The soul of matter
by Beatrice Audrito
The concept of modernity that was established at the beginning of the twentieth century led the field of the arts to a radical renewal of pictorial and sculptural language. It was imperative to the être absolument moderne that the "new" was the only true value, forcing artists to choose modernity or take refuge in tradition, yet even with a view to a drastic renewal of figurative language, many artists have looked to the past. Just think of the influence of African art in the cubist experiences of Pablo Picasso or the fascination that Japanese art exerted on Claude Monet and the French impressionists. There is a lesson here that helps us understand how much the art of the past still has to say. It is often a source of inspiration for contemporary artists, such as with the French-American sculptor Emmanuel Fillion.
After formal training in the area of the restoration of medieval sculptures, and after dedicating himself to the renovation of prestigious French monuments, Fillion decided to move to California. There, he developed a personal sculptural language that embraced the figurative universe and dealt with the classical rule and with Baroque declinations, but however, renewing its language in a strongly experimental direction. Every sculpture by Emmanuel Fillion is a unique work, with a polysemantic meaning: first of all the material, marble - a material capable of challenging history - is meticulously chosen by the sculptor in the Versilia quarries; then the processing of the material, it is rigorously carved by hand; the subject, the figure of the woman, developed in an infinity of expressive possibilities; and finally the profound meaning that the sculptor attributes to each of his creations, underlined by the title, which pushes the user to make an interpretative journey between form and content, and is often rich in symbolic references.
Fillion’s sculptural universe is a dimension inhabited mainly by female figures, both classic and modern women carved in marble or molded in bronze, of timeless beauty. They are candid naked bodies and sinuous forms with a Baroque flavor, in which Fillion maintains tension, but which then resolves into simpler and more fluid solutions, renouncing decorative excess to accentuate the movement of the figure or bring out the purity of the marble. The profound respect and admiration of the sculptor for women emerge; she is understood as the generating force and mother of all things but also as an enigmatic figure, fascinating in her complexity. Fillion is precisely interested in the possibility of showing their beauty but also their human condition, in an endless investigation that he leads by shaping the anatomy of different women. This is often represented in meditative or dreamy poses such as in Songe, or in the act of dancing to capture and freeze the beauty of the movement, as in the delicate bas-reliefs in white marble and black Belgian marble, where the figure seems to emerge by forcing the marble surface which appears as light as a veil of cloth. In another work, the Exaltation triptych, the same sculpture made three times in white marble, patinated bronze and polished bronze shows the multiple forms that can take on the same shape, making the continuous research of the sculptor explicit. This is a concept that is also emphasized in African Queen, a tribute to African American culture and the beauty and pride of the many black women that the sculptor has met in the contemporary world. The sculpture is made by sculpting Belgian black marble, a material of rare beauty, with great skill and awareness, then polishing to enhance the sinuous curves of the female body; this can be deliberately contrasted with the opaque treatment of the burnt trunk on which the woman rests and with the turban that surrounds her face, so finely worked as to give the illusion of an African fabric. These are two creative expedients that bring out the awareness with which Fillion has been able to rework the lessons of classical sculpture rooted in Europe, to overcome it by renewing its language, and invariably revealing something of itself.
Emmanuel Fillion's investigation of the complex figure of the woman reaches its peak in the series of sculptures entitled Shibari, a cycle of marble works that were born of the artist's fascination with Japan and the oriental culture of Kinbaku, the ancient Japanese practice of Bondage. In addition to the aesthetic component in these sculptures -nude female figures with their bodies tied by ropes which enhance their sensuality and beauty- Fillion tries to bring out the emotional and spiritual aspect of this practice, whose roots are to be sought in the aesthetics of suffering. Once again, the sculptor demonstrates his interest in what is transitory and often difficult to capture: those moments of physical, emotional and spiritual transition that occur during a performance of Kinbaku in the interaction between the subjects involved, which reveal feelings of mutual trust and courage but also discomfort, shame and pain. In the Shibari series, as in the live Bondage shows, the woman's naked body - surrounded by delicate silk strings carved from marble - offers the viewer a chance to find himself in an ambiguous situation. It is capable of stimulating a more intimate reflection on the body in its physical but also social dimension, while lingering over the details of the material rendered warm and soft by the sculptor.
