The Monegasque artist and President of the AS Monaco association invited us into his studio.
Snow panthers, white foxes, stoats, penguins, sea turtles, puffins… You’d be forgiven for thinking we are in a zoo or a nature reserve, but we haven’t left Monaco, we’re in Michel Aubéry’s studio. The walls are covered with brightly coloured canvases, the vast majority representing marine or arctic animals.
Armed with his Posca markers, stencils and spray paint, the artist is currently preparing a collection of forty paintings, which will be exhibited at the Oceanographic Museum from October 17th. The theme will be polar animals.
“I didn’t even know some of the animals”, the artist admits, pointing in turn to the macaroni penguin and the arctic puffin. “I watch documentaries on TV, I look at photos, then I put my own spin on them; I have free rein.”
This is far from Michel Aubéry’s first exhibition at the Oceanographic Museum, in fact it’s his fourth. Marine animals, turtles and corals had already adorned the Museum walls during the first three. And five paintings from the “Reefs” collection are in Dubai at the moment, gracing the Monaco pavilion at the Universal Exhibition.
At school, I was only good at French, drawing and gymnastics
A first exhibition at only fifteen years old
Apart from illustrating the beauty of these polar animals, the exhibition also carries a warning message. With global warming and melting ice, several polar species are under threat, such as the polar bear, the narwhal, and the Arctic fox, according to National Geographic. At the same time, Michel Aubéry has often explored the damage caused by pollution, painting on crushed plastic bottles.
As a rule, the artist ‘thinks outside the frame’, painting on different surfaces. Clothing, snowboards, ashtrays, masks, shoes, fake skulls, small sculptures or even racing car bonnets allow the painter to let his imagination run free.
And Michel Aubéry has had plenty of time to experiment over his very long career: “At school, I was only good at French, drawing and gymnastics. I started painting very young, I was ten or twelve years old. Then, I was noticed by Jean Cocteau and by the painter Nakache. At the time, I had been on TV and had an exhibition. I was fifteen and Princess Grace had sponsored me.”
On the strength of these early experiences, the young Monegasque trained for four years at the Beaux-Arts in Nice, in Art Deco. After a stint at Éditions Bordas in Paris, the artist returned to the Principality to work as a teacher alongside the painter Claude Rosticher, in an American art school that had just opened. Once the school went back to the other side of the Atlantic, seven years later, Michel Aubéry threw himself into his second passion: sport.
Not many people in Monaco have been awarded the medal for sport and for culture
Recognised in the worlds of art and football
Michel Aubéry put away his brushes and pencils and opened his “Azur Sport” store in Monte-Carlo. He ran the store for 22 years, while devoting himself to his other great love: football.
In 1995, he became President of the AS Monaco association (dedicated to amateur football), a position he still holds today. Between 2009 and 2012, Michel Aubéry also took on the role of Vice-President of the professional team. The painter put his artistic career on hold for more than 45 years,
It was a dinner in 2008 that got him back into painting: “One of the pictures I had painted was still hanging on the wall. One evening, the painter Philippe Pastor came to dinner. He asked me who had painted it, and he didn’t believe me when I told him it was me. I showed him my archives, he couldn’t believe it. He said to me: “No way! These are really yours?” He asked me to do thirty paintings for him and he showed the results in 2009. My first exhibition was in 1962, 47 years before.”
Today, Michel Aubéry “divides (my) time between football and painting”. The two certificates on his studio wall bear witness to this. On the one hand, the Bronze Medal for Physical Education and Sports, awarded by Prince Rainier III in 2002. On the other, the nomination as Knight of the Order of Cultural Merit, by Prince Albert II, in 2018. “Not many people in Monaco have been awarded the medal for sport and for culture,” concludes the artist who, after years, seems to have finally found common ground between his two passions.