An interview with Emeline Attout and Fanny Husson
From the 8th – 25th of January 2022 the exhibition Ernest and Celestine will take place at Alliance Française in Dubai. This event is part of the Belgian Film Festival "Spotlight on Belgian Cinema" because the actual film, Ernest et Celestine, will be showcased on Sunday the 9th of January during the festival.
Did you know that the feature film Ernest and Celestine was adapted from children books illustrated and written by a Belgian artist, Gabrielle Vincent?
Have you ever heard about the strange, yet adorable, big protective bear named Ernest and Celestine, the mischievous mouse? Inseparable, they support each other in their daily lives and enjoy every bit of it. The author and illustrator, Gabrielle Vincent wrote very sweet and everyday stories about a big bear and a small mouse to express human truths, the joy of making others happy and living simply, encompassing the values of truth, tolerance, honesty and acceptance.
Ernest et Célestine is a 2012 French-Belgian animated film directed by Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner based on beautifully illustrated books by Gabrielle Vincent. The film was released in December 2012 in France and Belgium and won a Cesar (French Oscars in 2013) for best-animated film amongst quite a few other international prizes.
In 2014, Ernest and Celestine, selected in 3 categories, came out of the Magritte's Ceremony (highest award in Belgian cinema) winner of 3 awards for Best Film, Best Director (here in the plural) and Best Sound. The film was also successful overseas and was selected for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
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How long have you worked in illustration for children and how did you come to this magical world of childhood?
Fanny: I have been working specifically in the field of children's illustration for 8 years, having set up my company in 2014, Les Artychauts (@les_artychauts), which was primarily intended to publish illustrations in limited editions to decorate children's rooms. As from the very first months of the company, my partner and I expanded the activity to the organization of events around illustration for younger ones.
I used to work in school publishing, and that is when I started to enjoy working with the children’s illustrators and responded to many other projects in the field.
Emeline: I have been working in the field of illustration ever since 2012. Together with my father, we created the Monique Martin Foundation as well as the company that manages the artist's copyright. He was entitled to the rights of Gabrielle Vincent. Gabrielle Martin, the author and illustrator of Ernest and Celestine left her entire legacy to her nephew, my father, having never married and had children).
What is your role at the foundation level?
Fanny: I have both an advisory role and a commercial one. I look after the foundation in Belgium and I look after our connections and links overseas. Especially with France - a country where there are many unconditional fans of Ernest and Celestine. This includes the work with the Casterman editions which re-publish the albums and with whom we imagine new products like popup books, picture books etc, the collaboration with Studio Canal, the relations with the licensed brands etc. I also organize or co-organize, as appropriate, exhibitions with the Foundation.
Emeline: I am the managing director for day-to-day management and also look after the foundation – managing the heritage and handling the exhibitions.
What inspires you with Gabrielle Vincent? How could you describe her portrait in a few lines?
Fanny: I admire of course her polymorphous talent, she was just as proficient in painting as in line drawing or watercolor; monochrome than color; she knew how to speak to adults just as much as children, throughout her illustrations.
She fascinates me because she was a free woman. She has never allowed herself to be dictated by any social norm whatsoever. She didn’t get married, didn’t have children which in her background was really not the norm.
She decided to turn her back to the world of Art Galleries in Brussels where she could have shined and remain in her comfort zone. Instead, she challenged herself, listened to her heart & passion and became what she deliberately wanted to become – an illustrator for children.
I find it inspiring quite simply because she was definitely ahead of her time. She was considered an avant-gardist with the way she handled issues and by her way of life: green before her time, concerned about the planet and its inhabitants, she advocated as from the 1970’s the de-consumption within our society, the need for recycling.
Her values are precious for today and for tomorrow: truth, sharing, tolerance, honesty and acceptance.
Who exactly are these two main characters in the stories? Why did you choose a bear and a mouse?
Fanny: The bear and the mouse represent the big and the small. It is the encounter that should not have taken place, the alliance of opposites, the irreconcilable on paper who get to meet and love one another. She couldn't find a better way to convey her thoughts and feelings – to share all the things close to her heart and the fight against prejudices and norms.
What are the main values found in the stories and illustrations? Because Gabrielle Vincent does not add many words to her illustrations. The "text" part is reduced. Was there a genuine desire to let the reader draw build the imagination from the drawing?
Fanny: These are all the values mentioned above, tolerance, acceptance and openness to others. It’s also the idea that you can always get by. Even when there is not much to eat and your wallet is empty, there is always a way out. For example, Ernest, the bear takes out his violin and plays out in the street).
Another value on which the illustrator emphasizes is joy. It’s always party time with Ernest and Celestine. There is always a good excuse to celebrate and invite friends over! Even if they’re just the two of them, it’s also party time day and night!
