I’m not really a painter, or a draftsman, or a poster artist, or a writer, or an engraver.
I’m neither abstract nor figurative. I don’t belong to any school.
I never set out to become part of the history of art.
I haven’t invented anything, because I owe everything to everyone else.
I don’t understand my pictures, and everyone is free to interpret them as they wish.
I’ve just tried to depict my dreams, with the hope that others will add their own.
Jean-Michel Folon was born 1 March in Uccle (Brussels). His father worked as a paper merchant. Having been immersed in this environment, Jean-Michel would remember it forever: “It was probably there that I started drawing.”
During the German occupation, Folon spent his childhood in Genval, in a house beside the lake. He and his family would often go for a walk in a park in nearby La Hulpe. It was in this same park that Folon set up his foundation in 2000.
Folon studied at the Collège Cardinal Mercier and then at Saint-Luc art school in Brussels. In 1953, he enrolled at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Visuels de La Cambre, where he discovered the power of the architect Mies van der Rohe’s famous maxim: “Less is more”. This was an idea he subscribed to all his life. It was during this period that Folon’s first black and white drawings were published in the magazines Moustique and Pan.
With encouragement from an uncle and a teacher at La Cambre, Folon gave up his studies and left Brussels for Paris. He ended up living in a gardener’s lodge in Bougival. For the next 5 years, he spent every day drawing.
Shows his first drawings to people in his milieu. In France, nobody is interested. Consequently, he sends them to several magazines in New York. Esquire, Horizon and The New Yorker are willing to publish the drawings without ever having met the artist. Leaves France to discover the United States.
His drawings are exhibited for the first time in Jean-Jacques Pauvert’s bookstore Le Palimugre, in Paris. Makes his first engraving.
Is awarded the Certificate of Merit of the Art Directors Club in New York.
Participates in the audiovisual research of Jean-Marie Serreau and André Perinetti’s Theatre Company. Participates in the Vth Paris Biennale. Visits Italy regularly and meets writer Giorgio Soavi, for whom he draws his first book: Le Message. The two collaborate on several projects for Olivetti. His drawings are published in colour on the covers of Time, Fortune, Graphis and Atlantic Monthly in the United States. In France, they are published by Le Nouvel Observateur and L’Express.
Paints a 36-m2 mural animated by 500 point light sources for the French pavilion at the Milan Triennial. In Paris, exhibits 60 works of art at the Galerie de France. Is commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York to design their year’s-end book.
First exhibition in New York at the Lefebre Gallery.
Pays a visit to Japan and exhibits in Tokyo and Osaka. Participates in the XXXVth Venice Biennial in the Belgian pavilion. First exhibition in Italy, at Gino Ghiringhelli’s Galleria del Milione in Milan.
Important exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, showcasing 90 works of art that will later be presented at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Charleroi, the Musée d’Art Moderne in Brussels and the Castello Sforzesco in Milan.
Exhibits at the Arts Club of Chicago and participates in Expo ’72 at the Grand Palais of Paris.
Illustrates Kafka’s Metamorphosis for Olivetti. Alice Editions publishes a collection of watercolours, La Mort d’un arbre, for which he also writes the text. Max Ernst delivers a appropriate introduction for the book with an original lithograph. Among the Belgian selected to participate in the XIIth São Paulo Biennial, where he is awarded the Grand Prize for painting.
Exhibits a collection of engravings at the Galerie Vokaer and new watercolours at the Galerie Kriwin in Brussels.
Creates ten etchings and aquatints to illustrate Jorge Luis Borges’ The Circular Ruins for Editions Sauret in Monaco. Exhibits in Milan at the Studio Marconi and showcases engravings at La Hune in Paris. For one of the new stations of the Brussels underground, he creates Magic City, a mural of 165 m2. Giorgio Soavi publishes an essay on the artist and his work: Vue Imprenable.
Creates a second mural, Paysage, commissioned by Olivetti for Waterloo Station in London. His image-correspondence with Giorgio Soavi is published in a book, Lettres à Giorgio, by Alice Editions.
Exhibits at the Museum Boijmans-Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, and then at the Deutsches Plakatmuseum in Essen.
Exhibits at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London and the XXth Festival in Spoleto, for which he designed the poster.
Exhibits at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Liège with Milton Glaser. Illustrates Alcools and Calligrammes by Guillaume Apollinaire for Editions Sauret in Monaco. Exhibits at Galerie Pauli in Lausanne and, for the fourth time, at the Lefebre Gallery in New York.
Illustrates Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles for Olivetti and Jacques Prévert’s Oeuvre complète for Editions Sauret in Monaco. Exhibits recent watercolours at the Galerie Berggruen in Paris. Paints stage curtain for the Centre Culturel de la Communauté française de Belgique, inaugurated in Paris.
Illustrates Boris Vian’s L’Automne à Pékin with a series of twelve watercolours and collages for Editions Sauret in Monaco. Illustrates Guy de Maupassant’s L’Inutile beauté with a series of etchings and aquatints.
