From Mike to Marshall with love

Recorded in French by Franck Maubert for ARTPRESS
english translation by Gillian O'Meara





Why have you chosen to work with marble ?
 Why marble...? The answer is in the question...
When one asks an artist what he does and he replies "oil ", "water colors ", " acrylic " or " wood ", his reply isn't sufficient, but when I answer " marble " I feel as if I've said it all.
You wouldn't ask Hockney " why pastels ? " ... apart from that though... my grandfather deals in marble and his prices are unbeatable...

Is it a noble material ?
It's part of the earth... of the planet ?

 Therefore it is noble ?
But what do you mean by a noble material?

 A noble material ? During the Renaissance, marble or bronze were used the most, it was a question of tradition and with today's sculptures in plastic, even if the sculpture is beautiful in it-self, it will never really be, because plastic isn't a noble material. I saw some paper sculptures recently. Even if they are very well done, sculptures in paper are not worth those in marble or bronze. The proof is that those artists who often work with very ordinary materials want to transform their sculptures which were in plastic, paper or wood, into bronze  
Plastic...  or marble. That must mean something.


 It means that it is the completion of the sculptor's work. It last, it's more concrete, more solid. We always come back to Antiquity.
 I think that this problem of the nobleness of working materials ail depends on time. Plastic could one day be considered noble. But that's not the important point. Plastic and bronze are materials for reproduction. You don't carve, in plastic, or very rarely, nor in bronze. Marble possesses this unique characteristic it can't be reproduced by moulding. I'm not explaining why, I'm defining marble with regard to other techniques.

 How long do you take to complete one of your sculptures ?
Several million years for the marble to form and a bit more for me to give it one There's a Chinese proverb which says that " time has no respect for what Man does without it ".

 How did it all start ?
Quite simply. One night - I was making videotapes at the time, in 1975, if my memory serves me well, -I had a dream where I saw a video monitor in Carrara marble. The following morning I noted down the idea and several months later with the help of the Nicoli studio in Carrara I completed the monitor in marble. It's on show at the moment in a video exhibition along with the greatest names in video art: Paik, Campus, Viola and other.

 You had a dream?
 I realise that it seems a bit naive and that it's not the kind of thing one usually says in art circles. -
 No, on the contrary, that's just what you should say, it's important: " I had a dream, I drew it the following morning ". Fabulous! Fabulous ! It's extraordinary. That's a real answer.
 I'm ashamed of it - it's rather naive.

 Certainly not. Michael Angelo dreamt of his statues before creating them.
 Do you know many artists who would say to you " I had a dream ", today ?

 0f course, some would answer like that. I know some artists who dream of their work. I know a writer who dreams of his work. Obviously one dreams about what one writes, one is completely delirious and the finished product, once written, is only a fragment of the dream.

 One can dream of one's work and dream about one's work...
do you mean nocturnal dream ordaydreams ?

Mine was a nocturnal dream.
I meant a nocturnal dream... but some people dream all day. I dream very little at night, I mean, I remember very little. In any case, one has to be dreaming completely and then live one's dream, enact it, as you did when you made your television, that's really good.
As a child I never had a television, nor a pedal car... my objects. Did you notice Ihat ? They all belong to the period when I was an adolescent. I looked at things. I didn't draw trees and houses I drew the radio set at home... that's why I was able to reproduce it in marble, I remembered it perfectly, I had drawn all the details.

 Have you kept these drawings ?

 Were they sketches ?
 They were drawings. I drew the radio set as well as I could. I thought it was lovely, really beautiful. I've always been interested in that type of thing. At my exhibition in Annick Le Moine's galery - called " Machines to be found ", they weren't old machines, nor household equipment.

Was it " to find oneself " ?
Probably... but to find oneself just as much geographically as mentally. I remember that Robert Malaval, who I didn't know then, was at the opening and talks to me about it to this day.

What year was that ?

Was it your first exhibition ?
No, I had already done a show at the ARC, with Gaudibert... but the machines exhibited were exactly the opposite to what I do now. They were very functional and all had a specific use. I was interested in participation at the time. The idea was to make the public, do the work, to make them react to the machines which were witness to their movements, to their remarks. They could even draw themselves with " The Dream Graffiti Wall " which is at Beaubourg* at the moment. It didn't take very long before I realized that I was in a dead-end.

 Was it there and then that you started creating your marble objects
 No, between that exhibition and the marble objects, there were the solar bas-reliefs...

Yes, there was Malraux ?
 ...which was another way of not doing things oneself, but, instead of the public, I got the sun to do them. I think that it was a good transition as it's extremely technological... I used a computer for example - but it was just as static. It was a bas-relief. I didn't use electricity as in my previous pieces. Nothing moved. The sun alone did the change of image without the use of a mobile mechanism. Most of the work I do now has a certain nostalgia for electricity. But they do nothing, they don't move, they are merely surfaces.

