After having happily indulged in a few weeks of travel, I return with a post on a Belgian artist, one of the country’s proudest assets, Jean Michel Folon (1 March 1934–20 October 2005).
I was thrilled to become acquainted with his work last week when I was taken to his fabulously unusual museum in the Uccle region of Brussels.
A strong thread of continuity runs throughout his ouevre – though he experimented with many different mediums – sculpture, watercolour, etching, and collage namely. His work appears innocent and playful, much of it illustrations for stamps (never much of a draw for me until I saw these!), prestigious journal covers, posters, his images for human rights, (in particular Amnesty International) and books.
One of my favourite exhibits located in the small courtyard garden of his museum is a wonderfully unique bronze sculpture of a man holding an umbrella made of flowing water – ingenious! The museum is situated in an old whitewashed farm house, in the extensive grounds of a grand chateau. The inside was Folon’s own creation, an art work in itself. Visitors enter through a giant book in the ‘library’ which opens after one has watched a short video of Folon painting. The museum continues in the same inventive strain and is quite an experience.
I sincerely enjoyed watching the many short clips of his paintings in progress, not focusing on him but only on his paintbrush and paper. We found it both soothing and fascinating to watch the forms and colours gradually come to life on the white canvases. These videos had the positive effect of making me want to go home and paint myself, and I can imagine that Folon’s museum has been a source of inspiration for many.
He was a dedicated water colourist, believing it to have more life and spontaneity than other types of paint. He says that he loved to watch the colours ‘marrying’ on the canvas. His works are gentle, but not boring, with an ever present quirkiness, a very Belgian quality. He was particularly fond of illustrating a man with a hat, and birds, the latter seeming to represent freedom for him. This solitary man seems at times lonely, and in other situations content; there is a beautiful painting of a man sitting on the sea shore, the waves lapping at his feet, the sun sinking in the sky. In it there seems to be represented a deep rooted unity between man and nature, as though all in the universe were one.
This image for Amnesty International must surely represent freedom, and yet its imagery also reminds me of the Greek myth about Icarus, whose father Daedalus had crafted him a pair of wings so that he could escape from a prison in Crete. Neglecting to follow instructions Icarus flew to close to the sun, and the wax holding the wings together melted and Icarus met with a nasty end.