David Greenslade explores the life and work of French Moroccan artist, Hervé Constant, delving into the notion of “global Welsh” and how this binds Constant to Wales.
What does a French Moroccan artist living in London have to do with Wales? Well, as the idea of ‘global Welsh’ steadily catches on, it turns out that Hervé Constant has a way of reminding us that Wales can be much more than its territorial boundaries.
Hervé has shown at venues large and small, grand and modest here in Wales while also exhibiting as far afield as Fukuka, Japan, New York, Havana, Cuba, Istanbul, Turkey and dozens of other global venues. Within the list we can also include, Llantrisant, Bridgend, Cardiff and Swansea. Also, the intriguing fact that his book Hervé Constant: A Retrospective 1985 – 2022 was printed and published in Porthcawl, thanks to Harris Printers.
What brings Hervé back to Wales? In a word it is ‘contact’. Herve’s surname also helps, Constant, that is to say Constant Contact. Hervé Constant, the subject of the eponymous Hervé Constant: A Retrospective 1985 – 2022; selected works, films, photographs and writings, published in Porthcawl, is loyal to a small Celtic country that has given him so much reassuring support.
Hervé first made contact with Wales in the 1990s when he was invited by William Brown to take part in a significant touring show at the time, “6×6”, initiated by Bridgend based, also internationally exhibiting, ceramicist Peter Wills. All three of these artists later came into the collective known as a.r.c.i.p.e.l.a.g.o. which is still an ongoing project.
a.r.c.i.p.e.l.a.g.o. has at various times shown the work of artists from Japan, the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Chile alongside work from Wales, featuring that of Iwan Bala, Sarah Rees and Penny Hallas. But it has been the art of Hervé Constant that has remained a ‘constant’ thread through all of these cosmopolitan manifestations. His connection with Wales continues.
Every year, since 2018 the Bukovina Museum of History in the city of Suceava, in northern Romania has hosted an exhibition of artists from Wales. George Ostafi from Suceava, who started the project, was shown at the Senedd Building in Cardiff Bay in 2019.
This Wales-Romania series has included James Green, from Tonypandy, currently teaching art in Alexandria, Egypt, Peter Spriggs, Llanelli and David Rees Davies, from Bridgend. Suceava is less than thirty miles from the border with Ukraine and is currently home to thousands of displace Ukrainians.
Reflecting on the nature of displacement, relocation and exile, this year the Wales-linked Suceava exhibition will feature the art of Hervé Constant by virtue of the fact that his recent, 2022, exhibitions in Yerevan and Gyumri, Armenia reflect his experiences in Wales, within the international context of smaller nations.
Hervé is also an individual whose personal, nomadic biography gives him insight into an existence where the flimsy, essential nature of a passport cannot really define an individual’s identity.
The presence, more than once, of suitcases in the various exhibitions – including the Porthcawl publication – shows that for some people their roots cannot afford to go any deeper than the clothes on their back and what they can carry. The maze in which we live is more complicated for some than for others.
When Hervé Constant came to Cardiff in 2018 for the Glorious Disgust Surrealism Exhibition at Cardiff Metropolitan University – an event that included the art of Desmond Morris – afterwards he got completely lost in Cardiff city centre. For some reason the street lighting had failed and leaving the Campfa Gallery in Queens Arcade, going to the railway station Herve completely lost his way. But the important thing is that he found it again, being rescued by local friends on Mary Street.
Hervé is an artist willing to meander, ramble, take his time and meditate on his situation. His purposeful wanderings have brought him many times to galleries in Wales and his works are in several, private Welsh collections. Now that he is about to exhibit in Suceava as part of a Wales-Romanian series, once again his nature as an observer of different cultures will turn a page in his developing career.
David Greenslade writes in Welsh and English and shares his time between Wales and Romania.