Philippe Cramer with his “Gong” mirrors (2007) at Sotheby’s. In the background, a Jungfrau embroidered with gold thread (2011). Photo by Lucien Fortunati

A conversation with Philippe Cramer

❝ Indeed, one of my distinctive traits is having chosen to simultaneously take on various roles within the creative world. Early in my career I was working as a freelance furniture designer. I encountered disappointments whenbrands altered my designs during the production phase, which distorted the artistic integrity of the work. I quickly realized that the best way to achieve the desired outcome was to control the entire development chain of a piece. This starts with the artistic gesture – the initial sketches – then translating these into execution plans, followed by numerousvisits to the craftsmen during the making of the piece. This path is more labor-intensive than to simply focus on the creative part, but it is essentialfor me to take control of the whole process andthus offer work that fully embodies my artistic intentions. This commitment is also present in my choice to work with Swiss artisansto support the local economy and participate, in my own way, in revitalizingandin some cases even reviving the craftsmanship that is disappearing in Switzerland and Europe. For example, I am currently working on projects with gilders, fine stone sculptors and engravers, traditional mirror makers, metal foundries and a cabinetmaker specializing in solid wood sculpture.
I also explore rare techniques and have employed one of the last gold thread embroiderers, a profession that might no longer exist in a few years if the general interest for her craft wanes.

I have the unusual trait of being an artist who lives in his intimate bubble during the creative process and who opens to the world during the production phase of his designs.

I also often handle the sales process. This may seem counter intuitive as artists typically delegate sales and negotiations to their gallerist, but it allows me to choose my clients so that my work does not fall into speculative hands but into those of true lovers of art and craftsmanship. ❞

❝ A few years ago, I chose to stop defining my work and my style. I leave that to the scholars. These definitions will naturally form with time. I follow the footsteps of the Renaissance Humanists, driven by a thirst for knowledge and an interest in a multitude of subjects that I incorporate into my artistic work. Moreover, I practice fine art, object and furniture design, jewelry, and scenography. My work includes notions of botany, reflections on industrial and artisanal production, references to Antiquity and para-Western civilizations, the world of dreams, archaic symbols, and mythological stories. My creativity is in constant evolution: every trip, encounter, or piece of written information leaves traces of knowledge within me that, in one way or another, nurture the genesis of my art.

When encountering my work,the passer-by can choose among several levels of interpretation, whether enjoying the sensations that the piece awakens in them through sight and touch or by delving deeper toimagine stories through the referencesor memories that the work evokes. If they wish, they can also learn about the inspirations behind my creations by reading the text I write about each piece, a sort of ode in prose that narrates my creative journey. ❞

❝ Nothing comes from nothing. So much has already been explored, thought about, and diagnosed. The artist is not there to invent. He translates, interprets, and proposes. Therefore, he must be attentive and receptive to everything around him. Inspiration can arrive like a sudden breeze. Sometimes it is unexpected, light or brief, sometimes soft and enveloping, sometimes dry and hard. It is precisely because of our difficulty in defining and capturing moments of inspiration that it seems so magical to us. And this is also what makes me liken inspiration to a form of spirituality.

Inspiration is elusiveand mysterious. Like love, some spend their entire lives searching for it. ❞

❝ I have no definitive vision of modernity and am not seriously interested in what is popular in contemporary art or design. They are in perpetual evolution, and it often feels like they have been tossed in a washing machine drum: you end up with the same elements but with new folds each cycle. This phenomenonis normal. It is therefore important to be aware of it and thus focus your attention elsewhere.

The word “design”, initself,isnot very elegant. Both its spelling and the nasal sound of its pronunciation are displeasing to me. Its meaning is emptied of substance as the word is being overused. It is mostly cherished by marketing directors targeting a population thirsty for novelty. Everything that is “design” today is destined for obsolescence. This contributes to issues of overconsumption, environmental problems, and the futile race toward what some call “progress.”

Of course, I am not impervious and do not live in a cave away from all information channels, but I try as much as possible to focus on humanizing and emotional abilities like joy, empathy and wonderment. ❞

❝ We are all perpetually subject to our emotions. In general, we try to hide them for fear of being perceived as fragile. For an artist, provoking emotionbyusingstrong imagery is relatively easy. What is difficult is to evoke a positive sentiment.

It is also interesting to note that the tendencyin contemporary creation is to arouse conflicting, sometimes even negative feelings in the viewer. We are made to believe that uncomfortable emotions will incite us to reflect, critique or introspect, and consequently appear intelligent and evolved.

I adhere to the school of thought that this mechanism of creative construction ultimately only doubles the daily stress that besieges us. As an artist, I seek to offer moments of respite, pleasure, even ecstasy to the viewer.

To generate positive emotions, it is necessary for artists to engage the public, show interest in them and let them know that together we are working to shape our common future.The public’s participation is essential and that is the reason I am happy to have my creative space open to the public. Anyone can visit my studio, which opens onto the street, to experience and share their appreciations of my work. ❞

❝ When I founded my studio, I was strongly connected to natural and traditional materials. Perhaps this was linked to the advent of the new dematerialized and technological world that was emerging (I founded the studio in 2001). I later discovered that I was part of a handful of artists scattered around the world who began to think about a return to natural materials, artisanal production, and establishing themselves in secondary cities, not necessarily known for being hubs of creation, like Paris, London or New York. This process was instinctive, and it is telling to see that today so many contemporary studios work with these materials and themes in cities off the beaten path of creation.

The renaissance of craftsmanship in our Western countries is now an integral part of any product development, including by major groups, and can be found in the work of many contemporary artists.

Concurrently, fascinating studies are being conducted on highly sophisticated elements that incorporate cutting-edge technologies to manufacture cyborg materials. These new materials will possibly soonbe shaped by artisans, even in remote areas, to create the products of tomorrow.

These communicating vessels are important in art as in life, and it is part of our role as creatives to shed light on the possibilities they offer. ❞

❝ The world is overwhelmed by mass-production, an approachthat had itspurpose. We now realize that the resources used are not inexhaustible and that if we must think intelligently, we must think about local manufacturing done with indigenous materials. Handcrafting items and the sourcing of regional materials confer to the final product a distinguishing uniqueness. This philosophy should be applied to art production as much as to everyday items.

The “Swiss Made” label remains a reliable value, and until today no other country can compete with this formidable trademark. This unique trait is due to the expertise and dedication of skilled professionals who prioritize the love of exceptional craftmanship above all else. ❞

Cramer + Cramer – Rue de la Muse 8 – 1205 Geneva, Switzerland – +41 22 321 48 12

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