Anne De Villeméjane’s poetic sculptures play upon the ideas of materiality and femininity, going beyond portraiture to depict the essence of womanhood itself.
French sculptor Anne De Villeméjane creates delicate figurative works depicting women in reflective, pensive, and pre-occupied states. Having worked in photography and painting in the past, De Villeméjane’s figures have evolved throughout her career as they’ve undergone different mediums, finding their true essence in the three-dimensional space of sculpture. Despite the slender forms they often hold, their materiality reveals their strength, their histories shared through biographies written in texture. In preparing for the “Liminal Space” exhibition, Kelsey sat down with Anne to discuss her thoughts and intentions with the body of work in the show- read on to hear Anne’s responses.
Kelsey: How do you feel your artwork interacts with the theme of Liminal Space?
Anne: My artwork revolves around the themes of femininity and materiality. The women I depict reign the liminal space between action and inaction. They are deeply pensive and suspended in their inner thoughts, residing in a place outside current time or space. They create their own world and rule the space around them. They suspend time and create a sense of stillness, while also enacting thought through their quiet reign. “Walking Woman”, an exemplar of this idea, remains perpetually in movement, whilst simultaneously in standstill.
Kelsey: Do you have hobbies outside of your artwork that inform your artistic process?
Anne: My two main hobbies are diving and traveling. Interestingly, both are inherently transitional: between unlimited horizons and darker depths- between home and the unknown. Diving brings about a precious meditative state that is vital to artists. Traveling exposes me to new points of view and constantly enriches my practice. After my trip to Spain, in my early career, I was inspired by the beauty of the flamenco dancers. I captured this in my early series of paintings.
Kelsey: Do you have any artists you look to as inspiration, or whose work yours is in conversation with?
Anne: My elongated sculptures share a common experimentation with the human figure that actually started with the etruscan artists in Italy between the 10th and 1st century BCE; the most famous elongated sculpture from that time is called Ombra della Sera (Editor’s note: Read more about Ombra della Sera” here).
As you may know, the same elongation was explored by Alberto Giacometti in the mid 20th century. As artists, we all played with the ethereal and weightless deformation of the body. However, we all differ in our intentions. Post-war trauma and anxiety led Giacometti to create figures that he was building only to better deconstruct them- removing matter from the forms to express grief and isolation.
In contrast, my women are built from their core. I slowly add matter to the form to express strength and resilience. Simultaneously, the weightless form gives an impression of fragility. They live in a dual existence of opposing strength and fragility. Serene and peaceful, they offer a quiet and calming presence to the viewer.
This conversation between artists about the play with the human figure and its impression on the human mind will always persist.
Kelsey: What’s your favorite artwork (of yours or someone else’s)?
Anne: Without a doubt, one of the oldest figurative stone sculptures known to man: The Venus of Willendorf (c. 30,000 BCE) that I had the privilege to see in the Natural History Museum in Vienna, Austria. The artist played on proportions of the human body as well as the repetitive textures of the head piece. Naturally, I strongly related to it. (Editor’s note: see a 3D scan of the sculpture here).
Kelsey: How do you approach a new idea for a piece and how does it take shape throughout your process?
Anne: I often find creativity at night. I spend sleepless nights trying to explore options in my mind. In the morning, I go to my studio and directly play with the clay, cement or wax. I rarely draw beforehand. I believe in happy accidents and the magical process with the hands. They have the power to take me beyond what I intended.
Kelsey: Have you been in any liminal spaces that left an impression on you (empty hallways or stores, gas stations at night, etc.)?
Anne: I recently sold our house in Westchester, New York, which also served as my gallery space and studio for many years. I do remember vividly the large empty living room before leaving the house this summer, a space once inhabited by many of my figurative creations. And the strange ghostly impression when I left… The end of an era for me, the beginning of a new one, elsewhere. The transition between studios and gallery spaces.
Kelsey: What is your favorite or most inspirational place?
Anne: The bronze foundry. It is a hub for experimentation, and expression of skills. It holds vestiges of failures and testimonies of successes. The foundry suffers through time. It is a demanding craftsmanship. It carries scars: bronze scattered on the floor, rusted pieces of metal, debris of plaster and forgotten molds invading the space… Such an inviting and mesmerizing world. I decided to create my brochure bringing back all my bronze sculptures and photographing them at the foundry. My brochure is entitled “Origins.” Origins as in the sparkle of inspiration or origins as a birth place? It is a bit of a blur.
Kelsey: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Anne: My mentor, Lorenzo Cascio who is a painter, sculptor and gallery owner in Portofino, Italy, once told me that in my painting practice I should use a small number of raw colors from the tubes (ideally 3/4) and develop my painting practice through the way of mixing and creating delicate half tones. I was a beginner back then but I still have this advice in mind when I paint.
Kelsey: How has your practice changed over time?
Anne: Upon my arrival in Boston in 1999, I had a passion for art that I did not really have time to express due to an earlier marketing career in Europe. I took this turn of events in my personal life to start a long continuum of education in photography and painting first, followed by welding, mold making, and bronze foundry. Boston offers so many learning opportunities, in art amongst other subjects, with Mass College of Art, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and deCordova Museum being a few I attended.
My practice evolved naturally from me going constantly back and forth from one media to the other. The new idea I have in painting can later be translated and enhanced in my sculpture practice or vice versa. After creating my cement and metal sculptures, I decided to introduce cement on my paintings. I recently created a new 2-dimensional paper series using textures that I am experimenting with on my sculptures’ surfaces. With this new paper artwork, I am currently going back to 3D by working on my first abstract sculpture.
Over the last 20 years, I have enjoyed working with a few galleries in the US and in Europe. I have been able to afford larger bronze casts and experiences with an array of interesting materials such as bronze, crystal or acrylic which are nice additions to my original cement and metal or clay work.