At the request of Michel Soutter, designs opera sets for Frank Martin (Le vin Herbé) and Giacomo Puccini (Gianni Schicchi), performed at the Geneva Grand Théâtre. Creates background projections for Igor Stravinsky’s l’Histoire du soldat, performed at the Théâtre de la Vie in Brussels. Works on Aubusson tapestries modelled after his cartoons for the Galerie Rober Four in Paris. Designs, with Luigi Guardigli, a mosaic of 10 m2 for the RTBF building in Brussels.
Le Musée de la Poste in Paris exhibits his engravings, and the Musée Ingres of Montauban organizes an exhibition of watercolours, engravings and posters.
Creates animation films and short films in New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans for Jacques Chancel’s television programme Le grand échiquier. Creates, with Milton Glaser, a series of images published as Conversation by Alice Editions and Editions du Chêne.
Large retrospective of posters at La Défense in Paris. Finishes illustrations for the poetical work of Guillaume Apollinaire and engraves a series of etchings and aquatints for Albert Camus’ Pluies de New York. Exhibition of watercolours and collages at the Musée Picasso in Antibes and the Galery 111 in Lisbon.
Returns to Japan for a retrospective in Tokyo, Osaka and Kamakura. Creates a 14-storey mural near the Porte d’Italie in Paris. For Editions Sauret, he completes a series of watercolours to illustrate Chansons, mémoires de nos années, a book featuring the lyrics of Yves Montand. Exhibition at the Bacardi Art Gallery in Miami. Inaugurates a retrospective of two hundred works of art at the Correr Museum in Venice.
Engraves the album Lointains for Blue Shadow in Paris, with six etchings and aquatints on the subject of travelling. Continues his work with wood. Designs a hot-air balloon produced by Ballons libres de France, presented in New York, Washington and Albuquerque. Finishes the screenprint Je vous écris, on the subject of travelling, at the Arcay studio in Paris.
Designs the poster for the reopening of the Teatro Olimpico, constructed by Palladio, and donates some hundred posters to the Vicenza Museum. Travels to Buenos Aires, where he exhibits with his friend Milton Glaser at the Museo de Bellas Artes. They are invited to give a lecture to 4,000 students at the university. Pays a visit to the Iguaçu Falls at the border of Paraguay and Brazil, a magical place that he subsequently draws.
Exhibits again at the Musée Botanique in Brussels.
Engraves a series of etchings and aquatints, A propos de la Création, on the subject of Genesis. He designs the acronym for the French Revolution’s Bicentenary. Illustrates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, published in six official UN languages with preface by Javier Pérez de Cuellar, for Amnesty International.
Continues to make objects in wood, a practice he started in 1986, and transforms them by painting them with oils.
Designs sets for the Teatro Goldoni in Venice and the Teatro Argentina in Rome for a comedy by Carlo Goldoni (Una delle ultime sere di carnovale), directed by Maurizio Scaparro. Creates an 80-m2 tapestry in Aubusson for the Palais des Congrès in Monaco. His posters are exhibited at the Poster Museum in Lahti, Finland, and the Musée de l’Affiche in Toulouse.
Exhibition of watercolours and engravings organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where he also presents his first transformed objects. The Marino Marini Museum in Florence presents an exhibition of his watercolours, engravings and posters. He starts creating his Bateaux using all sorts of materials, often applying oil paint to deepen the subject, as well as that of the sea. Creates characters in clay and plaster.
An exhibition entitled Notre Terre, brings together a series of engravings and posters that evoke the preservation of the environment. The exhibition runs in several small towns in France.
Starts a passionate collaboration with Alberto Meomartini for SNAM in Italy that addresses the same subject – concern for the environment. Together, they create a series of works ranging from animated films to large posters that will cover the walls of Italian cities for several years to come.
First large sculpture in wood, made with recycled wooden rafters. Illustrates H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man with a series of watercolours that will later be exhibited at the Galleria Nuages in Milan. In Chartres, creates stained-glass windows for the Mont-Agel chapel in the south of France. First large sculptures in bronze.
Dedicates himself to sculpture, examples of which are presented for the first time at La Pedrera, a building by Gaudí in Barcelona. The exhibition is organized by the Caixa de Catalunya and also comprises a vast selection of watercolours, paintings and engravings.
Exhibition of watercolour paintings and sculptures at the Marisa Del Re Gallery in New York. Participates in the IInd biennale for sculpture in Monaco.
New travelling exhibition in Japan: at the Bunkamura Museum in Tokyo, in Shizuoka and in Kyoto, featuring sculptures, watercolours, paintings and posters. Exhibits fourteen large Personnages and Oiseaux in bronze for the first time at the Petit Sablon in Brussels. Illustrates La Fontaine’s Fables for Nuages Edizioni in Milan.