What's missing today is a contemporary Leonardo di Vinci i.e. an artist interested in science and the arts who manages to dominate techniques and sciences.
Yes, I don't know if that's what missing today... I cannot judge, I don't proceed in the same way as Leonardo. He used the most avant-garde materials he could find. His painting was the most sophisticated that could be done with a brush. The brush was his laser. It couldn't have been done better at that time, but he tried to go further. He did slightly improve varnishes. He carried out his research in what is known as the scientific field : his helicopters, his flying machines. He was extraordinarily contempory. That would correspond much more with the time of my exhibition at Annick Le Moine's galery, as you said, the ultimate in technology to break away from science.

 But why didn't you continue in that direction ?
 I'm not responsible for my destiny...

 Perhaps you will start again in the near future...
 Perhaps. But for the moment... I will tell you something which Pierre Magnin, a friend of mine with whom I worked for a while, said to me " Say, your statues are very useful, they really are useful objects ". I didn't understand at all and asked him why. I felt that they were rather heavy, difficult to transport. I really don't find them useful. One can't listen to Carter vs. Reagan on a television made of marble... Then he said " Yes, but the day when there is no more electricity, they will still work...Yes, that's true. That's what I call archeology. That is, perhaps all the television sets will be destroyed and those will remain.

 Why not...
The truth is though that they are no longer mere blocks of marble, they are marble objects, but one could imagine that you wanted to create a kind of museum of every day objects used between 1950 and 1960.
Do you think so ?

You could do that all your life, but you won't...
That is one of the answers I can't give you. People like you can take the risk of making suppositions. Personally, I don't know... in fact, since I 've become interested in all that I don't know anything about, I realise that everything interests me...

 You are an artist of contempory archeology. Today, disused factories are classed as historical monuments and kept as witnesses of an era.
 I must tell you a rather amusing story. When I left Egypt, I worked as a cameraman in Lebanon. For six months I worked with a " Thomson " camera. Emmanuel Deschamps ordered a marble camera from me.
Not a television camera, a movie camera, but I convinced him that a television camera would be far more up-to-date. He accepted and I spent about three months working with a stylist, a person specialized in finding the necessary objects. She looked for the camera which I had worked with. I wanted it to be that particular camera and no other. Thomson haven't kept any.

Does that seem strange to you ?
Very strange. There is a Mr. Poinsignon at Thomson 's who dreams of a sort of museum- a technical memory - where all that had been made by the firm would be kept, and he hates to see things destroyed. I am drawing the camera at present from photos. The only reproduction in existence will be my camera in marble. ?


If you find it again in 10,000 years time you will have to be an earlybird to know how it works. 0f course, I understood that you were talking about forms.

 Forms, shapes, another question then... why make objects? Is there beauty to be found in an everyday object ?
What do you mean by that ?

Can an ordinary everyday object such as a telephone, a tape recorder, a lamp, a toaster or a radio set be beautiful? Or rather, do you find them beautiful ?
 Are we attached to something which we find beautiful or do we find it beautiful because we are attached to it ?

We don't necessarily find the things we are attached to beautiful. Beautiful because in our memory they have a certain charm. They have charm - there is a certain nostalgia, that's all. It's the nostalgia of memory.
 Personally, I don't know whether or not I find them beautiful. I don't even ask myself that question. I know that I'm attached to them.

 Will you continue to work with marble or don't you know ?
It is certain that as long as I believe that I can improve my work, I will continue, and as I'm not the type to be easily satisfied, it's more than likely that I won't be stopping for a while.

 Is the battle with the material you are working an interesting one ? There is a kind of struggle, I imagine...
 Yes, it's almost an initiating experience, a sort of Zen. When you carve marble, you have an angle, for example; there is only one spot where you can strike in order to create an interesting chip. If you strike too near the edge and a little chip breaks off, it makes the others more difficult to attain, as the angle has been rounded off. It's no longer interesting, it's bad strategy. If you are too far from the edge, you can chip away a dozen times and nothing will move.
There is only one perfect point. If you find it, without having to look for it, there is an enormous feeling of pleasure gained from having saved your energy. For me, it's a real lesson. It teaches me in everyday life, for example, not to telephone more than once to people I want to get hold of - not fifteen times.

 It's a whole line of conduct for you then, as much in your everyday life as in your work, is that it ?
In fact, it was when I came home one night to find my wife battling with the telephone - she was trying to get hold of someone before the week-end as if her life depended on it, - that I understood that the telephone in marble was less of an idea that a state of being, like stone.

To come back to your dream again : did Michelangelo dream for example ? He knew his sculpture beforehand, because he drew it afterwards. Often. He had the sculptures in his mmd. He dreamt it, so to speak. He dreamt it up because it didn't exist. It was really a dream. Do you dream up a shape in a block of marble ? He saw the block and knew that the sculpture was there. He knew that he just had to work at it and the sculpture would grow out of the block.
It's different, because I have a model beside me, either one that I've made in day or the real object.

