Jean-Michel Othoniel is a contemporary artist born to a middle-class family in Saint Etienne in France

. He grew up around coal mines, which he found very monotonous and did not have anything amusing or dreamy. Jean found comfort in Musée de Art Moderne et Contemporain, a small modern artwork museum. In one of the summers, his parents took him to Europe and wandered around all the museums. A few summers, he visited his aunt’s house, where he got attracted to the seductive energy of Spain. The orange groves spread out kilometers woke an artist in him.

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Early Life

Othoniel moved to Paris at the age of 18. He graduated Ecole Nationale Supérieue d’Arts in France in the year 1988. The art school opened new horizons of creativity and imagination in him. It introduced him to diversity. He studied a mixture of creative fields from photography to design, poetry to painting, and sculpting to literature. This open-minded education arouses the curiosity of nature and cultures all around. He is known for his monumental installments, especially with glass. Initially, he worked with materials like sulfur and wax. But he got notable recognition with his glassworks. Othoniel aimed to throw some magic of reenchant the world with delicate and reflecting glass.

‘’I want to seduce you with their beauty and then lead you to other themes’’ – Jean Michel Othoniel

Use of Glass

He started working on glass in 1993. Othoniel found the fragility, transparency, and reflecting properties of glass very fascinating. He believed that glass carried a journey of dark to light during its formation through pure metamorphosis. Othoniel associated himself with fine glassmakers like Murano to explore its properties. He understood when the glass was fragile enough to hold the desired shape. He loved reversible and reflective properties. He thought they added magic to a space. Blown glass was one of the signature materials of Jean Michel Othoniel.

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Design Inspiration

Othoniel took inspiration from nature, history, poetry, and literature. According to him, gardens are a great source of inspiration, questions, imagination, and surprises. His initial works of sulfur and war took inspiration from the works of Jan Hoet. His works were oxymorons of monumentality and intimacy, decorative and delicate, and imagination and realism. He wants his spectators to transfer themselves to another world, leaving behind the complications of life. The public find peace as they wander to rediscover their surroundings. He used minimal and well-known forms that were existed for generations. Bricks and many elements of nature like flowers were a part of it.

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Initial Works

In 1996, imagination and theories came into action. Othoniel started practicing with jewelry-like structures exhibiting emotional geometry. Othoniel’s first commissioned work was for Villa Medici, Rome. He created giant necklaces for the garden and hung them from the trees. The gardens of the Peppy Guggenheim collection, Venice and Alhambra, and Generalife in Granada also adorn this beauty. Jean Michel Othoniel acquired much fame when he reworked the doorway of Palais Royal Metro in 2000 with a double cover of colored glass beads.

Petit Palace

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Othoniel’s one of the most successful exhibits is, without doubt, the one in Petit Palais. It is a universal exposition center and a perfect setting for his whimsical works. The contrasting and dreamy glass exhibits complement and echo the perfection of the architectural masterpiece. The grand stairway at the entrance made of glass bricks endorses the carved stone arch and gilded bronze gate. A whopping thousand aquamarine glass bricks crafted by veterans in Firozabad, India, constituted the stairway. This “blue river” flowed onto sidewalks attracting the passersby inside.

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This exhibition incorporates the narcissus theorem. According to a tale, narcissus was always obsessed with himself and his reflection. The delight in him when he rejoices his image is captured in a central monumental gold lotus. This man flower reflects itself and the world around it. The gold necklaces suspended in the garden completes the exhibit. Othoniel believed that art should not be restricted only to the elite but is for everyone to relish. This principle led to the exhibition being unpaid to everyone.

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Important Works

Since Othoniel got commissioned works, he received numerous opportunities to test and experiment with materials. In 2003, he showcased enigmatic sculptures made of blown glass, jewelry shaped in Crystal Palace. In 2005, he saved a Cuban refugee boat and adorned it at the entrance of the Art Basel Exhibition. It is called Bateau de Larmes or the Boat of tears. Glass beads depicting huge tears decorate the piece.  He empathizes with the crisis by showing cracks on perfect surfaces. Othoniel’s first permanent installation was in 2013. He set up a mammoth heart in bronze beads at the entrance of the Mori art museum. He worked on the redevelopment of the Water Theatre grove in 2014. It was a monumental project that included the installation of 3 fountain sculptures in gilded glass. It was named Les Belle Pansies, meaning the beautiful dances.

Recognition

Over time people in Paris developed a fondness towards his work. A number of contemporary architects consulted Jean-Michel Othoniel. Foundation Cartier presented him with his first solo exhibition.  Several famous brands have commissioned his magic installations, including Louis Vuitton and Chanel. He got appreciation from all over, as his work was unique and one of its kind. Diptyque, a perfume-making company created a new perfume under his name – Othoniel Rosa. Jean Michel Othoniel inspired other artists to explore different materials and showcase their unique talents.

Author

Vismai is a driven student leveraging studies in architecture and a keen observant of fine details in art forms who has had a passion for writing and poetry since forever. Along with sketches, she considers writing as a valuable tool to interpret buildings.

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