LECTURE BY JEAN-PIERRE SERGENT | EROS UNLIMITED | 3 PARTS | Besançon Fine Arts & Archeology Museum | France
14 FEBRUARY 2020
Acknowledgements : Messrs. Nicolas Surlapierre, Nicolas Bousquet, the City of Besançon & the students of the METI LP (transcriptions: Florine Beligny, Laura Bernardino, Lena Bertrand, Laurie Chardon, Maïlys Pudil and Léa Ternat)
PART 1: NON-EUROPEAN OR PRE-MONOTHEISTIC WORKS
Nicolas Bousquet: Good evening ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to this Valentine's Day evening where we will, I hope, learn a lot about art and eroticism thanks to Jean-Pierre Sergent, who has been giving us the pleasure and joy of exhibiting, simultaneously, works at the museum for a few months now: The four pillars of the sky in the museum hall, but as of tonight, you can see this selection of Eros Unlimited silkscreen prints, which is also the name of tonight's conference! So Jean-Pierre Sergent, is going to talk to us about his work, about eroticism in art, from its origins almost up to nowaday, and he will be back for a meeting with Thierry Savatier, art historian and author of a reference book on the Origin of the World, on Sunday 22 March, to give another conference in the same place. So you are obviously welcome to attend and so I will leave the floor to Jean-Pierre and ask you to please turn off your mobile phones so that we don't disturb the conference. Have a great evening!
JPS: Thank you, thank you!
Good evening, good evening everyone. It's really a pleasure to be here in front of you in my town because I've been living in Besançon for a long time. I've been here for 14 years now, after having spent 10 years in New York. I'm going to tell you a little bit about my history and the works of art that I've come across during this journey of my artist's life, over the last forty years or so. It's really a long term job to be an artist and when people think about 20 years of being an artist, I think it takes at least 20 years plus 20 years, you really have to acquire a maturity: apart from artists like Basquiat who was able to meet wit his energy very early.
- I-1, Reproduction, Genetic Continuity & Patterns
So, firstly, I wanted to talk about the Asmat totem poles of New Guinea. These are poles that are in the Metropolitan Museum, well these are in New Guinea and it really speaks of the genealogy of the human being. That is to say that they tell us about in those poles... See, that's in the In Garbha #4 Upanishads:
"Thousands of times before
I lived in a mother womb
I took pleasure eating numerous kind of foods
And I have been suckling on so many mother's breasts
I have been born and been dead again And endlessly, I came to be born again"
It is the Hindu thought that tells us this. We think we are unique but they that think we are connected to an universal cosmic spirit. These totems, I told you about them. It is a work that really influenced me during my New York's years because these works show, in fact, the genealogical continuity; in general, you have the grandparents, the parents and then the child who is above, who comes out of a male ejaculation.
THE MAN WHO EJACULATES AND HIS 3 CHILDRENS
There are quite a few women, sometimes there are, but often they are patriarchal societies and sometimes it's a rather violent society, because in the end, for us, they were cannibals. But their art is very, very strong and powerful! It was when I saw these works that I understood that I had to do a rather strong work, which I hope to do now.
Here, you can see very well, above the man who ejaculates and the children who are born like that. For example, there are three children spurting from his penis. It's really magnificent and it's sculpted in a rather phenomenal, rather meticulous way, and it must be said that these are poles that are 3 to 4 meters high or even higher. These works are in the Metropolitan Museum. When we are in front of this, we are in front of an energy that we could call genetico-cosmic.
Within these Asmats tribes, as in many people before, they live with the remains of their ancestors. They worship the corpse of the ancestors and they decorate them with feathers, with shells and these are really very, very strong works, which influenced me to work on the subjects of sexuality and death.
I wanted to talk about the patterns that I use a lot in my work, one can explain that they are all genetic patterns as we talked about earlier, with the father, the mother, the son and the daughter etc. That's how it's interwoven. There's a writer who wrote a very interesting book entitled: Patterns that Connect. I'm profoundly inspired by that book, because we think that patterns are only figurative designs, decorative things, but for them it has a deep meaning. It's true that it enters them in this web of connections about we talked about earlier.
You see, for example, I took this picture in a museum and after the next picture, we'll see what I did with it in a work.
- I-2, The fertile & sexed Gods & Goddesses
Now I'm going to talk about fertile and sexed gods and goddesses. Because it must be said that in the West, the god or goddesses are not gendered. That still poses a problem for human thought and behaviours!
