"Delahaye - Studio Interview"
by Luce Hoctin
Luce Hoctin: Jacques Delahaye, you are one of the most dynamic and ‘aggressive’ sculptors of our times.
How would you define your own development?
Jacques Delahaye: My most recent sculptures do not express any intentions that run contrary to earlier ones.
I have always worked after models from the animal kingdom or the human form. My present experiments serve to consolidate my knowledge and possibilities and do not represent a getting bogged down in details. My problem is similarly how to approach the human form, particularly agglomerations of human body parts such as arms, legs, heads and torsos. This, incidentally, is the most difficult thing; I long to produce a figure ... When making a sculpture, I think solely about the work, not about a figure that is modern or about something with which I earn money – I can assure you that this is the most important thing for me. I am primarily concerned with taking up themes of groupings and architecture with inner dynamics that Rodin and especially Carpeaux made but did not conclusively treat.
L.H: Not for nothing do you say that you always primarily occupied yourself with human figures or animals.
And indeed, there are your busts, your riders and your cats (1953, 54, 55) etc. In your 1958 Turin exhibition, however, you aligned yourself with Informalism.
J.D.: That was the exhaustive yield from a cycle dealing with speed, a continuation, so to speak, of Cat, Rider No. 1, No. 2, etc., depicted under the sole aspect of the figure in motion. However, that exhibition possibly also meant the failure of these experiments. The motion was too depersonalised. The figure became a thing, a no longer tangible thing. I did not concern myself sufficiently with the third dimension, which is very difficult to implement.
L.H.: How is it possible for a sculptor to say that he is unconcerned with the third dimension when a sculpture, logically, is always located in space?
J.D.: A ruler on a table, a plumb line is likewise located in space and yet they are by no means sculptures. Incidentally, the word ‘spatial’ is abused to a considerable degree today. The third dimension – it is the view of an object, it means keeping the correct distance, observing the depth effect. This necessarily comprises knowledge of the relationship of the masses to each other and the complex as a whole. In the case of sculpture, you find yourself in an ambiguous world. The problem of volume is not the only one, although it is very important. A mastery of the technique, however, is also imperative.
L.H.: But haven’t sculptors in particular achieved something like a dichotomy – the concern with volumes and space on the one hand and the significance of the work in relation to people on the other?
J.D.: Yes, and for a very simple reason. You first think something through, after which taste influences you to accept the first thing that comes along. In reality, a sculpture should not have any ‘frills’, it should be a really coherent work. Incidentally, experiments are being carried out today with a number of different materials, including prefabricated materials. The true task of the sculptor is treating clay. It is a physical battle with the material, a permanent recurrence of a thousand failures and one success. In this sense, one thing is of interest: You set off making the work you have in your mind. Everything else is the endeavour to realise this objective.
L.H.: How do you see the relationships between sculpture and architecture that are now the order of the day?
J.D.: Under present-day conditions, I see no possibility. Other than that, they have already been practically incompatible since the Renaissance, in fact since the Late Gothic period; it is a fixation that has nevertheless regularly been taken up. Obtaining the respect sculpture deserves from architecture would require an iron discipline, otherwise one ends up with a work of sculpture next to a work of architecture involving a mere juxtaposition of heterogeneous elements. Architecture has been likened to a machine; houses are built today like a Buick or a refrigerator. The surge in population growth, overpopulation, has made an architecture necessary that is functional without taking artistic concerns into consideration. A house is an inhabited machine, whereas art presupposes patronage and a certain splendour. The only things architects need today are cheap decorations from the highest bidder – which has nothing in common with the patronage of the great personalities and kings of past centuries. When someone says to me: Monsieur Delahaye, make me a fountain – and offers me 2 million (old Francs), one doesn’t need 2 million but at least 200. It could be even more in ten years. No, all of that is now in the past ... . I want to emphasis one more time that the question concerning architecture-sculpture is the wrong question nowadays. There are only contrasts, nothing else.
Or incorporated decorative elements.
L.H.: What do you think about the sculpture of your times?
J.D.: We are living at a time in which true sculptors are rarer than collector’s items.
L.H.: How do you explain the fact that the love for the human form is missing today?
J.D.: It is difficult to realise today. Uniting three formed individual pieces, three figures, to form a sculpture is harder to achieve than attaching three blocks to each other. But regardless of what one does, you will find exponents and defenders for it.
L.H.: What importance do you place on the financial preconditions?
J.D.: They are not really important. One will always find customers, but the sculptures offered them are weak. Incidentally, the promotion one makes for art is the thing that harms it most. Everything is good nowadays: you only have to continue to discover something new ... .
L.H.: But economic dependence tightens the reins on artists; you know that all too well yourself.
J.D.: No, I do not live with the help of economic preconditions. There is only one solution to the problem, and that consists of knowing how to construct a true sculpture. A kilogram of gypsum costs 40 Francs. Everyone can afford that. And there are exhibitions (quite a few) that are open to everyone.
L.H.: You speak unselfconsciously about it, perhaps because you succeeded in establishing your own foundry. Why did you pursue and realise the project?
J.D.: I wanted to have my own foundry in order to have complete control over my own sculpture. I believe that the filing of bronze is just as important as the first mixing of the gypsum and that you have to do it yourself. You do not send a sculpture to a custom tailor. I work together with the foundrymen and his people. I am present during the whole process. We talk about everything. Several measures are carried out together. The work becomes feasible, achievable, once the teamwork functions. That is very important. While the preliminary sketch for each work is developed very individually, the realisation occurs with the help of specialists who know the material and make it possible to cast large-scale versions of the sculptures. When Rodin made a clay model, it was cast on site that same evening.
L.H.: How do see the development of sculpture today?
J.D.: I am not the right person to ask for his estimation because I am caught up in my own development. However, I do see a tendency in which sculpture is moving in the direction of oversimplification and a disturbing triviality.
L.H.: Present day sculptors, however, seem to be very concerned with the problem of form.
J.D.: Apropos forms ... . Where are the Dianas of yesteryear? ... A comic epoch in which one fancies a T-beam as a Michelangelo ... .
L.H.: But is there no contemporary sculptor with whom you feel a connection? The ‘Baroque’ that characterises the current stage of your work does not fundamentally seem to stand in isolation today.
J.D.: The fact is that I feel closer to my predecessors than to my contemporaries (except Giacometti); I am moved more by the problems left hanging in the balance by Rodin and Carpeaux than, as I have already said, by current problems ... . As far as my ‘Baroquisation’ is concerned, it is a deliberate step: for example the door I made this winter. It is the depiction of an action in which about 60 people and animals are wedged together fleeing a torrent of water – rider departure and collapse in one ... .
L.H.: Seen as a whole, your sculpture represents the exploration of an expression of life in motion.
Is it also not a reaction to certain limitations in contemporary art that – very often – is an art ‘of details’?
J.D.: Yes, they are the attempt to depict the whole, but all of that is still in preparation ... and is emerging only gradually.
L.H.: You have always had a very precise notion about the construction of a work. Do you not permit chance or automatism to play a role in sculpture?
J.D.: Automatism – that is one of this century’s most toxic elements, a disease that contaminates everything and has given rise to one of the ‘hollowest’ epochs of all time.
L.H.: Put briefly: despite the fact that you appreciate tradition, you are nevertheless an agitator,
a ‘young Turk’ of sculpture.
J.D.: No, not particularly. I am not a systematic revolutionary. But what genuine and conscious work of art does not revolt against everything else?