In a 19th century farmhouse, a creative retreat from another world
Crossing the cast iron gates that lead to the country studio of the artist Agnès Debizet in an old farmhouse in the French village of Saint-Maurice-aux-Riches-Hommes, one has the impression of entering another world . 90 minutes northwest is Paris, where Debizet, 63, owns an apartment in the Marais, but here, through a cluster of 19th-century farm buildings that surround a grassy courtyard, are over 150 sculptures. of his 40-year career. Inside the courtyard is “Evolution” (2007-15), a monumental installation of around 40 sandstone sculptures gradually increasing in size, from one that looks like an ostrich egg to towers of eight. feet reminiscent of morels, all white bleached by the sun. with a porous coral-like texture. Currently, the work is arranged in a circle around a lime tree, but Debizet is constantly changing its configuration (a winding line, a chaotic pile), which she does with the majority of her creations.
Apart from the ceramics courses she took in Paris in the 1980s, Debizet is almost entirely self-taught. “I didn’t fit into the traditional ceramic scene and without a degree from the École des Beaux-Arts, I wasn’t really accepted in France as an artist,” she says. Early in her career, Debizet sculpted while raising four children, who often claimed her figures as toys – a particular favorite was an old-fashioned terracotta TV-shaped sculpture covered with tiny faces. “I knew from the first moment that I had clay in my hands that with her I could create whatever I wanted,” she says. Over time, she developed a distinctive technique that has come to define her work: she paints black earthenware that glides through the cracks and imperfections of the porcelain glaze of her stoneware sculptures, producing an effect similar to that of the raku. These fractures are due to the unusually high temperature at which Debizet fires her work, which can cause splinters and even explosions in the oven. These spontaneous misadventures have become Debizet’s signature. “I always polish, make mistakes and try again,” she says. “In a way, these layers of uncertainty and error are my artistic identity.” When his gallery owner Victor Gastou, from the venerable Parisian gallery Yves Gastou, saw his work for the first time, he was struck by its singularity. “I immediately understood that I was in the very unique world of an artist who made her own world,” he says.
DEBIZET’S TEXTURED SHAPES occupy every corner of the estate, from the gardens to the interiors of the property’s six houses – its workshop, living quarters and four outbuildings. His first work, from 1981, representing a dragon craning its neck, is locked in a rusty rabbit cage; nearby are human-sized towers covered with hundreds of little white faces and a monumental figure that resembles Nike of Samothrace sitting on tree roots. In Debizet’s studio, a former cow barn with high beamed ceilings, everything from amoebic shapes to larger wildlife silhouettes is in various stages of development.
Between Debizet’s ceramics studio and her comfortable four-bedroom clapboard cottage, painted in olive, clementine and parchment tones, the back garden features a group of large-scale rooms: a ring of shapes in the form of green enamelled stalactites ground. Another work, at the edge of the lawn, shows an upside-down tree trunk, its roots growing skyward, while under a large maple, a rust-colored man’s head rests on a pedestal. While many of the property’s sculptures are constantly in motion, replanted and invigorated, the man’s head, looking up at the maple tree, has remained intact for years. “They’ve had an interesting conversation for so long,” Debizet says of the head and the nearby tree. “I couldn’t separate them. “