If, since the dawn of time, the question of beauty has remained one of life’s great mysteries, its magic and simplicity are confirmed whenever confronted with its presence. In this special report, we feature five beauty specialists, each one unique. Through their talent, technique and inspirations, they all have the power to transcend material reality to make us feel differently and dream. Talking heads.
What could be simpler than a circle; and yet what could be more extraordinary than this perfect shape which is merely an everlasting beginning. This is the subject chosen by Zhou Yiyan, with power and finesse.
Having qualified in art and design in Shanghai, Zhou Yiyan went on to study fashion in Paris and became a stylist. She could quite easily have spent the rest of her days as a fashion designer, had two discoveries not transformed her world forever. Porcelain first of all, at the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres, a pure and soft material, and a source of fascination from the very outset. And secondly the circle, which she discovered when flicking through a book. “I was frozen to the spot at the sight of a photo featuring simple bamboo circles entwined. I could see elements of Chinese culture, where the symbol of the circle features prominently. And very soon I was struck by an irresistible urge to create porcelain circles”. After a period of trial and error, the time to find the right porcelain and more importantly, to lose her fixation with the perfect form. “It was an arduous journey, but I was finally able to embrace the imperfections, accidents, flaws, cracks and anomalies that come with the choice of the shaping technique, which is relatively rare in the silky-smooth universe of porcelain.”
“I was finally able to embrace the imperfections, accidents, flaws, cracks and anomalies that come with the choice of the shaping technique.”
It took four years for Zhou Yiyan to quite literally go round in circles, focusing on installation, sculpture or more intimately, though no less compelling, jewellery. Over time, other materials have found their way into the young artist’s repertoire, including brass, clay and bronze in particular, which she combines with porcelain to establish a narrative between grace and power, modest white and conquering shine. But in her eyes, her favoured subject has lost nothing of its appeal, enhanced over time by new symbolic dimensions. For the circle is about new beginnings, but also connecting with what ties us to our loved ones and humanity as a whole, transcending time and distance. A haven of peace, sheltered from the world’s cacophony and the harshness of our brutal world, like a fragile circular dance to which we are all invited to take part.
For five decades, Gottfried Salzmann has been developing a unique artistic sphere, where he combines the fluidity and elegance of watercolour with an acute photographic perspective capturing the tiniest detail. With cityscapes as his universe of choice.
Born in Austria 76 years ago, Gottfried Salzmann has resided in Paris since the 60s. It was also around this time that he discovered watercolour, one of his preferred creative mediums. “It was at the Tate Gallery and I came face to face with Turner. I was so overwhelmed that I wanted to try my hand at watercolour.” The years that followed saw the painter perfect his artistic language and survey the rural landscapes that he delights in transforming, exploring every aspect of watercolour, layer upon layer, wash after wash, the subtle alchemy of paper grain, ink and water. In 1983, Gottfried Salzmann was on a trip to New York for a solo exhibition of his work, when he discovered the Big Apple from on high. “It was quite a shock and I immediately tried to transcribe my impressions onto canvas. Initially, the first fruits of my labour seemed in the main depressing. It was only on my return to France that I decided there was possibly something of interest in the work I had produced in New York.
“It’s just details, yet these very details make the world a beautiful place, when we accept to change how we perceive the every day.”
” And since that time, he has never stopped painting cities, cityscapes in particular, where he enjoys exploring the pace and superpositions of plans, in a flourish of vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines which pulsate in the space. “I am also interested in the passage of time and how it influences the play of light on buildings, the multitude of reflections which cloud our perception, imparting a certain fluidity to the mineral landscape. It’s just details, yet these very details make the world a beautiful place, when we accept to change how we perceive the every day.” Far from limiting himself to a single technique, the artist willingly turns to acrylics, photography and even collage to express the poetry of the urban jungle or the Normandy beaches, where he now spends much of his time, with his vigilant gaze and an open heart.
His grandfather a painter, his father Artistic Director of Chanel Perfume, for Charles Helleu, his lens is his chosen creative medium. Specialising in still life photography, he excels in the art of breathing magic into everyday objects.
How would you define beauty?
For me, beauty is a quest. Only in nature can we see true beauty in all its simplicity. The rest of the time, this quest for the absolute is constantly evolving.