THE PREHISTORIC VENUS
This is the "Venus of Hôhle Fels", Germany, 35,000 BC. It must be said that in the beginning, these prehistoric, palaeolithic societies needed fertility. They really didn't know very well how we reproduce somewhow, they hadn't connected sexuality and motherhood and all that. But they were still aware that women had to be generous somewhere, abundant in their flesh in order to regenerate mankind and the new generations. So it's a very beautiful fertility statue. Also, this little statue from Iran, it's beautiful really, it remind us of some contemporary artists of today. We see tattoos. Of course, we have lost a lot of works, because a lot of art made at that time were also made on clothes, probably, and everything has been lost. We still have some statues on bone or on stone or in the caves.
There is also a beautiful statue which is from France, the Venus de l'Abri Pataud, -20 000 BC.
Here is an other Iranian goddess, which is magnificent. I found it on the internet, the breasts are well noted, the pubis also with the slit. This is very important because you have to think that in the West, sex is never draw with the slit for at least 500 years. And of course, the sex of an erect man is never signified neither!
This is from India: "In some temples in Nepal,
Women are shown naked,
presenting their vaginas (yonis) to the faithful
in remembrance of samasara,
the gateway to the world of life,
pleasure, suffering and death."
One must not forget that there is pleasure and suffering and death of course that accompany us throughout our lives... It's a very beautiful statue, you have to see the temples in India, I never had the chance to go there but I always have a feeling of joy in front of these works and also a feeling of non-terror because the West is terrorised and very anxious towards sexuality!
Look at these sculptures in temples, you would show this today in a museum, the museum would have to close! it poses a serious serious problem! There are scenes of fellatios, sodomies… They're having a blast. Some temples are decorated on the outside only and are empty inside to represent the matrix, the place where one is created if you like. These statues are all really beautiful!
Look at this one! One can think of porn stars bodies today, but it was about 200 AD. Hindus had understood this sensuality because on one hand, they live in tropical countries and de facto, nature and food are more sensual and therefore obviously men and women are more sensual, it's obvious. it's a combination of factors and I really like also Mayan cultures for those reasons too.
You all know the Kamasutra, we can see that the erotic act is well notified in details. The woman takes her pleasure and the man too.
It must be said that these little miniatures were probably for the court of certain princes and they were images that were at that time quite refined... Because in France, erotic drawings were really, I will show you some later, tragic somewhere, tragic-comical.
Here is another statue with, next to it, the linga which is the phallic symbol in India. These are stone lingams that are perhaps one or two metres high. Both male and female sides are honoured in these societies and I find it very interesting.
This is a vulva traced of on the ground; often it is the women who trace these works into clay or sand soils. It's simply beautiful. So, this is a yoni traced in the ground, a vulva symbolising the strength of Shakti's female creation.
Here you have the diagram of the linga and the yoni, so here are the gods who are also integrated in this sexual creation diagram, there is Vishnu and Brahma the creator… I think it is fabulous, really and magnificent! Another erotic picture, see this is a royal man and woman making love, it's a classical Indian gouache.
I would like to insiste a little bit to this, we see the goddess Kali who beheads herself during coitus to regenerate the world.
Kali, the representation of Shakti, the mother goddess...
In other words, all these traditional societies have a notion of sacrifice, meaning that life does not just happen by chance. Somewhere out there, there are other people sacrificing themselves or nature sacrificing itself so that we can live.
THE DANCE OF CHIMERAS
"The lake shines, we hear his voice, he chews his mate,
the hunters spoke, before starting the dance,
but since the gods want to feed
of their creatures and would not exist...
if their living creatures didn't feed them,
to exist is to feed the gods,
painting requires eye food
and wouldn't exist if the eyes didn't feed it,
it's only by seeing that you can feed the paint,
and seeing is not just seeing with the pupils of the god-eyes but seeing with the eyes of all who see."
Miguel Angel Asturias, Indian messages
So we see Kali copulating and her second self, her soul or etheric body is auto-decapitated, her blood spurts from her neck and her maidens collect it in sacrificials bowls. Symbolically, these are works that are very strong. And I think that psychoanalysts can look at this for years without understanding anything. It's something amazing, it's this cosmic energy that we can talk about here. There are also some water lilies below, water lilies, symbol of wisdom, completion and awakening of the Buddha. I would like to talk about a film that I particularly like, it's The Road to India (by David Lean), where an English woman arrives to India and she sees all these sensual Indian statues and it boosts her libido, truth is that she didn't had (or no longer had) a libido or sexual desires as many Europeans… The sensuality of the Indian statues awoke deeply her libido and her sexuality. And she invented a story that the Indian guide (a really sweet guy), who was a doctor, had raped her in the Marabar caves. It's a very, very beautiful movie that I highly recommend you to watch when you have the time.
