On the elegant Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré in Paris, half way between the heavily guarded Elysée Palace and the handsome British Embassy is the Galerie Orlinski, home to one of France’s most successful contemporary artists.
You may not recognise the name but you will recognise Richard Orlinski’s work – not least because, at the beginning of this year it was displayed across Piccadilly Circus to celebrate the opening of his gallery on London’s New Bond Street and his ongoing collaboration with Hublot watches. The latter resulted in the creation of the Classic Fusion Orlinski timepiece, available in six iterations and complete with faceted dial – reminiscent of the trademark contrasting folds seen in much of the artist’s work.
Perhaps his most iconic pieces are the Wild Kong sculptures, reworked images of King Kong in a variety of poses in industrial materials and wild Pop Art colours. The effect could be described as Andy Warhol meets Jeff Koons and one of the most famous examples is the giant tricolour version that adorns the entrance to the French Grand Prix’s Circuit Paul Ricard near Marseilles. Many of his sculptures are inspired by animals and he says he first realised he wanted to become an artist when he was four years old, playing with a plastic toy elephant.
The pieces are totemic, almost like a Cubist take on an Easter Island head. The work is technically brilliant while tapping into shared memories treasured across generations. In a melancholic modern world where there are so many representations of horror and pain, it could be argued that we need art like this, work that is lighter, playing on images that inspire happiness.
Orlinski himself, now 53 years old, has the air of a French rock star – appropriately enough, as music is his other great love and when we meet, he has just returned from playing a gig in Morocco. After talking to him, the comparisons with Warhol become immediately apparent in that he sees art as democratic and belonging to everyone. ‘Art is everywhere,’ he says. ‘It’s in sculpture, painting, music and beyond. Earlier today I was in a meeting with one of Paris’s leading patissiers to discuss a project to produce a series of frozen chocolates. As an artist, I am multifaceted. I make art for everybody. Kids love my art because they can immediately recognise it.’
He claims that his greatest inspiration is the mainstream. ‘What I love is what everyone loves, not just the elite,’ he says. He is particularly proud of his collaboration with Disney to produce a series of figurines, the latest being a reworking of Simba from The Lion King, which sold out within a minute of going on sale. ‘I was recently speaking to a very ordinary guy who works here in a hotel,’ he recalls. ‘He showed me his collection of the Disney figures. He was immensely proud of it and I was very proud that I had given him such pleasure and had helped him become a collector.’
Today, he even finds inspiration on social media. ‘Often people get in touch to ask why we don’t do this or that,’ he explains. ‘Sometimes they have really good ideas so why not? I enjoy team games and so I like working in a team. I don’t think that only my ideas are valid.’
He now has his own galleries around the world, from Mexico City to St Tropez, with five ateliers and a team of 200. The designs today are largely created digitally and Orlinski is constantly experimenting with new finishes and varnishes to achieve his trademark eye-popping effects.
Unsurprisingly, Orlinski’s success has attracted attention and he is frequently approached by brands to discuss collaborations. As well as Disney, he has already worked with Porsche and Maserati. He was once even asked to collaborate on a cheese – ‘It didn’t happen, we couldn’t agree,’ he laughs – but perhaps his most successful project is the ongoing partnership with Hublot. ‘I’m a passionate watch collector,’ he says. ‘When I met Jean-Claude Biver [head of Hublot], he asked me if I’d like to work on a watch with Hublot. I didn’t want to produce a watch that just had my name on the dial. I wanted to create something special. They allowed me to do what I wanted. I truly believe that Hublot is the only watch brand in the world that I could have done this with.’
Hublot may be more famous for its links to the world of sport but its mantra has always been “The Art of Fusion”, blending traditional watchmaking with cutting-edge technology, and the Orlinski range of Classic Fusions hold true to this concept. The cases are cut like diamonds with facets that reflect each other on the dial, the bezel and the pushers, both instantly recognisably Hublot and Orlinski. The cases are made in a range of materials, from gold and titanium to ceramics. ‘I would even like to do models in plastic that would be more accessible but I’m not sure that they are ready for that yet,’ he smiles.