“Harmony and beauty provide sustenance for the mind and soul, and nothing is more beautiful than being able to share this gift.”
What relationship do you have with beauty?
It’s a long story, involving our family first of all. My father, and my grandfather before him, passed on a legacy of beauty through their work and outlook. I’ve developed an eye for beauty from an early age and it then became my profession. It was still life that got me into photography. I am now fortunate enough to be able to make a living from what I love and it is now my turn to pass on this taste for beauty to my children, helping them develop their ability to see the world around them in a different light. Harmony and beauty provide sustenance for the mind and soul, and nothing is more beautiful than being able to share this gift.
What is your creative process? How do you reveal the beauty of the products you are asked to feature?
It’s fascinating making a bottle look magical! But I am not a one man band; a creative team takes care of some of the work, placing words on the object to enhance the overall effect. Then it is up to me to bring substance to the text with my perspective, technique and ever-heightened curiosity.
In just over 50 years since it was established, this British jeweller has successfully appended his name to the world’s largest, most beautiful gemstones, which are transformed at his touch into exceptional pieces.
Extraordinary diamonds exist of course, displaying unparalleled purity and eye-wateringly impressive size (1,109 carats precisely for a raw diamond named Lesedi la Rona). Talented jewellers too, capable of transforming these precious stones into sumptuous pieces of jewellery. But perhaps what is most beautiful about Graff, is the House itself. This British establishment is the fruit of an extraordinary story of endeavour, commencing in 1960 with Laurence Graff. At the time, he was a young man aged 22, who had come from nowhere, yet with plenty of experience under his belt: apprentice jeweller at the tender age of 15 and entrepreneur at 18. But the real turning point was a single ring he created, inset with 33 tiny diamonds, when others would have created 33 small rings. Sold in the blink of an eye, this first exquisite piece gave young Graff the confidence he needed. From this point forwards, he would continue to create increasingly spectacular pieces, showcasing a larger range of precious stones, augmenting time after time both in size and quality.
This ability to detect the sheer wonder in a gemstone, and transform the raw form into unique pieces of jewellery.
Hugely talented, he went on to build a family empire, spanning every aspect of the jewellery trade, from sourcing gemstones in the mine to selling them in Graff’s own luxury stores. He is the unique exception in an otherwise fiercely segregated sector, where handling raw materials is usually an industry in itself, commanded by diamond dealers who in turn have no involvement in the finished product. But it is precisely the ‘brut’ that has always set Graff apart, this ability to detect the sheer wonder in a gemstone, and transform the raw form into unique pieces of jewellery, relying on the expertise and passion of his team, in an approach not dissimilar to that of a Champagne House. And it is perhaps this daring approach that has enabled the “King of diamonds” to propel his brand onto the world’s most sought-after avenues, including Paris’ own pinnacle of chic, rue Saint-Honoré, which for several months now has housed the most impressive Graff store to date. Making the City of Light shine even brighter…
Graff – 237, rue Saint-Honoré – 75001 Paris
Urban art is your preferred medium. Why are you particularly interested in this art form?
Public space is a source of freedom, paving the way for unfiltered art. In fact, the people who discover the work of the artists I represent are not conditioned by the confines of a gallery. What I appreciate is that art in situ has the power to touch everyone, including those not necessarily accustomed to seeing works of art, who think that art is not for them. From an artist’s perspective, the urban space is an amazing source of inspiration. Places give art a context, rough edges and surprises, and possibilities for dialogue on which to play ad infinitum.
It is often said that contemporary art, and to a greater extent urban art, is at odds with beauty. What do you think?
You only have to consider how frequently this art form is rejected. But it’s only a knee-jerk reaction linked to the fact that this type of art is associated with defacing public property. As far as beauty is concerned, it’s not something I’m worried about. Art has long since broken free from pure aesthetics.
“Public space is a source of freedom, paving the way for unfiltered art.”
How do you make decisions when it comes to art?
What matters above all else is the emotion I feel and the emotional charge I can channel into a work I receive. Neither the work, nor its subject have to be beautiful, just the relationship I form with the art. Finding an unattractive piece of art is an interesting emotion in itself. But what I find most interesting in my work is to go beyond emotion and form an intimate bond with the artist to understand his work. This is really what being a gallery owner is all about.
Galerie Joël Knafo
182, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré