by Marlowe Salerno
My dad, Michel Salerno, is a professor at Beaux Art college in Paris, France. He runs the metalworking studio at the school and specializes in creating metal sculptures. He teaches overseas students in welding and casting every kind of metal imaginable.
Beaux Art College was founded in 1648. From the very beginning, Beaux Art has attracted thousands of artisans throughout the world. Interestingly, during the building of the Versaille, Louis XIV was known to handpick graduates of the school to decorate the royal bedrooms at the palace.
Here are 10 questions for Michel Salerno about his work at the Beaux Art. His responses have been translated from French.
How long have you been teaching at Beaux art?
I have been teaching for thirty one years.
How many students do you teach at one time?
In one semester, I teach about 20. But in the studio, there can only be 4 students.
What is the first thing you teach a student about working with metal?
I teach them how to recognize different metals. I think it is essential to be able to know what material you are working with by looking at it. Afterwards, I teach them the very basics of being able to manipulate the metal. This is cutting and being able to join, or weld it. I think this is important so my students can learn how to be independent and not have to constantly need to ask me for help. The material fuels the dream - they need to know what they can accomplish in order to achieve the vision.
What got you interested in your medium?
I quickly learned in my life that with metal, I can create many different types of artwork. Before I was interested in my profession, I was doing stone work and painting. I remember being first inspired by Edourdo Chillida who created abstract metal sculptures. I also liked the works of Alberto Giacometti. Giacometti does distorted human sculptures and paintings.
What do you love about creating your artwork?
Everything. But I mostly love the feeling of accomplishment after completing something I've been working on. Most of my projects take weeks or months to complete, so it's a good feeling to see what started off as an idea, as a physical construction.
How do you inspire a student?
I teach my students of the freedom that exists within this medium. I want them to know that they have a certain type of freedom in what they want to create.
What other materials do you use? Any different approaches?
As an artist, I also do drawing and painting. When I first started in art, I believed that I was going to be a painter. I used to paint a lot of portraits. However, I would also always add a little of my fantasy. One of my favorites was a portrait of a woman with butterflies for hair. Now, I strictly paint landscapes.
I know you have collaborated with other artists, do you have a preference for working alone or in collaboration?
Of course working alone, fulfilling my own vision, is optimal. But over the years I have developed great relationships with some artists, whose work I really respect. I have worked with Claud Lalanne to make naturalistic bronze furniture in the shape of Ginko leaves and animals.
For the last six- seven years, you have been creating mirrors, what led you to this form of expression?
When I first arrived in Paris, I found a garbage can with four circles of metal lying by it. For some reason, I was inspired by it so I took it with me to my apartment. Three years after finding it, I started working at Beaux Art. 10 years later, I had a sudden thought to try and make four different mirrors with the four pieces. Afterwards, a guy passed by the studio and wanted to buy all four of them. This guy informed a man named Maison Gerad who owned a gallery in New York and commissioned me to make more to put them up.
What was one student project that left an impression on you? Was there any student work that stood out for being the greatest or the worst?
A student project that left an impression on me was a metal windmill sculpture combined project. This student created a mechanical center piece with a few different spikes at the end, that would spin around and draw onto a piece of paper. So based on the wind, this sculpture would spin in circles while drawing on paper that was held down on a metal ring around the sculpture.
I would like to thank Michel for his time and answering these questions. All in all, Michel’s responses illustrate what life is like to be an artist and live in France. They provided an interesting outlook on what experiences he might have as someone with a very unique profession. His work also shows no sign of slowing down as he's constantly thinking of new ideas, whilst inspiring a handful of students a year to continue on their own creative path.