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Thursday, May 27, 2021

Meet Raphaël de Villers

Our windows have talent!

The three WHITE bIRD shops have been designed by Stéphanie Roger as jewellery cases where you can take your time to look, get advice and choose treasures from all over the world. And the showcases filled with wonders, like windows overlooking the street, are regularly renewed so that the jewels also radiate their light outside. For Stéphanie, only a sensitive and talented artist could make them elegant and attractive. Raphaël de Villers took up the challenge and, in his words, gave them vivacity (which we are very proud of). 
Here is his portrait through this interview.
Thanks to him and hats off to the artist!

1- Raphaël, can you tell us about your background?
I was born on a farm in Champagne, in Sezanne to be precise (predestined for an artist, right?). My father was a farmer. He and my mother always encouraged me when they realised that I loved to draw, paint and later collect all kinds of objects that I was constantly transforming. After passing my baccalaureate, I studied literature and history and then studied at Sciences-Po, Paris. I then entered the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris in the studios of Jean-Michel Alberola and Christian Boltanski. After this, I created ceramic works that I exhibited at the Patricia Dorfmann Gallery in Paris.

2- How did you meet Stéphanie Roger?
Through my brother's wife, Agnès de Villers, I met the perfume editor Frédéric Malle, who asked me to decorate the windows of his shops, including the one in Rue du Mont-Thabor. And, while standing back in the street, to realize the effect that my decorations produced, I met Stéphanie Roger. I must say that with my bike loaded with all sorts of objects and tools, I don't go unnoticed!
Moreover, I was already looking at the WHITE bIRD showcases across the street, out of my interest in shapes and the connection between jewellery and sculpture.

3- What is your relationship to objects?
I love to talk about objects and forms. I have loved and manipulated them since my childhood. I collect them wherever they appear: in Champagne, in Paris, on the ground, in the street, on building sites, in the woods, in the fields....  I collected glass bricks at a hotel construction site not far from the shop in Rue du Mont-Thabor. Arranged in the windows, they looked like icebergs in pale blue tones. Then, I arrange them and observe them in the farm-studio where I work, when I am not travelling. The objects I use can be natural (wood, branches, plants, pebbles, shells, etc.) but are also sometimes glass, tools, or artificial lawn tiles, materials that I find in all their forms and all over the world. I sometimes associate art objects, works of other artists or pieces of antiquity that create a large cabinet of curiosities. I consider myself a hunter-gatherer and am always on the lookout. 

4- How do you work?
I clean the objects I find. Sometimes I transform them, weld them. And sometimes, I even remove pieces of wood from a fireplace if I find them beautiful. Literally and figuratively, I use all kinds of wood. In Paris, where I live part of the time, I store them in a cellar. My first job, right after studying at the Beaux-Arts, was to be the factotum for an artist-entrepreneur who built ephemeral structures for events, fairs, shows. I've always liked business relationships and the speed of work, having a deadline.

5- How do you envision the shop windows of WHITE bIRD?
As soon as I have collected objects and materials that move me, I assemble them on the spot and compose my decors in the shops on site, because I want to take into account the scale of the jewellery, the volumes of the architecture and the light. I am very sensitive to the ephemeral dimension which is very present in my window displays at WHITE bIRD. I attach great importance to the seasons, to light, to the space between objects and to rhythm. I am more interested in the gesture of making and composing than in the details, making it visible, sometimes raw or even brutal but always assumed, like the films of German filmmaker Rainer-Werner Fassbinder.
For me, the exterior and interior display cases must be functional and totally serve the jewellery and the saleswomen. They must not interfere with the jewellery or prevent it from being handled. Basically, I ensure they serve the jewellery. Don't think of it as humility on my part, it's simply an understanding of the business.
I want to ensure the stylistic unity of the three WHITE bIRD boutiques in Paris. I experiment with materials and background colours because I am also a painter, which allows me to bring out the gold, silver or stones. I offer the spectator a narrative or even a poetic shock, an emotion.

6- Tell us about your professional relationship with Stephanie and her team.
Stéphanie and I share the same language and the same culture. We are from the same generation. And I would like to emphasise the fact that she allows me, along with the boutique directors, a lot of artistic freedom while taking risks, accepting daring proposals. 
Furthermore, I am not the only set designer at WHITE bIRD. Even though I am the main one.

7- You have also designed mobiles for the WHITE bIRD boutique in the Marais. Can you tell us about that?
We wanted to make the boutique visible from the outside. As it is very high, I made suspended mobiles that attracted the eyes not only of passers-by on the boulevard but also of car and bus passengers.

8- What other windows inspire you?
I really liked the windows of the Sonia Rykiel house, on boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris. I found them elegant and inspiring. I also like Isabel Marant and Jérôme Dreyfuss. They make me bounce back. Which makes me say that my limits have not been not reached.

9- Can you tell us about your professional encounters?
My best memories of the Beaux-Arts de Paris are of the friends I met there. Just like at the Manufacture de Sèvres, where I was in residence for two years between 2010 and 2012. And also the encounters in the workshops where I worked in France and Austria.

10- What do you like in nature?
I love birds. I have created some in porcelain or paper mache. And all the vegetation it produces that I use in my decorations. Obviously, it is during my walks in nature that I find wood, mushrooms, bones, feathers... I am always outside, which explains why I often look good!

11- What trips that have marked you?
When I was at the Beaux-Arts, I received a scholarship to travel for seven months to Baroda, India. In 2005, I followed my friend, Clémence Van Lunen, a sculptor, to Jingdezhen, the porcelain capital of China. There, I worked on ceramics and enamelling in the factory of a Chinese artist. I returned there once or twice a year for eight years. Afterwards, I exhibited my work in French and Belgian galleries and elsewhere in Europe. Italy is another destination I have fallen in love with. The lights and colours of the country and the archaeological sites fascinate me.

12- Tell us about museums and art. What are your favourite trends?
I like to go to museums to draw. I fill up a lot of sketchbooks! My interests are sculpture, archaeology, medieval art, the Etruscans and Arte Povera. I also love art books.

13- What is your relationship to freedom and creation?
I want to be able to change my mind and compose until the last moment. I like the idea of having a head start with materials: cement, plaster, wood... that is to say, to store them to prepare sets because I do not make a production plan. I arrange them on the spot.

Chinese mini-portrait: 
If you were a jewel, it would be: a gold Gallic torque
A flower, it would be: a red and yellow parrot tulip
A dish, it would be: an omelette with wild herbs
A work of art, it would be: an Etruscan anthropomorphic urn
An author, it would be: Thomas Bernhard 
An artist, it would be: a medieval sculptor
A country, it would be: India
An animal, it would be: a magpie
A sport, it would be: cycling

Merci Raphaël 

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