|Detail of the classical mural in the Salon aux Pins, by Pascal Amblard|
Internationally renowned muralist Pascal Amblard has for the last 20 years been painting murals and ornament in hotels, palaces, and elegant homes for an appreciative clientele across Europe and North America. A graceful and intuitive painter whose exuberant work blurs the line between fine and decorative art, Pascal is equally fluid as a generous and patient teacher of his craft, a true painter's painter. He spent many years teaching at IPEDEC in Paris, and is a popular instructor of mural workshops in France, Italy, Sweden, and the U.S. Pascal plans to develop a mural program in his own atelier soon, and we can't wait!
I had been stalking, that is, following, the career of Pascal Amblard for some years when I finally got a chance to meet him at the Salon of 2008, at which time I was (some might say) uncharacteristically tongue-tied as I watched him joyfully fling red paint all over a collaborative mural. For reasons I cannot quite explain it took several meetings over a period of years before I could speak with Pascal as the fellow ornamentalist I knew he must be. Creative, fearless, and inspired, yes, but is he really the humble genius everyone tells me he is?
At last it is my great pleasure to present this interview, in which I tried very hard not to ask any questions that might be too embarrassing, to either of us.
Demeures Peintes: the Book
When news reached our shores that Pascal Amblard was writing his first book, it was anticipated that it would be a technical manual of sorts, for the many decorative painters who look to him for inspiration and support. Or, perhaps it would be a lovely catalogue of his past work. However, to my surprise and delight, the book, Demeures Peintes, Painted Homes, is a lavishly illustrated coffee table book, a spectacular collection of site-specific work created expressly for this publication in some breathtaking architectural spaces. Each project is presented with an analysis of the space, concept sketches, and detailed photographs of the rooms, transformed in unexpected ways. One might favorably compare it to some great trend-setting books of the past: Roomscapes by Renzo Mongiardino, or The Painted House by Graham Rust, but Demeures Peintes is an entirely original examination of the process of designing for the room.
|A peek inside Pascal Amblard's glossy new book, showing the decorated "Library" of a 17th century castle near Lyon. I don't have a coffee table, and I drink tea, but you get the idea.|
Why did you write the book in this way?
There are many books out there that tell you how to paint a mural but, as far as I know, no one has taken real examples in order to show you what happens before you grab your palette and your brushes. How do you create a mural, how do you adapt to a place, how do you find ideas, keep them or question them, how a projects evolves and lives, how do you adapt your technique in relation with your design and with the specifics of the place... all these aspects are fundamental but hardly referred to in mural painting books.
I also wanted to do a book that would please the eye as well as the mind.
How do you think of murals as part of interior design?
Ideally, the space is designed with the plan of having a mural. But more often, the mural comes as a problem solving option and this is more exciting because it forces you to manipulate more elaborate concepts and acquire a deeper understanding of what you do. Besides that, murals have undoubtedly a very particular charm. They are different from a painting because they are bigger than you, just like a film seen in a movie theater is more commanding than the same one seen on your TV.
Painted ornament has the same type of quality. It transforms a room strongly, very efficiently. It can create an atmosphere just by itself, compensate for a lack of balance or a lack of space in an interior, bring light into a dark spot, greenery in an urban environment, originality in a room devoid of personality.
What do you look for in a room when designing something for it?
Each room has a proper soul. I know nothing about feng shui but if you are open you will feel things in a room. Once you sense the logic of the space and understand the taste of its owners you can let ideas come up and make choices. I think you usually have two options to consider, either harmony or contrast.
For the ceiling in the Villa Claudinon, I was into harmony; I just wanted to produce a nice piece of painted decoration that would fit into the room.
|mural in the Salon of Hôtel du Maréchal de Tingry|
When I designed a 7 ft high Hand for the salon of Hôtel de Tingry, I was into contrast; I broke with the convention of the cozy bourgeois interieur and I came up with torn papers glued upon one another showing out of proportions elements.
