Our Latest Obsession: Juliette Clovis

black medusa bust porcelain sculpture by juliette clovis

The purpose of art is not just to create something beautiful. People seek after art because we are drawn to the way it makes us feel like we are a part of something greater than ourselves. The French visual artist Juliette Clovis understands this feeling better than anyone.

As a sixteen-year-old girl in Florence, Italy, Juliette gazed upon the marbled sculpture Pietà by Michelangelo. And upon the gilded bronze doors of the Gates of Paradise by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Instantly taken, a year later, she traveled to Paris just to see Rodin’s bronze Gates of Hell, made in response to Ghiberti. After viewing these sculptural masterpieces, Juliette experienced a feeling so intense, she knew that one day she would become an artist.

At Love Happens we love sharing stories of empowered women chasing after their dreams. Pursuing her passions and inspiring in others the same grand feeling she felt that day, Juliette Clovis has become our latest obsession.

juliette clovis

Living in Bordeaux, France, Juliette creates beautiful porcelain sculptures that take the form of busts, eggs, and hybrid creatures. “My three main sources of inspiration are: art history, mythology, and nature,” says Juliette. A statement that clearly explains why her pieces seem otherworldly as if they were plucked straight from a fairytale. Consider the white bust of her Hermiagus isola creation, for example. A creature with dozens of delicate butterflies perched on its skin. The way their sharp wings rest against the smooth porcelain figure brings attention to Juliette’s love of highlighting contrast. This creature almost appears more butterfly than human, and without Juliette, it would only exist in dreams. 

Hermiagus isola white porcelain bust covered with butterflies by Juliette Clovis
Hermiagus isola by Juliette Clovis

Wildlife such as snakes, butterflies, and chrysanthemums manifest repeatedly within her artworks. “Such classical symbols [are] so often used in history of art, but also chosen for representing both life and death,” says Juliette. Throughout the artmaking process, nature plays a central role in exploring these themes. All that exists in nature is tied to this cycle of life—there is constant death and rebirth in the wild.

Juliette always knew that she would become an artist. “But this is not so easy to assume when you are seventeen and grow up in a conventional French family,” she said. Therefore, she started along a more conventional route. At first, she studied law and the history of art at L’Ecole du Louvre in Paris. However, she never forgot that awestruck feeling in Italy as she gazed upon the works of old masters. 

After working for a while in communications, Juliette made the decision to quit and study graphic design at L’Ecole des Gobelin. We love that she broke away from the status quo and had the courage to return to her first love—art. The rest is history. Beginning with her cutting artworks, a series of layered vinyl portraits, and eventually moving on to porcelain sculptures, comprised of eggs, busts, and hybrid creatures, Juliette is definitely an artist to watch.

In 2007, Juliette had her first solo exhibition in a London art gallery. “I was so young… It seems so far away now, and telling this makes me take conscious of how my work has changed these last few years, and how my approach and vision have evolved,” she said. “But this was definitely who I was at this time, as a young self-taught woman beginning with art.” 

Drawing inspiration from designers like Alexander McQueen and Jean Paul Gaultier, Juliette’s first showcase featured her cutting artworks displaying high fashion portraits of women. For each piece, Juliette hand-cut and superimposed several layers of vinyl onto plexiglass. A process which took tens to hundreds of hours to complete. She spent ten years of her life perfecting this labor-intense technique. However, she no longer practices it since falling in love with porcelain.

Juliette focuses on female identity and the representation of women in modern society in much of her work. Her cutting artworks were referential pieces, inspired by feminine figures within the history of art, mythology, and nature. It follows that women remain a central theme within her porcelain artwork as well. 

Her hybridized porcelain creatures, with flora and fauna elements invading the human figure, not only push forward authorship of women’s representation in art, but also explore the relationship between humanity and nature, the cycle of life and death, and balance brought through contrast. This delicate line between creation and destruction is where Juliette chooses to dance, thriving with her thought-provoking pieces. Her works are engaging not only in the way they evoke these concepts. But also in the way they cause the audience to question the sustainability of life overall.

Platycerium porcelain bust with horns and blue veins running over it by Juliette Clovis
Platycerium by Juliette Clovis

A piece titled Platycerium functions as the perfect example to highlight the themes she often repeats in her work. Created especially for “Gaïa Reborn; a future utopia,” an exhibition at Berlin’s URBAN NATION Museum in 2019, the piece takes its name from a special type of fern. Playcerium grande, Platycerium bifurcatum, Platycerium coronarium—all ferns within the Platycerium genus—are known for their uniquely-shaped fronds mimicking a staghorn. It is a playful name, for this porcelain bust displays several hornlike growths sprouting in delicate curves above its head. Within this piece, humanity and nature coexist in a fraught, tense relationship. “Flora elements like flowers and ferns totally invade the human face of my bust, as if it is going to kill the body. But actually, human and nature are muting together to create a new hybrid living being, living in symbiosis.” Through this piece, Juliette captures a wild beauty.

Juliette has been curating a thoughtful approach to her porcelain artmaking process for several years. And one of her most recent creations, Manis Tétradactyla, sets itself apart from her other pieces not only by its huge size but also by her new approach to this process. In contemplating the piece’s continuity within her last few years of work, Juliette told us that “this sculpture marks a new step.”

Seeing the magnitude of Manis Tétradactyla and the extensive detailing in each of her creations, we asked Juliette how long it takes her to create her porcelain sculptures. “It is always very hard to answer this question because, in art, you have three types of time,” she said.

First, there is a time of reflection and inspiration. This is the intellectual part of the process, where she cultivates the idea that she wants to bring to life. Second, there is a time of creation. This is where Juliette draws drafts of the sculptural model. Where she begins to shape her imaginings and daydreams into a three-dimensional realm. Finally, there is a time of execution. Having decided what she wants to produce, she realizes it into existence.

Ultimately, she responded, “I can’t really answer this question”. However, to give a better idea of the time and dedication required for her process, let it be known that merely the execution period of Manis Tétradactyla took four months.

Manis Tétradactyla giant snake like porcelain sculpture by Juliette Clovis at the Grand Palais, Paris, 2019
Manis Tétradactyla by Juliette Clovis at the Grand Palais, Paris, 2019

Exhibited May 2019, during the biennial Révélations at the Grand Palais, Manis Tetradactyla is a writhing mass of scales, like the coiled head of Medusa lying in wait. “[It is] the biggest and most challenging artwork I have ever made,” Juliette said. It is comprised of seven-thousand white porcelain scales, all handmade. Some scales are enamel, some biscuit, but all are different sizes to create the sensation of several coiled snakes lying in wait. Her mastery of the medium is evident in the way she perfectly captures movement in this piece.

“Other hybrid creatures even larger, in sculpture forms, but also installations, are in progress and will come soon,” says Juliette. At Love Happens, we definitely cannot wait to see all of Juliette Clovis’s future creations.

Words by Alexa Jennelle

Article Originally Appeared in Love Happens Volume 4

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