Culture / Art Republik

Fossils Dance: French Artist Delphine Courtillot’s Sculptural Masterpiece

Artist Delphine Courtillot seeks to reconnect her viewers to the primitive state of our human nature.

Feb 18, 2022 | By Joseph Low

Joining the roster of artists exhibition in this Fossils Dance exhibition is French artist Delphine Courtillot. This is the first time the artist is showcasing her body of works, which includes several sculptures. These masterpieces aim to reconnect the viewers to the primitive state of our human nature.

Curated by Marina Oechsner de Coninck and in partnership with Olal’art and Clementine De Forton Gallery, the exhibition also features other artists like Nicolas Lefeuvre, Hélène Le Chatelier and Zhang Zhaohui.

You were born in Paris and studied at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, Vancouver and at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris. You now live and work in Amsterdam. Can you tell us about how you started out as an artist?

After my graduation from art school in Paris, I shared a studio with three artist friends in a big old warehouse in an artistic suburb of Paris — it was very exciting and scary at the same time. At night, I worked as a bartender in an American bar and in the day I worked hard to develop my artwork.

In Paris, at that time it was not easy to get into the art world, so I organised shows with friends where we could showcase and sell our work.

Then I met my boyfriend, the Dutch artist Folkert de Jong, and I moved for love to Amsterdam. The art scene there, thankfully, was much more open. A lot of artists ran spaces and provided opportunities for young artists like myself. We moved to New York City shortly after, and that was where we lived and worked for a time.

The city was amazing! I got in touch with curators and galleries, and I was greatly inspired by the art scene there. To work with two galleries in Los Angeles and New York was a real breakthrough in my career. After that, I travelled a lot in Europe, the USA, and Asia for exhibitions and projects. I then finally settled back in Amsterdam, where I still live happily with my family.

You made a strong mark in the art world with paper and canvas as your medium. What made you switch to sculpting?

I worked quite extensively for many years as a painter, and at one point it felt like I had hit a wall. I had given everything I had in me and I realised that I was craving for a kind of tabula rasa — a reset.

I had experience in designing theatre costumes for a New York-based theatre company; and thereafter I created a utopian art collection called, “Atelier Familial”. The artworks were inspired by early 20th-century avant-garde movements, traversing the dangerous zone where artworks can be used as commodities.

For example, a wall installation of painted shirts that could function as a tapestry — a room for meditation and introspection. The room, with painted textile panels hanging, is my first attempt to experiment with a new language.

While trying to abandon the gestures and work habits I knew so well, I intuitively turned to ceramics, sensing that I could finally gain back a kind of innocence by engaging with this new medium. Very quickly I became addicted to my new practice. I was making beads — the smallest and most basic you could think of — that soon took all kinds of organic shapes, and I started to display them in constellations that recalled archeological findings or votive offerings. 

The experience felt like I was drawing close to the primitive nature of humanity by listening to an inner voice. That compelled me to carry on but it was also a perplexing journey because I was proceeding with no apparent goal, or was guided by any concept.

It felt almost as if to work with clay I had to be inhabited by it; as if it had a voice of its own resonating in my body in order to guide my hands in their gestures. Sometimes the working process was akin to a ritual or even a trance, like I was becoming a medium that allowed an intuitive and telluric power to guide the development of these malleable entities.

As I allowed my hands to follow this ancient instinct, landscapes known and unknown started to appear in front of my eyes as if the clay was sedimenting subconscious forces. 

When did you actually realise you were a sculptor ?

When I started to work with clay, I became obsessed with it. It became some sort of extension of my hands. The new gesture of modelling clay changed everything, especially how I could translate ideas and feeling into it. I was never trained as a sculptor, and this was a real advantage because I re-invented myself through my untrained hands. This was a liberating moment.

What type of materials do you usually work with? 

Clay, and glaze. Very simple, but at the same time so complex and fascinating. The materials and process probably will allow me to keep on experimenting till the end of time. The way I use colours in my work is related to my practice as a painter: I use glaze as I would use paint. Mixing and layering it to obtain transparencies and depth. I am also interested in the possibilities offered by glaze to suggest natural phenomena: gems and stones, water, mosses, and iridescence of animal origin.

Art critics have shared that “Delphine Courtillot’s erratic shapes created by sedimentation reflect the image of natural formations that may resemble miniature landscapes in a similar way as seen in Chinese ‘Scholar’s Stones’”. How do you react to such an appreciation of your works?

I have always been interested in Chinese paintings, although I mostly interpreted them with my western gaze. This is because I can relate to the idea of the symbolic journey of a life’s path. Scholar’s Stones are so inspiring for me because their beauty is the result of tremendous natural forces in action. They make us witnesses of geological events and awaken the dizzying awareness of the supremacy that minerals have over the destiny of the world.

With my sculptures, I am trying to combine this meditative approach to the landscape and to invite the viewer to draw on their dreamlike interpretation.

You have been highly influenced by avant-garde compositions of art movements from the beginning of the 20th century. How does such a vibrant period for the arts influence your sculptures?

I am very much influenced by the avant-garde movements from the early 20th century because they laid the blueprint for art, design and architecture for the world we live in now. The artists, artisans, architects, musicians and poets of that time broke and reinvented all the rules for what would become Modernity. 

Who are some of your favourite artists from the early 20th century?

Sonia Delaunay, Sophie Taeuber-Arp but also the Nabis, Vuillard and Valloton.

What are your thoughts on the difference between traditional and digital sculpture (clay vs. computer)?

There’s nothing to compare. I am more of a low-tech person, and I spent as little time as possible in front of a computer. The computer and the internet are great tools, but clay connects me with the ancestors of mankind, as clay is the oldest technology of humanity.

What emotions do you hope the viewers experience when looking at your art? 

I hope that they feel connected with something primordial. That it reminds them of our origin, which is strongly connected with nature.

What are five words that best describe your art?

Nature, geology, the human body, the origin, and dreams.

What is your latest project and what do you have planned across 2022?

My latest project is a gallery show in Amsterdam and a group show in The Hague. I am also working on a commissioned work in the south of Holland, which I am planning a sculpture inspired by deep oceans volcanic chimneys. And after the summer a show in Paris by Galerie Chez Valentin.

What can visitors expect to see from you at FOSSILS DANCE?

They will see a series of artworks that I made in 2017 when I was fascinated by underwater landscapes.

You now live in Amsterdam. Can you share with our readers your favourite museum in this iconic Dutch city?

One of my favorites is the Van Gogh Museum, I love to go there. Next to the amazing works of Vincent van Gogh, the museum always displays other artists from that time period. I go there to indulge myself in the post-impressionistic period.

Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?

Follow the path of your instinct and trust your heart. 

If you were to name one mentor who has inspired you in your life and path as an artist, who would that be?

My artist boyfriend Folkert de Jong and I are kind of mentors for each other— supporting, helping, criticising, and sharing our passion for art.

Fossils Dance Exhibition happens from 18 February to 5 March at 63 Spotts Art Gallery
63 Spottiswoode Park Road, Singapore 088651
Opening Hours: 10am — 7pm

For more art reads, click here.

Back to top