THE YOUNG SMITH FROM QUEBEC WITH A PORTUGUESE SURNAME

When I was struck by Antoine Marçal's superb Scramseax I found it interesting that his surname was Marçal, but since he was posting from Québec, I thought it was a French name.
He posted the knife the first time at Don Fogg's and of all his work, the superb san mai Scramseax caught my eye and attention instantly. It now lays on a coffee table in my living room.

Antoine described to me his past, as an introduction to his present:
I was born in France, near Paris in 1972, from a Portuguese father and a Spanish mother.
When I was three years old, the whole family moved to Canada to a small village in the province of Quebec. I spent most of my childhood in the country, on my father's farm. As an adolescent we moved to Montreal where I pursued studies in fine arts.
At the end of Cegep (sort of college in Quebec), I was at a crossroad. Still very much driven by the arts, I did not feel comfortable with the fine arts milieu and gallery world.
Instead of continuing higher studies, I was given the opportunity of going west of the country in British Columbia.

I went there unsure of what I would do with my young life, but at least I told myself I was going to learn some English and meet interesting people, if nothing else. And indeed there was.
After some traveling around I found an art school in a small town: the
Kootenay School of Arts, Nelson.
It is there I took my first official blacksmithing course. It was there also that I had my first contact with a living blade smith.
It was I guess a revelation. In this craft I could link many interests I had Arts, Craft, Science, History and Myths.
At 21, after two years of study, I came back to Quebec where I worked for different blacksmithing shops. In parallel, I was setting up my own place patiently ( one of the essentials quality a craftsman has to develop!).
I am now working in a cooperative ironwork shop with other craftsmen and women, creating sculptural work, utilitarian and public art.
I'm putting more and more emphasis on blade making and research on ancient metallurgy (damascus and bloom steel).
I live in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec with my girlfriend Sabrina and our 9 month daughter Eleonore
.


THE CONVERSATION
BLADESIGN: Antoine, for how long have you been working as a smith? Your san mai Scramseax is of such beauty and quality that one would think you carry upon your shoulders 10 or more years of experience with fire and the behavior of different steels…

A.M.:
Thank you Antonio.
I've been smithing for about seven years now. I've put emphasis on blade smithing increasingly for the past 5-6 years.
Learning and practicing blacksmithing first was a good thing; it allowed me to learn how metal behaves, temperatures of work, etc. Basically an understanding of forging that I could develop before going into finer blade smithing work.

BLADESIGN: You mentioned that it was at the Kootenay School of Arts that you first came into contact with blacksmithing and with a living blade smith. Was he very influential in your work? Has any other blade smith played an important part in your journey?

A.M.:
When I met him, I realized that it could be done. I guess I'm a follower of Saint Thomas, I believe what I see!
Since then, many craftsmen have influence me, not only in blade smithing.
I've worked in ironworks with Venitio Casasola, making railings for staircases and furniture. He was very influential in the sense that he showed me patience, precision (still working on that ha ha!!) and more important the love of a job well made. He's the one who told me that memorable sentence: “ Don't worry Antoine, the most difficult are the first 25 years!!” .
Blade wise, Henri Viallon, Christophe Deringer, Pascal Coupry, Dominic Bergiel that I've met. And many knife makers that I've met only virtually like Don Fogg.
Of course there is dozens of other people met only briefly over the years, who provided me with inspiration.

BLADESIGN: Earlier you also mentioned that you were not comfortable with the fine arts milieu or the gallery world. It would be interesting to know what were the reasons that made you uncomfortable.

Mmmmmm. Talking about me and my work is not something that comes easy to me.
At the time I felt that I had to “justify” the fact that I was doing what I was doing. I often found that art milieu over-intellectualized one's work.
I'm a very instinctive artist, what people say and how they react to my work is, I think, much more relevant.
There is a tendency in the past years to bring crafts closer to contemporary art. It is a good thing in some aspect, but sometimes I'm afraid that it could lead to lose the work behind a veil of rules and demands.
That's probably why I feel attracted to outsider and “primitive” art. Only the primitive pull of creativity.
Today I realize that often people that ask about my “creative statement” are probably more only curious about what I do. I'm I getting wiser?...he he he !

Some of the previous works by Antoine Marçal show a Western style inclination although bearing the inevitable hybridism of differential heat treatment.

BLADESIGN:

A beautiful Scramseax in a rich combination with wood.

