Sister Lise Mazo, opens her workshop to us at the Provincial House of the Sisters of Kermaria in Rennes. Teacher at the Rennes School of Art from 1970 to 1996, and assistant to the sculptor Francis Pellerin, she continues her artistic research into how to make perceptible what is not material, following the example of true light or the breath of life. A creative approach to and expression of a life of faith.
This article is an abridged version of the article ‘Sister Lise Mazo, sharing the sacred’ which appeared in the magazine ‘The Church in Ille-et-Vilaine’, no. 315 January 2020. It is reproduced with the permission of the author, Véronique Orain, a member of the Diocesan Commission for Sacred Art of the Diocese of Rennes, Dol, and Saint-Malo. We thank her warmly.
An unusual journey
As a child, not yet ten years old, Lise used to knead the earth on the family farm in Pouldreuzic, in order to create little figures that she would leave to dry in the sun. Just as at school, where Lise loved art, drawing and colour. She received her vocation as a gift. Very early on, at the age of 18, she was called by the Lord. “I took my vows and became a Sister of Kermaria, or “Daughters of Jesus”. I kept my passion for drawing and sculpture and taught in Quimper and then in Ploërmel. The Congregation allowed me and another Sister, to go back to Rennes to art college in 1965. I then became the assistant to the sculptor Francis Pellerin (Rome Prize in 1944).”
This journey, which she recounts to us as if everything had already been written, is nevertheless quite singular, in the light of Vatican II when new initiatives were emerging. Sister Lise was thus able to teach modeling and sculpture from 1970 to 1980, alongside the Rennes sculptor Francis Pellerin, and then until 1996. “My role as a teacher was to help young people keep the enthusiasm and thirst for the absolute that characterizes them.” …”You have to arm the student against loneliness and incomprehension. It’s a human education as well as an artistic one because one of the great values of art is to lead the human being to surpass him- or herself. »
“I’ve been retired now for almost 15 years, but I continue to create, it’s like breathing. My little notebooks accompany me in my daily life, even at night when I can’t sleep. It’s my sign language, as the bodies which I draw, fold and unfold, they express our sorrows and our joys.”
Sculpture and drawing
Sculpture and drawing are two components of the same artistic expression: “My sculpture refers to the human figure but is situated beyond the image. It’s a contemplative space, silent breathing. It’s without ostentation.” Some of Lise Mazo’s sculptures can be compared to the decorations on the vaults and tympanums of our Romanesque churches where the characters come to life in constrained spaces.
Their meaning sometimes escapes us because we no longer have the knowledge to decipher the message. In Lise Mazo’s sculpture, there is something of the same, of this strange alphabet where we have to look beyond the apparent naivety of the gestures of the figures.
The joy of colour, the sensitivity of the pictorial matter. “As in sculpture, the essential lies in gesture! I let my hand go. The subject quickly fades away to make way for compositions of shapes and colours. At the origin of it is the leaf, in its most elementary form, without superfluous ornamentation. The leaf as a sign pushed to its maximum intensity. It serves as a pretext for reinventing space while overflowing the territory of what is real! It’s the vibration of light, the music of colour. It’s the dream-like quality that I want to communicate. »
In the work of an artist, light is the search for truth
“You must never try to artificially produce light. It has to come from within the work and capture the immaterial forces that inhabit it. In painting, light is born from the right relationship between the colours. It is not something that you can add artificially, it comes from an artistic coherence between the different elements: shapes, colours, nuances of shade.”
“It is often the culmination of a long work of research. You don’t create as a dilettante, like an amateur who is content with the effect. There is a big difference between effect and light. An amateur seeks to artificially provoke what he is unable to produce otherwise. It’s not a question of style, of figuration or subject, it’s a question of meaning, of signification, of sign. As George Braque said: ‘Art is a wound that becomes light’.”
“You open yourself to something with no known outcome. The important thing is to live it. It’s that inner joy when a work is successful. The fact of sharing your work, of giving something to another is also part of the light of creation. The work is incomplete as long as it does not live in the regard of the other.”
Through art, the artist accesses a dimension which escapes him and which he constantly seeks. This can be called a spiritual dimension. “Light is that hope that is in us and that always makes us move forward. Light is the culmination. Only God is the true light. »
Our darkness: “Through the work of art we manifest on the outside what is inside of us and this energy transforms our darkness into light, our death into life. Our darkness is made up of our wounds, traces of our encounter with reality, so hostile at times, of our encounter with others who are familiar to us but also sometimes foreign when they do not become enemies. Our darkness contains our fears, the temptation of abandonment, the search for tranquillity, to stay closed in our bubble, narcissism, the search for recognition, our selfishness as artists at times...”.
Human representation: “The body becomes for me a sign, a symbol. The characters occupy all the available space in their rock or terracotta boxes. These small figures, sometimes solitary and sometimes grouped together, dream, meditate, activate, love, dance or die, according to my inner quest, the events that have marked me, the sensitivity of my fingers quite simply.”
Art is born of an interior reality
Discover Sister Lise Mazo’s artwork on her website : lisemazo.jimdofree.com