20th Century Design

André Dubreuil, The Irrepressible Inventor

By Jean-Louis Gaillemin

A ndré Dubreuil emerged in the 1980’s as one of the world's leading ferrailleur (metal artist), known internationally for his Spine Chair, exhibited in all the leading museums around the world. He developed a style of objects and furniture with a poetic symbolism, which sits equally well in minimalist interiors and collector’s homes.

His enthusiasm for ornamental craftsmanship using materials and finishes, and his inventive mixture of styles gives his art a personality that deftly eludes genres and categories. André Dubreuil’s career as a furniture designer began in London in 1985 as the interior designer of a chocolate shop named Rococo. Having previously had a background as a painter decorator, he was employed to carry out a decor of green and pink arabesques.

Tom Dixon, who was meant to undertake the furniture work was late that day, so Dubreuil lent a hand: “I helped him to make his chandelier and I was suddenly hooked with the soldering iron, as if I had “fallen into it”. The tone was set, and the Rococo chocolate boutique would see the green and pink arabesques transform into steel lianas.

Nothing could be further from Dubreuil’s art than the concept of “beautiful-utility”; design, function and pure form. “My furniture will never be defined by its function; the eye needs to be attracted, hooked and focused on the surfaces of things… Searching for new techniques undermines the “right form”.

Present in his pieces, we see monsters from fairy tales spotted by Alice from the other side of the mirror, like this hysterical table where the actor Pascal Gregory poses for the magazine Maison et Jardin; consoles with slender steel bars or this heavy and sumptuous chest of drawers called Mongole.

Dubreuil doesn’t, however, restrict himself. The feet of the bureau plat are arching and prominent. The Louis XV wardrobe is flirting with the chest, and the screen mesh carries within it a cabinet. Every time he can, Dubreuil seeks to erase or to mask the functionality of his work for the benefit of the symbol, the imaginary and the dreamlike.

Dubreuil's lamps are light sculptures designed to “make beautiful shadows”. The lenses, glass beads, glass bulbs, cut and extruded metal sheets allow them to be projected onto walls and ceilings. The clocks are aimed at showing the time, nowadays more often displayed on a computer screen or iPhone.

The dial itself alludes to fetish objects, incorporating pieces of Chinese jade, ivory, coral, fossilised wood, glass or crystal blocks and recycled items to create enigmatic objects like this “ostensoir atomic” with sharp pointed ends that evoke both the Big Bang and nuclear fission.

Dubreuil multiplies formal qualities to escape clichés: Japanese motifs, naturalistic details, geometric shapes, and ornamental decoration confront each other, disrupting symmetry. Some meubles énigmatiques even escape from the hands of the designer, and could have decorated the interior of the hero poet Jean Lorrain.

The Porte de l’Inde, a giant two metre high frame, is decorated with the owl of Athena, and at its centre a small video screen is mounted behind a piece of rock-crystal surrounded by allegorical medallions. The giant grid is set with glass cabochons and sparkling enamel flowers, unveiling a hidden jewelry box.

It is difficult to follow the evolution of a style. André Dubreuil dislikes repetition or reproduction. He avoids all style, he doesn’t like to sketch beforehand and prefers to let the hand and the tools take the initiative of the invention.

Excerpt from Jean-Louis Gaillemin's, André Dubreuil, Poète du fer, Norma, 2005.

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