Project managers of the most famous festival of the French Riviera, the carnavaliers constitute a corporation of about 150 members, very jealous of their privileges.
The "former ("ancient") will explain to you that to be a carnavalier, does not mean to practise a profession as that of artisan, for example, but to participate in a competition organized since 1873, by the Events committee of the City of Nice, during the Carnival, and at the conclusion of which, one distributes prizes in cash, as it is the case in numerous competitions.
It is from 1922, that carnavaliers are grouped together in associations, to limit the number of places attributed during the prize-giving by the Events committee, and it is necessary to be a member of one of the four associations (the Association of the grotesque builders, The Aces, the Artisans, the Union), to be subsidized in the competition.
Therefore, the Carnival of Nice which is one of the most important carnivals of the world as regards to the preparation of " big heads " and the subjects or floats in pasteboard, based largely on the participation of carnavaliers.
These men and these few women, will have dedicated thousands of working hours so that their works take place on the grotesque parade.
But it is always with surprise that the public who comes to visit carnavaliers, in the workshops of Richelmi street, Riquier, learns that most of them are not professionals. They exercise varied enough professions (employees, storekeepers, artisans or civil servants) and dedicate their leisure activities to the Carnival.
The subsidy assigned by the Events committee at the conclusion of the competition, allows to cover expenses engaged for the realization of their work.
In front of the future, they do not hide a certain homesickness. Their organization, particular and original, reminds that of the " compagnonnage ".
Until these last years, the system relationship coaptation was original for the training.
Women are excluded from this type of succession although they participate actively in the various stages of realization. This discrimination is not any more for the style of the day and would not know how to last.
Having been allowed in one of the four societies, one follows a precise programme: one begins with a big head in "isolated", then one becomes " groupiste " (8 big heads) and then chariste by the relationship or the age.
For some years, this system, scrupulously respected by carnavaliers, is pushed aside by the chances and the requirements of modern life. Young people succeed fewer and fewer their parents because they have difficulty in sacrificing their hours of leisure; the ancient pass it to professionals who keep nevertheless the traditions of this popular art.
An art which needs to revitalize. But as it is not said that Carnival, such Ph œ nix dies to be reborn of its ashes, even more brilliant. Let us hope for it for carnavaliers.
The "profession" of carnavalier
Several months before the carnival, a strange fever seizes carnavaliers. In Nice, one calls it roguishly the carnavalina, but the symptoms are identical in all the cities of Carnival. It is fascinating to notice the resemblance of the places where this fever demonstrates itself. It acts mostly in closed environment, and provokes a real surrealist atmosphere in the different workshops.
The choice of the subject.
First stage, and not the slightest, in the conception of this grotesque work. At the beginning of spring, the carnavalina declares itself; it is often the most exalting period: that of the conception, the search for the idea, for the creative spark.
The carnavalier of Nice acquaints with the subject imposed by the Events committee for the next year, " the holiday " in 1987, " the centenary of Côte d'Azur " in 1988, " love " in 1989, " the laughter " in 1990, " Europe " in 1993, subjects which leave him a relative freedom. He makes drawings and paintings for his subject - float or big heads - with a model maker, and will execute then the works necessary for the realization of his float or his group, surrounded with a small and specialized work force.
The carnavalier is sovereign in the realm of the pasteboard and several phases mark out the realization of the subjects of Her Majesty Carnival. It is first of all necessary to pass in the workshop of the sculptor, whom such a magician uses, molds, mixes the clay and the plaster. What moments of intense emotion it was given to live to us by seeing appearing, under expert hands and full of Jean Ferrero's attention, Joël Belly or Gabriel Granata, the features of a face modelled in the clay, discovering the roguish smile of Her Majesty Carnival, his joyful wrinkles, wrinkled around eyes, revealed by a last plan of firmer chisel.
Of the modelling, one passes to the realization of a mould in plaster, that the carnavalier covers several layers of paper cut in small fragments, and glued with a mixion of flour and warm water. And so one will obtain the definitive edition, in pasteboard.
An ingenious mechanization
The public underestimates the ingenuity of the carnavaliers which make move their subjects by means of often very simple means. Ropes and threads, the carnavalier, become an electrician or a welder, is spent in electric engines, of sometimes unexpected origin: windscreen wiper, sewing machine, washer, or more elaborated systems, such hydraulic jacks. Carnavaliers of Nice became the uncontested bosses of the mechanization, with notably J.P. and P. Povigna.
The art of the carnavalier
The carnival, festival of the grotesque, is also the festival of a popular art which expresses itself with variety and originality. The anthropomorphism reigns in the carnival. Very often, one assembles heads of animals and vegetables, or objects on human forms and vice versa. Long noses are stuck on faces and deformed bodies - masses of pasteboard of more than two metres in height funny or frightening the children.
There is a specificity in the art to paint the pasteboard which allows us to differentiate a carnival of the other one. Viareggio's carnavaliers, been supposed to be masters in the art of the sculpture, have a pictorial expression much less popular than that of their homologues of Nice.
G.A. Mossa exercised a talented influence on the painters - carnavaliers. And we can assert without fear that there is a real pictorial art of the carnavalier of Nice. An art was totally underestimated, which uses a palette of sensational colours, with dominants red, green, yellow, and infinite nuances. On the parade, the cave head in shape of tomato to the Provençal will take abruptly a life, a new brightness thanks to this painting in gradation, so particular in Nice, the one that looks for by a last bow lou lume (the light), the final brightness which will give a touch joyful with the subjects of Her Majesty, under artists' expert hands as Efeso, Coppa, Beglia, Alexandre Sidro, today disappeared, which succeeded L. Schiaffino, J. Ferrero, J. I) amiano, A. Mignone, G. Granata, J. Belly, P. and JP Povigna.
Carnavaliers propose us their vision of the another world: for the Brazilian Joazinho Trinta or the carnavalesca Maria Augusta, it is a question of making live a " opera of street ", in search of the promised Land, populated with a strange world of mysterious entities. The carnavalier of Nice Alexandre Sidro liked comparing with a Pierrot: " To look for fortune, I do not know if I shall find it, finds it in the moon, me, I see it in the dream ". The universe populated with dreams, with phantasmagoria allows the carnavalier of Nice to give multiple facets to the grotesque imagination.