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.
A multitude of trades
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.
An inspired sculpture
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.
An emotional artwork
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.”
Projects to come
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