Posted by Alain Elkann on 19/10/2018
DELICATELY RELATING TO THE FRAGILITY OF THE HUMAN CONDITION. Annabelle d’Huart is a photographer, a sculptor, a designer and a jewelry-maker. She views all these fields as different aspects of her career as an artist.
You started your career as a photographer in New York if I am not wrong?
Yes, but first I went to the École Camondo school of arts in Paris. My grandfather lived in Aix-en-Provence and was at the origin of the festival of music. He was also a great collector. From the very beginning I was surrounded by art.
But why photography?
The Festival of Photography was starting in Arles when I was 20 years old and the American photographer Ralph Gibson told me: “If you want to become a photographer, call me when you are in New York.” I went to New York and I was a very good friend of Nicky Vreeland, who is now a Buddhist monk but at the time was an assistant of Richard Avedon, and we spent our days looking at photographs. I wanted to take pictures of the studios of certain American minimalist artists because there was very little documentation about them at the time. I am talking about Richard Serra, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Marden, Dan Flavin, Cy Twombly, Frank Stella. I wanted to create a book with 16 pages for each artist and they would choose their own photographs and make dummies of their own pages and write their own texts.
Nobody published the book?
Christian Bourgois the publisher didn’t really react to my proposal but I kept the pictures for 40 years which enabled me to do it myself two years ago. The Museum of Philadelphia is interested in acquiring the lot. A hundred of them were shown at the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York in 2004 .
“I am conscious of the fragility and the volatility and vulnerability of our time.”
Annabelle d’Huart created this Sèvres cup in an homage to Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, a renowned French designer of furniture and interiors.
But how was it to see these artists working in their studios?
With each one of them I took notes, and I had a little Leica camera and I didn’t disturb them at all. With each one of them I tried to be completely transparent inside the studio and photograph their individual style.
And after that?
I started painting, and my first exhibition was in 1989. It took place at the Galerie Pierre Passebon and the title of my first exhibition was “Atlantis”. Atlantis, a series of large-scale gouaches, evokes an imaginary cartography from ancient civilizations by means of a slow, piece by piece, progression from the solid to the liquid. Its continents are the crystallizations of memory fragments composed of deserts or aquatic elements that have an amnestic quality.
After that for 15 years I made sculptures, first in 1996, Golden Dream of Our Origins, twenty-three terracotta and gilded bronze vases standing on rusted tripods, set on a rectangle of finely sifted earth that measures 4 meters by 8 meters. This installation brings into play a combination of contrasts: rust and gold, bronze and terracotta, clay and gold leaf. And then I had the opportunity to have an atelier in Marrakesh and my work was inspired by a text of Isaac Newton that says that stars are like needles balancing on their points with an unstable and precarious equilibrium. I related that to the fragility of the human condition. I sculpted women that are not like reclining odalisques, they are standing, they express themselves and they are wounded. I realised twenty-four of them coated with a white colour and reflecting in a pool in cedar wood, white and gold. Each of the sculptures is edged, slashed, impaired in its medium as if at the most critical point of its deployment. Jean and Terry de Gunzburg bought 14 sculptures of 1.75 metres and 2 metres height, another version made in bronze. The originals were exhibited in the pavilion of the Menarra Gardens in Marrakesh.
“My work was inspired by a text of Isaac Newton.”
And after this work what did you do?
Since 1991, I dedicated myself to the creation of single pieces of jewelry. One of these, a necklace, Talisman, has become part of the collection of the Guggenheim museum, distributed by Les Amis du Musée National D’art Moderne. I also made a collection for Maison Chanel that they used in their haute couture collection in winter 2000. Then, in 2007, I worked for Yohji Yamamoto. When I was asked to go to Tokyo the first thing he said to me in a very intimidating office, when I had the light of the sun shining right in my eyes, was: “I don’t like jewelry.” I said that my jewelry was inspired by the famous painting of Edvard Munch ‘The Scream’, and he said OK and they became the inspiration for the collection Stormy Weather. Afterwards I worked on a very personal collection inspired by Benvenuto Cellini and Renaissance cabinets de curiosités, that was shown at Galerie Gladys Mougin in 2003.
How come you worked with the manufactory of Sèvres?
The curator of the manufactory of Sèvres came to my exhibition “Songes d’or ou L’Origine rêvée” and then contacted me and I worked with them on three projects. First a complete table service inspired by Atlantis, second an homage to Ruhlmann, and then from 2007 to 2010, as an artist in residence at Sèvres-Cité de la Céramique I created a unique series of three hundred ceramic jewelry pieces called Flotsam (Choses de Flots et de Mer), inspired by the sea and by the reading of Victor Hugo’s book, Toilers of the Sea (Les Travailleurs de la Mer). They were shown at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 2008 and at Galerie Anne Sophie Duval in 2010. Sixty pieces belong to the permanent collection of the Sèvres Museum.
Then I worked for five years for the Manufacture des Gobelins, (Shitao, Savonnerie tapestry), le Mobilier, National-Lace Makers du Puy (Les dentelles du Ciel in the French embassy in Beijing).
Le long de l’Océan, 1998, by Annabelle d’Huart
A Goddess, sculpture, 1993, Annabelle d’Huart
“Shitao”, 2018, Sèvres City of Ceramics, Annabelle d’Huart.
“Songes d’or ou L’Origine rêvée“, “Golden Dream of our Origins “, 1994, Annabelle d’Huart
“Oiseau coquillage”, Noctiluque, Sèvres City of Ceramics, Annabelle d’Huart
Detail of “Shitao”, 2018, Sèvres City of Ceramics, Annabelle d’Huart. Photo by JB Hugo.
“I admire fluidity.”
Since when did you paint?
In 2007 I started drawing again, and in 2016 I had a show at Piasa Gallery of my Sea Princesses series, inspired by Leonardo’s Imbroglios. As for painting I just finished a series of seven 190cm x 290cm canvasses, Shitao; four of them were part of the exhibition L’Expérience de la couleur at Musée de Sèvres.
How would you describe your life?
I live in Paris in a very sober way. I develop the things that I know how to do and I draw for my exhibition that will take place in the Spring at Galerie Pixi – Marie Victoire Poliakoff. My work demands lot of time. Sometimes I work three years in a row without taking a vacation. I love to go to Italy. I love to travel and I have travelled a lot, but we live in a very accelerated time and this is not good for the hand and the concentration. I am in need of calm.
Is Paris an inspiring city?
It’s a familiar city for me. I live very calmly and days go by very quickly since I work 9 to 10 hours a day.
What are you looking for?
I admire fluidity, I want my work to be very light and harmonious. For me shape is quality, it’s a way of living. I practise yoga, just to be in good shape. I observe art and nature. I want peace. I take care of the people around me. Family and friends are very important. Work is very enjoyable but I am conscious of the fragility and the volatility and vulnerability of our time. Everything goes very fast, but a work of art has no age and style is the only thing that makes the difference. I look forward for a comprehensive exhibition of my work.
Do you think you are properly recognised?
No, but for me it is not an issue. What matters is work.
Who are the collectors of your work?
Hélène David-Weill has bought a very beautiful necklace (in silver and ebony, Talisman) and nine pieces of the Sèvres Collection. I also worked for the Picasso family. I made jewelry for Sydney, the previous wife of Claude Picasso, then I did sculpture for Arielle de Rothschild and also for Sao Schlumberger and many others.
Paris, September 2018
Portrait of Annabelle d’Huart by SHEILA METZNER for Vogue