Atelier WOCS, A duty of Excellence | A conversation with the Founder

Geneva, February 27, 2023 - Interview of Robert Topulos, Founder, Art & Creative director of Atelier WOCS by Thierry d'Autheville, Président Lion's Club Genève President and CEO of Parkgest.

Parkgest - What does Atelier WOCS want to bring to the visual world of the poster artistry?

Robert Topulos -  Our art edition collections carry a legacy of modern history and contain a multitude of subtleties and details emblematic of our era and generation. Atelier WOCS continues a forward-thinking tradition in poster artistry history. It is the "Art Poster", a precursory movement that dates back to the end of the 19th century initiated by the French painter and lithographer Jules Chéret. He was able to make the art of poster stand out from commercial posters, among other things, because of its high quality, artistic approach and signed, numbered and limited art prints. He has established his work in several Parisian and London galleries and art shows alongside oil paintings. By defying artistic authority and through his strong determination, he imposed his work on the art market, sparking a surge of interest from the elites of yesteryear.

He allowed the art of poster to be classified as a decorative art in the hierarchy of the arts and he would gain full legitimacy at the 1889 Universal Exhibition. It was at this same exhibition that Louis Vuitton presented his famous Damier trunk and won the Gold Medal, but also that the Eiffel Tower was presented by Gustave Eiffel after two years of construction.

The commercial poster had a very different purpose than the art poster. The production of commercial posters often numbered in tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of copies, so in my opinion, the notion of rarity is rather relative for many standard vintage posters.

To further answer your question, one day in a conversation with one of our major collectors who is also a watch collector, we were discussing one of the Atelier WOCS artworks he owns and he brought up the term "garde-histoire" (English: history-keeper) to define it. That term has stuck with me and I think it defines the intent of our collections. To tell the story and the beauty of our heritage, while perfecting this harmony between classicism and modernity. To offer the world, pieces that evoke the timelessness of a certain elegance and that will continue to evoke it over time. Atelier WOCS pieces are thought and designed to be preserved and to passed through generations.

PG - What led you to the topics of the collections?

RT - The revelation came from a trip through Switzerland, out of season, during days when the weather was difficult and changeable. I was struck by the solemnity of certain places, notably the derelict hotel on the road to the Furka Pass (Le Belvédère), and I wanted to capture these atmospheres.

PG - For what reasons are the collections in alignment with the graphic spirit and symbols of the Trente Glorieuses?

RT - The most iconic and timeless creations and Houses in history were founded during the Trente Glorieuses. Dior in 1946, Yves Saint Laurent in 1962, Céline in 1945 or even the first Hermès perfume, "Calèche", presented in 1961. The general creative spirit was at its peak during these years and the few years that followed. In watchmaking, for example, Gérald Genta created the most iconic timepieces in the industry. I think our collections are partly inspired by this pioneering and avant-garde creative spirit of the Trente Glorieuses, but the graphic spirit refers even more to the 1930s-1940s, when I think artists were at the top of their craft.

PG - What is the meaning of the ibex, the symbol of the Atelier WOCS?

RT - The Alpine ibex lives on peaks and ridges in the high mountains, where nature is unpredictable. It is a real force of nature and an outstanding climber who is able to climb extremely steep rocky slopes. It even adapts to the interventions of Man on nature by climbing dams to look for salt. He seeks the altitude and from its heights, he contemplates the world, observing it with calm. His look is peaceful and humble. In our eyes, he perfectly embodies resilience and determination.

PG - Are the native Swiss sensitive to their own graphic heritage, and why?

RT - I think there are many of us who are proud of our heritage. Switzerland has managed to preserve a certain nobleness through time and protect its reputation of excellence. This is surely one of the reasons why we have many Swiss collectors. It seems to me that the Swiss have a reputation for being sensitive to detail and demanding in terms of quality, because ultimately, this is what has forged our image in the world. They are therefore sensitive to our creations, because we leave nothing to chance and we are proud to contribute to keeping the Swiss image of excellence alive around the world. For us, it is important to continue to innovate and to ensure that the established Swiss houses support the smaller ones in their growth, because it is the entire Swiss industry that benefits from preserving a reputation for high quality work. Switzerland must always excel in what it offers to the world, whatever the activity. This is our duty.

PG - What is the Étorie printing process?

RT - The Étorie is a process unique to our House, developed from natural pigments, which we select according to the artworks. It allows us to obtain very vivid color tones and an extraordinary depth in the artworks. This process guarantees the longevity of the colors brilliance and meets the strictest museum conservation standards.

