An Interview with Jean-Luc Brandily – Revue “Univers des Arts” (Déc-Jan 2006 N°107)

Jean-Luc Brandily -  The Quest for Eternity Couvertue du magazine Univers des Arts

Propos recueillis par Patrice de la Perrière

Jean-Luc Brandily never ceases to amaze those who have been following his work for a long time. Through his works, he takes us to a world where bronze has lost its weight and where lightness constantly surprises us. By means of his art, this fine and sensitive artist, modestly gives us his secrets as creator. See below…

Univers des Arts: Jean-Luc Brandily, tell us a little about your roots. Were there artists in your family?

Jean-Luc Brandily: I was born into an ordinary family, with a father who adored drawing. I remember I used to spend whole evenings on his knee, watching him make sketches, drawings. It has to be said we didn’t have a television and for me, this distraction was a real joy. I liked watching my father; when he was drawing, you sensed he was happy. He was a simple man who spoke little and he was fulfilled in the art of drawing, his true passion. When he drew a landscape, I felt as though I could smell the scent of the undergrowth in the early morning and “hear” the silence of nature. All that brought light into my life. And without realising, in his arms, he was preparing my path, my future. It is he who enabled me to discover beauty and harmony; it is thanks to him that I became an artist.

U.D.A : Did your father also take you out?

J-L.B : Of course! I often went with him on his walks: that’s how he taught me about nature, showed me how you could lose yourself for hours gazing at a ray of light shining through foliage, at a tree with twisting branches, at a sun-soaked clearing, in short at everything that can inspire an artist. There is a saying of Rodin (quoting Baudelaire) that my father particularly liked to quote when he was speaking of nature: There, everywhere, only order and beauty are to be found ! For him nature was an inexhaustible source of inspiration which he never wearied of. He knew how to talk to the trees and listen to the birds. I spent my entire childhood beside him and that is perhaps why I decided one day to be like him: I drew, I painted, and as he had advised me to look carefully at the trees, I began to carve them.

U.D.A : And today? Does your father still influence you?

J-L.B : I am lucky that he is always near me and I am delighted when he is interested in what I am doing and tells me what he thinks of it. It reminds him of my first drawings, of the first awkward and nervous movements of a hand that, as he put it himself, “wanted to speak”.

U.D.A : How did your artistic studies begin?

J-L .B : When I was fifteen and a half, I went to a sculpture school in Auray in Morbihan. Three years later, I passed the entrance exam for the Ecole Boulle. So I left Brittany for Paris. Then I went on to the Ecole des Arts Appliqués. I had the good fortune to have an excellent teacher who knew how to communicate to us his love of beauty and of craftsmanship. Thanks to him I acquired a discipline, a classical training which was a solid preparation and allowed me to gain an indispensable technique by means of which I could work and be free. I practised a lot of modelling with live models; that;s how I learned how to create volume, to use space, light… At the same time I was also working at carving wood, a very special material which, for me, is full of memories. I also liked, in my free time, to draw in museums, on the banks of the Seine, in the gardens, in places where there were fountains with impressive sculptures. At the Ecole des Arts Appliqués, I was very keen on anatomy, an essential study when you aim to sculpt the human form. It was a wonderful time : one of discovery and wonder.

U.D.A : When one looks at your sketch books, it is easy to understand the love, I could even say the passion, that binds you to the demanding art of sculpture. After the Ecole des Arts Appliqués, what did you do?

J-L.B : I went to Italy; rather like all artists did in the 19th century, and for whom this trip was something necessary, almost vital. It enabled me to discover the great names in sculpture, Optically, Michelangelo, Canova... I was also able to deepen my knowledge by visiting the museums in Florence, the Roman architecture, and by appreciating the special light of Venice. Lots of the sketches and drawings that I did in Italy have inspired sculptures.

U.D.A : And when you came back from Italy?

