Henriette Zéphir was born on August 8, 1920 in Montmaurin, near the large city of Toulouse where her parents lived and worked. She was raised by her grandparents up to the age of eleven before her studies took her away. At the age of 21 she married Mr Zéphir, an English teacher from Martinique. In 1943, Henriette gave birth to a girl, but was left alone for the remainder of the war whilst her husband was mobilized. Afterwards, in 1947, the family settled in Antilles, but Henriette felt isolated and lonely. Eventually the marriage broke down and she returned to France in 1956 to live with her two children in Nice.
On the 3rd May 1961 Henriette felt a presence next to her. She heard a soft melodious voice asking her to cooperate with it. Under the influence of this guiding force, whom she knew as Don Carlos, she began to draw. At first it was nothing more than scribbles, but with an unstinting effort by Henriette her work developed into drawings of flowing energies imbued with positivity and vitality. It changed her life and for the next half a century she would devote herself to esoteric practice.
In the beginning there were long periods where she would write messages dictated from her guide and on a few occasions she was able to let her mind be guided long distances to gain news from a distant person. However, her main task was to help her guide in the process of aiding souls to reach the higher spheres. This was a laborious occupation and on one occasion she described seeing gigantic masses like mountains gradually getting closer and closer until she was able to discern that they were made up of crowds of innumerable souls, all needing her assistance.
In 1965 she was discovered by the artist and art brut collector Jean Dubuffet who was so impressed with her work that he persuaded her to let him purchase around twenty pieces and exhibited them at his groundbreaking show at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1967. He also wrote an article on her in 1966 for his periodical L’Art Brut. For decades they were the only works she would sell until late in life she declared the spirits were content for her work to find their way into the world. By this time she had completed around 150 drawings. Each work would begin slowly with a feeling that her arm did not belong to her, but was a conduit for the energy to flow from the spirit world. Often the pen or pencil would not leave the paper until it was completed. She didn’t see her work as art, but more of restorative and healing tool to cure ailments and replenish energy.
Henriette’s work can be seen at the Galerie Christian Berst, Paris, the Collection de L’Art Brut, Lausanne, Cavin Morris Gallery, New York and at the Museum of Everything, London
Images from Henriette Zéphir: Une Femme sous Influence – exhibition catalogue – February to March 2011 at Galerie Christian Berst. See our artists page for more mediumistic artists like Henriette.