The work of French artist François Houtin (born Craon 1950) is underpinned by a fusion between a deep and classical knowledge of botany and horticulture and a spirit of almost baroque inventiveness which gives to his etchings and works in encre de Chine their unique character. François Houtin established a serious reputation in his first career up to his late twenties as a prodigal topiarist and garden designer. Finding greater satisfaction in the creation of imaginary gardens, he then retrained in etching and is now recognised in France as a master of the genre he has crafted to make his own. Houtin employs his exceptional skills to progress, almost exclusively in black and white or grisaille, his exploration of the forms nature might take in a less inhibited world.
A lyrical sensibility, anchored in a Gothic fondness for the intricacies of foliage, finds expression in a taste for movement and pattern as alarming alignments of trees hint at the rhythms of dance. Though figures are entirely absent in all Houtin’s work, these landscapes provide the viewer with a portal drawing them with their deep perspective into a playground for the imagination. Sometimes, indeed, it can seem as if these places will stay serenely slumbering until they are awakened by a long-awaited visitor. In the meantime, vases, columns, fountains proliferate as if in expectation of an elaborate fête.
Just as Houtin’s imagination is triggered but in no way confined by old cycles of legend, so the rich arboreal world he conjures is based on sound horticultural knowledge, but goes subtly further. Individual exotic plants which probe the limits of the plausible, topiary confections which would require an unimaginable timespan (not to mention patience) to realise, appear within a framework of broad avenues pointing to French precedents. Fragmentary architecture suggests a decaying grandeur which is wholly Italianate. Trees standing in grand isolation in manifestly English parkland have the majestic presence of headless Winged Samothraces. There are occasional references even to the great ruined palace complexes of Far Eastern cultures. At any time, however, the viewer may be ambushed by a sudden shift in perspective which takes him sharply back from these hybrid creations to a perception of the individual human scale, bringing with it an enlarged awareness of our responsibilities towards a changing, increasingly fragile environment.
François Houtin was born in Craon in Haut-Anjou in 1950, first studying landscape architecture and practising in Paris from 1971. By the late 1970s he had decided that greater fulfilment lay in the creation of imaginary gardens located well beyond the range of practical realisation and he retrained in the discipline of etching, going on to win major prizes for his work, most recently the Grand Prix de Gravure de la Fondation Taylor (Prix Baudry). Since 1978 Houtin has held some fifty one-man exhibitions in France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Sicily, Switzerland and the United States of America, including public shows in Rome (1984), Palermo (1985), Paris (1992), Nice (2000) and Lille (2010/12).
Represented by Francis Kyle Gallery since 1994 with exhibitions in 1996, 2000, 2006 and 2013. Besides producing a smaller quantity of original works in encre de chine, since 1976 Houtin has published over four hundred etchings in small editions, among these eight sequences including Désirs, Délices, Délires (1978), Topiaires (1980), Cinq Jardins, Cinq Sens,with text and poems by Federico Garcia Lorca (1982), Fantaisies Romaines (1985) and Cabanes de Jardinier (1999). In 2009 he created for Hermès a table service in faïence, Les Maisons Enchantées.
Les Maisons Enchantées
In addition to etchings and works in encre de chiene by the artist, at Houtin's most recent exhibition Francis Kyle Gallery exhibited Les Maisons Enchanteés, kindly loaned by Hermès, Paris, who commissioned this twenty-two piece dinner service from François Houtin.
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