The plywood becomes a tree again; Its panels the forest. Once again time is suspended. What ended and died in darkness did not draw any precise outline. These were only ephemeral and fleeting apparitions.
Zoé Ouvrier’s world is inhabited by forests, rhizomes, birds and trees where branches and roots share the same space. The shapes are organic and asymmetrical; each meticulously sculpted panel exudes a sense of calm and balance, at the same time refined and minimalist.
She explains that her work is both rooted in woodcut traditions that date back several centuries and her own discovery during her studies at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts in Paris that the wood block used to create the print was ultimately the material she felt the strongest connection with. The matrix actually became the end product. She was moved by the texture of the wood and felt a deeper, more tactile connection with the material. She does not claim to have discovered a new technique but rather to have modified and adapted it to her vision.
As soon as I started sculpting it all made sense. My gesture gave meaning to life. I replaced the tree in its original element and gave it the opportunity to express itself.
I meet her in her Parisian studio. Projects are underway, including several commissions. She creates individual panels as well as large partitions and furniture. One particularly gorgeous piece can be seen on her website. It is a cabinet cast in liquid bronze. Several orders for luxury hotels in France and Asia are also spectacular. She mostly works alone, but when commissioned pieces are monumental, she must assemble a team, often art students who benefit from the experience of helping the artist complete her vision.
She begins each project by drawing it first. She then reproduces it on the wood using chalk and then begins to carve. The work is meticulous but at the same time physical. She gets lost in the rhythm of the sculpture, which becomes a daily meditation. The time spent on each piece is incalculable. She has spent more then 20 years perfecting and mastering this technique.
I draw the ribs of the wood with a knife. Cutting out the flesh feels like I am giving life. My work brings me back to the world of my childhood. Stripping down the trees takes me to the idea of fire. At the gestation of the earth, at the appearance of the bodies. I identify with wood as though skinned myself. Carving into the wood brings me back to the matrix of life and to humanity.
Her work is reminiscent of the Art Nouveau movement at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. The artists of this movement were inspired by natural forms, seeking to break the distinction between fine art and applied arts through craftsmanship and fine materials. The panels also remind me of Japanese ukiyo-e prints where space is flattened and there is no illusion of depth. I admire this exquisite work which fulfills both an artistic vision and an aesthetic demand seeking to embellish everyday life.
After living and working in Paris for many years, Zoé recently moved to the south of France with her family, thinking she would be making round trips to Paris but the Covid crisis hit and she has become grateful to be surrounded by nature and the light of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, far from the challenges that Parisians have to face these days.
Zoe's work has been exhibited around the world, in art galleries and in major exhibitions. She is currently exhibiting at Method & Concept in Naples, Florida with her husband, artist and designer Arik Levy in an exhibition titled Beyond Nature. This is the first time that her work is exhibited in the United States.