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Aurele & Ilona: Art that Lasts

Goldrush Magazine's Editor-in-Chief chats with internationally acclaimed artist, Aurèle (of LostDog™ fame) and his wife, the artist, Ilona Delahaye.

Christina Morrison: You’re a family who travel together and many of our readers will relate to that. Do you mind if we ask how you met each other?

Ilona: Aurèle was a very good friend of my brother for many years but I had never met him. When I broke up with my first love I came back to Paris and my brother used to take me for rides to help me change my mind about life and love by introducing me to some new people. He introduced me to Aurèle and for six months I went to his studio with my brother for tea time, once a week. After six months, my brother missed a meeting…and then Aurele and I never left each other from that day onward! CM: Ilona, are you also an artist/creative or is your focus on other areas at the moment? What is it like living with a full time artist?!

Ilona: I do not consider myself as an artist but I am very creative. I do take pictures, write, shoot films…I am feeling myself very lucky to live with such an inspiring person. I mean, I have the chance to escape the usual schizophrenic way of life life that most people endure in society, in which one's personal life and work are expected to be completely separate worlds. Our life and work are ONE, because creativity is everywhere, in every meeting, in every trip ... Living with an artist is learning to see the world differently and that’s priceless.

CM: Do you take your children to art shows when you are travelling?

Ilona: Our children are still young; they are three and four years old, so we do not take them when we are travelling for shows, but we try to open their minds to art while going to exhibitions sometimes. For such young persons, going to the museum in the afternoon, walking in the street and taking the subway is all part of their experience and it's a journey in itself for them. It's always worth the effort too!

CM: Aurèle, you’re identified as one of the greatest Plastician artists worldwide. How important is art for your daily life?

Aurèle: Art is a way of life. It is all my life and my beliefs. It is not possible to measure its importance. It is everything and everywhere.

CM: Do you have any creative insights from your recent visits to Paris you’d like to share? That is, what did you notice in terms of the art (including any public art) that people are exhibiting at this stage in Paris as compared with China?

Aurèle: Sure, what my friend Thomas Hirschorn did at the Palais de Tokyo with “Flamme éternelle” is what I call ART. "Eternal Flame," is an image. These are all flames, burning in the world, so we do not forget a person, an action, an idea, a date...To rekindle the flame of memory, poets and philosophers happens daily in this space and the artist, Thomas, is there every day and is available to chat with visitors. So Thomas was there and was available to people everyday from 12pm to midnight. The only question is, how do you animate the flame? The exhibition is a huge space: 3,000 square meters, with 17,000 car-tyres piled up to eight meters in height, which form the rooms. There are flames, chairs and there await thousands of people who will come and take a seat to debate among these large banners that Thomas Hirschhorn dispersed throughout space and are never completed. For example, I see here on one banner, the words: "Sharing the wealth ..." ' conclude,'..."No democracy without ..." you finish. So it's a way to open a forum for people to be prompted to discuss ideas openly with the artist. The atmosphere captures the following thoughts: Let us seize the chance to comment on all subjects. We protect those who write and reflect. Thinking with them. We participate to animate and rekindle the flame. Thomas Hirschhorn created a situation for encounters to be possible, featuring meetings between artists and writers, philosophers and poets. He created a situation where the philosopher, the poet and the writer can speak where they want to keep the flame of passion, work, ideas, theory, concept and most importantly, he shared this energy for free! There is nothing of this kind in China and I think that China is faraway from this level of open-mindness but they are slowly coming around to it.

CM: Clearly, the Asian art scene is always going to be quite different from Europe’s. The public’s taste is somewhat different. However, Florentijn Hofman’s yellow duck in Hong Kong’s harbour was incredibly popular recently and people in Asia are starting to develop more modern tastes in art. We saw many Hong Kong people enjoying your current installation of two dogs in Tsim Sha Tsui recently near the Peninsula Hotel and there was a definite sense that the public were very happy to see the work and take photos while posing in front of the art you created. Clearly, your work creates a positive atmosphere in the city for children AND adults. So, if you had to identify say, three main differences between the art scene in Europe as compared with Asia, where you’re based, what would those be? For example, are the kinds of art people are buying in Europe very different from the new buyers in China?

Aurèle: To begin with we would say the freedom of speech issue is a major difference between the art world in China as compared with Europe. In China, you clearly cannot directly question some subjects like human rights or politics, however, in Europe we have no problem with that. I would even say that for us, this difference is what makes an artist's work interesting: it's his vision of the time that he lives in.

Then we’d say that the notion of "concept" is quite blurred for Chinese people. The fact that my dog motif is not LITERALLY an actual "dog" per se, but a metaphorical image of our own lives, is difficult to identify for Chinese art fans (who have a very pragmatic vision).

However, on the other hand, as contemporary art is quite new to Chinese people, (as they are just now really building their art culture in a more established manner), the way that they look at artworks is often "innnocent." That’s very refreshing compared with the European public whom are more experienced.

CM: How did the opportunity arise for your work to be on display in Hong Kong? What was the inspiration behind the project?

Aurèle: The fact that we have been living partially in Shanghai for many years created a good network in Asia but it’s actually the French government who selected my project to be part of the French May festival in HK. The inspiration behind the project is that for almost thirty years my work, through the "LostDog" figure, the color yellow and every means at my disposal, has tended to raise people's awareness of the state of emergency in which our world finds itself and the absolute need to react.

