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Installation view of Jean-Marie Appriou's "Ophelia," courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.
Installation view of Jean-Marie Appriou's "Ophelia," courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.
Installation view of Jean-Marie Appriou's "Ophelia," courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.
Photo by Claire Dorn, courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.
Installation view of Jean-Marie Appriou's "Ophelia," courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.
Installation view of Jean-Marie Appriou's "Ophelia," courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.
Installation view of Jean-Marie Appriou's "Ophelia," courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.
Installation view of Jean-Marie Appriou's "Ophelia," courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.
Installation view of Jean-Marie Appriou's "Ophelia," courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.
Yesterday MASSIMODECARLO opened the doors to a new gallery space with its exhibition of artist Jean-Marie Appriou: “Ophelia,” on view through November 12.
Photo by Claire Dorn, courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.
Art

Jean-Marie Appriou Breathes New Life into Ophelia at MASSIMODECARLO in London

By Erica Silverman

October 12, 2022

This week in London, MASSIMODECARLO gallery opened the doors to an enchanting new gallery space with its first solo exhibition of French artist Jean-Marie Appriou: “Ophelia,” on view through November 12. The presentation of surreal and graceful sculptures wields a hypnotic narrative in the historic chambers of 16 Clifford Street in Mayfair, marking the artist’s UK debut.

Recently, the Paris-based Appriou’s fantastical sculptures of horses stood majestically at the entrance to Central Park in New York for a full year. In the studio, the artist uses his hands to push the limits of design and imagination, with thoroughly original techniques and unconventional material combinations. With glass, metal and clay, Appriou awakens past stories and histories, seamlessly fusing them into contemporary, fabled, and futuristic realms. 

Open Gallery

Installation view of Jean-Marie Appriou's "Ophelia," courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.

In this new series of inspired and experimental work, the artist evolves Wiliam Shakespeare’s tragic character of Ophelia, and was directly influenced by Victorian artist Sir John Everett Millais’s haunting painting (Ophelia on view at Tate, London). Appriou’s version is a fluid, mythological extension to the natural world—a “new mermaid” with both human and animal qualities, hovering poetically between life, death, and infinity. In intricate aluminum, Ophelia’s expressive face becomes one with passing water lilies, floating above rippling waters. A dragonfly with lace-like wings lingers, while a shimmering and lone weeping willow watches nearby. 

Whitewall had the opportunity to speak to Appriou about his mysterious muse, ardent vision, and allowing for divine connections. 

WHITEWALL: Your upcoming solo show in London at MASSIMODECARLO Gallery was inspired by Victorian painter Sir John Everett Millais’ Ophelia—the vivid, iconic painting illustrates Ophelia drowned in a stream, driven mad by the murder of her father by her lover Hamlet. What initially drew you to this work?

JEAN-MARIE APPRIOU: Ophelia has been a reference in my work for a while but this is the first time I dedicate an entire body of work to her. In my research she kept coming up, I was constantly finding she made sense in relation to the themes I have been exploring—be it the pre-raphaelites, Shakespeare, the representation of femininity…so it only made sense to give her center stage and truly delve into her story.

WW: With Ophelia as a starting point, how then did you begin your own visionary artwork?

JMA: Ophelia is often reduced to tragedy, a secondary, passive character caught in the misunderstandings of powerful men. But what I see, particularly in Sir John Everett Millais’ painting, is less about death than about the mystery of her decision to let go, to pass from this world onto the next—her transformation from woman to mermaid. I am deeply fascinated by this state of in-between that she incarnates, and I think this is at the heart of my work—the ambiguity and all the possibilities it entails.

Open Gallery

Installation view of Jean-Marie Appriou's "Ophelia," courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.

Open Gallery

Installation view of Jean-Marie Appriou's "Ophelia," courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.

WW: Did the parameters and opportunities of MASSIMODECARLO’s new gallery space, a converted 18th century townhouse in Mayfair, have any bearing on the work?

JMA: I definitely think that the gallery’s space, which feels like a home with its light green walls and wooden floors, was a decisive parameter in the way we developed the exhibition—the mirrors particularly create a dialogue with the wave mirror water lilies. It’s all very Alice Through the Looking Glass in the sense that the gallery space is expanded through this dialogue between mirrors. But mainly, in reference to Hamlet, I began to see each sculpture like a character in a play that unfolds as the visitors walk through the rooms. The way that each sculpture is orientated was imagined to create resonances, dialogues from one to the other, a little bit like the ripples in the water. The rooms and sculptures create a whirlpool that transports us into a new dimension.

WW: How did you begin your extremely technical and expressive process of carving clay and foam to cast aluminum and bronze sculptures?

JMA: Hand molding clay is at the heart of my process. The pieces are then taken to a foundry to be cast in metal, or aluminum, and finally brought back to my studio to be assembled and reshaped once again. I particularly enjoy this boomerang process from one medium to the next, which is super stimulating and very challenging; there is a physical, chemical side to crafting and finding the right balance between materials, and with my glass works, too, which adds a dimension to the creation of these works. The materials and substances have a will of their own and learning to work with them is a part of the process that I particularly enjoy. 

Open Gallery

Installation view of Jean-Marie Appriou's "Ophelia," courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.

WW: Do you enjoy experimenting with new materials, such as your variety of finishes and inclusion of blown glass?

JMA: Yes that’s exactly where I was going with your previous question! It’s a constant research process and dialogue with materials, creating new combinations and imagining new possibilities.

WW: Your very tactile process—leaving tool marks and fingerprints—has become a signature element of your artworks. How did this evolve?

JMA: Yes, everything starts with clay; I hand mold everything. Touch is the starting point for me. 

Open Gallery

Installation view of Jean-Marie Appriou's "Ophelia," courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.

Open Gallery

Installation view of Jean-Marie Appriou's "Ophelia," courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.

WW: Did you make any important discoveries in this series that you will take with you into future works?

JMA: I feel like my work is a continuum; the works presented in Ophelia are deeply linked to my previous work, and a little bit of these sculptures will flow into the next pieces I produce. Ophelia has been a reference for a while and with this show it made sense for me to give her center stage. Also, as this is my first solo exhibition in the UK, it felt right to celebrate this iconic figure. One thing that is new and unique to this new body of work is the back and forth process between the studio and the foundry, and the dialogue between materials and treatment of the pieces.

WW: Your creations are multifaceted to say the least—an imaginative fusion of pop culture, Greek mythology, Egyptian antiquity, and science fiction. What kind of research goes into your work?

JMA: I feel like my research is ongoing and that I am strongly influenced by the context in which I create—one thing leads to the next and connections appear in ways that make sense. The horses are reflected in the water…Ophelia lays in the stream…she passes from one state to the next…which takes me through the looking glass like Alice In Wonderland. As much as I am always actively researching, the connections seem to emerge organically.

WW: Can you tell us about your studio space and what a typical day there looks like?

JMA: My studio is a safe haven; it’s a cocoon I spend most of my time in. Every day is pretty much different and I am often away to be at the foundry. The hand molding process is the starting point for all my work so I dedicate myself essentially to this.

Open Gallery

Installation view of Jean-Marie Appriou's "Ophelia," courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.

Open Gallery

Installation view of Jean-Marie Appriou's "Ophelia," courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.

Open Gallery

Yesterday MASSIMODECARLO opened the doors to a new gallery space with its exhibition of artist Jean-Marie Appriou: “Ophelia,” on view through November 12.
ExhibitionsJean-Marie AppriouLondonMASSIMODECARLO

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