Life in the Abstract

For Pierre Renard, abstract art is the ultimate form of creativity.

“Limitation is a prison to my creativity,” he said. “I don’t copy anybody or anything. I create originals.”

Renard, who is 88 years old, has been sculpting statues and figurines out of bronze, wood and clay for more than 25 years.

During that time, he has created about 300 sculptures—four of them have become permanent installations in various places in Luxembourg and one is on display at the St. Cyprien beach.

Age is only a number to him. You would never guess that this bubbly, graying man sporting Crocs is in his 80s. He scurries around the house eager to show off his masterpieces, which are meticulously placed throughout their comfortable house and garden, with his wife, Yvonne, in tow to remind him of the pieces of stories that he forgets.

“My sculptures are very simple, but there was one journalist who said that people like to touch my sculptures because of the form,” he said, passion alive in his eyes as he gracefully gestured to a chest-high, smooth, wooden, abstract statue of Mary and Jesus. His style mirrors that of a modern-day Picasso, with smoother shapes.

Jean (Hans) Arp (German) and Constantin Brancusi (Romanian) are two sculptors that he draws inspiration from.

He said Yvonne was one of his biggest supporters who encouraged him to start sculpting after they retired.

For 35 years, Renard designed flowers and wedding figurines for the couple’s patisserie, in Luxembourg until he developed an allergy to flour. Renard used to enter some of his creations in contests and won many awards.

“I won first place every time so I decided to do sculpting,” he said.

Now the Renards live in a condo in St. Cyprien, a seaside town near Perpignan.

Their house is simple yet neat, with pictures of family and friends, lots of cushiony pillows and a sunroof.  

The couple has been married for 56 years, Yvonne said with a smile.  It’s apparent from their interaction that they really enjoy each other’s company. There’s no nagging or prodding, just conversation between two good friends.

Yvonne, 78, said she admires her husband’s work ethic.

 “He works every day,” she said.

Renard said he usually spends about four hours a day sculpting statues or figurines in his workshop, which is often covered in wood chippings. Pictures of the couple at the openings of his exhibitions and installations grace the walls behind the numerous works in progress on the wooden shelves, including a half-carved seagull.

“It was seven hours a day when I was younger, but now I am a little bit older,” he said with a powerful, hearty laugh.

When the weather is nice, Renard said he enjoys working outside and listening to classical music by Mozart and Beethoven.

“It’s a kind of relaxation for me ... it’s a part of my work,” he said.

It usually takes Renard about 10 to 15 days to make one sculpture, but then it must go through a finishing and sealing process, which takes longer.

“Just to cut with the instrument, for one piece, it takes about 5,000 individual strikes,” he said.

Yvonne said sculpting is special to her husband because being able to use his hands and create something new makes him happy.

“It’s the form, which is round, and the simplicity and the beauty together (that make people love my husband’s sculptures),” she said.

Pierre said he thinks his originality makes his sculptures special.

Not long after retiring from the patisserie, he attended the École des Beaux Arts de Perpignan to study sculpting.

It was there that he learned from a teacher how to express himself through sculpture.

“Others tell me that my personality is inside the sculptures,” Renard said.

Generally he doesn’t like to sell his work. A rich German businessman visiting the casino in Luxembourg where one of Renard’s pieces was on display recently made him an offer for the piece, but Renard declined.

“I make them for myself and for friends as gifts and give some to charity events,” he said.

When Renard’s not working, the couple enjoys going sailing and deep sea diving together, taking night walks, going out to eat, being involved with the Lions International Club and sitting in their chairs and reading or having an aperitif.

And as they sat in their wicker chairs that day, Renard talked about how they like looking up at the sky through the sunroof.

“So while we sit here we can watch the birds fly in the sky and the life is beautiful,” he reflects contemplatively.


About the Program

Fifteen college students came from North America to Perpignan, France, in June 2011 to produce these videos and stories. To find out more, read a welcome letter from program director Rachele Kanigel, meet the program faculty and explore the 2010 website.