Focus on the sculptor Benoît Luyckx on the occasion of the exhibition “Hermès à tire-d’aile – Les mondes de Leïla Menchari”, which is showing at the Grand Palais (Paris) until 3 December.
Solicited by such renowned companies as Chanel, Hermès and Moët et Chandon, the essence of most of his creations arises from Nature, the torso in particular, the “seat of the breath”, the breath of life. Born in 1955, contemporary artist Benoît Luyckx has explored the sculptural realm for several decades, since his early training at the École Boulle and the École des Beaux-arts in Paris. This French sculptor of Belgian origin is unusual for his fondness for returning to the source and working on his sculptures in the quarries where his stone is extracted, Belgian granite by preference. The son of an architect, his interest lies in geometric lines, and the harmony of curves in particular.
Taming the stone, contrasting surfaces, playing with dissimilarities, generating movement, bringing out the dynamism of the material, these are the things for which he is known and recognised internationally.
Can you tell us about the exhibition currently on at the Grand Palais ?
The exhibition revolves around 8 tableaux and one of my sculptures in white Carrara marble is featured in one of them. Leïla Menchari presented this sculpture on different occasions but it had to be restored as it had travelled a great deal. Carving the stone directly, I used an angle grinder to create this wave-shaped sculpture. Using a sparse setting, Leïla Menchari brings out the magic of this sculpture that symbolises the sea, the shore, the sand, etc. It was made during my very Baroque and lyrical period. This latest exhibition is characterised by essentiality given material form by the use of white. The composition reveals a new facet and demonstrates that Hermès is continuing to evolve in its research.
Following a stay in the United States during the 1980s, you mentioned American architecture as an inspiration.
In New York in the ’80s, I found that its modern architecture was very rectilinear, with few curves. In particular there was the World Trade Center. So I dreamed up models whose architectural design featured curves and sinuousness, creating sensual, uncluttered forms. I also explored the symbolisation of architecture and verticality and horizontality. The horizontal lines were not rectilinear but undulating, whereas I represented verticality by vertical trails like fibres or grass. All plants that climb towards the light are automatically vertical.
Contrasts become more frequent in your work: between the gentleness of a form and the hardness of the material, between untouched and worked surfaces, the rough and the smooth, the mineral and the organic, heaviness and lightness, matt and shiny surfaces. Does the stone act as a vehicle for reconciliation or differentiation?
My sculpture is my means of contemplation, which leads me to investigate textures and the different and complementary surface states. I love both stone and marble very much in the sense that they are both natural and initially inert. I use the stone to transpose my thoughts. It is like an adventure lived with myself, a real-life game, taking maximum advantage of modern tools. I give myself a goal but there are always different routes to be taken, surprises, and spontaneous judgements to be made. The final expression may thus be improved on.
Your works fluctuate between figuration and abstraction. Do you feel you are flirting with this boundary, circumventing it or going beyond it?
I transcend the boundary but in some way I try to go further in expressing this figuration. It may be interpreted according to the viewer’s sensibility or stage of life. And fairly often I suggest the body through a volume that may be a little unrelated in form but whose nuances evoke it. For example, I attempted to create female busts, such as a woman in the shower in which the water runs down her body. Then, in making this sculpture, I realised that it was like a form of clothing, a dress. Getting too close to figuration may be a trap, which distracts us from more perceptible and intellectualised feelings.
Aside from a physical and intellectual relationship with your works, your work also appeals to our emotional nature, linked to femininity and Eros, aspects that seem to attract fashion companies.
I have a vocabulary of textures that helps to express my thoughts through the form, with the idea of evoking a wave, like a more sensual heavy swell. There’s a part that sprays up like a wave shattering against a rock. Using the angle grinder, I have created wave-like forms. I have been influenced by cubic architectural designs that suggest a suppleness or softness, and I was very impressed when I visited the Sagrada Familia, the fantastic aspect of Gaudí’s architecture. Recently I also rediscovered curves in the work of Jean Arp and Antoine Poncet.
I would like to go back to the United States and to the debate that took place there between the purists of modern art and the post-war anti-modernists who sought to include the actions of the viewer in their works. How do your sculptures interact with relational aesthetics?
When it is not possible to move around them, I like to put the sculptures on plinths so viewers can appreciate them better. For reasons of practicality, I put them on a revolving axis, which allows the work to change with the light. A pivot signifies mobility, which is in turn life. And my works only live thanks to their viewers.
How do you explain the recurring motif of the spiral?
It is the grinder that has allowed me to create furrows in the stone and a sense of upward movement. Before angle grinders were invented, nobody could create such forms, not even the Romans. It has thus been the signature form of our age. There are also horizontal spirals, which offer a greater variety in the perspectives from which they are viewed. I like to approach the viewing of a form from a lyrical point of view; for example, my works that feature marble ovoid forms symbolise lightness, and whiteness lends itself in particular to making the intangible perceptible.