Jean-Pierre Sergent is a French artist who does amazing assemblages of colorful mosaic panels that he creates. His masterworks on plexiglass www.j-psergent.com look fantastic alone, but are true explosions when displayed as huge installations. I wanted to chat with him about what inspires his work.
MICHAEL: Bonjour Jean-Pierre! Your work is really cool and it's very bold and graphic. It's also very textural and the images are strong. What inspires you to create?
JEAN-PIERRE: Bonjour Michael! Thank you for the interest you are having towards my work and for your questions! Yes my work is really bold, graphic and colorful, but so is life in general if one can get a chance to live it fully. The boldness and aesthetic of the work come from the mediums I use; silkscreen on the back of Plexiglas panels, which allow me to have great brightness and purity of the printed colors. The images I choose are strong and stunning, even sometimes shocking also for some people! They are mostly inspired by iconographies of rituals in archaic societies and contemporary erotic cartoons. What inspires me most is to seek and research deeply in history, in different cultures at different time periods, and in our collective unconscious. I search for the links and similarities that connect us, beyond the contemporary bonds through socials rules, morality, religious constraints and different native cultural roots. Freedom of thinking and creating life energy and spirituality are also essential mainstream themes for me, as I strongly believe that art can be a place to find fullness, to grow energy and feel connected to the universe, both, for the artist and the public in general.
MICHAEL: Absolutely. To me, the works look like a cross between posters and fine art mosaics. They’re very luxurious. Do you ever think of them as rich and luxurious?
JEAN-PIERRE: I am not so much into poster advertising, except sometimes for their powerful colors and beauty. I may be closer to the Matisse's paper cuts. But fine art mosaics are exactly the technique I use. I stick to the walls my squares of plexiglass paintings in order to create some monumental site specific mural installations. My influences also include those ancient murals that I had a great chance to discover and experience in Egypt. Things like the fresco paintings in the tomb of Queen Nefertari and also all of the other different Egyptian temples and museums. I also traveled to Mexico to see the Aztecs, Olmecs and Mayans bas-reliefs in the stunning architecture of Uxmal, Monte Albán, Chichen Itza, etc. It impressed me a lot. I do also like the Roman wall erotic paintings from The Pompeii's Villa of the Mysteries, and the Indians and Tibetan paintings in temples, that unfortunately I have not visited yet. Michael, you are totally right. My paintings are very rich and luxurious, but also generous and sensual! All the pre-industrial, traditional cultures that impress me (American, Asian, African, prehistoric European) were producing art using a profusion of images, colors and details in order to explain their complex mythologies. Also, as most of them didn't have important writing skills and books to record historic events, images were the only way to communicate and share between communities. They referenced their memories of all political, technological, aesthetic, sexual and spiritual facts, discoveries and experiences. As a visual artist, I believe it's important to communicate with a large flow of images, but I do also include sometimes small erotic text extracts into my work. Luxury and exuberance are also present in life in general. The great master of creation is always over doing it in nature and in the cosmos! With its unbelievable exuberant vitality, diversity of living beings, forms and life energy, there’s always this display of inconceivable contrasts between structural geometrical patterns and organics shapes, as well as opposing order and chaos and void and profusion. From all of that comes a beautiful harmonious result. Just let me add two small excerpts from Jung: "God is present into the absolute void and the utmost vitality" and in Mircéa Eliade: "All creation implies a superabundance of reality, that is to say eruption of the sacred into the world.”
MICHAEL: Are you in Paris? France is known for its deep and rich culture. Does being French inspire your work?
