Interview of Daniel Coulet by Olivier Kaeppelin
Olivier Kaeppelin: How did you conceive of and design your first arch?
Daniel Coulet: As a young sculptor I did not want, perhaps out of instinct, to fit in with what I saw in museums and art galleries, or what I read in magazines. It wasn’t a question of pretension but of sincerity. I didn’t recognize myself there. How to create? How to express oneself sincerely in one’s own universe? What is quickly referred to as one’s style? Firstly, I wanted to dislocate volume in space by simple sculpting, and secondly, I crisscrossed it with rigid metal axes so it would become aerial and translate the verticality I was looking for. In this way I was able to satisfy both my desire to sculpt using the material I was looking for and my intention of a spiritual elevation. I noticed then that by crossing these two desires, arches were revealed!
What is the most important thing you keep in mind in your arches: the shape, the symbol, the rhythm, or the line? How do you live or understand these different dimensions?
My arches have a visual efficiency that comes from the strength of “solid” sculpting, born from a movement, a torsion, Rodin spoke very well about that. This movement generates form, line, and surface at the same time. That’s why it is so difficult to achieve. The symbolism that comes out of it depends not on me, but on the reading of those who look at the arch. It is certainly a form rich in meaning and connections, whose meaning does not belong to me. The form creates the meaning.
Can we say that these arches are a door, a path, or even a “passage”?
Everyone defines things based on their own experience. The idea of rising and passage is very present in my studio. I also call some of my arches “doors”.
Do you make a connection between your plastic forms and certain religious cultures through a theme or a type of architecture?
In order to understand sculpture’s evolution, I had to discover the masterpieces of the past in churches, cloisters, and convents throughout Europe and beyond. These sources do show their influence on my work. However, while it has a spiritual dimension, my work is not de facto religious. I do not deny that my creations may, at times, concern the sacred. A sacred, for example, that opposes the triviality of commerce or communication. It is what puts objects and ideas “elsewhere” and, no doubt, above our ordinary condition. Where? I don’t personally know.
How do you see your sculptures in relation to modern and contemporary sculpture?
My arches are, of course, directly related to modern and contemporary sculpture. Compared to certain currents of this period, the big difference is that I do not work from an idea or a concept that my sculpture would illustrate. Moreover, I believe that my work asserts itself along the spectrum of the history of sculpture. It is totally innovative because it shakes up tradition, but I don’t forget the legacy of Western sculptors. For example, I think that knowing the work of sculpture on the body at the beginning and end of the 13th century helped me in the creation of certain arches, as much as knowing sculptures by Rodin, De Kooning, Germaine Richier, Toni Grand, and a few others did. It is on the strength of these sources that I, in shaping the clay, for example, let the spiritual and original substance of my work “appear”.
For you, what is a work made for a public space? I’ve just mentioned the religious framework but you’ve also created works for other types of spaces, a garden or the Metro… How do you envisage the relationship of your work to these spaces or to the concept of a monument?
My work is about questioning the sacred. In fact, most of art history revolves around this dimension, even in the form of sacrilege or irony! This sacred is not religious, nor does it touch the “new age” dimension that clutters our mentalities. My works are generally placed in sites chosen by the sponsors (gardens and public squares, subway stations). I’m first in dialogue with engineers and landscape designers before my work is seen by the general public. The latter does not always want to see art and often doesn’t have the cultural Rosetta Stone to understand it. It is therefore necessary to find the “lowest common denominator”, but without ever disavowing what we’ve done! We must always continue to talk about surpassing ourselves, especially in regard to those who are struggling to survive and have a better life! I believe that this way I have more respect for my fellow humans. The more difficult life is, the more essential it is to allow a glimpse of light in, through evocation, through perceptible knowledge…
Can you talk about the materials you use, from synthetic materials (epoxy, resin) to materials such as bronze or aluminum?
There are two very distinct types of materials in my work.
1– I model the sculpture with specific clays, clay mineral-based, other various “modeling clays”… Depending on the fluidity of these materials, the sculpture comes to life through different consistencies, with a modified appearance. The clay offers an infinite variety of modeling possibilities. What starts as a very simple initial application can be used to create complex solutions. I need a material that imprints impetus, movements, and occasionally the upward properties of volume.
2– Once the original sculpture is finished, I cast the pieces in bronze, aluminum, or composites (exclusively for interior parts). The relationship each of these materials has to light informs my choice. Bronze has a very particular relationship to light that is suitable for arches. It absorbs light. Aluminum, on the other hand, reflects this light. I play with that. These two materials develop different semantics.
Your imagination takes root in your country. You love its nature, its culture, its art, its churches.
There’s a type of osmosis between me and the Mediterranean scrub and the garrigues of Nîmes regions and the north of Montpellier. I came into contact with Roman sculpture at a very early age and I know the amphitheater in Nîmes by heart. Moreover, I still take walks in the Mediterranean scrub. The Romanesque pearl of Saint-Martin-de-Londres and the Priory of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert serve as a resting point. I am steeped in these origins without being able to say exactly if this piece or the other results from this influence.
Your work is above all a question of form and space, much more than one of images and objects. Does the cognitive and sensory experience that you offer include the ambition to share a universal experience?
Yes, absolutely, that’s the essence of my work and my thinking… How to make those who look and those who will look at these works feel and understand this sharing, which I describe as “adogmatic”! Emotion and the sacred unite, while religions and ascribed truths divide, alas, by their dogmas! To avoid what René Char called “times of inclemency”, I try to express this possible sharing in my sculptures while avoiding the expression of a supermarket spirituality or a strategy of commercial reproduction or even a sterile, kitschy copy of a supposed artistic golden age. Through my works, I try to offer a path that I hope is both individual and collective.