Do you work the day beforehand ?
No, no. If I have the object, a telephone or a television, I copy it with a pair of compasses. If I don't have an object, like the radio, I make it again in day and then copy it with the compasses. The camera will be a completely new experience for me. I will work from plans which I will'have drawn up with the help of photos, which is not the same way of creating as Michelangelo. I mean, when he worked at his slaves, pieta or biblical characters, he didn't have models at his disposal to measure with compasses, did he ?

Do you find a natural block of marble beautiful ?
A cliff of marble ?
It's not marble. When it's a cliff, it's part of the countryside, you don't see the grain.

 Like at Carrara, for example...
The mountain's often covered with trees, it's not just made of marble.

 No but the quarry ?
It doesn't look like marble.

 Yes it does, one can see all the colours. I remember...
You don't see veining, unless it is very damp or wet.

 Going by in the train, very fast, I saw colors, zones of colors, banks of colors going by.
There is no color at Carrara, there is only white...

 No, no I saw pink, pink and bluish patches - grey blue.
It was no doubt because of the light and the lighting at that particular moment. I only recognize marble when it's polished. When it's still part of the mountain, it's still part of the planet.

Do you like playing with the different patches of color ?
 The marbling ? Yes, the marbling.

 It's essential. I choose my marble very carefully. In fact, I'm often mistaken. I've done some ghastly things because I hadn't foreseen...

In fact, very few people can actually foresee. When they see that they are about to reach the surface,they realise that the veining isn't to their liking and they start again. I don't think anyone can foresee what the interior will look like. It's really a surprise. But I am very careful about the pattern and the quality of the veins. That's all part of the job.
 Is it an end in itself for you to have made this collection of objects ? Do you want to do something else or do you intend to continue with your everyday objects ?
They are ideas that came to me gradually. While I am working on one sculpture, I wonder what I will do next and I make a choice. For example, I know that at the moment, I want to do an electric guitar.

It's almost a dream, every time you start a new sculpture. Does the electric guitar represent a sort of music for you ?
I'm not sure that I will buy the guitar, because of the cost. For years now, I've been asking around to find a guitar to use as a model and only yesterday, the American girlfriend I was with told me that her son never played his electric guitar and that she would lend it to me. If it's really ugly I won't use it. But otherwise even if it's not Dylan's I will use it because it happens to be the one that's available.
1 think these questions are really essential when one visits this exhibition.

Why did you chose marble? Why these everyday objects ? Will you continue in this same direction or have you other pro jects ? If you continue to work with marble, in my opinion you will be upholding a certain tradition in the history of sculpture. Nowadays, there are other methods, one can work with different materials. I feel that you have realised an idea, that is not new, but which no-one sought to realise before. Why ? because... I keep coming back to one my favourite periods - Michelangelo did not carve everyday objects, why not ?
Because he didn't have the same dreams. Do you remember who his patron was ?

 He was the pope

 He was commissioned, is that what you mean ?
Yes, he worked for the Church. I don't work for the Church.

 Yes of course.
Nevertheless, if the Pope asked me for a sculpture, I would do my best. For anyone, in fact... I don't have any misplaced scrupules.

 Isn't it through lack of imagination ? I'm going to be a bit tough, but isn't it a lack of imagination or a lack of obsession, which makes you sculpture the objects which surround you ? Everyday objects which surround us all, in fact.
Isn't it a lack of imagination in the middle of a Christian era in Florence to create sculptures of Christ,the Virgin Mary and biblical characters ? It's the same problem. Absolutely. The problem is being limited by the times in which one lives. Does one really have to live with one 's times or should one follow one's inner guidelines.

 There is a series of exhibitions called " Artists - witnesses of their times ".

 At Beaubourg ?
I don't know where. But the expression is familiar to me. I find it completely absurd. Firstly because they are not really living with their times. So much the better for them. If artists are not witnesses of timelessness, who will be ? By carving a marble telephone, I really don't feel that I'm being a witness to my times.

 No, I don't mean the 1950s especially. I mean part of a century.
Once again, I was a teenager when these objects came into being. I realise what the arrival of washing machines meant for my mother. It was incredible.

0f course, it's important. It's the beginning of another lîfe. It's the problem of all techniques and that of knowing whether one should live with and make use of progress or not. It's difficult to live in another century... it's more and more difficult today. Artists have often refused their own century. They lived in their own little world, which was often timeless. A world which doesn't really exist. I often wish I lived in the l9th century. The artists living in that century didn't want to live at that time. They would say : I was meant to live in another world, another century.
Personally, I don't know. I have the impression that my work which corresponds to this century isn't really made for it, but I think that ah artists make mistakes when they talk about their ideas, I probably do anyway, that's why I say " I have the impression ". Daumier thought his sketches were comical... Today, it would be called " sociological art ", which for me is comical.
Personally I find that very amusing. In his preface, Restany says that your work has a funeral-like aspect.
 I'm not at all conscious of that, but it's very nice of him to say so. Do you remember what Malraux said, " Civilisation was born when tombstones were invented ", it will die of anonymous incineration...


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