Here we see the metacosmic void, that is to say that for the Hindus, everything is created, we can explain it as a cosmic big bang. Here there is no bindu point in general there is the bindu point in the middle. The female triangles are pointing down and male triangles are pointing up. It is always this sexual entanglement, and it is the beginning of the world in the original ocean with the intricate mixing of the female and male triangles that I just spoke about. It's like a matrix where the world is created and the human being is created. It's at the exact opposite of the biblical creation! This is a work I did in relation to this yantra, I just added the bindu point in the middle.
This is a Mexican painting on a vase. It is not so much erotic and it's so erotic paradoxically… They are Mayan warriors or nobles men and when you see their costumes, they have integrated all the nature around them inside of it. One can see snakes, you see feathers. The characters incarnate an entire world in themselves, a cosmogony in themselves. They belong to the world (also the celestials and infra worlds) they embody these worlds here. I think when one had a chance to be in front of a figure like that it must have been pretty damn impressive! It's not the ridiculous king Louis XIV! It's something else! It's a cosmical and spiritual dimension really...
The Mexican goddess Coatlicue
I happened to travel a few times to Mexico with my friend Olga, where I had the chance to discover the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City and so there it is the goddess Coatlicue, the goddess of fertility and the Earth in Aztec mythology. And so, that's not the Virgin Mary, not at all, you see it: it's a bit of a kick, it's giving off! Because she wears a collar of snakes, around her, she carries a belt of skulls of the dead people and hearts: she is really a sacrificial, regenerative statue. I am going to read this text: "She is represented as a woman wearing a skirt of twisted snakes, a necklace of human hearts, hands, skulls. Her feet and hands are adorned with claws (for digging graves) and her breasts hang down, flaccid from having suckled a lot. If Coatlicue wears the hands, hearts and heads of her children on her chest, it is to purify them."
This is truly a mother goddess par excellence with an incredible telluric strength. Because Mayas and Aztecs are of course polytheists and for them it is their mother, the goddess Coatlicue. So I wanted to read this sentence to you because it makes my heart ache... "Someone told later that some natives sneaked in at night to lay wreaths of flowers on this statue. Proof that, despite the greatest care of the Spanish clergy (the poor bastards!), during 300 years, there was still a remnant of pagan belief among the descendants of the natives." And that's terrible what the Catholic Church did to those people, all the Indians who were massacred... It's an incredible genocide (an ethnocide even!). Well, of course the churches have calmed down a bit today, but there are other iconoclastic monotheists who destroy a lot of things, but it's important to know that all these peoples have been dispossessed of their cultures, that's it!
A book important to read: Bartolome de la Casas: A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies
"Coyolxauhqui is the daughter of Coatlicue, the one with bells painted on her face. And the Moon Goddess, among the Aztecs she's the daughter of Coatlicue, who is said to have set the stars against her mother when she found out she was pregnant."
One can see jealousy in mythologies as everywhere else! It's a sad feeling, jealousy, well, it exists too... And it's also a magnificent work! Very, very beautiful...
EROS & EGYPT
This is an Egyptian statue that is in the Louvre, very small and I also did a silkscreen after taking this photo. See how the dress looks so contemporary, it's an amazing design. I'm talking here about sensuality, I'm not talking about sexuality but still it's... it makes you want to fall in love this woman. Here, the image is not great, it's Geb and Nout, the creation of the world. And yet, one can see the god... who is horny, somehow!
And the goddess Nut who receives him, the goddess Nut is the goddess of Heaven and the stars and Geb is the Earth god. So there is this meeting between heaven and earth, united by the penis... It's very very beautiful, it's a magnificent image. Here we see an ityphallic god Katoumef. Well, we never see the Christian god... ityphallic, it doesn't exist in our religions, it's really sad!
THE BEAUTY OF THE EGYPTIAN ETERNITY
This is a picture I took at the Metropolitan Museum; it's the face of an Egyptian woman on an Egyptian sarcophagus and I've really always been in love somehow with this mummy, it's really a face that moves me profoundly. It is a mummy that is more than three or four thousand years old, we don't know! But this face is so sensual and serene that it has always moved me profoundly.