BLADESIGN: I personally don’t see a difference between Art and Craft in it selves whenever creativity elements are present. What I feel however is that art has been alienated to such a level during the last quarter of the 20th Century that it has lost, in the one hand, plenty of credibility by the mercantilism manipulation it had suffered at the hands of some less scrupulous “patrons” of the arts, while on the other hand, technological developments have helped change its physical appearance. On the other hand the notion of Art that was born during the Renaissance is now undergoing deep changes again, for which reason there is presently a no-man’s-land in my opinion.
So it is not a question of getting wiser but of choosing which milieu you feel more comfortable.
I wonder what you think about this, considering that in the arts you have a history of the arts in its philosophical, religious, political and aesthetical approaches.
My questions are:
Do you think that a craftsmen – no matter in which area - requires the same level of aesthetical education than an artist, the same philosophical quests?
My other question is, you speak about instinct and I very much agree at length with you. But… does instinct is not something that comes with miles and miles of journeying?


A.M.: Working with matter, no matter what medium, Is a deep undergoing. It is hard to describe all the emotions and thoughts that one can go trough when making something. It is sometimes very zen, other times a battle is going on...Artist or craftsman it is important for me to have a curiosity about the world. As for the philosophical journey, spending so much time alone in such an intimacy with matter, it brings someone to look at thing in different ways, yes, you could talk of philosophy...You spend a lot of time thinking when you hand polish a blade!
For me, instinct is at the base of things, experience and education will modify how this instinct is shown to the world.

BLADESIGN: Let me explain. I felt a very strong attraction to the Scramseax that I acquired from you. It told me that the san mai layers were unique, the hybridation of a Western sword shape with the san mai technique was extremely well succeeded. It was a purchase based on instinct. But here is again: how much of instinct is accumulated experience?

A.M.: Creativity or “creative instinct” is something that calls on me since I was a child. It is very strong in me. In other people it is even stronger.
In my educational environment, I learned I could make things, and later create “art”, use that instinct in a channeled way. School changed the way this instinct came out of me.
Some people never have the chance of having this shown to them. But this instinct is still present. Growing. They might not even know it is there. But one day is comes out, no matter their “limited” experiences.
I could not explain otherwise the work of an Adolf Wolfi, a Ferdinand Cheval or the work of almost any outsider artist. Aesthetical education is a blessing but sometimes a curse. It gave me a discipline in fusioning elements, what works, but this discipline can become a straight jacket at times. It has stop me from experimenting in the past.
Blade making is a way I chose out of different experiences in my life, people I met. If my life would have been different, I would still be creating something, but in a different way, perhaps another medium.

BLADESIGN: Do you work alone? Does any member of your family participates in your work?

A.M.: My girlfriend Sabrina started carvings for her jewellery, and wishes to carve handles in the near future...

BLADESIGN: That is most interesting. I know of Vince Evans whose wife also does the carving of his daggers.
Now there is a question to finalize: do you see a continuity of your work, can you foresee evolution in the horizon? In other words, are you considering opening up to other styles of making blades, and are you considering swords? Would you tell me something about it?

A.M.: South East Asian blades are starting to attract me the more I see them. The various cultures of that area of the world have made weapons whose shapes are quite alien to an European inspired maker like me.
Damascus is definitely an area I want to explore intensively. I barely scratched the surface of this wonderful material, different patterns, different materials. It breathes life in a piece, it can be strong and fierce or soft and smooth...I wish to continue exploring damascus combined with a san mai construction , san mai is a technique that has a great decorative and technical appeal, and is more difficult to master than I first thought!
I think that I'll continue in the vein of mixing influence in the future... I have trouble being faithful to one type of blade so they often become hybridated in some way...Ancient European and South Asian are pretty much veins I want to explore.
I have almost finished my sword heat treat set up. I started to make blade in the optic of making swords, but soon discovered that one step at a time was best... Swords are something I want to make for a long time!
All those project are all under the umbrella of ancient metallurgy. I made a few experiments already and ancient steel making technique will one day play ,I hope, a major role in my work.

Thank you Antonio for this wonderful opportunity, you have been very kind... and very patient!!
 

Some of Antoine Marçal's work, a Canadian smith of Portuguese origin, like myself.  The world is a small place... and Antoine is already more than a promise. His work is developing now, as said by him, through increasing hybridation. This is the vocabulary of today, where the world has shrunk in terms of information and communication through the internet.

 

 
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COPYRIGHT BY ANTOINE MARÇAL AND BLADESIGN - NO PARTS OR TOTALITY OF THIS INTERVIEW CAN BE USED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION FROM BOTH ANTOINE MARÇAL AND ANTONIO CONCEIÇÃO jÚNIOR