JEAN-PIERRE: No I am not in Paris. My studio is located in a medium size city named Besançon, on the East side of France, close to the Swiss border. It's an old, historical city were you can find a XVII century castle and old churches and houses. We had prehistoric culture and then it became a Gallic city and after that it had been under Roman colonization and reconstructed by the Romans and 1500 years later by the Spanish. So it benefitted from a lot of cultural influences. The countryside landscapes are very beautiful and have a lot of rivers and mountains. Yes, French culture is rich and diverse and I feel lucky to have studied here. First of all, French literature and philosophy, especially during the 18th and 19th centuries, what we named "Le siècle des lumières" were really important in opening our way of thinking and promoting abolition of slavery, equality and freedom, individual well being and the French revolution. We can claim Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, Sade and Casanova. Plus, later the 18th century brought us all of the famous novelists like Flaubert, Stendhal, De Nerval, Huysmans, Chateaubriand, Dumas, Balzac, Zola and poets like Rimbaud, Baudelaire etc. They opened up the path to dreamers, romanticism, imagination, but also social drama realism and anti-Capitalism. In the 20th century, we had Céline, Proust, Bataille, Malraux, Artaud, Camus, Sartre, Michaux, Levi-Strauss, etc. All those 20th century writers opened the way to existentialism, cultural interconnections, insanity and self reflection. In architecture, it's the same; we host Roman churches, the cathedrals, Versailles, Le Louvre and Beaubourg. In art and painting we welcomed foreign artists who worked with French artists in all of the important art movements from cave art to the Middle-Ages manuscripts, the Renaissance, Realism, Impressionism, Cubism, Abstraction, Minimalism, etc. To name a few of those important artists: Courbet, Cézanne, Manet, Bonnard, renoir, Monet, Gauguin, Picasso, Duchamp, Matisse, Van Gogh, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Yves Klein and so on. As an art student and a young artist, I fed myself all this important art creation and followed the steps of my precursors throughout my own doing! But as with most artists in the old Europe, I got a bit overwhelmed by all those unmovable cultural museum landmarks. Pissaro once said that, "We should burn the museums, the art's necropolis.” Luckily, I didn't burn any museum, but instead I moved in 1991 to Montreal and in 1993 to New York, where after years of being stuffed with traditional European culture, including the old Greco-Latin mythologies, it was time for me to discover the new world. I enjoyed this freedom of approaching the body and a new way of thinking and communicating. Also, I enjoyed the hugeness of space and this art from the American pop artists and abstracts painters and all of the American Indian art, craft and mythologies.
MICHAEL: You know, Jean-Pierre, your love and knowledge of history and culture are so clear in your work. You salute the past, yet the work is contemporary because it’s being made today. So many people are missing out on the power of art. What do you think it will take to get them to understand the importance of art?
JEAN-PIERRE: An economical turmoil with the eradication of money or another world! Seriously, education, education, education! We are living nowadays in a society where we take everything for granted and with immediate access. But art and culture need to be introduced and have to be approached throughout our entire lives, from birth to love to sex to death. Therefore, it takes some time to understand it. The rhythms of this learning process are pretty slow and laborious. It's like the rhythm of the seasons, the trees, the whales, the elephants, the sea tides, the sun, the stars and the tigers, all those are not in hurry! As we usually say: "Time is money." This concept has forced a linear timeframe to history which is in opposition to art. Art is eternity and repeats profound cyclic times. Also, money is really a new invention in human history and art got connected to it later. During the Renaissance, artists started to be employed by princes and after by the Bourgeoisie. Long before, the first artists were shamans, they needed to find a way to write their powerful experiences under trances in order to share it with the tribes through song and drawing. Art was probably invented at that moment. So, at the beginning, art was deeply free, generous, religious, cosmic and also powerful, as you needed a lot of strength and courage to enter into trances and meet with spiritual entities like animals spirits and monsters, to be fighting death, healing the sick, seeking the future and finding lost souls in the underworld. All that experience gave the shaman the role of political leader and I believe that at that period, the artist was at his highest achievement; he or she was a great communicator of his spiritual experiences, he viewed and knew how people should interact with each other and gave them social codes and behaviors in order for the group to survive and live in harmony between themselves and with other cultures and nature. Later in time, artists were used by the political and religious powers in Egypt, Greece, Rome, China and pre-Columbian cultures, etc. But unfortunately throughout the growing and expanding process of those great civilizations, the political and religious powers expanded social casts. As a result, artists lost freedom and chances to express themselves and experience spirituality. They became disconnected from the whole universe and served the temporal power imposing his aesthetic tastes and rules.