Which of the projects in this book was your favorite to paint?
Which of the projects in this book was your favorite to paint?
My favorite is the Salon aux Pins. I think it resembles me.
I like a mix of classical and innovative, loose and tight. I have some sort of passion for Italian pines; I think these trees are obviously intelligent. Other trees are pretty smart, too, but I think they cannot be so beautiful without having some kind of strong vegetal awareness. I have always loved painting them and for the first time I could devote a whole room to them. I also appreciate architecture and I think that classical or traditional architecture shows a beautiful sensitivity to natural elements.
Nature is a temple in which living pillars
Sometimes give voice to confused words;
Man passes there through forests of symbols
Which look at him with understanding eyes.
|Salon aux Pins, room mural by Pascal Amblard|
|Salon aux Pins, detail: old paper visible through the paint|
I also love painting quickly in order to avoid the trap of cleanliness that would have frozen the whole thing into formal classicism. I guess it looks like old wallpaper from a distance but when you come close it is quite rough. The idea of letting the underlying wallpaper show through means decoration is not contrary to creativity. There is often more density and depth in objects or decorative pieces than in so-called "Art."
Which space presented the greatest challenge?
The "Library" (in a 17th century castle on the Lyonnais Slopes) It was a difficult to understand room because of the awkward restoration that had taken place in the last century. There was definitely a Renaissance style to it, but it had been watered down. It was really like playing on a piano that is out of tune, and having to invent new chords to make it sound right. On top of that I did the job during a freezing, snowy winter and there was no heating at all in the old castle.
Thank God the farmers who still live on the estate are welcoming and have good liquor!
What has been your greatest breakthrough in doing this work?
During this whole process, I have seen myself instinctively solve problems and make choices that eventually proved to be inspired. I think I am understanding what the word "experience" means even if I do not feel it as my own experience but rather like a capacity to let years of work and practice produce their results through me.
Do you have a favorite or most inspiring mural, or place?
Villa Valmarana ai Nani, near Vicenza, where Tiepolo and his son Giandomenico painted many rooms. The rooms are relatively small and it is really impressive to be so close to such marvelous pieces.
When you stand in front of one of these walls you know that, in this very spot, Tiepolo was physically present. I guess that conceivably some atoms of his body are still in the air and that you can inhale them.
This is a fantastic feeling, some kind of compassionate and loving artistic anthropophagy.
|A Tiepolo-inspired painting by Pascal Amblard|
What would be the ultimate project for you to paint?
All right, let us dream: I would like to meet a client with a pretty big space, walls and ceiling, who would ask me to use a classical language in order to illustrate elaborate contemporary concepts like the ones quantum physics has created and relate them with the intuition that mystics have had for centuries.
This would be big enough so that I could invite all my friends to collaborate. And of course, this client would would love me so much that he would pay all of us very well for the weeks and months this project would take to prepare.
.... After that I would be really famous and I could keep pretending I am humble.[busted!! oh, and don't forget you will need a tall redhead on this dream job!]
|Detail of Pascal Amblard's display at Maison et Object, 2010|
Bonus pictures! In recent years Pascal Amblard’s work has been exhibited at the fabulous Maison et Objet show in Paris. Much of his newer work has been ornamental in style, panels mixing media, scale, periods, and styles, to great effect.
|This recently completed ornamental paneling for a designer showroom in Paris was inspired by the Salon Doré. Gilding by Malek Moussouni.|
You can see more of Pascal Amblard's work at his website and the "behind the scenes" making of his book as well as newer work in progress, at his new blog, also titled Demeures Peintes.
Demeures Peintes by Pascal Amblard, (in French and English) published by Editions Vial, is now available in Europe, and will be sold exclusively in the U.S. via Pierre Finkelstein where a limited number of signed copies are now available.
unless otherwise noted, all photos in this post by and © Pascal Amblard and photographer Yves Inchierman, used with permission