What is your favorite album? Which story touches you the most?
Fanny: Josephine’s room is my favorite book. The messages conveyed are numerous and it is illustrated and written with a lot of humour and laughter around resourcefulness, recycling, and hospitality.
The one closest to my heart is the last book published - the posthumous album: Celestine’s Questions. It is certainly the one where the artist shows the most of herself and where Ernest, the bear also reveals himself in his fragility and doubts.
Emeline: My favorite childhood album is Aunt America. This is the one I always asked my father to read out to me. It is the story of an aunt, named Petula, who arrives unexpected at the home of Ernest and Celestine. And being quite a person, Ernest tries to welcome her whole heartedly but Celestine has less enthusiasm… read all about it!
But my favorite now is Ernest and Celestine from day to day. It has very little text, it looks a bit disjointed and it’s less easy to read out to but the images and illustrations are just so sweet and the drawings, simply beautiful to look at.
In total, nearly 25 books have been published … what has made these books successful over time?
Fanny: Yes, it's 26 albums in total and they haven't aged a bit. As we have seen, the characters are timeless and do not age. As for the pencil line, it is so fine, so simple that it continues to inspire many illustrators, whether they are comic book authors or children's illustrators. She had a great scriptwriting power. She knew how to tell a story in a few pictures, to show emotions in a few strokes and modulate an atmosphere with a very delicate palette.
Do you think Gabrielle Vincent's artwork and style is still relevant in the children's world today?
Fanny: Yes, because they don't see it as vintage, they are caught up in history and let themselves be taken in.
About ten years ago, screenwriter Daniel Pennac directed these two cartoon heroes when he wrote the novel that appears in an animated film. How did the relationship develop between the foundation of the illustrator of children’s books and the desire to project the two friends on the big screen?
Fanny: Emeline will be able to speak about it better than I do because I wasn’t yet working for the foundation at the time. For having seen it from the outside, I find that it's a great story as it wasn’t supposed to happen. The artist did not want to. However, with Daniel Pennac working on the screenplay, it became obvious that the project had to happen. Moreover, Daniel Pennac was a long-time friend of Gabrielle Vincent. They managed to keep in touch by correspondence only – for almost 10 years without ever meeting in person. It was a friendship on paper - two passionate artists who admired each other.
And today, the foundation is celebrating the 40th anniversary of our 2 friends - our musician bear and a mouse in love with drawing - a celebration highlighted by several exhibitions, and one taking place in Dubai in January 2022. What made you decide to come to Dubai? Do you think there is a target audience directed at the younger ones?
Fanny: Ernest and Celestine like to meet new people, and therefore Dubai seemed to be an obvious place! And especially the 40 years for us beyond the obvious aspect of a commemoration, it is the opportunity to multiply synergies and projects to extend values of the artist, therefore leaving Belgian borders is something very important for us.
We also have an exhibition project in Korea which unfortunately has been postponed for 2 years due to the world sanitary health situation. It was already quite a challenge to organize the 40th anniversary in Brussels. We therefore look forward to setting up the exhibition in Dubai and we see Dubai as a good signal of an international restart.
In order to celebrate the existence of Ernest and Celestine, you released a collector's album with Casterman editions. Can you tell us a little more? Would it be a great gift idea for families under the Christmas tree or for the start of the New Year? Is it available in Dubai or will it be possible to have it autographed during your visit to the Alliance Française in Dubai, in January 2022?
Fanny: This collector's album is the reunion of the first album, Ernest and Celestine have lost Simeon, and the last, The Questions of Celestine, in one book. We just added a few pages devoted to the portrait of the artist and how she became passionate about illustration for children. It a perfect gift for families with younger children because we discover both the magic around the characters and we get to meet a woman artist with strong values.
What are the foundation's other projects for 2022?
As mentioned, we have an outstanding exhibition project in Korea – Seoul.
In Belgium – an array of projects:
We have planned an Ernest and Celestine exhibition in the spring at the Espace Wallonie in Brussels around the themes of sustainable development goals.
We are also building a partnership with the Children's Museum in Brussels, to showcase the illustrations of Ernest et Celestine - with mural frescos and cultural mediation actions. The idea is to come and fit into the Brussels urban landscape while participating in neighborhood life.
We will also continue to bring to life the project initiated on the occasion of the anniversary exhibition at the Chapel of Boondael: narrated walks with a violinist and two actors.
An exhibition at the Palais de Justice, Brussels in the Spring season with a focus on her work around the world of justice. She did spend many hours at the Palais de Justice drawing people.
She was a fascinating woman! Come and meet her through her sweet and delicate drawings and soak in the values that she conveys. The exhibition runs at the Alliance Française from the 8 – 25 January 2022.