I have spent some time in close scrutiny of Pierre Bonnefille’s work. The piece I have courted an intimate understanding of is the immersive mural at The Connaught Bar.
I have looked at it in the bright low winter sun, and I have viewed it in the gentler late afternoon light with 2 glasses of San Giovase adding a hue to my senses. I have had a last look at it upon leaving, late at night, tired and deliciously waivering. I have even, I confess, broken the silent understanding, and run my fingers across its gorgeous plains.
I took pictures of the surface at close range, high definition shots. They were useless. They reduced the gentle savagery and depth of the landscape, and flattened out a lot of the meaning.
Stand in front of the piece. Scan it like a pioneer viewing a frontier. Follow the geometry.
It is a work which has a strange duality, it is vast and calm and holds you in its tranquility. And yet, it has precise arcs and shafts that draw you into its motion.
It is singularly beautiful and nothing less.
Graham Erickson: Do you consider yourself an artist or a business man?
Pierre Bonfille: It’s a very inner feeling. In my nature. I would love to say that I am both, but I do believe that I belong to the first category. As an artist, you have to play the game of being a business man sometimes, and you can even enjoy it when it brings you to projects you wouldn’t have even imagined possible, but being an artist is an irreversible condition. And learning how to be a business man is certainly part of this condition. When I start an artwork, I never know where and when it will end.
GE: Does working on a commission bring a definite beginning and end to a piece?
PB: You know, I would say my life has always been in constant flux. Nothing never ends, nothing never starts from nothing. Working on a commission is first of all an encounter and a feeling with an individual. This encounter then brings us to a common intention that then leads to a project that I develop over time. Each creation is a real and strong relation through time.
GE: A lot of your work literally becomes architecture. It integrates with a location. Does the location direct the piece?
PB: Architecture is central in my work. My compositions are closely related to space and light. The spaces, their porosities, their forms, angles and apertures are fundamental to my creative process and truly influence the materials I create for each project. It is a very intuitive way to work.
GE: Your work has an opulence within. It can be savage and raw but there is always an understanding that it is a response to considerable investment. Do you ever like to work in simpler medium which speaks less of luxury?
PB: Nature can be opulent, savage and raw with a disconcerting simplicity, you know! I take all of my inspirations from natural elements. Minerals, colours, rays of light, rocks, sands, leaves, trees… When you look closely to those elements you can see how paradoxical nature can be. Precise and rough. This is what makes her so beautiful and inimitable. This opulence you’re talking about is hours of meticulous observation.
GE: Do you remain emotionally connected to a piece when it leaves your studio?
PB: My creations are about emotions. I am intimately involved in my creations and I do stay connected to them after they leave the studio. I often go to The Connaught Bar in London for a cocktail, to The London Hotel in New York for a drink or a lunch at the Café Marly in Paris I created 25 years ago. My mural compositions are timeless and I like going back to them years after.
GE: When a client commissions a piece presumably they issue a brief. How far do you allow a brief to inform your work?
PB: It is really according to the project. Some briefs are very defined but most of the time, it is just an intention that I develop through discussions and a deep dialogue with the client. A project is mainly based on a relationship of trust.
GE: On that subject, do you ever decline requests for work?
PB: I do. When you work with such a personal involvement, you cannot commit with everyone. Like in personal relations, it is above all, a feeling with someone that makes me want to collaborate. Being inspired for someone needs affect.
GE: You have three studios. There is quite a lot of people that make up your organisation. To an artist, does that seem like too much responsibility?
PB: The studios you are talking about are three different spaces with different purposes. The first one is the first place I’ve been working in, my showroom in Paris rue Bréguet, where I can show my work to architects and clients as well as my gallery; on the other side of the street, there is a space for my personal work: paintings, sculptures and pieces of furniture. My creation space is in my home, it’s where I can find some silence and focus on my ideas. The last and biggest one is my studio where we create all of the compositions for our architectural projects with a twenty-person team in Maisons-Alfort.
It is of course a huge responsibility. I am lucky to be surrounded by very faithful collaborators that I have worked with for decades! They know me and my work very well and I can only be very gratetful about this, so far.
GE: How old are you?
PB: Being an artist keeps you in shape, I have thirty years of creation behind me and I keep feeling like when I was a child, imagining brand new worlds every morning. I love this feeling and I think that I’ll keep feeling it as long as I keep working.
GE: Is there any possibility the studio can continue when you eventually stop being this person. Would you bring in younger artists to evolve the studio or does it simply cease when you decide to retire?
PB: My work is who I am, my creativity of course, isn’t transmittable… and even if my savoir-faire could be, I want to take the time to think about what I will do with it.
GE: Do you work to music?
PB: I sometimes work to music but I prefer is working in silence. Meditation is very important to me and that helps me create. Listening to the sound of my tools on the surfaces, the scratches of a blade on a metal mesh, the muffled sound of a velvety texture… Being in total osmosis with the material is the best.
GE: Are you upset by the UK coming out of Europe and do you think it will effect the cultural, and commercial, dialogue that we all enjoy?
PB: I would say that it doesn’t affect my work. UK and France have built a very strong relationship culturally speaking. Art goes beyond borders and this is maybe what I love the most about being an artist.
Graham Erickson is a Creative Director & Editor living in London.
Pierre Bonnefille is a French artist, painter and designer. The artist creates his own materials and textures, made from mineral powder, limestone, lava, marble, earth, natural pigments and metallic powders.
Dylan Thomas is an interior design and portrait photographer living in London.