COUPLES: A CONVERSATION
A conversation between sculptor Nicole Farhi and independent curator and art advisor Selina Skipwith.
Selina: Which couple did you sculpt first and why?
Nicole: Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas. I had been interested by Gertrude Stein since I had seen Picasso’s mesmerising portrait of her at the Metropolitan Museum a long time ago. I wanted to find out more about this woman. Through my research I discovered not only about her lifelong love for her partner Alice B. Toklas, (they both lived in Paris from the very beginning of the 20th century), but also how she spent her life challenging the conventions of that time through her belief that art has the power to communicate, in new ways, the changes happening in a modern era.
Selina: How did you decide which couples to do?
Nicole: I thought it would be interesting to look into the lives and loves of women who, despite the constraints of their time, were true to themselves and lived openly in their passion. During this strange year of lockdowns, the thing I have missed most is the intimacy of my friendships with women. Since I was unable to work with models, I decided instead to embark on this series of miniatures; these women became my studio companions. Over the years I had read about the lives of quite a few of them, and when I was telling my friends what I was working on, they all added some names to my list. William Boyd had helped me in suggesting subjects for my previous show of miniature writers’ busts, “Writing Heads”, shown last year as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival at The Fine Art Society, so he sent me some suggestions for “Couples”.
Selina: If you could have met just one of these couples who would you choose and why?
Nicole: That is a difficult question. Everyone I represented lived a fascinating, original and trailblazing life. Many of these women chose to fight against injustice, prejudice and conservatism. What they all have in common is a love of freedom, and above all, of freedom of expression. I could narrow it down to two couples Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier and Marguerite Yourcenar and Grace Frick.
Beach and Monnier met in Paris and fell in love at first sight. They shared the same passion for books, and spent their life sharing their love for literature with others. Sylvia Beach owned and ran the very famous “Shakespeare and Co” bookstore, introducing American and English authors to the French. I love the fact that their life was turned outwards, as their shop and their salon was the community centre for the intellectuals and artists of their time: American, English and French.
For totally different reasons, I would have loved to meet Marguerite Yourcenar and Grace Frick. Their life together was private, much quieter, and defined by work: writing for Yourcenar, translating and teaching for Frick. Whenever I listen to Yourcenar’s interviews I am in awe of the purity and clarity of her style and of her thought. She and Frick, like Beach and Monnier, fell in love at first sight. They lived and worked together for over 40 years. Frick, an American English professor, was the only translator Yourcenar would have during her life.
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