Purple Magazine
— F/W 2015 issue 24

Sylvie Auvray

Herzog, gesso and wood on canvas, work in progress at Sylvie Auvray's studio, Paris “Herzog”, gesso and wood on canvas, work in progress at Sylvie Auvray’s studio, Paris

artist, Paris

interview and portrait by OLIVIER ZAHM

 

OLIVIER ZAHM — We met in the early ’90s. I remember it was when you were hanging around with Bernhard Willhelm.
SYLVIE AUVRAY — Yes, hanging around with Bernhard Willhelm, Gaspard Yurkievich, and Martine Sitbon. It was another time, a more collective context. But painting requires true solitude. It was fantastic back then. I must have been around 19, at the center of that slightly crazy effervescence that happens around fashion. The events, the shoots, meeting people. I loved the clothes. I loved wearing them, but strangely I’ve never thought about it or thought of being a stylist. Honestly, at the beginning, the idea of becoming an artist completely panicked me. I was sure no one would ever buy anything. But I loved fashion, and I still do. I understood the codes. It’s a collective creative process that doesn’t quite fit me — I prefer the solitude of my Paris atelier.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have the feeling you’ve changed a lot in the past 20 years?
SYLVIE AUVRAY — It is amazing to see how much my work has stayed the same since I was 16 or 20 years old. I come upon drawings from back then, and nothing has changed! Except that now I produce art pieces, paintings, and sculptures, and the production process is a real pleasure for me.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your first true success was with your ceramic objects. Why did you start to work with ceramics?
SYLVIE AUVRAY — As a painter, I completely lost my inhibitions with ceramics. It was extremely therapeutic. I had always created objects, but they were confined to my atelier, In fact, I would call them my “atelier pieces” up until the day I began to show them. That released a flood of things, one of which was my painting practice. Ceramics require an immediate succession of actions: you take your clay; you make a shape; you dry it; you fire it in the kiln. There’s no time to waste. It’s immediate, sequential. I no longer worry for hours about what to paint. Since I am an obsessive sort of person, when I was doing those ceramic masks — I must have done 600 — I went a little crazy. It was like something automatic, like the Surrealist automatic writing.

OLIVIER ZAHM — That freed you from anxiety about the subjects of your painting?
SYLVIE AUVRAY — I think the subjects in my paintings are not particularly important. I like it when things happen by themselves in my paintings, when I don’t really have a choice, when I feel a need to do it. I still need to feel the necessity to paint what I am going to paint. I know that my work will not be its best if I don’t feel the need to do it.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Working with ceramics is a very primal gesture, as you work simply with your hands and clay.
SYLVIE AUVRAY — Yes. And it’s also the art of working with fire; it’s absolutely magical. When I was a kid, I used to look for fossils. With my father, I spent hours crouched over, searching the ground. So I recognize all the shapes, the different kinds of flints, the pots. That memory has stayed with me, and now I use the earth as my medium. It’s extremely moving to go into your atelier at night…

Sylvie Auvray Sylvie Auvray

OLIVIER ZAHM — To check how long your pieces have been firing?
SYLVIE AUVRAY — Seeing the incandescence of your work. It’s so beautiful. When I was doing the show at MAMCO [Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art] in Geneva, my kiln was firing 24 hours a day, and I would go in at night to start another batch. It was magical to see my pieces literally glowing, an incandescent metamorphosis. With enamel work, it works or it doesn’t; you don’t ever really know in advance. So every time you open the kiln door, you are feeling that excitement, wondering what you are going to see.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your little ceramic masks are like little fire devils, fire imps, like in Miyazaki’s film Howl’s Moving Castle.
SYLVIE AUVRAY — Right, exactly! I love Miyazaki.

OLIVIER ZAHM — There’s that character Calcifer, who is a fire demon. The more you blow on him, the bigger he gets.
SYLVIE AUVRAY — Absolutely! Of course [in a sort of leprechaun voice].

OLIVIER ZAHM — Hah! You know his voice?
SYLVIE AUVRAY — That’s how he talks. My apartment burned down when I lived in London — so I’m familiar with fire. [Laughs]

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your work is like a magical animal world, filled with phantasmagorical creatures.
SYLVIE AUVRAY — I call the sculptures my little critters. I say hello to them when I come into my atelier. I have the feeling that they really exist; they’re their own beings. It’s vital.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Whereas your painting is more abstract.
SYLVIE AUVRAY — I would like to veer more toward abstraction, but it’s not really possible for me. I can’t avoid transforming my pieces into little animals. I’m fascinated when people have those little grigris, little animals in their cars, seals or small dogs, sitting on that shelf by the back window. We don’t do it so much in France, but it fascinates me. In Japan, I get it; in a temple, for example, you always see foxes.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have a painting protocol?
SYLVIE AUVRAY — I spend way more time painting the backgrounds than painting what’s on them. I work first a lot with the texture. Then I go very fast. The way I paint is gestural, with movements, on very large canvases. In the beginning, I used a video projector, but now I am also doing smaller formats.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You have also been successful with your jewelry.
SYLVIE AUVRAY — Yes, and it’s a different mode of production. I’m much more at peace with my jewelry than I am with my painting because it touches me less intimately. Painting is a much more violent and intimate artistic process. It’s harder to show, as well. My jewelry is so easy to do. I wear it, I put it on, people see it. It’s much more accessible. My first jewelry was bits of clay I had left over. I would make these little grigris with it. I would wear them around my neck, and I made a lot of them. Painting is more intense, but beautiful.

Ceramic masks Ceramic masks

OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you in a research phase now?
SYLVIE AUVRAY — Yes, I’ve been traveling a lot over the last two years, working in temporary ateliers, where I had to bring my own materials and make choices in a limited amount of time. It was interesting, but I admit I’m glad to be back in my own studio in Paris.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you happy to work in Paris?
SYLVIE AUVRAY — I’ve tried leaving several times, but I always come back. It’s not the best place to show my work, but for working, yes, I love it.

[Table of contents]

F/W 2015 issue 24

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS

purple BEST of the SEASON

purple INTERVIEW

purple FASHION WOMEN

purple FASHION MEN

purple DOCUMENT

purple BEAUTY

purple LOVE

purple TRAVEL

purple PHILOSOPHY

purple SEX

purple NIGHT

purple STORY

purple VISUAL ESSAY

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