Arnaud Chevalier is perhaps the most French artist/designer you’ll ever meet http://www.arnaudchevalier.com. Given my own fascination with Europe and France, I wanted to find out what he thinks makes France, particularly Paris, such a cool place. There’s no doubting that he’s the ultimate Francophile.
MICHAEL: Bonjour Arnaud! First of all, you are VERY French. Your name is very French. Qui? What do you like most about France and being French?
ARNAUD: Hello Michael. Thanks for “ArtBookGuying” me! Indeed my name is very French, but can be easily translated. Chevalier means “Knight”. Now you're asking me a very interesting question. For an art and history lover like me, France is a constant source of inspiration. My art is closely linked to history, and my art is very French. Anywhere I look, I can see fascinating things and not only in Paris, everywhere in France. There are small cities and villages, unknown by the public, that are real jewels. There you still can find an old church with its original antique sculptures and a preserved interior. It is weird in this very fast and noisy world to suddenly find such quiet and timeless places, almost forgotten, but in fact surrounded by modern civilization. What I love is to take my car and drive through the country in order to discover those places. Each part of France has its own influence that you can see through the architecture, but also through the food, the language and the way of life. But we are all linked by a common history. In a way, we are all the keeper of the flame. That is the real French treasure. Our real wealth is our heritage.
MICHAEL: What was your childhood like? How did France influence you?
ARNAUD: My childhood took place in an old large house, set within a walled garden, on the top of a hill. It was an ideal place to create. I kept from my early years a very fascinating and brilliant interior life and a taste for loneliness. I was dreaming of a castle, lost somewhere in Scotland. I cannot say whether the place I lived has influenced my artistic skills or whether it was written somewhere before I was born. I think anyway that we are all influenced by the place where we grow up. Almost all children like to draw and paint. But I was not drawing and painting the usual childish things. I was already drawing the way I still do. The "Fleur de Lys" was my favorite motif. It was a pattern I used to draw everywhere. Nevertheless, I was not copying anything. I was reinterpreting the most well-known symbols to make something new. I had a huge interest in history. At the age of 7, maybe 8, I read numerous books about Egyptology. I was fascinated by books and wanted to be an author. I loved to read books, but I also loved to be surrounded by books. It’s hard for me to say how France influenced me, as it is so deeply written in my soul. I’ve always lived within a very French environment. I was in love with Paris and Versailles; in love with an overrated idea of France and in love with art. In a word, I didn't have a "normal" childhood. Perhaps I was very mature, too mature for my age or maybe it's all the contrary.
MICHAEL: Let me guess. You are taken by the notions of formality, manners and nobility?
ARNAUD: That is so funny because I’ve often heard such things and surely it is logical to say that while seeing my work. But the fact is that I am only taken by the notion of aesthetic beauty. I've always been. I often exaggerate the notion of luxury. First, it was only an artistic work and it became a kind of bet. It is for me a deep pleasure to work on a painting or a design and to bring it to an absolute peak of wealth. I try to do it without making it vulgar or too ostentatious. This is where my French roots help. I also bet on the return of the purest classic beauty within contemporary creations. It was important to do it, otherwise my work would have been only something old or old fashion. Classic and modern can walk side by side with harmony.
MICHAEL: I've seen some of your framed paintings on your website. They look like stenciled etchings. What are they?
ARNAUD: They are very decorative small paintings, handmade with a gold paste. This is typically a very classical work. I like the contrast between the black color and the gold motif. It takes me a long time to make each one, as it demands a lot of concentration. I always say that being an artist is 5% inspiration and 95% work. It's great to find an idea, but if you don't work it out with real hard work, your idea is useless. People don't always realize the amount of work an artist has to produce. Of course, it's a lot of fun too, I am not a masochist! Now for the story about those paintings; I was working on a project for china porcelain, but I finally decided to frame my work. On my website, you can also see that I realized a mug with that black & gold pattern.
MICHAEL: You mentioned loving an "overrated" idea of France. As I'm sure you know, many Americans and some other Europeans view France as very fancy and "frou-frou" if you will … and having a sort of an exaggerated sense of art. Do you think this contributes at all to how France is regarded on the world stage when it comes to diplomacy and business?
