Phillipe Guillerm’s stunning sculptures are a tribute to musicians

The fluid meld of driftwood and stringed instruments

Tue, 08/28/2018 - 12:15pm

    WALDOBORO—The “melting” blue violin on the facade of Phillippe Guillerm’s gallery in Waldoboro is your first indication that what you’ll find inside will be just as quirky, surreal and fascinating.

    A dozen or so sculptures grace the gallery on pedestals. Though each is one of a kind, all of the sculptural works have been handcrafted from chunks of driftwood Phillipe and his wife, Jacqueline, have found on their yearly sailing trips through the Caribbean.  Each sculpture has been modified, transformed, often with musical parts, such as violins and other stringed instruments as well as clarinets and oboes.

    The gallery has been open five years since the Guillerms decided to spend their summers in Maine.

    “I think Maine is one of the top 10 most beautiful coasts in the world,” said Phillipe, who was born and raised in Paris. “This coast reminds me very much of Brittany.” he said referencing the hilly peninsula in France’s northwestern most region.

    In the fall, they’ll close up shop and take their 48-foot sailboat down to the Caribbean. There, as they cruise around the islands, Phillippe will inevitably find a deserted beach and a washed up chunk of driftwood, where he will examine its shape and texture and take a chainsaw to it right there on the open beach to start the carving process.

    Every year, he has refined this process into a new collection of work. His artwork is in 16 galleries all over the country and in four worldwide. But in Maine, he has turned the old refurbished bank space complete with a vault into a gallery with a studio behind the “teller” window in the back.

    “We like to live with it a little longer when it is in our gallery, instead of shipping it off the moment it’s done,” said Jacqueline.

    Phillippe grew up surrounded by art in Paris and credits the style of surrealists, which has influenced his own work.

    “When art is too realistic, a photograph could do the same job,” he said.

    The fluidity of the ocean is ever-present in his sculptures, whose violin necks droop and sag while some wooden sculptures meld into lovely cello shapes of women’s curves.

    “I love music and am impressed with musicians. It is for me a tribute to a beautiful piece of music,” he said.

    “The whole point of the collection was to recycle and reuse the driftwood,” Jacqueline added. “Because of the organic shape, it really lent itself to the musical themes.”

    A traditional installation artist, painter and woodworker, he is proficient in taking a broken or discarded instrument and using the driftwood and his carving skills to bring it back to life—sort of an artistic Frankenstein.

    Take the spectacular vintage Malcolm player piano that graces the far wall of the gallery. In revitalizing it, Phillipe took the piano (which was headed for the dump) and fashioned maple “wings” to it while exposing its innards. This functional art piece titled “Rising Like a Phoenix” seems to lift off the floor as Phillippe sits down to it and steps on the foot pumps to make the rolls of music to propel the self-playing piano. See our accompanying video.

    Often, musicians will donate their old instruments to the Guillerms, as a way to see it “living again” in his art, or sometimes as a commissioned piece. One sculpture in the gallery has a video above it showing Phillipe’s process from start to finish. It is a beautifully polished piece of cedar that becomes “unzipped” to reveal a curved violin inside. Called “Ta Da” the piece not only showcases Phillipe’s surrealist skills, but also his sly sense of humor. Another carved violin opens like a Swiss Army Knife. Still, other avant-garde functional pieces, such as the exposed speaker stands in the shape of cellos and guitars he created for the company Amorto, reveal his fine wood-working talents.

    As we go about the business of our lives, and the minutia of our days, make it a point to pop into Phillipe Guillerm’s gallery before they close this fall. It’s always good to bend your mind a little.

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    Kay Stephens can be reached at