by Leigh Patterson
There are artists that truly require an introduction: it’s the densest, hardest-to-neatly-explain lives that are the most deeply inspiring. Until the last decade, the artist Valentine Schlegel was little-known.
Born in Southeastern France in 1925, Schlegel’s oeuvre is wide-ranging, with a classical art background and output that varied from leather sandals and abstract clay vessels to wooden flatware and her best-known work: sculptural plaster fireplaces (the immovable nature of which is often cited as a reason for her lack of name recognition). Thematically, her work calls on organic abstraction, sensuous curves, and a modernist sensibility toward minimalism.
Schlegel’s art and life were intrinsically intertwined — throughout her career she bounced between Paris and her countryside hometown of Séte, the landscape and pace of which would both deeply inspire her pieces and provide a setting conducive to the inception of large-scale installations. She lived simply, centering her practice on creative independence and the settings that would allow her to both work with dedication and to discover new influences, materials, and creative collaborators.
Schlegel didn’t ascribe to the dogmatic “art world” system and eschewed traditional structure for the raw energy of creativity. Her work ranges in size, subject matter, and medium — work created based on immediate interests rather than the perceived expectations of an audience. Valentine Schlegel’s process embodies the act of cultivating a place and pace that allow one to thrive, however that may look. The narrative is of one’s own construct.