ARNAUD: It is even a point of view that is share by French people, including me. I am sincere enough to face the reality and admit that France is not the powerful country it used to be. Our art, way of life, even our fancy image shared by many foreign countries has not seen a break for centuries. I wish to take the example of Louis XIV, as he is probably the most famous French king. While thinking of art, dance, leisure and while the court of Versailles was mainly focused on entertainment, France was the most powerful country in the world. We also have to remember that until the World War II, France was the official diplomatic language and was spoken by the European aristocracy. French voice was respected everywhere.
MICHAEL: But things changed radically.
ARNAUD: Of course, the two world wars have weakened the French power, but it is also true that we have since been unable to bring enough ideas, wealth and probably suffered a lack of political will to face new challenges. A brilliant history doesn't always make for a brilliant future. France forgot to move ahead and preferred to rest on its past. But we really have to move ahead if we don't want to become only a "museum land," without any political power. Now this is still a very observed country. Everybody has an opinion about France and French people. Sometimes it’s positive, sometimes it’s negative, but never neutral. I believe this interest is explained by French history and art. Thanks to that, France is still the first tourist destination and in every country, especially in big cities, you can find famous French brands (still owned by French groups) and symbols of luxury. Not every country can claim that.
MICHAEL: Paris is one of the world's top art cities, but what is it like for everyday artists like you? What is the art scene there like? Do you feel nurtured by the art scene or alienated by it?
ARNAUD: Paris is certainly the most well-known city for fashion designers. But despite the fact that Paris fashion week still benefits from a great reputation and has a huge impact on the fashion world, it is mostly a big show. Fashion designers are now more and more based abroad in London, New-York and Milan. It is the same for designers and painters. There’s twice a year the "Salon Maison & Objet" but the majority of exhibitors are not based in Paris. Perhaps you will be disappointed by my answer I live in Paris but for a designer it is not the place where you can find many markets. Manufacturers are not often based in this city even if their products are on sale in the most beautiful stores in Paris. Porcelain manufacturers are often based in Limoges (center of France), for the Emaux de Longwy, the factory is within the city of Longwy (Northeast of France). Plus, the largest group of art buyers and collectors come from foreign countries. They are American, Russian, Chinese, etc. This is the law of the market, and their taste really decides what happens on the Paris art scene. Nevertheless, being a French artist from Paris is still an interesting seal to own because of the reputation of luxury, excellence and impeccable taste that the city keeps in the collective memory!
MICHAEL: Arnaud, I've spent so much time talking with you about France and less about your work. However, I think that your work is SO French that we've still been talking about it. In closing, what do you want to say about your work and how it defines you and your future goals?
ARNAUD: You are right. My work is inseparable from French history and aesthetic. My work has a strange face in the art scene; it’s not really what people are expecting from a young artist, but I accept that very special look. I wish that many other artists follow my footprints on that path and try to recover a clientele that has been forgotten these past years. French art lovers are all around the world and many of them want to own contemporary art objects, but ones that are very French. That’s exactly what I've done with the collection "France, Mère des Arts." It’s a reinterpretation of the most well known French symbols within a very contemporary piece of art. I sign them for the Emaux de Longwy and it’s not by chance that my work pleases a large clientele in Russia and China, two huge emerging countries. I love French art, antiques and architecture, but I am a man of my century and of course, contemporary art and design speak to me as well. I am unable to make a choice between any periods; what is current and all that has been done before. I don't like to divide art into tiny departments. Beauty is everywhere and it’s very interesting to mix several influences. I am very free with my art. I do what pleases me without any limitations. The limitation locks the art.
MICHAEL: Thanks Arnaud. Much future success and happiness to you.
ARNAUD: Thanks to you. I wish you the same. It was a pleasure to answer your questions! I love your website and am happy to be one of your contacts.
If you would like to find out more about Arnaud Chevalier, check out HIS website at http://www.arnaudchevalier.com.