the company. I was also able to think about my future and what I really wanted to do.” When he returned to Belgium in April 2017, he decided to turn the page on the United States and start his business. “I set up my workbench in my parents’ basement and started experimenting with lace exploring other woods and laying the groundwork for everything I wanted to do. Then I found this workshop in Martelange to really settle there.”
With meticulousness and infinite patience, Julien Feller then embarks on bold projects, pushing the technical and artistic limits each time, with a trompe-l’oeil lace, of incredible finesse. He is ambidexterous and will have to correct his vision very quickly, damaged by the hours, up to 3,000 spent on every minute detail of his pieces.
“I’m quite structured, and I rely on rigor in my work to realize my ideas. With a drawing at the beginning, or even a few strokes, to appreciate the shapes and sort in my choices. Then I give myself reasonable limits to create.” A triangle, for example, and the artist will build all around and inside the lace he imagines himself until he finds a visual balance that makes this decor harmonious. He has won many awards, including the Biennale des Métiers d’art “De mains de Maîtres” organized by their Royal Highnesses the Grand Duke Heir and the Grand Duchess Heiress of Luxembourg, and is now recognized as a talented European Artist by the Michelangelo Foundation. His pieces are exhibited in museums and biennials all over the world. A well-deserved recognition for this sculptor-goldsmith-ornemanist on wood specialized in the creation of trompe-l’oeil lace. “Eddy the Monk”, from his nickname at the Institut Saint-Luc, has discovered his treasure in this unique mode of expression that allows him to convey his feelings, and provide emotions to others.
What a contrast this lace-maker on wood offers us with his almost unthinkable and unbelievable works, showing a great obstinacy for detail and meticulousness. Each one reveals an abundance of sensitivity, refinement, finesse, complexity, tact… that springs from an unprecedented combination of light lace and extremely hard wood. This is certainly an improbable mix but so much worked, with patience and requirement. Let’s follow this artist-creator who is moving forward inscribing his signature in the great book of the genius artisans.
Interview held by Carine Mouradian on the 18th March 2022
Link to Julien Feller’s website
“ Feeling ourselves in complete freedom is the only thing that will make us happy in our life. The experience and the feeling that results make us get our own perspective of things, in a global and positive way. My creations allow me to express myself and convey my emotions, and I was fortunate to have a teacher who helped me along this path of authenticity, because he listened to his students and taught us this fine faculty of being sensitive to the world’s echo of oneself. I then discovered and liked the floral motifs and the lace on wood, to make it my specialty. I also discovered the United States, the country of my fiancée, who is also a sculptor, and I go to live there often, in the forests of the Adirondacks. This was not really planned and it is even happening without our knowledge. The most important thing is to welcome the present moment, making the right choices step by step.
As a child, I had the opportunity to have plenty of space around me, with forests and fields to run around, have fun and play sports in the wild like running and cycling. Sport is important for adult life to recharge and spend time in nature, and thereby improve social and mental well-being. As a person who works with wood, I also have a special relationship with deforestation and I am very moved to see trees being demolished, with or without reason. For my part, I now manage to produce sculptures where I didn’t have to cut down a single tree needlessly. Most of my stock is made of boxwood that may have been ravaged by time, or that fell, or that the owners have chosen to get rid of. So I give them a second life. I also worked last year with two designers to recycle the chips in my pieces into resin objects. All of this has tremendous value, and a sentimental one to me as well.
Lace is my signature, and I’m continuing to improve it, to make it more and more precise so that hopefully one day we’ll have lace that’s “perfect.” My joy is to explore all the lace, to see how it works aesthetically, technically and create new lace. There is a joy that animates me when the spectator is subjugated by a piece of lace, but especially in this very first moment when he completely ignores what he is discovering. He sees lace and not a piece of wood, and I gleam in secret when I see him ignore my piece or pass by without paying attention to deception. I was able to divert matter to another thing!
My role as an artist is also to show the reality of our world. Right now, everything we hear about climate change and epidemics and wars reminds me of a Nietzsche writing about the Twilight of the Gods. How can I interpret it in a work to show that reality? It would be a piece with an immediate impressive effect, perhaps due to its size: The Lace, and showing cataclysm and chaos. I then thought it would be more accurate to interpret a lace already destroyed, rather than one that is new. So let’s imagine I have to burn a lace to sculpt the result of the burn, with broken threads… or to tear it and sculpt the effect it gives. Thus would be created the Twilight of the Gods, frozen in time, but which brings a panoply of emotions to those who will see it. One may be a little puzzled or disturbed by the fact that it has been damaged; or impressed by its size or volume and questioning what it represents in the details. In the end, it shows the fragility of existence because even if the earth that is wood is solid, lace is our history and can be erased at any moment…
As an artist, I don’t like having a stereotype. I’m not the dusty cabinetmaker, the old bearded sculptor or even the wandering, slightly marginal artist… I am myself and that’s what allows me to explore all possibilities and reveal my feelings through my pieces. My luxury is what I live today. I have an immense pleasure all day creating lace in my studio. And soon I would be immersed in a region that would be the happiness of all artisans and artists. It’s funny because I didn’t choose this place by myself at all, but I am thankfully enjoying all these beautiful gifts.
Interview held by Carine Mouradian on 18th of March 2022
Link to Julien Feller’s website