Aurèle: As a new millennium dawns we face many challenges and prospects unknown to pre-industrial civilization. What could our cities be like if we took nature as a model? That's the question that triggered everything. Since Nasa's experiments in the 1980s we've known that plants can abate pollution, eliminate benzenes, xylenes, carbon monoxide and glue solvents. The LostDogCo2 sculpture, made up of a selection of a pollution-abating plants, will be a green lung in the heart of cities. I do not claim to change air quality with a single sculpture. My idea would be to gradually improve the quality of our air and to sow hope for a better future with more and more people from different cultures and professional backgrounds joining their forces to create sustainable projects together.

Throughout the ages, artists have come under fire, sometimes rightly, for behaving like actors, constantly adapting themselves to the demands of a fluctuating market and institutions. For me, things are clear. As an artist and a citizen of the world, my work either has a part to play in society and politics or it's not worth a damn.

Like everybody else, I am responsible for what happens in my time and through my work I am lucky to have an audience and influence. My duty is to set an example through actions. (below: Aurele and some of his Lost Dog sculptures in Shanghai).

CM: In Hong Kong, your “Lost Dogs” (yellow and grass-covered, shown below) were standing tall in Hong Kong and had an amazing impact on the community. Was there any difficulty choosing material which could stand up to the outdoor environment? With that in mind, do you have any similar kind of story/is to relate as an artist in overcoming any such challenges?

Aurèle: Actually I had already produced a LostDogCo2 (grass-covered) for the French pavilion during the World expo 2010 in Shanghai. It took me more than a year to develop the project then. So I would say that you have to work hard and be patient to build this kind of project.

CM: In terms of your creativity, who or what is your greatest inspiration? Do you have a procedure you follow and/or routine you undertake when you’re creating art?

Aurèle: My greatest inspiration is my life. I mean that the inspiration can be everywhere. For example, reading the newspaper in the morning, making a new encounter, travelling with my family... When working at my studio, I have to say that I always focus better during the night, but today I have many production sites for casting and working with ceramic and neon, so I often have to adapt myself to “office hours!"

CM: Which era in has had the greatest impact on your creative choices over the years? (For me, in terms of art it's the Renaissance, the Belle Époque, Art Deco and also Helmut Newton's era and as I’ve lived in Japan/China/Hong Kong for many years, I’m always influenced by the gorgeous embroidered silks over here). Which style-eras would you say make an impact on you?

Aurèle: I would say a mix between the mass culture of Pop Art and the political and comitted side of Dada. (below: Special Delivery! Aurele's Yellow Lost Dog sculpture is brought into Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong)

CM:Much ado is being made about “organic” materials in art and “sustainability.” I’m curious to know what both of your viewpoints may be of this issue in terms of how easy it is, or NOT, for artists to realistically included “organic” options in their exhibitions…

Aurèle & Ilona: We do not see any obstacle for artists to realistically include “organic” options in their exhibitions. Indeed, the point is the will and the concept. In art you do not sell a result: you sell ideas and emotions. Through your work, you have the power to open the mind of the visitor to an option you make him wonder about...So the only boundary to do so is your imagination. However, we have to say that we tackled the subject: “The need of Realism and its Impact” in Aurèle’s work. Therefore we produced for the Shanghai World Expo of 2010 the first artpiece which was also an agent of its own message. The point was to say that nowadays, situations require the artist to go further than denounciation. Because he has an audience, the artist has a duty. Aurèle chose to show the example through action.

CM: What are you noticing are some key-trends in art globally in 2016? Aurèle: Yellow color (as shown in the work below, depicting the Yellow Lost Dog which was part of an exhibition commemorating the people of Fukishima, Japan) and footballeur haircut. Goldrush: What else would you say is currently trending? Aurèle: Love and Happiness.

CM: What art trends are you personally expecting to see next year? Aurèle: A global awareness of the state of emergency and the absolute need to react. CM: Do you have a message for young people who are just starting out?

Aurèle: Never give up on your dreams!

CM: You’ve had huge success with various projects including designing for iPhone covers. What can we expect from your art sketchpad of ideas in, say, the next ten years? Are you thinking of any other big plans you'd like to let us know more about?

Aurèle: The LostDogMuseum for sure! It will be a sculpture of my dog but 80 metres high. We already have been making all the plans and quotations and we are in negotiation. This giant "LostDog building" would show everything that human beings in their frantic race to modernity have lost, or are losing. For example, in the dog's head, you will be able to see ice melting in real time. Thanks to this museum, my goal would be to educate people and leave our children a better planet.

CM: Do you believe in past lives? If so, who, perhaps, were you both in past lives?

Aurèle: We do believe in past lives. I was Napoleon and Ilona has been living in Ancient Greece. Seriously. (below: The city of Paris).

CM: Please describe yourselves in five words each:

Aurèle: Passionate, creative, instinctive, honest and faithful. Ilona: Creative, determined, reliable, caring and sensitive. (below: Aurele's sculpture in Hong Kong, plus a portrait of the artist and one of his neon sculptures.)

(above: Neon art by Aurele, inspired by one of his favourite themes, Love.)

CM: In terms of arranging your hectic schedule as a working parents, do you have any tips that you’ve noticed have helped you to develop such a successful life/work balance over the years ?

Aurèle & Ilona: Have a good level of organization; know how to delegate (and thus anticipate) and never be afraid to challenge yourself to become better.

CM: Do you have any upcoming launches, products, or events you'd like to mention?

Aurèle: Coming up will be a monograph retracing my (soon-to-be thirty-year-long) career. The monograph is to be released during the (Northern Hemisphere) Autumn, at Éditions La Différence in the collection “Mains et Merveilles." I am the 27th artist after Arman, César, Zhao Wu a beautiful book. I am very proud! CM: You should be proud! Your art is phenomenal. Congratulations to you both and thanks for chatting with

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