J-L.B : I worked for about 2 years for a cabinet maker. I was able to improve my woodcarving technique making carvings in the style of the 18th century for châteaux and private houses in Paris or the provinces. Unfortunately it all came to an abrupt end when Michel, my employer, died suddenly at the age of 38. He was someone who taught me a great deal and whom I think of every day. I shall always miss him. There are some people who are simply irreplaceable …

U.D.A : It must have been hard to find yourself out of work…

J-L.B : It was, and that is why I took the plunge and opened a workshop in 1982 in Dinan, on the banks of the Rance. To start with I did decorative sculpture on wood and also statues in a romantic style: women dressed in flowing garments, faces radiating poetry, even nostalgia. It didn’t go too badly, but I didn’t want to get in a cosy rut, doing something easy that could turn into a trap. So, when 10 years ago I had the opportunity to meet the foundry men, I realised that this was going to enable me to move on, to switch material, by turning to bronze.

U.D.A : What attracted you to bronze?

J-L.B : The possibility of playing with fire, to transmute the clay casts and to sublimate the raw material. I find the technique of working with bronze fascinating. It is a bit like alchemy: the magic result of a meeting between artist and foundry man. I think that the success of a sculpture, the “passage” into bronze, can only come about if there is a very close relationship between the foundry man and the sculptor. There has to be a real understanding between them. For instance, I am very demanding when it comes to the chasing and the finish; so I need someone who understands completely what I want and who is able to produce a fine clean finish that is only possible when the chasing and polishing are just right. You see, it is a vicious circle; everything is linked. Nowadays the need to make a profit means that you have to work more and more quickly. But that doesn’t suit me. I believe that as far as art is concerned, time doesn’t count! So it was very important for me to find foundry men who knew how to take their time, who don’t dash stuff off. As I was saying, it is very important that there is a real osmosis between the artist and the foundry man.

U.D.A : I believe you only work with models…

J-L.B : That’s quite right! I need that contact which is at the same time physical, plastic and even spiritual. When a model is posing in front of me, something happens, a sort of osmosis, an exchange, a transmission that I cannot do without. I need to see it move, breathe, live. Then, it is my task to capture an attitude, a movement, an emotion that is both ephemeral and timeless. That is what excites me: to manage to capture a unique moment which, thanks to bronze, will become eternal.

U.D.A : When one looks at your works, one realises that the female form, for you, is not only your preferred subject, but also an inexhaustible source of inspiration, just as nature was for your father.

J-L.B : Indeed; the female form is at the same time unchanging and changing, one and many. You never get tired of looking at it and representing it. It is a way of paying homage to it by making it immortal!

U.D.A : Looking at these works, one realises that you live this art very deeply, happy working and discovering.

J-L.B : Yes! That’s true. All that I try to undertake and realise through sculpture is to give form to beauty and harmony; the beauty and harmony that seduce the eyes and tug at the heart. I love the material, bronze, which expresses truth, or rather my truth, through beauty, a term which it is difficult to use these days, as it is bandied about too much.

U.D.A : Last year you opened your new gallery workshop and this year a very interesting exhibition was held at the Tivernon foundry that you work with. This enabled you to meet all those who collect your work. I believe that exhibition was called “Timeless”; A whole programme! But what are you plans for the future?

J-L.B : My plans? To carry on creating. At the moment some of my works are being exhibited in Shanghai; that event will be extended with new sculptures in 2006. An exhibition will take place in Dinan at the start of 2007; it will bring together bronzes and red chalk drawings; it will be the chance to celebrate my 25 years as a sculptor; At the moment I am trying to work more and more with lightness, weightlessness, taking my inspiration from “aerial poses”. So I am turning towards circus scenes showing trapeze artists, high wire artists, women who climb ropes… All that is dynamic and difficult to capture, but that is what interests me and what I love about it. The circus represents movement above all, and it is that movement that I want to capture in sculpture.

U.D.A : Apart from some shows that you take part in, we don’t see much of you; you are very private…

J-L.B : I very much need peace and quiet; I draw my inspiration from the power of silence. I am the very opposite of a socialite. What interests me is to create, to find new emotions and to translate them into bronze.

U.D.A : Do you have a dream?

J-L.B : I have a lot of dreams! Fortunately! I would particularly like to create a monumental sculpture and also to organise a big exhibition in Paris, a sort of review where I could show everything I have created in the last 25 years.

U.D.A : I wish you good luck! In the meantime, sculpture lovers can go to Dinan, to your workshop-gallery to discover or see again your creations in a quality setting where they are spread out like jewels in a luxury case.

Given the quality of your work, we can understand why you have gained numerous awards at national and international exhibitions and that your popularity with collectors is not diminishing.
Thank you Mr Jean-Luc Brandily.