Last January artist Raphaël Barontini began a six-month LVMH Métiers d’Art residency at the Heng Long Leather in Singapore, an internationally renowned specialist in crocodilian leathers. The French artist talks about his creative work with artisans at the tannery and why his residency in Singapore proved tremendously enriching.
The collaboration between 35-year-old artist Raphaël Barontini, a graduate of the Beaux-Arts de Paris and the Hunter College of Art in New York, and the Heng Long Tannery in Singapore seemed an unexpected match. The artist’s originality springs from his use of silkscreen prints on fabrics. During his studies at the Beaux-Arts, Raphaël Barontini began exploring unframed pictorial expressions, creating his first collages on textiles, especially flags.
Working with artisans at the Heng Long tannery, an internationally renowned specialist in crocodilian leathers, opened exciting new creative directions for the artist’s body of work: “The residency let me discover working with leather, all the special processing techniques and the distinctive features of the materials produced at the tannery.”
The LVMH Métiers d’Art residency was an exciting challenge for Raphaël Barontini, who had never worked with leather before. Accustomed to screen-printing and dying on supple materials, he learned to adapt his techniques to the thick crocodilian leather, with its irregular surface.
To get the most from this exceptional material, Raphaël Barontini teamed with the tannery’s artisans. “Certain techniques in processing crocodile leather are so precise that I couldn’t do them alone. This led to real collaboration with the artisans at the tannery, because their incredible skill let me obtain exactly the result I wanted without denaturing the quality of the leather,” explains the artist. The French painter was able to use different types of skins, as well as offcuts from the workshop, enabling him to expand his creative range. His artistic perception also valorized pieces that are usually scrapped, giving them a brilliant second life. “I discovered slits, for example, an extremely thin layer of leather sliced from the crocodile hide to get the required thickness, which let me obtain the suppleness I wanted for my leather creations.”
Beyond simply sharing expertise, Raphaël Barontini’s residency enriched both his artistic practice and his personal vision, he says: “Discovering the incredible cultural melting pot of Singapore was amazing. I was really marked by day-to-day things like the way bamboo is ubiquitous in the urban landscape of the city. So I decided to use bamboo in my future installations, for the flagpole to fly my flags, for example. Local craftsmanship has also inspired my work, such as the handmade braiding done by a 90-year-old woman I met, which I’ve used to decorate certain pieces.”
The history of Singapore nourished his artwork. “I discovered the importance of the Silk Road in the history of Singapore, which made me want to use silk in my work. Thanks to the carte blanche I had from the LVMH Métiers d’Art program and their network of craft specialists, I was able to get some incredible silk from the French atelier Twinpix, which works for several LVMH Maisons, and incorporated it in the pieces I did in Singapore.”
The freedom afforded by the LVMH Métiers d’Art residency enabled Raphaël Barontini to explore new facets of creative directions he had been pursuing for several years. What’s more, the residency at the Heng Long Tannery let him continue working on clothing accessories such as capes, tunics or rodeo riders’ chaps, which he crafted using crocodilian leathers.
Works from Raphaël Barontini’s residency will be featured in an exhibition and be the subject of a book to be published in early 2021. The French artist will present creations centered on fictional Creole characters, a major theme in his work. Referencing the Middle Ages and Egyptian antiquity, Raphaël Barontini seeks to create an imaginary realm with mythical heroes, expressed through the interplay of materials and their transformation. Through these creations the artist challenges the representation of Black characters in the history of painting by creating new wearable pieces and heroes celebrated in an imaginary parade.