Christie’s blog for collecting watches

Swiss Watchmaking, Post-Graffiti: An interview with Xavier Magaldi

As much as we like it, mechanical watchmaking is obsolete, surpassed by superior new technology that is cheaper and more precise, but lacks soul. The crucial element of soul is why mechanical watchmaking has transcended mainstream technology to functional art. This new positioning has resulted in a renaissance period in which the art form shines and develops like never before.

In recent developments, mechanical watchmaking has formed an unlikely symbiosis with street art! Equally as unlikely is the story of how this connection came to life. It all revolves around street artist Xavier Magaldi, who was trained as a watchmaker and had the opportunity to work at one of the greatest Maisons in watchmaking: Patek Philippe. Here, many precious and beautiful creations passed his hands and changed his life. They brought out a passion in him that he had never known before; Magaldi not only wanted to contribute to the inner beauty of these watches, he wanted to play a part in their outer beauty and design. This desire was so intense that he left Patek Philippe to study graphic design. After completing his education and gaining experience with other companies, the circle closed when he entered once again the employment of Patek Philippe, but this time as a member of the design department, where he mainly focuses on the design of their dials.

For him, Patek Philippe feels like home. It retains a tradition of innovation in terms of both watchmaking and aesthetic. Considering his background, it is perhaps not so strange that Xavier Magaldi himself combines his classical training as a watch maker with a passion for street art.

Street art and watches are two different worlds. How did you combine the two?

Yes, they are two different worlds! There are mainly two schools, two institutions that have shaped my adolescence. On one hand there was the Watchmaking School of Geneva: Cartesian and methodical, and on the other, the Graffiti: free and without constraints or limits.

These two worlds oppose each other yet form an integral part of my life and I’ve learned to combine them in a complementary manner. We find that the parallel fusion in my paintings, all essential to the proper functioning of a mechanism’s components, are released from their constraints and obligations and finally speak. Mechanisms that operate only in the imagination.
How did you come into contact with street art?

It came naturally. I like to observe my surroundings. I was born in Geneva, a very cosmopolitan city from the presence of  international organizations and the cultural diversity of its population. Here, the first graffiti appeared shortly after London and Paris. In the streets I came across plenty and among them these signatures similar to signs and tags.

It was a language that immediately spoke to me, a spirit, a way of expression and the display side that I found very interesting. It was the continuation of a European art movement, born in the USA in the 1960′s and 70′s’where every urban element was likely to be decorated. Pure Street art!

When I was younger, I had fun creating my own alphabets, until the day I met the famous graffiti-artists and was taken under their wings, a bit like big brothers. As I specialized, I worked mainly letters through the “wild-style”, as they say in the jargon. This technique is to deform and stylize the letter in an extreme way. By following a few “machines” in freestyle, but this was the “abstract graffiti” … and finally, it was time to move on to the canvas!

What is your inspiration in regards to your art?

Anything can be an inspiration! I love to observe, analyze balances, compositions, shapes, beautiful objects: aesthetics fascinates me. But I must say that the technical plans also inspire me a lot, whether micro, architecture or urban planning, I can easily project myself and find forms that I then develop.

They represent a kind of graphic design in its purest form, which allows me to proceed with a composition.
Can you tell us something about the process that you start  when you create a work of art?

An art work has a destiny of its own. It comes to life in the workshop: I sketch, I draw, I stick the items as they are required. They reach their balance naturally.

I like to work on large format, I need to feel the gestures, the rhythm and pulse of the artwork which involves a complete integration, a true physical relationship with my canvas.

What are your favorite tools and techniques and why?

The brush of course, with its majestic side is a great master. The spray can also come with its own set of gestures and the benefit of quick drying.

Pens and markers for their accuracy and my memories of technical drawing. Sometimes I also use other techniques such as stenciling, spatula, gold leaf, collage and modeling paste.”The mixture of techniques is very interesting because it gives a different volume; however, quality is essential and imperative.

What is the importance of the use of color in your work?

I am primarily looking for the composition. But, actually, color is important. But I’m working a lot in monochrome, namely the use of different tones while remaining in the same color. It is a matter of time and inspiration.
Is there also a message you want to convey with your art?

I see through my paintings, they are a piece of my life. It is important to reflect a story, period. But they are very personal. They must also allow the buyer to project themselves, so that he or she finds an emotion which they can identify with.

I recently became a father for the third time. This great moment of happiness will surely affect my new work. Also from time to time, I’ll take the children in the workshop. Here they spend the day as they paint and discover, these are very important moments for me.

Watchmaking is a precise and technical art. Is that the way you approach your art?

Surprisingly there are many similarities, at least in the way I see it, but the purpose is different. The expertise, precision of movement, attention to detail, research, and development give rise to components and shapes, details and finishes. So, yes we find the precision and sophistication, but it has no constraints, all of which are free to speak and act as they want.

I think my paintings are fragments of poetic shots rather than technical, if they were used to build a machine they would be those of a “time travel” machine’

What can we expect from you in the near future?

Paint again and again, this is the best thing I can do for those who believe and invest in my work. I’m working right now with interior decorators. It’s really interesting. Also, I am currently working on a book, a beautiful graphic work collecting my whole world: the abstract and poetic watch. This work will also include collaborations, but it is more of a long term project.

Martin Green