PG - Does the Étorie process take into account the environmental dimension?

RT - The Étorie is a process based on natural pigments. The environmental dimension is one of the founding elements of Atelier WOCS. Our collection have always been designed as precious and rare pieces, to be preserved by their owners and passed on from generation to generation. In a world impacted by overconsumption, it becomes delicate and unwise to design an object for mass consumption. The choice of our location in Geneva has also taken into account the environmental dimension, which is why we have established ourselves in the historical heart of the city at the Place du Molard in a pedestrian area that is easily accessible by bicycle and public transport.

PG - At what point of the process can the Étorie be considered a craft technique?

RT - The whole process is manual and is truly difficult to achieve, it requires a particular expertise. We work with our own color pigments and once laid on, retouches are applied with a brush and the piece is scrutinized in great detail to make sure there are no imperfections. Other steps are kept in the secrets of our House's savoir-faire. The finality of the process must be carried out in a dust-free space and it is not possible to touch the piece with bare hands without damaging it. This extreme fragility of the Atelier WOCS pieces requires expert work in the workshop and this craftsmanship continues with our partner art framer. Most art framers refuse to work with our pieces, as they require an extremely meticulous approach, which is not usual for anyone used to standard art prints.

PG - In what way do you think that subjects drawn from the art of living of the affluent classes could be likely to fascinate the new generations?

RT - Both the younger and older generations are sensitive to beauty. We welcome many young people with a passion for art, cars, aviation, watches or even architecture. The stories our pieces reveal fascinate them, as they bring a new look and scenario to the identity of a place they know. Sometimes it is an emotional attachment to a particular location, or it is lived experiences reflecting a certain art of living. For some young collectors, it is about projecting themselves into future experiences and for others, acquiring a piece from Atelier WOCS is a first investment in art.

PG - You are both a gallerist and an artist; do you have plans to involve other artists in the future, possibly in a different visual spirit?

RT - Atelier WOCS is seen as a guarantor of creativity, craftsmanship and quality in its field. An Atelier WOCS piece takes a long time to design and encompasses a whole creative journey to present quality collections over the years. The visual spirit is thus part of our identity. Atelier WOCS operates in the same way as the major fashion houses or watch manufactures; there is therefore an artistic direction established by a single artist who is pushed to innovate without deviating from the identity and visual spirit of these established houses. However, this artistic direction may indeed evolve over the years for these houses, as for Atelier WOCS.

PG - You are bringing back the iconic symbols of the Swiss dolce vita. What are your personal reasons for this?

RT - The art of good taste and the art of the timeless guide the creation. In a globalized world, the particularities of each country, each region, each object tend to melt into a mold that obturates the sparks of history that nevertheless crackle in many places. It is often said that today, the central districts of the world's cities all look alike. We want to prove that they are not.

PG - What are your plans for the future of Atelier WOCS?

RT - Our ambition is to continue to create unique collections that fascinate connoisseurs and art collectors who appreciate the aesthetics of the House and Swiss craftsmanship. We also plan to establish Atelier WOCS in other cities around the world to offer a unique location experience to our art collectors based abroad. The collections will continue to be inspired by the different places and histories where our House will be established.

Developing capsule collections with established leading houses with exciting histories is also an approach our House would like to develop. Bucherer 1888 was the first major House to open its doors to Atelier WOCS at the end of 2022 and it was a success for both Bucherer and the Atelier WOCS. Indeed, many of our collectors are also watch enthusiasts, which allows us to create events linking Art and Watchmaking and bring enthusiasts together, while introducing them to stunning timepieces.

The watchmaking industry is extremely important in the story of our heritage and our works allow us to highlight it deeply for a public of enthusiasts, but also for a younger public that only knows the symbolism, but not necessarily the historical value. Swatch and Omega, for example, have realized a recent partnership that has been a huge success among younger people, and that inspires us. Atelier WOCS is a story counter, a universe of desire, of pleasure, which is expressed through artistic creation and it is an excellent intermediary between the decorative arts and the art of Watchmaking.

PG - If you had the choice to own a work of art, which one would you choose?

RT - I am partial to classical paintings by Delacroix, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Picasso, but also to some more contemporary artists, notably Yves Klein. During a visit to Singapore, I had a particular crush on Raden Saleh's Boschbrand Forest Fire, a very large canvas, captivating to my eyes.