Large retrospective at the Lausanne Musée Olympique featuring watercolours, sculptures, collages and transformed and sculpted objects. At the same time and in the same city, a new solo exhibition opens at the Galerie Alice Pauli. In the fall, exhibits forty sculptures in the park of the Château de Seneffe in Belgium, among them the first eight of the series Allée des pensées. Folon begins to create marble sculptures in Pietrasanta; the first one is a bas-relief dedicated to the memory of Maria Cernuschi Ghiringhelli and is destined for the Monaco cemetery.
Exhibits 80 watercolours from his private collection at the Museo Morandi in Bologna. Donates personal stills of the Morandi studio to the same museum. In keeping with Bologna’s tradition, a 12 m high sculpture in cloth, made to model of its project Le temps, is burned on the Piazza Maggiore on the night of December 31.
Anthological exhibition at the Knokke-Le-Zoute Casino in Belgium. At the same seaside resort, installs a bronze sculpture entitled La mer, ce grand sculpteur directly in front of the sea, allowing the sea to wash over the work when the tide is high.
Designs stained-glass windows for a 12th-century church in Burcy (France), a village he had grown very close after living there for some time.
Creates the sculpture Le Messager, dedicated to assassinated children. The sculpture is installed in Brussels at the Parc Royal and inaugurated by the royal family.
Creates large murals in Milan and Rome for SNAM. In Pietrasanta (Italy), at Franco Cervietti’s studio, he finishes several 6 m high marble sculptures. Completes stained-glass windows for the Pise chapel, not far from Arles, and supervises their installation.
Exhibition at cultural centre Elzenveld in Antwerp. Paints the Palio of Sienna. Traditionally, it is awarded to the winner of the legendary race.
Voler, a 3 m high bronze sculpture is installed at the Brussels international airport.
An anthological exhibition featuring large sculptures is organized at the Galerie Guy Pieters in Knokke-Le-Zoute.
The entirety of its sculptures is placed on the Piazza Del Duomo in Pietrasanta, for which he creates the set, and in the church and cloister of Sant’Agostino.
Exhibition at the Galleria Il Chiostro in Saronno and at the Galleria André in Rome.
In Pietrasanta, on the night of December 31, 2,000 candles are placed on an equal number of sculpted hands in fired earthenware which are then lit in memory of the 2,000 people who, according to Folon, have marked the preceding centuries. Their names are put on display. Folon calls the installation Le temps d’une prière.
Exhibition of watercolours and sculptures at the Galerie Guy Pieters in Saint-Paul de Vence.
The artists gives the initial impetus for the Folon Foundation, inaugurated on October 27, 2000, at the farmstead of the Château La Hulpe – Domaine Solvay. Located near Brussels, it is one of the most beautiful listed parks in Europe, and Folon spent many days there during his childhood. From now on, people can discover the works he took care to preserve “in order to see them reunited one day in one and the same place.”
Exhibits at the Galleria Carlina in Turin.
Exhibition of sculptures and paintings at the Galerie Guy Pieters in Sint-Martens-Latem, Belgium. An exhibition of his work, including tapestries created in Aubusson, is inaugurated at the Château Sédières in France. His large sculpture La ville en marche is installed in the park of Château Saint Georges, Brussels. The city of Lisbon organizes an exhibition of his large bronze and marble sculptures. He creates a bronze sculpture in memory of the great poet Fernando Pessoa. It is subsequently placed in a square in Lisbon. A range of drawings is displayed in the parental house of the poet.
Takes up ceramics. Exhibition of recent watercolours at the Galerie Guy Pieters in Saint-Paul de Vence. He design a hot-air balloon, which is made in Belgium and launched on its maiden flight at La Hulpe – Domaine Solvay on June 9 in honor of the “Air Day” organized by the Ministry of Environment of the Walloon Region.
Is named ambassador to UNICEF. Is decorated by President of the French Republic Jaques Chirac with the Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur at the Palais de l’Elysée. Designs sets and costumes for La Bohème at the Puccini festival in Torre del Lago, Italy. Presents recent sculpture at the Galerie Guy Pieters in Knokke-Le-Zoute. Creates stained-glass windows for the 11th-century church of Durbuy, Belgium. Is commissioned by the mayor of Saint-Paul de Vence to renovate the old chapel of the Pénitents Blancs, for which he begins conceiving paintings, sculptures and windows. Exhibits his work at the Palazzo sDucale in Lucca, and donates the sculpture Vivre to the town: it represents a panther, the town’s symbol. Sculpts L’arbre aux fruits d’or for the aviary of Fattoria Celle de Giuliano Gori.
As the artist’s projects expand, so does the Folon Foundation. Its doors reopen in March. The metamorphosis is in keeping with the artist’s evolution. The foundation remains a place full life and new creations. Exhibits his ceramics at the Villa Paolina of Viareggio in Italy.
Inauguration of the major anthological exhibition ‘Folon Firenze’ on May 12 at the Forte di Belvedere and Sala d’arme of the Palazzo Vecchio in Firenze. Two hundred thirty-seven works of art are reunited under Marilena Pasquali’s commission. On October 20, Folon passes away.