Only the heroic gesture drives the artist. This is particularly true of the sculptor. The reason for this lies less in the «hard desire to endure» of which the poet Paul Éluard writes than in the sheer necessity, day after day, with patience and tenacity, using one’s whole body, to confront the hard and dense material, to confront reality as it resists, to confront the world’s opacity or depth.
In more than thirty five years spent carving granite and diabase, Eric Théret has placed less emphasis on the titanic nature of the task than on the lofty and solitary practice of sculpture as a form of asceticism: tearing through stone as though with bare hands, leaving his mark on close to impenetrable material, the artist confronts his own self, joyfully filing and stripping himself down.
Though Eric Théret does not claim to be working towards eternity, he nevertheless displays a taste for the monumental. Columns stand tall against the sky; passing bodies leave indelible imprints on hard stone – a massive pebble, clenched by a human fist, thus retains the trace of this fabulous embrace.
All and every stone, smooth or rough, calls for caressing touch and seeks to hold it. Carving rebellious stone is akin to lovemaking; by dint of willpower and great energy, by the grace of inspired gestures, recalcitrant material turns into song. Or perhaps sculpture is petrified music…
And the self must hold great violence and stubborn joy in order to, one day, tune into the mineral wisdom of the stone and reach the calm depth of things laid bare.
(Translated by Maud Capelle)
Un présent vivant pour toujours
Eric Théret est de ces sculpteurs, pas si nombreux aujourd’hui, qui travaillent la pierre en faisant mentir un propos hasardeux de Jean-Paul Sartre (dans Situations III) selon lequel « l’éternité de la pierre est synonyme d’inertie : c’est un présent figé pour toujours. » Les œuvres de Théret sont tout ce que l’on veut, mais pas inertes. Cet artiste internationalement reconnu, qui a notamment reçu en 2016 le Grand Prix de la créativité décerné par l’institut national chinois de la sculpture (Shangaï) a le don d’infuser de la vie au granit noir d’Inde ou d’Afrique
du Sud, de métamorphoser la diabase de Suède. Ecoutons-le : « la sculpture,
c’est du dessin, c’est aussi le volume dans l’espace. Ce sont des fondamentaux de la sculpture et de l’architecture. Je suis un sculpteur du monumental, mais ce sont dans les petites sculptures et le dessin que l’on cherche et trouve. Je pars en carrières pour trouver mes blocs, ce sont des mondes fantastiques… Certaines sont de véritables cathédrales. Qu’elles se trouvent en Bretagne, en Suède pour la Diabase noire, ou partout ailleurs sur le globe… Un univers envoûtant… Le merveilleux des blocs, des volumes, de la matière… Là, tout est possible, la réalité devient irréelle. L’irréalité devient réalité… ». Déjà dans la carrière, Théret a éprouvé le potentiel dynamique des blocs qu’il a choisi. Sous son ciseau, va advenir un présent vivant pour toujours.
The work of Eric Théret; an insight into Chinese culture
The work of EricThéret attracts and gives profound meaning for a further understanding of Chinese culture. As their intermediary, the artist establishes a concrete and effective dialogue between cultures and he succeeds in making one perceive how the language of art can transcend cultural differences and incomprehensions, fundamentally to allow everyone to reach an understanding according to their own capacities and sensitivity and to open oneself to all dimensions of artistic creation.
With Granite or Diabase, material that Eric Théret is particularly fond of, from the outset it is the mountain that dominates. The Chinese believe that rock taken from the mountain, whilst retaining its massivity, power and roughness is intrinsically linked to the telluric force flowing from the cosmos. According to their beliefs in which the earth is in perpetual mutation, the mountain is the source of life, it is from it that the nourishing water flows and it is in it that the most vigorous cosmic transformations occur, for example, earthquakes, storms and season change.
In Chinese the literary and pictorial landscape is called Shanshui, ( mountain and water ), the same expression refers to the ( landscape culture ) that is so prevalent in China that it rhythms all the important moments in life and even appears on banknotes. The sculpture by Eric Théret the Bridge in two parts, (1999) corresponds perfectly to the view of the Chinese landscape. With its two ridged peaks and balustrade tops appearing above a vault plunging into the tranquil water of a lake. The vertical Yang of the mountain unites itself with the horizontal Yin of the water to constitute by analogy a cosmic whole. Set in the Yuzi paradise founded in 1998 and opened to the public in 2003, this international park of sculptures in China concentrates on the works of the greatest contemporary sculptors, including Eric Théret and his Bridge in two parts which blends in naturally to the Chinese garden.
This Yin – Yang duality is found in the passage In and off . Installed at Yiwi ( Zhejiang, China ), it received an award for creativity from the Chinese National Institute of Sculpture. The mere fact that the vault is placed on a horizontal surface suggests a bridge over a river and consequently the cosmic whole.
The same applies to the Wave of dreams or the Circle of life, these works account for the duality of life by staging them in a ( landscape ) understood by the Chinese. The supple and polished form suggested by the wave and the perfectly smooth aspect of one side of the works is compensated and completed by the roughness and grain of the unfilled side. The two opposite yet complementary entities of Yin and Yang are thus summoned and once more suggest ( mountain and water ). The arch – shaped recess of the in and the full recalling steles of the off participate in this construction. One imagines the work of a titan managing to carve out the hardest material as if it were merely soft wax and to extract the marrow and set it delicately side by side.
Now the succession of these steles is similar to that found in all ( museums of steles ) as in the Forest of the Steles of Xi’an, with the difference being that those made by the Chinese, most often also in granite, are covered with inscriptions, elegies, epitaphs and official texts resembling an open book. Now it is precisely an open book, the book of life, covered with writings from all ages and horizons that Eric Théret has created and installed at the Gutenberg High School in Creteil in homage to the great Inventor.
If Eric Theret has been finding his own way for many years in what he calls ( imprints ) is he not trying to invent his own writing? For example in the Imprint, Embrace-Hold, The Pillow , the Columns of the stylites suggest an imaginary path that the eye must follow and reconstruct. The onlooker reads, touches and connects together these traces giving him understanding and meaning.
In a similar way, Chinese writing may have been born from the unprecedented (reading) of mythical characters who could have deduced from the arrangement of the constellations,(the sky) and the traces of animals on the ground,(the earth), the wen, the first form of writing. This undoubtedly explains why the (veins) or calligraphic (imprints), (ji) pictorial or poetic, are considered in China as sharing a common origin, the encounter between the human being and the forces of the universe. It is also under the designation of (traces) (ji) that the paintings or calligraphies are preserved.
In the same way the inscriptions engraved in stone, rocks and even the landscapes are characterised by (traces) or (imprints). Like wise men they make visible to all the meaning that the artist has given to them.
Yet even if the rock seems eternal and indestructible, it is also the mark of impermanence of these perpetual changes that teach us that nothing is permanent. In spite of their unshakable appearance, the monumental sculptures of Eric Théret confront us with the passage and wear of time, perceptible in the unpolished part of his works and especially in the Passage in and off. Strength and fragility emerges from these steles, hollow and full at the same time, making us aware of our place in the world.
It is therefore understandable that the work of Eric Théret has been rewarded on several occasions in China, notably at the monumental sculpture contest in Shanghai for the Circle of life and that he is regularly invited to participate in such events.
His works appear to be readable in the eyes of the Chinese and close to their beliefs and visual codes. By their power, their telluric strength, by the finesse and delicacy of their treatment, they communicate with us both in spirit and touch and question our presence in the world.
(Translated by Jane Cross)