“Marisa and Alain Bégou constitute a completely self-sufficient microcosm within the varied world of artists who have elected, always with a highly personal approach, to use glass as their means of expression.
Their work is, in fact, entirely the fruit of their own labour, from the moment of its conception to the finished product. It leaves their hands, both metaphorically and literally the result of a symbiotic process that unites the two artists in both life and work yet leaves each clearly defined operational role.
Marisa’s task is to devise and compose the decorative motifs and it is up to Alain to incorporate them into each work, to transform the always different assemblies of vitreous materials into pictorial expanses of extraordinary richness and depth.
In essence, their work takes place in two stages. Marisa, operating completely independently, builds up the form and colour of the decoration with a variety of glass powders and fragments, arranging them on a metal plate almost as if it were a sheet of drawing paper.
The plate is then heated and Alain skillfully and quickly rolls the gather of molten glass attached to the end of his blowpipe over the colour composition so that it adheres to and amalgamates with the glass, which is then ready for further working.
The process may sound simple but at every turn something can go wrong that may irremediably compromise the success of the work. It is a question of judging time and movements with absolute precision: too brusque a gesture or just a few seconds’ delay can be fatal.
The problems may arise even before the working process begins. A decoration may appear at first to refuse to meld with the glass but Alain’s years of experience in the Biot and Allex glass factories in the Drôme area enabled him to develop and perfect ways of overcoming every difficulty, of imposing his will over a material which is at best mercurial and sometimes downright treacherous.
The presence of works by the Bégou’s in Venice, at the first “Aperto Vetro” in 1996, introduced them to an Italian public that almost always tend to indentify furnace-made glass with Murano.
Since their début, their work has made its mark not only because of its technical originality, the result of Alain’s superb skills, but also for the singular chromatic harmony of the textures, capable of evoking nature’s most vivid colors and their infinite range of shades.
In their love and respect for glass, Marisa and Alain avoid strange, pointlessly complex forms in favor of simple, linear silhouettes that enhance the innate characteristics of the material and release its full expressive potential.
Thus it is that their creations always evince a clear spirit of research and a sense of progressive, constant evolution in which the size of their wors, that have gradually become more and more imposing, has assumed an almost symbolic significance.
With their almost constantly repeated shape, the works become like great idols emanating multiple-layered messages concerning nature, abstraction or cryptic scripts, which lend themselves to different, personal interpretations.
As works of art, in short, they offer the viewer various approaches to meaning, each one as valid as the others.
In addition, they engage in an intriguing, even ambiguous game with the viewer : in their actual, massive, three-dimensional reality, they resemble fine, airily elegant pages covered with magical, mysterious writing, an invitation to explore, discover and interpret, utterly conventional and unconditional.
Marisa and Alain live and worked in the atelier they established in 1979 and where they share their unreserved passion for glass”
Attilia Dorigato, Curator of the Glass Museum in Murano, Italy
“The creation of blown glass is almost never the work of just one person, and in fact, the pieces are the product of complementary skills and close collaboration of two artists working in an independent studio.
Having discovered an affinity with glass at the Biot glass factory in the 1970s, Alain first learned the blowing technique in a utilitarian context and then set up a studio in partnership with is wife Marisa when she began to contribute her skills as a decorator and colorist.
The artistic intimacy that now informs the conception and creation of each unique piece developed gradually during the 1980s. So their originality is the hard-won result of a long and rigorous apprenticeship.
For several years now, their style has been marked by a formal, sober, monumental simplicity set off by the subtly chosen colours of the decorative scheme.
These colored surfaces generally emerge from an opaque ground, their edges just faintly outlined by the last overlay of clear glass, a pared down and personal interpretation of Venetian “sommerso” glass.
Their taut curves and upward thrusting contours give these imposing monoliths of blown glass a confident elegance.
The principle of a dual faced object, an original, even unique, solution for pieces of this size, enhances the decorative features conceived in this perspective.
The decorative themes, both abstract and narrative, are explored with the use of powdered pigments that have been subjected to an exhaustive process of manipulation and experimentation, testing how they react in the furnace, whether their aesthetic impact and chemical composition change or hold fast. The powdered colors are laid out on a metal plate and adhere to the gather of molten glass as it is rolled over them, before melding and merging on and under the layers of glass as they fuse.
The extraordinary effects thus created positively invite the eye’s exploration but yield nothing to the touch. For me, the fascinating essence of the Bégou’s work lies in the exasperating paradox of the enticingly tactile depth of color and the cold smoothness of the real surface.
They interpret changes in seasons, moments, space, moods and places as violent contrasts, subtle irradiations redolent of fabrics, sophisticated calligraphy, almost figurative images or evocations of minerals.
They work to their own rhythms and each is free to pursue a personal melody preference but every piece shares a unity based on these technical principles and these formal features.
Solid and monumental, their “vases” have a manifest generosity of spirit and subtle equilibrium that places them in the classical tradition started by Maurice Marinot in the 1920s, which subsequently spread right round the world by way of Scandinavia and Venice. A new spring welled up some twenty years ago in Languedoc, where Alain and Marisa Bégou, certainly not isolated but protected, work to the rhythm of their studio of craftsmen artists of the twenty-first century.
Jean-Luc Olivié, Curator of the Decorative arts Museum in Paris
Marisa and Alain Bégou’s workshop just outside Villetelle (Hérault, France), close by the house where they live, is a place which is like them, open and serene. Over the years, they have arranged it so that it responds perfectly to the movement of the daily duet they execute around their furnaces to produce the works they make together. Living side by side for thirty-two years, they have gradually developed a warm companionship which does away with the need for words. Alain is more talkative than Marisa who lets him start telling their story. Then, she listens, rectifies details and makes the occasional comment. Since the time when they met as ordinary workers in the Biot glass works, they have relentlessly forged a path which has taken them to the most illustrious museums in the western world. For others elsewhere, it could have seemed like a fairy tale. But for them it was synonymous with tenacity, daring and talent combined into a determination to prove that nothing is impossible for genuine creative artists. And in fact their work, which is based exclusively on the rules of glass blowing, has with time revealed itself as one of the most personal and accomplished of its kind. He says “it’s owing to her”, she says “it’s owing to him”. But one does not try to decide between them because it really doesn’t matter. Through their work they areas one, for it is the magnificent pieces which come out of their furnace that express a total mastery over matter and the sensitivity of creative imagination.
“In some instances, we realize quickly that we have made an outstanding piece. It’s something that both of us know immediately. When we see that perfect harmony of shape, color and decoration, tension levels shoot up in the workshop. We don’t say a word. We work in silence, worrying that something uncontrollable will happen before the end, in fear of a setback. The suspense is unbearable until the piece comes out of the furnace the next day. Every piece is a risk, especially the ones we are satisfied with.”
Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Louvre, Paris
Musée du Verre, Sars Poteries
Musée du Verre et du Cristal, Meisenthal
Musée des Beaux Arts, Boulogne sur Mer
Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Bordeaux
Fond National d'Art Contemporain, Paris
Musée de la Céramique, Sèvres
FRAC, Haute Normandie, Rouen
Région Languedoc Roussillon
Musée d'Art Contemporain, Nice
Smithsonian Institution Cooper Hewitt, New York
Musée du Verre de MuranoRead more