Alongside this production of a more classical matrix, a new subject has recently emerged in Fillion's work, burnt wood, which is obtained by masterly sculpting Belgian black marble; it is a material that is extracted from the subsoil, and is the result of the decomposition and secular solidification of vegetal components. The sculptor is once again inspired by Japanese culture and the regenerative power of fire that in the East, unlike in Western culture, is seen as an essential natural element for renewing the cycle of nature. Starting from an abstract concept, Fillion has thus created intriguing sculptures: trunks and branches of trees that show the beauty of wood after a fire, such as in Tronc Brûlé, in which the marble takes on the appearance of burnt wood, both in the texture as in the knottiness of the surface which is accentuated by a flow of gold that makes it still appear incandescent, or in the relief After the fire, which makes the fear of fire explicit by exorcising death in a composition that seems to praise Vanitas.
The artistic research conducted by Emmanuel Fillion in recent years, despite the great eclecticism and experimental character of his most recent production, has its roots in classical European culture. His ability to constantly renew his sculptural language shows that the artist still has much to say through the human body, a pretext for conveying wider themes and reflections such as the relationship between man and nature or the mystical and spiritual dimension of life as well as themes of the infinite possibility of development. The new sculptural subjects that complement and complete the investigation of human anatomy, such as the details of the fabrics, the textures and the vegetable forms that Fillion likes to sculpt, demonstrate his incessant desire to seek beauty in all things of the world, imagined and moulded by the sculptor according to the concept of the "harmony of parts" achieved by the ancient Greeks in classical sculpture. It is a lesson that is still extraordinarily current.
Emmanuel Fillion is a Franco-American sculptor who works primarily in bronze and marble. Born in 1966 Soissons (France), in an area rich in history and limestone quarries.
Emmanuel Fillion began sculpting at a very early age, starting carving at fifteen. After graduating from school and after finishing his scholarship, he started working as an apprentice sculptor and traveled extensively in France to renovate prestigious historical monuments such as the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Louvre Museum, the chateau of Chambord, the Sainte Chapelle of Vincennes and also many jewels of the Renaissance…
In 1994 he moved to California with the desire to move away from classicism and started his own creative studio. There, he met his first patron the entrepreneur and philanthropist John Paul Dejoria, for whom he created many unique works and family portraits as well as paintings.
In 1997 in parallel of working on Dejoria’s estate he opened a studio in Malibu where he worked on commissions for private collectors, architects and institutions. Some commissions took him to Pietrasanta for the first time where he started working and creating in marble .
In 2002, Fillion co-produced and hosted an educational documentary funded by the Annenberg Foundation, Through the Eyes of the Sculptor, where he recounts all the processes involved in creating a sculpture by bringing the viewer to Pietrasanta, Italy, where Emmanuel has a studio and works in marble shops and foundries.
Emmanuel Fillion's sculptures can be found in numerous private collections in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Greece and the United Arab Emirates where he has also been exhibited.
Being very close to the world of dance and music, Fillion created a splendid sculpture in tribute to the great Martha Graham in 2013, which was later donated by Mr. Gregory Annenberg Weingarten to be placed in the sculpture garden of The Wallis Annenberg Performing Center in Beverly Hills. The Martha Graham sculpture has been organically renamed when viewed in Dubai as “Emancipation” by Iranian women who saw in the sculpture the desire to free themselves from their mandatory hijab. Fillion has always encouraged the viewers to approach sculpting as a very personal experience to be lived.
Amongst other recent sculptures, two beautiful works, one in bronze and one in marble, were made in 2016 for Spencer and Marlene Hays, who later donated their art collection to the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.
His work today is inspired by movement, dance, and philosophy. The nude and nature with a very strong influence in Japanese culture are a constant search for a fine line in between…
Today, Fillion's work is evolving in a new direction, freeing himself from baroque influences to embrace a more fluid and powerful contemporary expression. His sculptures, made in the Pietrasanta studio in Italy, are deeply inspired by the beauty of the human figure posing or in movement. They are unique and timeless pieces imbued with a profound sense of introspection and spirituality.
Tel: +(33) 620642282
Work can be viewed in Belgium at:
+32 499 97 61 48
Work can be viewed in Atlanta (US) at: The Bill Lowe Gallery
Telephone: +1 404-352-8114