French sculptor Etienne's sculpture The Flight at Raffles City Singapore fits well into the architectural backdrop of the office tower drop-off
French sculptor Etienne’s sculpture The Flight at Raffles City Singapore fits well into the architectural backdrop of the office tower drop-off

If you have been to the newly renovated drop-off of the office tower of Raffles City Singapore, you must have noticed that it is no ordinary drop-off. For the steel structures supporting the glass canopy resemble trees with sturdy trunks and branches, and patterns on the glass panels evoke foliages. What’s more, there is a bronze sculpture of a flight of birds installed on a pond next to the road. Steel, glass and bronze combine to give you a slice of nature – wonderful result of a close collaboration among CapitaLand Singapore’s project and design management team, its consultants and an artist.

Flight of Fancy

Now the birds are the most natural among these man-made versions of nature, and they are the work of French artist Etienne. This sculptor must have studied birds in flight very carefully, so that he is able to distill the essence of their form and movement and re-interpret them most masterfully in this creation. But don’t compare them to real birds. No, Etienne’s birds are not “real”; rather, they are simplified forms and these come across more powerfully than if he were to represent every detail of the real bird: less is more.

Omission is certainly a frequent gesture in Etienne’s body of works. Take for example La Conversation displayed in CapitaLand’s headquarters office. This piece features two persons in conversation and many parts of their anatomy are omitted. That is why I find this work most intriguing: first, it involves the viewers in completing the figures in their own imagination; and second, it seems to embody a hidden message - the two faces are mask with absolutely nothing behind them – you can’t really tell what is going on at the back of people’s mind in a seemingly intimate conversation, can you?

Journey dedicated to Sculpture

I have had the opportunity to meet Etienne in person during working sessions both in France and in Singapore. Because of language barrier we did not have much conversation, but certain things did come across strongly even without any conversation. I can see that this artist with a distinct white-hair and white-beard grandfatherly look is very serious about his work. He is very sure about what he wants to achieve and will attend to every detail to make his sculptures perfect – if there is such a thing as perfection in art.

Born in Grenoble in 1952, Etienne spent his childhood and his youth in France, went to university in Canada and, then went back to France to obtain a degree in plastic arts in Marseille and furthered his studies at the" Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts " in Paris. He used marble, stone and wood for his first works, but soon opted for bronze, the potential of which he really exploited to the full. In 1972, he started exhibiting his works in galleries and later would receive commissions both in France and overseas. One can say that he has dedicated his entire life to the art of sculpture.

Taking Off with Grace

“The Flight” certainly is exquisite piece of work from such a dedicated artist. Its form is simple yet powerful: a flight of seven birds spreading their wings in formation, rising from water to air. The artist thinks that the birds symbolise joy and peace while the sky carries joy and hope. Notice that each bird is of a different size, with the four larger ones tilting their bodies and providing elegant visual contrast to the three smaller ones above them. The sculpture is both static and dynamic.

This work is also extremely well cast, polished and patinated. Despite its scale, it is just as refined as the sculptor’s smaller works. Now Etienne has all along been exploring the chromatic diversity of patina and playing with colour graduation, including the polished finish. We can observe such subtleties in this work.

The image of Etienne’s graceful flight of birds on a pond exudes a dreamy tranquility amidst the bustle of the city. The birds are ready to fly high, so will the viewers’ imagination.

This article is contributed by CapitaLand Chief of Art Management, Francis Wong Hooe Wai