Sat. Oct 1st, 2022

In the serenity of Provence, the light is magical and the Mediterranean fragrances remind Israeli artist-designer, Arik Levy, of his childhood in Tel Aviv. “The light here is so unusual and perfect,” he remarks. “I have more space for myself to create. Paris doesn’t have that. I couldn’t show myself so much work at the same time. Everything was in crates, in storage, in different places, and we had to move half of the studio just to move one thing in or out. We couldn’t bring in big pieces to the third floor, or we had to use piano movers. It was very expensive each time.” So in November 2019, he packed up and left Paris with his wife, fellow artist Zoé Ouvrier, and two daughters in tow to make a home for themselves in the calm of Saint-Paul-de-Vence. They had chanced upon the estate of Sylvie Guillem, a former étoile of the Paris Opera Ballet and the Royal Ballet in London, with its sprawling 12,000-sqm garden on a slope and generous, light-filled studio, in this hilltop village long frequented by artists. The French Riviera is where art, the sun, the sea and the mountains converge, and for the couple, it has everything that they could ever wish for. Although Levy’s subject matter has remained unchanged since moving, having his own sculpture park has changed the scale of his works. Making a four-meter-high sculpture in Paris was complex in terms of production, transportation and storage, but in contrast, the same sculpture looks minuscule in his gigantic Provençal garden.

Pieces are placed by the house, near the swimming pool, in the shade of a circle of trees or suspended from a branch. Finding the perfect spot to position a piece is a challenge in itself. “When I’m making a new piece and I know it’s coming, I walk around the garden,” explains Levy. “Sometimes I find the place, sometimes the place finds me. When it’s clear, it’s clear. If I have a doubt, I don’t put it there. At different times of the day, the garden looks different, so sculptures can be put in different places.” Constructed of slanted, interlocking red wooden panels, “FacetFormation” is held together by a key that if removed, the whole composition would collapse, the key being an essential component that holds together parts of one’s life that would crumble if lost. “CraterStoneCell”, according to Levy, “expresses the invisible spaces of the crater and appears to be like the seed of an unknown fruit or tree. It makes the eye follow the empty spaces and walk the mystery of the unseen. It is an intriguing formation and powerful presence.”

The exploding “RockGrowth” appears as if the rock is sprouting, shifting from mineral to vegetal – a physical impossibility – and thus speaks of the human potential to break through perceived boundaries. “RockStoneFluid” was subjected to an air vacuum process that formed heavy indentations, while the cage-like “RockStoneMesh” with grass visible growing within is in total harmony with nature and speaks of the passage of time. Levy may title his works “rocks”, but they’re not meant to resemble any real stones or boulders. “I call them by whatever kind of metaphor I want them to bring,” he notes. “I use words to start an exchange with people, so when you look at an object and understand its name, you take from your personal and collective memory and your cultural identity. I work by subtraction, not addition. I take off until I find the right balance and harmony, then I give a story, add emotions and social codes. What interests me is not the finished work, it’s what it does, what thoughts, feelings and experiences people can take with them. I’m just an ‘inseminator’ – I plant the seed and then people make the seed grow. When you are an abstract sculptor, the forms you make reflect many different things and can evoke many different feelings. This is how people can evolve with the work itself.”

Like an open-air gallery, Levy’s large-scale sculptures in stainless steel, Corten steel, bronze, marble and wood are embraced by olive, cypress, fig, pomegranate, avocado, mandarin and apple trees, lavender, oakleaf hydrangea, agapanthus, crimson bottlebrush, a vegetable garden, koi pond and beehives growing in the vast luxuriant garden that was originally imagined some 25 years ago by renowned French landscape architect Jean Mus, who’s credited with designing the Côte d’Azur’s parks and gardens. For the first time in his life, Levy is able to live among his own works, while collectors are able to experience his creations in their ideal environment, in permanent dialogue with abundant nature, and envision how a sculpture could function in their own gardens, sometimes buying a piece on the spot.

Today open to the public, by appointment only, the sculpture park easily fits into the buzzing summer art circuit in the south of France, which takes art lovers from the LUMA cultural campus in Arles, Château La Coste art and architecture winery near Aix-en-Provence and MAMO Art Center in Marseille to the Carmignac Foundation on Porquerolles Island, the Domaine du Muy sculpture garden and the Venet Foundation in Le Muy. Now they have a new reason to stop in Saint-Paul-de-Vence before heading off to the museums in Nice and the auction houses in Monte Carlo.

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