For half a century, Henriette Zéphir, a French mediumistic artist, devoted herself entirely to her “inner guide”, for which she never stopped creating. Her drawings captivate in their singular overall composition, but also in the force of its details. Halfway between pointillism, geometric abstraction and Fauvism, her work reflects an enlightened modernism. Discovered by Jean Dubuffet, she was presented, as early as 1967, in the historical exhibition of art brut at the Musée des Art Décoratifs (France). Today, her work is seen among the largest collections of art brut in the world, such as that of Arnulf Rainer, while the gallery dedicated a monograph to her in 2010.
Henriette Zéphir was born near Toulouse in 1920. Her parents working far from her village of birth, she was raised by her grandparents. Although having received a religious education, she is neither pious nor a practicing. Marrying a Martiniquan in 1941, the couple decide to relocate to the French Antilles. However, their journey is stalled in Casablanca, where their first daughter is born. Her husband conscripted, Henriette stays 2 and a half years alone in Morocco. After the war, they finally arrives in Martinique. However, Henriette finds it difficult to adapt, feeling constantly an exile. She parts ways with her husband by 1956 and settles in Nice.
May 1st, 1961 in a revelation, she confronts her “Guide” for the first time. From this moment on, Henriette devotes herself to what she calls “the occult”. The extreme demand of the Guide expresses itself in diverse manners : during sessions of drawing, the pen will settle on a sheet of paper and will remain until the space is completely filled. Other times, the Guide imposes on her sessions in which she must lie prostrate on the ground or kneel for hours, as it dictates messages which she must scrupulously jot down. Henriette considers herself an instrument of these forces of the netherworld world and seems doubtful when one considers the product of her process as mere art. Spotted by Jean Dubuffet himself, this clairvoyant’s meandering creations - a confluence of the organic and the vegetal, where geometry reveals the spiritual - were exhibited as early as 1967 in the first exhibition of art brut opened to the general public at the musée des Arts Décoratifs.
Preface : Alain Bouillet
Foreword : Christian Berst
Catalog published to mark the exhibition Henriette Zéphir : a woman under the influence, from february 4th to march 5th, 2011.
Co-published with éditions Le livre d’art, 2010.