Should I say it?


My expression in the visual arts began late in my life. Nonetheless I succeeded in ignoring what I thought to be out of bounds



      As a child I was told that I was not made for art. I was seven years old and the ribbed glass that my father had asked me to draw was not exactly an easy exercise! After enduring a quarter of an hour of stress and anxiety, I felt liberated when I heard the paternal verdict. Whether it was at home or at my parents’ studio, colour, form and material were part of my universe. I understood, albeit with a bit of difficulty, how a large blue stain could represent a lake. But with time, after it was explained that this was how water and the edges of a lake could be seen, I accepted the idea and even found it amusing. Adults also amused themselves in their own way. But why couldn’t the subject be a “key that is lost?” A simple key, tiny, mislaid, buried in an enormous field of green wheat.


      At eleven I crossed the threshold of the Louvre for the first time and found myself mesmerized in front of the Egyptian collection. I could not take my eyes off those statues which I found divine. I could not stop asking myself why in our day and age we no longer sculpted gods of that beauty. During this time, I also discovered the work of Henry Moore and Brancusi, which affected me as much. I encountered the tenderness of a mother holding her child in her arms; the beauty of a rooster stretched to crow; the twirling form of a fish running free in the water. I wanted it all, this universe which I had discovered which offered so much harmony and magic. I was Alice in Wonderland.


      Later in books I discovered other masterpieces and other geniuses. I was fascinated and sad at the same time. I told myself that I could never compete with any of them. Picasso had started drawing at five. Mozart gave his first concert at four. I was an adolescent and I neither knew how to draw or to play a musical instrument. I had already given up ballet, the only artistic discipline that I had pursued with passion. Theatre and the craft of acting which had fed my childhood dreams had long ago vanished when I had discovered that my diction was not up to standard. I felt lost not knowing which direction to follow.


      At 15 when I discovered the New York museums, I was even more impressed, all the more so because I visited them alone and could not share my thoughts. I asked myself what could guide the make up of a collection? Above all what motivates the acquisition of a body of work? Is it the name of the artist? His notoriety? The subject matter? Where it comes from? The feelings experienced in front of a work? I spent hours at the Museum of Modern Art looking at Guernica. I spent more than two weeks at the Metropolitan trying to understand the mystery of its collections and how such a museum could come into existence primarily from donations.


      The experiences and knowledge accumulated through the years. All the questions related to the creative process grew strongly within me, but were also accompanied by apprehension. The family already had two artists and the presence of my imposing father inhibited me.  I forbade myself from crossing the threshold of creation and even more so because the competitive spirit of my father almost ordained a forced retreat. At 17, after failing the entrance competition to a reputable film school I understood the tribulations of an alien in Cioran’s Exact Decomposition.


      Later, while studying art history at the Sorbonne I found my way. I was stimulated and interested by the approaches and methodology in classical art, its iconography, iconology, the critical analysis and other teachings. But it was during my contemporary art classes that it all clicked into place. Art should provoke questions of the spectator, as Marc Le Bot, my master’s degree director, confided to me. “If the work we are looking at doesn’t produce any emotions, either we are not looking at it properly or it is not art.” Until then, I had considered the creative process obvious: the idea expressed with mastery and talent by the artist. But suddenly a new, complex and mysterious angle changed my view of this process.


      During this same period I multiplied my visits to museums and exhibitions and discovered the art of Diego Giacometti and Claude Lalanne. Their works reflect a poetry of originality that lies between pure artistic creation and the decorative arts. Their motifs, either vegetable or animal, are borrowed from nature . Realised in metal or plaster, their original meaning is hijacked into an amusing, indeed a playful and unusual object that is endowed with incredible functionality. I told myself then, if I could ever choose a place on an artistic level, I would like to place myself at that crossroads. Despite my desire to make, to create with my own hands, the idea of going down this road was remote. I thought I was too old to be an apprentice; my father’s verdict continued to ring in my ears.


      So I embarked on a professional career but not within the realm of art history where the possibilities were less than limited. Instead, I chose communications, a domain in which I succeeded and which assured me a living for numerous years. I would still be there had I not become weary of the bureaucracy and the painful hierarchy of these institutions.


      After giving up communications in the ‘90s I began to make objects inspired by the classics that I admired. Shortly after seeing an Yves Klein retrospective at the Beaubourg museum, I began a decorative panel whiles visualising his 1962 “Monologue without title.” When my father discovered it, his glowing, albeit prickly, comment was: “I had no idea you had such an aesthetic sense!” His tone led me to understand that I had dared to stomp on sacred ground, as if I had overstepped the limits of convention. But I continued to produce while hiding it from heathen eyes.


      In early 2000, I asked my father to make me a bronze table inspired by Diego Giacometti. He liked this idea even if it was not his own. A few years later, I discovered by accident a series of bronze pieces signed Nicodim. He had never even spoken to me about them! He had kept a book of  Diego's work which I had lent him. Each time I asked him for it he asked me to let him borrow it a little while longer. Nicodim died before my table came into existence. He left his studio an open parenthesis, an invitation with my address written on it.


      Almost as if it were a challenge, I began the table after he died and realised little by little how difficult it was to make. I understood for the first time the difference between an imagined project and the final result. The originally dreamt ideal had produced a disappointing result because I had not taken into consideration the technical imperatives. The simplicity of form to which I had aspired had become heavy and burdened. The pure and minimalist lines that I had projected had become tormented, laboured and forced. I no longer saw the expert Japanese-like object that I had imagined, but a tortuous, strange, almost baroque table. Art, like the perfect crime, is crafted with time. I no longer had a choice. I had to continue.




     My compositions use complicated mechanisms and the rehearsed and repetitive steps of “the monotony of passion.” Vegetable items are my point of departure. I hardly think of imitating nature in its perfection. I compel myself to appropriate it, translating its expressions into my own artistic language.


      This process produces bizarre, unusual pieces in bronze or silver endowed with practical functions: salad servers with gingko biloba leaves, an artichoke teapot, a vase stretched out of a coconut, an umbrella rack giant fennel, a plate from a giant nenuphar, a pendant made from a butterfly in its tomb, a bracelet in eucalyptus leaves, a broach from a mistletoe branch, a blind of butterflies… I only hope that my objects murmur a bit of the spell, magic and poetry that nature inspires.



Ilinca Nicodim

Paris, November 2009