Interview: Fabien Merelle


October 31, 2013 | BY Hong Kong Tatler

Our guest columnist Joanne Chan talks to artist Fabien Merelle, the Parisian artist behind Pentateuque

Turning a location into a destination is no easy feat. But Hong Kong did it organically by being known the world over as the City of Trade. With trade comes money and with money comes art. For the last few years, Hong Kong has steadily increased its art offerings with the likes of Art Basel Hong Kong, the Andy Warhol exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, the Opening of Oi! in North Point, the Rodin exhibition at de Sartre gallery (one of the sculptures the size of a palm was valued at USD7 million), the amazing curation of the Christie's exhibition, and Le French May just to name a few. But what may have been the most excitable and buzz-worthy exhibits to come to town were those outdoors – from the inflatable poop at the West Kowloon Cultural District to the Rubber Duck anchored outside Harbour City and Pentateuque in Statue Square.

Pentateuque by Fabien Merelle, Courtesy of Edouard Malingue Gallery

Over a dinner hosted by gallerist Edouard Malingue, I had the pleasure of meeting the mastermind behind Pentateuque, Fabien Merelle, who spoke to me about his life, his work and his inspirations.

Joanne Chan: Tell me about yourself.
Fabien Merelle: I grew up near Paris and had a very pleasant childhood. I always had a fascination with drawing growing up. As a child, I kept a drawing diary as my way of expressing myself. I never wait for inspiration to come to me, I just continue working and practicing – drawing is like a sport to me. On a regular day, I work at my desk for 10 hours.

JC: How did you go into art?
FM: I love art and decided to pursue a degree at L'école des Beaux Arts in Paris. It happened very naturally. Even if I had not pursued a career as an artist, I would still be drawing. I have a need to draw. Many people think that the pleasure comes from doing exhibitions, but for most artists it actually comes from creating our works. 

JC: How did your parents react to your decision to enter into L'école des Beaux Arts?
FM: My father was pretty happy when I got accepted but my mother was worried. She did not know what being an artist would entail and where it was going to lead me. Luckily, she did not strongly object my decision.  

JC: Where do you find inspiration?
FM: I am very a curious person to begin with and find daily life very rich and full of inspirations.

JC: How did you start working with galleries?
FM: When I finished my studies in Paris, I received my diploma without distinction or honours, so I didn’t get any offers from commercial galleries immediately.
The director of the school believed in me and proposed my works to a non-profit organisation called "Premier Regard" that promotes young artists to the general public.
On the night of the vernissage to the public, as luck would have it, many of those who attended were big collectors and all my works were sold. After that, I received offers to work with galleries and to produce commissions, etc.

JC: Can you describe your education at L'ecole des Beaux Arts? 
FM: At L'école des Beaux Arts in France, they do not teach you technique, they teach you to work continuously and learn by trial and error. Going to art school also means constant judgment. It is very easy to become discouraged and if you do not receive a distinction and you wish to become an artist, it takes incredible determination and confidence to continue to draw, create and remain in the industry.

JC: You spent six months at the Beaux Arts School in Xi'an in China. How was that experience? 
FM: China is the complete opposite of France and students did not work autonomously. At the Xi'an Beaux Arts School, the professor would demonstrate stroke by stroke how something is being drawn in the beginning of the week. For the rest of the week, we copy. The closer your painting resembles that of your professor, the 'better' your artwork is supposed to be. The professors teach you a technique and students need to know the technique by heart. It was both a positive and negative experience for me. Positive because you know what needs to be done. Negative because if you can’t achieve what’s expected, you lost hope.

JC: What make you tick?
FM: Holidays! I have a very young daughter and holidays mean I get to spend more time with her. It is rare that I have moments when I am not working.

JC: I wish ... 
FM:That at the end of my life, I can look at my works without blushing too much.