An Interview with Mia Fonssagrives-Solow

Mia Fonssagrives-Solow‘s career as a sculptor spans over 50 years, originally working with wood and more recently with metals. Broadly collected both privately and publicly, the art of Solow challenges us to engage viscerally, to immerse our hearts and minds in a world bursting with the personality and life of both the artist and the art Solow creates.

This year, Bone Form II by Solow was part of the second contemporary art collection at the Mandarin Oriental, New York‘s Suite 5000. The luxurious suite features an exclusive year-long art exhibition through October that provides guests the unique opportunity to live with and learn about a range of leading contemporary artists and their work.

The daughter of the French photographer Fernand Fonssagrives and Swedish model Lisa Fonssagrives, and stepdaughter to Irving Penn, Solow has shown her sculptures, paintings, collages, and fine jewelry from California to New York to Europe and back. She has exhibited with a range of galleries including Eric Firestone Gallery, Charles Feingarten, and Elaine Benson Gallery. Her sculptural jewelry has been featured at Gagosian Gallery, Grey Area, and Foundation Maeght in Paris.

Whitewall recently caught up with Solow to chat about her artistic process, storied upbringing, and her fierce entourage of spiked warriors exhibited at Kasher|Potamkin Gallery in New York. The “Robot” series featured never-before-seen works and her most personal body of sculptures to date.

WHITEWALL: Your recent solo exhibition features more than twenty bronze and aluminum sculptures representing robots, fembots, and aliens. You refer to them as family and there’s significance to these shown in groups—extensions of your entourage?

MIA FONSSAGRIVES-SOLOW: Yeah, my entourage. [Laughs] I’m just a rap singer at heart.

WW: These are roots that go back a long way with you, and your “relationships” with these characters are quite unique. What is the thread that runs through all of this for you? 

MFS: Well, hopefully humor. I love humor. And like you said, my entourage, these robots—we’ll go and look at them—they are people in my life. They all have their quirky ways about them. They’re all characters!

WW: Your “Robot” series originated from found materials. How did you find the shapes lending themselves to the creation of the alien bodies?

MFS: I recycle everything. Like, this handsome bottle, I got on Delta airlines, and this was an apple juice bottle, a Kleenex box, and Clorox bottle. This is the container the basil came in. This is a soccer ball. My son had a thousand balls in the house. That was the yogurt container. I put all this material together!

WW: Tell me about your artistic process for these creatures.

MFS: So, they all start out in paper. And then when I like to keep them in paper, I cut it in special paper, like the Persian paper, the Chinese paper, and the telephone book—things that are special to me.

WW: It can take a few months for a form to “grow on you correctly” before it is ultimately cast?

MFS: Yes, when I’m going to cast it at the foundry—if I like it enough to cast it in aluminum or bronze, then it just disappears. It becomes a robot. But the actual piece, the original in the paper is gone forever. And then I can make another one. There’s an endless amount of garbage in the world.

WW: Your work is so diverse: chic, abstract lucites; bold, whimsical metals; warm, organic woods; edgy jewelry designs. How are you feeling about your work in jewelry these days? 

MFS: I’ve always longed to do this robot show, with the robot jewelry. The sculpture is my passion; it’s what I’ve always done. I have a following, but I don’t have a store. And when I started to make a book of sculpture—every single area of art had a jewelry corresponding to it. So right now, it’s robots, because I’m making robots. I don’t do the jewelry first. I do the sculpture first, and then jewelry evolves out of it.

WW: We recently collaborated with Eric Firestone Gallery to exhibit Bone Form II in The Mandarin Oriental, Suite 5000 art collection. The sculptures are sensuous in form, often with a hollow center based on beads and bones. You came across a new material, Lucite– and the result became one of your most admired works. How did it come about for you?

MFS: Eric [Firestone] saw the big wall in my barn in East Hampton of all my sculptures, and he said, “ Oh, I’d like to recreate that wall in my gallery.” And then I just started experimenting. I would take a shape like this, for instance, and then cast it Lucite to see how it would look transparent or bright colored. These are just everything I made originally in wood. And some cast in bronze or aluminum and then, ultimately in the Lucite.

WW: You have been immersed in the artist’s lifestyle from the beginning. And what a creative environment to grow up in!

MFS: I had a big fantasy world, because we lived out in the country, and there weren’t many people around. I was Sheena, Queen of the Jungle! I made these big brass cuffs. I would fly from the hayloft on a rope down to the hay on the bottom. I was always working with material, whatever it was. I started working with fabric, and I also sewed.

WW: Your past, upbringing, your mother Lisa Fonssagrives and Irving Penn. It’s such a rich and storied history. How do you see it all now? How does it contribute to the artist you are today?

MFS: I have two fathers. And my parents got divorced when I was eight, so I moved in with Irving when I was eight. And he’s been the most wonderful influence for work ethic. We would have breakfast in the morning, in the country, and then—this was on weekends—everybody would go to their workplace. My mother would paint, Irving would do his platinum prints, and I would go and sew.

WW: Are there artists that inspire you? 

MFS: My favorite works are the early Venus of Willendorf. They were survivors in early stage of humanity, and I’m very drawn to those. And also pre-Columbian. I love the Cycladic art, from Greece. And then modern—Henry Moore, I feel, is very much the father of modern sculpture for me. I adore African art. My great-grandfather was the head of the colonial army and brought back the early African art to Paris. Picasso, Braque—they were all drawn to it. I love Francis Bacon as a painter; I think he’s a fabulous painter. I also feel strength with Giacometti.

WW: What’s the one thing that you haven’t done as an artist that you’d love to do?

MFS: The large-scale sculptures. I’m just starting those now. That was the reason I made the small ones, as maquettes for the large ones. And the whole time I’ve been making these, for thirty years, always hoping I could make them big one day. And now, I’m making them big! They’re fiberglass. They’re like cars. They can go outdoors. So, now it’s my new project.

WW: How do you stay so humble?

MFS: I’m not into divas. I didn’t have a background like that. I know how to polish the floors, know how to do laundry. I know how to do everything you need. My mother used to say, “You have to be ready for the revolution.” [Laughs]

 

A version of this article will appear in Whitewall‘s summer 2015 issue, out next month.

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