The Soulƒood

‘Art has the power to accompany everyone who seeks his place in the infinite’. At the age of 87 , French sculptress Edmée Guyon, believes more then ever that art is a celebration of life.

​(essay follows photos)

To get to Edmée Guyon’s studio in Paris, you have to walk through a narrow hallway that will lead you to a garden full of blooming camellias. She started to plant them 40 years ago when she first moved here and likes to offer a bloom to visitors when they leave. To the right, her sun filled studio. To the left, the space she lives in with her husband Ronald McDougall, a scholar who teaches at La Sorbonne and who has written extensively about his favorite artist, Rembrandt. Their home is bathed in daylight and features plaster casts of Edmée’s work. There is a small bronze on a bookshelf, one of her dearest possessions : an Egyptian cat of the XXVIth dynasty. There are also dried algae and driftwood hanging on the walls, rocks and seashells on shelves. I read an aphorism, written on a small white card in a beautiful handwriting and taped to the wall. It says: ‘Alléger, Assouplir, Purifier, Simplifier, Se déposséder’ which roughly translates into ‘Take it light and easy. Purify, simplify, then renounce all striving.’

Edmée is closer than most to understanding this. This is not because of her age. When Edmée laughs or lets out one of her hopeful ‘Youpie!’, her age becomes irrelevant. Wisdom is acquired through introspection and a constant questioning of our place in the world. This is something that Edmée never stops doing.

‘Know yourself. It is essential to locate one’s own little flame in relation to the immensity of the visible and the invisible. The true moment of our birth is when we look at ourselves intelligently for the first time... Art is always ahead of us, helping us to see beyond appearances, to accept life as a process of transformation, of unveiling.’

I can’t adequately write about Edmée without talking about Ronald. I have never before met a couple that share such a passionate belief in the power of art. Ronald has a gift for putting ideas into words. Edmée creates perfect, beautiful, abstract forms that are then cast into bronze.

There is a strong connection to India where Ronald and Edmée have traveled on many occasions. To Egyptian art discovered at the Louvre whose reproductions now hang in her studio. There is also a strong bond with the sea. They spend many months of the summer in Granville, Normandy in what was once an old school house facing sky and sea. It’s been transformed over the years into a home and studio.

When Edmée tells you about her life, she tells you about her ‘miracles’: the discovery of Egyptian sculpture at the Louvre, the experimental boarding school where she was taught by a sculptress prepared to take her into training. Her recovery from a brain haemorrhage in her forties. Her dream of finding a studio in Paris came true after a ten-year search when the owner gave her priority as a sculptress. The point is that she sees a correspondence between the intensity of a desire and its realization.

‘To resist is to dare to be demanding, to create a life of our own. It is a fight for happiness, a plunge into the depths of our vitality despite the indolence, the sadness, everything that darkens our mind and weighs us down on the surface of life... For Edmée, sculpture is action.’

Edmée has not only found her way as an artist, she has also raised three children, conquered difficulties and lived her life to the full. When I tell Edmée that she is an inspiration and a mentor to ‘younger’ artists she shakes her head with a categorical NO. She is no old sage sitting on top of a mountain. She in the present, living, sharing and creating.

‘It is joy that accompanies us, nourishes us. We will even be able to feel wonder like little children despite the changing fortunes of our lives, if we surrender little by little to the unknown, to a new world of possibilities… In the fullness of the moment, we feel that everything is connected –mind and matter, sensuousness and spirituality - like the wave is at one with the ocean …In the same manner the energy of the infinite spreads through each human being.’

Ronald and Edmée are opposed to the idea that life is an enterprise where we are supposed to succeed. ‘Money and ambition are too often markers of our engagement in the world, but in reality all our actions come at the price of our own lives running through our fingers.’ But each piece that Edmée creates in plaster has to be moulded and then transformed into bronze at great cost and often great struggle. I struggle myself with the knowledge that Edmée’s work hasn't found more recognition. There is much to learn about her passionate quest. But Ronald wants to change that with a book he is writing about her. In December 2018, Edmée had a solo exhibition in Paris.

‘Whatever the talent of the artist, it is tremendous work to achieve this intensity of expression. Brancusi said, "It is not difficult to make things, the difficult thing is to be in the right frame of mind to make them". That is where the complicity of a companion becomes a major advantage.’

All quotations in this text were written by Ronald McDougall.

Written and photographed by Kathleen Finlay 

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