MICHAEL: And the money part?
JEAN-PIERRE: Today money is running the game with the art market and this corporate art! The art is more like a big Disney or Coca-Cola; a humongous brain washing entertainment business enterprise where everything is for sale. The childish it is, the better chance to sell it! So, it's somehow normal that people get turned off by part of the contemporary art world now. These days, nobody needs artists anymore, except humanists who are very few. The art market with its art dealers and museum directors are totally connected with money making for the most part. There still are some exceptions! But so few! Mainstream contemporary art has almost totally lost its main raison d'être as it no longer supports and helps people to find their truth spiritual self, bringing them into a state of wholeness, interconnection with the universe and into a place of beauty, purity and delight. To achieve this, people need to become humble and their minds need to be transformed and reshaped in order to lose rigid and irrational behaviors. They need to be introduced by teachers, family or friends. What I notice with people visiting my studio is that those who really appreciate my work are mainly the ones who were exposed to art during childhood. They had parents bringing them to museums and art exhibitions and through that learning process, they opened the right side of their brains which we don't use anymore - the part with the emotion, compassion, intuition, love, and creativity. Lastly, to understand and appreciate the essential importance of art, be curious, be humble and be happy, be patient and don't be afraid! And as the Buddhists say: Let it go! And if you still don't get it, find a mentor! Maybe that was the first thing to do!
MICHAEL: In America, there are many people who love art. However, the true art community remains very small. Is this also true in France? I have this idea that all the French love art.
JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we all are hoping that a small piece of paradise exists somewhere on Earth! As in Ovide's quote about the Golden Age in his Metamorphoses "From veins of valley, milk and nectar broke; And honey sweating through the pores of oak." But the worldwide accepted idea that French people love art in general is actually wrong. It's about the same here as in every other country. There’s very little financial help for the artists, people are very conservative and not ready to spend any time or money discovering new ideas and buying paintings. In a certain way, we are in a total paradoxical situation. If you ever go the MOMA and look at Monet's "Nympheas' and Picasso's "Demoiselles d'Avigon", on the same floor, nearly all of the paintings have been created in France! Then, if you walk upstairs to the other floors, you can hardly see any artwork done by French artists anymore! I am sure almost nobody in the U.S. will know a single famous French artist born after World War II! The part of French art selling in the worldwide market was after the war about 40% and in 2010, it dropped to only 6%. I am guessing today it will be closer to 4%.
MICHAEL: That’s very sad.
JEAN-PIERRE: The terrible art economy is due to several points to be explained: Of course the worldwide economical crisis and the emergence of other artistic markets specially China, the huge costs of maintaining and renovating our architectural heritage which is impacting a lot on the state cultural budget, everything in France needs to be politically approved, in art as well, and we haven't had a president interested in contemporary art since Georges Pompidou, who initiated the Pompidou Center construction! Also mainstream art galleries and museums are all congregated in Paris, which is not helping if you are living far away. Also, the French public in general shows more interest in literature than in visual culture, art institution directors are really snobbish and dislike living artists. They strongly believe since the seventies, that painting is not a contemporary medium anymore, so they only really promote installations and videos work. There aren’t enough exhibition spaces to show contemporary art and not enough good explanations for visitors. So, my point of view is that French people don't love art so much as one might imagine! For all those reasons, I am now trying to show my work in Switzerland and Germany, both countries are situated less than 100 miles from my studio and people there are more open-minded, they collect and are responding better to my work than my dear fellow countrymen!
MICHAEL: That’s very interesting. Are you a full-time artist? Tell me about your daily routine. Do you paint every day? What do you do while painting? What are your work days like?
JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, I am a full-time artist since a few years now! My days are always busy. In the morning, I read the news on the net, respond to email and make telephone calls to contact people in order to bring them to the studio or find some new shows. The afternoons I spend working on projects on my computer or in the studio and in the evening I read. Reading is important for me as I am always exploring different ways of thinking and acting in all the rituals and behaviors through our history. I am finding a lot of information in philosophy, anthropology, biographies and history books. I read a huge book by D.T. Suzuki, some Zen Buddhist essays, the complete works of Bruce Chatwin and Jack Kerouac and today I am reading the Florentine Codex from Bernardino de Sahagun, who describes Aztec country and daily life, time calendars and rituals before the time of the Spanish conquest.
MICHAEL: You are definitely well-read.
JEAN-PIERRE: My work schedule is organized by the seasons, as my studio is big, it's get difficult to warm it up in the cold winter time, so during that period, I am mostly working on the computer, designing new images to get them ready to be cut in silkscreen ruby films, designing the layouts for my exhibition catalogues, preparing the press releases and working on updating my website. In mid-Spring, Summer and Fall, I mainly print my big works on plexiglass. This work is very physical as I need to handle the silkscreen frames to scrub them with the high pressure water gun, exposing them to the light machine and finally silkscreen the images on my vacuum printing table. I do also cut large papers rolls in 48 x 42 " & 24 x 42" pieces, paint the last coats on the plexiglass panels with a brush on a monochrome color, then apply the gesso and the varnish to have the paintings completed. I do also record photos of all the paintings done, wrapping them if they are going to be exposed in a show or sold. Finally as I did yesterday afternoon, I spend time engaging with the public, trying to explain my work and the importance of art and art collecting! When working, I am always listening to the radio and never watch TV as I have none!
MICHAEL: Since your work relies so heavily on culture, how do you document current happenings without television?
JEAN-PIERRE: Who needs TV? As I said before, I am listening to radio programs all day long and they are giving important news spots every hour about national and internationals main events. On the web, I am reading several newspapers with different political views. Then when you go food shopping or running some errands in the city, you can feel the vibes of the community you are living within and if you travel, you can feel different vibes of energy, joy, fears or happiness. When I can afford to travel between New York and France, both places feel really different. Anyhow, Europe is confronted now with a really big economic crisis. The situation in France is not as bad as it is in Greece or Spain, but the unemployment rate is really high and people are afraid to spend their money on art, if they are lucky to have any! So of course, it's a harsh time for us artists! I am hoping that for you in the States the economic situation is not as bad!
MICHAEL: Unfortunately, it’s difficult here as well. Finally Jean-Pierre, what goes through your mind when you’re painting and what do you want people to see and feel in your work?
JEAN-PIERRE: When I am painting, I need to be in a high state of consciousness and concentration, especially when mixing the colors before printing. I need to get this feeling that my mind is totally free and can choose any colors from everywhere in the world and beyond time. It could be a color used by an artist, a flower or an animal, by the sky, the sea or the earth. I need to humble myself, the same way once Nehru said in his anecdote in Malraux's book, the Anti-Memoirs, when he was jailed. At that time, he became friends with the Ants who walked into his cell, he was talking to them and they represented for him the lines of Indian gods and the millenniums of the Indian cosmic times. He said then: “The world is only made from fleeting moments. To paint is this fleeting moment and you need to kneel down and talk with the Ants in order to do it! As for the public, I am hoping they can feel a sense of aesthetic, an ethereal and imminent beauty in all my work. If they have a chance to physically experience my large wall painting installations, I hope that their minds-bodies and imagination get transported in some other dimension, within the life vitality of the Karma-forces energies, sexual energies, death-destruction and chaos-forces energies and ultimately the love-colors energies which inhabits all of us!
MICHAEL: Thanks Jean-Pierre. This has been great.
JEAN-PIERRE: Dear Michael, it was a great pleasure to chat with you! I am sorry it will be my last answer! Thanks again for all your interesting questions!
Check out Jean-Pierre’s work at www.j-psergent.com