First published: Spring 2011
Jean Dubuffet described Henriette Zéphir’s finely-worked ensembles of netting, intertwining slender lines, watercolour, and India-ink embroideries, trimmed with gold braid, as ‘guipure lace’ (lace darned onto a framework of knotted netting).
For Zéphir, who by no means thinks of herself as an artist, these drawings are the traces of ‘energies’ that ‘they’ order her to put down on paper. Consequently, she does not feel herself to be their creator, nor does she claim to be. While she has no choice but to trace out their guiding lines, compose their structure and add colour, neither the intention nor the initiatory impulse are her own. As she says, they are ‘commissioned’. They are translations of energies on the move, struggling to reach a higher plane: as a spirit guide, she helps them on their way. These drawings, as our language refers to the result of such pictorial activity, ‘do not come from’ her. Rather, they are a momentary trace of ‘what passes through’ her.
Because she has no claim of ownership to them, she cannot do with them what she pleases. Consequently, when Jean Dubuffet discovered her in 1965 and asked her to sell him some of the works, he put her in a rather awkward situation.
She told him that because the drawings were created under the orders, guidance, and control of a ‘guide’, they were not for sale. Dubuffet persisted and, after turning to her guide for advice, Henriette Zéphir agreed to sell him some 20 works. They were shown at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, in 1967, before being transferred with the rest of the Dubuffet donation to the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland, where they remain to this day. Since that sale, none of Zéphir’s works (apart from a dozen or so, given to members of her closest circle) have left the boxes where she puts them once she feels that they are finished. As a result, they have not been seen or shown since 1967.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #72