June 21-27, 2003
France-Amérique interviews Sylvain Chopard, the superintendent at the French Consulate in New York, who is also a talented artist, a discovery he made in the United States. His works will be on view at the Consulate in July and August.
New York – Superintendent at the French Consulate, Artist on His Own Time
THE OIL PAINTINGS OF SYLVAIN CHOPARD
By Catya MARTIN
A self-effacing man, Sylvain Chopard is a painter unaware of his talent. He is having his third exhibition but insists on not being called an artist out of modesty, considering himself an amateur who has never learned the rules and techniques of great artists.
He ends his sentences with, “I’m not a student of art history, my paintings are instinctual.”
He says repeatedly he is self-taught and apologizes.
Sylvain’s instinct, nevertheless, is more than perfectly honed. He knows how to express emotion and convey feeling through paintings that are arguably sincere. The lines are flawless, the technique beyond question. A married man and the father of a 2-year-old, Elianna, he thinks of himself as a Sunday dilettante, but his painting and the caliber of his work defy that simple classification.
He paints as he lives. If he’s happy, his painting is joyful. If he’s sad, he’ll throw out a dozen canvasses before finding the right one. He paints like a true artist, putting heart and soul into his work. He likes to say he “paints for people.” But for him, painting is “a great way to find yourself, to recharge your batteries.”
His favorite subject matter is nature, and the sea—he did after all spend 25 years of his life in the French Navy. Many of his canvasses depict seascapes and ships.
One detects few references to the past in his work. He considers himself close to the Impressionists and a loyal disciple of Monet, Gaugin and even Soutine. His work includes a good many still lifes and bucolic landscapes, and his preference is for oils.
Sylvain came to America five years ago, unaware of his hidden talent. The first realization came one day when he was sailing off the coast of Florida and turned into a consuming passion.
With his wife’s encouragement, he held his first exhibition--with three paintings. Then he moved to New York, taking a job with the French Consulate where he brings a firm hand to the management of the entire building stock owned by the French State. New York was the galvanizing force for Sylvain. It was the city’s cultural life that spurred him to paint and especially to come to accept himself as a true artist. Here he feels surrounded by his passion. He says it’s important to him to be in a place with the broadest possible exposure to culture. He went on to hold his second exhibition, a more substantial one, at the French Consulate in 2001.
Somewhat intimidated initially, he is beginning to acquire a certain maturity that is visible in his works. Lacking real-life country around him, he decided to “paint in his head” as a way of keeping hold of the inspiration that comes to him from the sea and the country. Whenever inspiration fails, he tramps round museums and galleries in quest of ideas. He never copies a work. It’s perfectly natural, he says, to be inspired by a painting or by another artist but he then reworks an idea to produce a completely different, very personal work. “The idea you start with changes beyond recognition. I rework everything so often that I end up with a work completely opposite to the idea.”
Asked about his plans for the future, and his dreams, he replies humbly, "To be an artist and not to have to answer to anyone.” But concludes, yet again, that being unknown and never having studied art, he cannot be an artist! His paintings, hanging in many of the Consulate offices, are his children. He likes going round to see and touch them, explaining, “I feel really torn up when the paintings leave. I’d like to know where they are, but still I’m happy when one goes. Not for the money but because it tells me that someone liked what I’m doing.”
Sylvain has the support of French Consul General Richard Duqué who is giving him another opportunity to bring his work to the attention of the New York public with a second show at the Consulate during July and August. The exhibition will feature oils and some pastels. Sylvain Chopard will have the opportunity to prove to everyone, but perhaps most importantly to himself, that an amateur can also belong to the ranks of artists and painters without necessarily graduating from one of the prestigious fine art schools.
The exhibition runs from July 3 to August 31
French Consulate General
934 5th Avenue
(between 74th and 75th streets)