The surreal figurative sculptures of Paris-based contemporary artist Jean-Marie Appriou blend an alchemy of archaic, mythical, and futuristic forms.Read More
Born in Brest in the north-west of France in 1986, Jean-Marie Appriou's upbringing in the Brittany region can be seen to have informed the rural motifs, plants, and animals that persist in his sculptures.
Appriou studied art at the École régionale des beaux-arts in Rennes, graduating in 2010. His first forays into smelting and casting metal were largely self-taught, in his father's garden in Brittany. Appriou began to work in dedicated foundries in 2016.
French sculptor Camille Claudel's work was an early influence. Appriou has also cited further artistic influences including French illustrator Jean Giraud, Chilean-French multimedia artist Alejandro Jodorowsky, Eugè ne Delacroix, and French and Swiss Romanticism.
Appriou's work presents a theatre of strange worlds occupied by human characters, flora, and fauna. Across heavily worked surfaces, Appriou explores symbolic transitions using materials including aluminium, bronze, glass, clay, and wax.
For the exhibition Sonde d'arc-en-taupe in 2014, Jean-Marie Appriou created a five-tonne sculptural assemblage of cast iron and bas-relief for the basement of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. Crafted in a custom-built furnace, the work comprised elements of the human figure, and an assortment of man-made and natural forms including a potter's wheel, seashells, and stalactites. Featuring durational depictions of limestone, as well as pottery—from the extraction of clay from a swamp, to firing in the kiln—Sonde d'arc-en-taupe symbolised the transformational cycles of natural and manufactured materials.
Jean-Marie Appriou's sculpture calls upon a slew of recurring characters. As he explained in Cura Magazine, 'The cosmonaut, the beekeeper and the bather are characters with whom I began sculpture'.
In Beekeeper (Hydrangea) (2016), the artist presents a nude aluminium beekeeper figure adorned with a blown-glass hat—a reference the alchemist in Jodorowsky's 1973 film Holy Mountain. The figure clutches a bouquet as though preparing to go on a date, but with the world's last remaining bees rather than a human counterpart. Later versions of Appriou's work include a figure adorned with a locust, or carrying a child astronaut.
Another enduring motif, the child astronaut 'evokes an uncertain future; he is alone in space', as Appriou explains in Cura. Featured in Nude in the Rye 3 (2016), this motif was constructed in aluminium, with a blown-glass helmet.
In Very Rich Hours (2020) at New York's CLEARING gallery, the artist incorporated a chainmail-clad, adult version of the astronaut, into a multi-dimensional revision of traditional Arthurian legends. For his first show in Japan at Kaikai Kiki Gallery in 2021, Appriou presented a new series of astronauts whose stature and bronze heads evoked ancient Egyptian sculpture, while their space suits and coloured glass helmets evoked science-fiction aesthetics.
Appriou has also created enclosed miniature landscapes. Works such as The Cave of Time (Mystique) (2018) and The Cave of Time (Mythologique) (2018) are constructed from aluminium, cast from imprints made in clay. Hands are seen to reach out from the earth, amidst surreal miniature stalactite-lined caverns.
In his cast aluminium 'Cypress' (2018) grotto sculptures, Appriou mimics the haunting silhouettes of trees in the 'Isle of the Dead' paintings (1880–1901) by German symbolist Arnold Böcklin's.
Animals consistently appear in Appriou's works—from long-legged camels complete with modelled reflections, to anthropomorphic sharks—seen in The Dance (2018). For the group exhibition Voyage d 'hiver (2017) at Versailles, the artist presented a giant cast aluminium swan.
Jean-Marie Appriou has presented several outdoor public commissions, including a set of camel works for Art Basel in Miami Beach (2016); Grotto (2018), a set of sculptures presented at the Tuileries Garden for FIAC Paris 2019; Noses (2018), a permanent installation in Zurich's Maagplatz; and The Horses (2020), a suite of three surreal equestrian sculptures commissioned by the New York Public Art Fund for Central Park.
Jean-Marie Appriou has been the subject of both solo and group exhibitions internationally.
Select solo exhibitions include Event Horizon, Kaikai Kiki Gallery, Tokyo (2021); Open Space # 1, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (2018); Sonde d'arc-en-taupe, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2014); Kinkyramyk, Piacé le Radieux, Bézard – Le Corbusier, Piacé (2012).
Select group exhibitions include Souffler de son souffle, Fondation Vincent van Gogh, Arles (2021); Voyage d'hiver, Château de Versailles, Versailles (2017); La solitude, Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo (2014); BYOB, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2022