This is also a tiny statue that is in the Louvre, and the 13 vital points have been pierced by copper needles, to ask for the absolute and eternal love of a lover! Well it's Valentine's Day, so you can try do that today, except that it has to be buried in the grave of someone who died from a violent death, so I don't know if you know any criminals tonight, but here it is! They weren't kidding about love affairs in Egypt at that time! And this tiny statue was wrapped up by a sheet of lead foil, where all the magic formulas were written to grant each other eternal love of the beloved: I love this statue.
GREECE & ROME
Here we see Greece or Rome, where the bodies start to desexualise a little, sex is still represented but idealised and we can't see the hair or the cleft, but it's like that and it's beautiful despite everything. This is a picture I took also at the Louvre, which is also beautiful, this statue is very sensual indeed; I did a silkscreen work with this image. The marble is superb, really it's incredibly sensitive too.
Here are some Greek erotics works: you can see the erotic game, one can feel that they don't have this western anguish towards sexuality yet, the body was still well honored fully in Greece. For those of you who speak English I would advise you to read this book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess/ The Conflict Between Word and Image by Leonard Shlain which was very important for me: I had listen to this author at the Open Center in New York and he had gone to Greece and he had seen these nudes like that, whose sex was not hidden (by the so famous vine leaf!) and who were completely free of their sexualities and their lives. And he thought to himself: What went so wrong in the West that made the body so repressed in literature and mostly in artistic representation? And he thinks, because he is a neurosurgeon; he thinks that it is because of the opposition between the brain hemispheres left and right, the left brain being that of the text (the right that of the image) and he thought that every time the text took advantage over the right brain (intuitive), women were repressed (or even burned alive!) like during the time of invention of the Gutenberg Bible printing, Then, they have been chasing a lot of witches women, so it's really a problem and it's a book that's illustrated and it's really very, very interesting to read.
MOCHE EROTIC POTTERY
There, I wanted to evoke the Moche culture (pre-Incaic), this people had a culture of erotic works: they made beautiful and complex ceramics and on these vases they often sculpted scenes of either fellatio or sodomy… it is a culture rather unknown, but I had the chance to see a beautiful exhibition of these works there in the Ethnological Museum of Vienna and their works really fascinate me, so at the same time they served alcohol from those vases, we don't know for which ritual it was made? But these are really beautiful works. So here we see an other erotic scene as well.
Here is an ithyphallic man. It's funny because you can feel the joy of being alive and horny!
This is an Amerindian statue at the MET, I've always liked this sculpture, one can feel that it's an Amerindian woman, who has her feet grounded to earth, who has given birth, who is happy within her body and sexuality, in her life, well that's what I assume, but it's a beautiful presence.
And I wanted to end this little chapter by saying that in Madagascar, many statues on the tombs present scenes of copulation, here we see a woman who is very gendered woman in order to generate life, it changes from our painful crucified Christ. These are also funerary statues Sakalava from Madagascar.
- I-3, Poetry, pleasure, desire and the Japanese shungas
Of course, I couldn't give a lecture on eroticism without talking about the Japanese erotic shungas that everyone knows already! "These early Ukiyo-e prints were designed to illustrate explicit textbooks on sexuality, sex was considered in Japan at the time, as a natural function and a way to have fun. So these images, which would be censored today, were not particularly shocking." So that was sex education at the time and fortunately great artists illustrated those beautifull scenes and of course they're absolutely beautiful works. Here, the vulva shungas and the colors are also superbs, you see it's just a red that is a little bit faded to pink, there are just two colors in there, they are wood engravings (xylography) I think. And then you see this magnificent work in four parts, you see a print of sodomy and it's really... The way the scenes are cut out, it's almost cinematographic so congratulations to the artist named Torii Kiyonaga, 1785. And well, in France, we had some people making engravings that were a bit obscene but it wasn't that artistic neither poetical to that level.
Here's another shunga. So in these shungas everything is described practically, all the erotic scenes can be described (even bestiality). So here it is, we see a view with a huge sex! The Japanese increase the size of the sexes... It's their choice! As for us, we do have the Eiffel Tower!
Another erotic engraving. There was a golden age of the shungas (18th-19th) and of course today, these shungas have given the manga that everyone knows. The erotic manga (hentai) at the beginning, it was really great artists at last, who became very famous artists who started this. And so, I wanted to come to the West, here is the image of a vulva in the West, it's really the opposite of what we've seen! One can feel all the morality, you can almost feel displeasure, you can feel a doctrine and so it's not something that makes you want to have sex! It's really rationality in all its splendour. It must be said that it is interesting, though, but the West has lost this joy, this poetry of creating, procreating and perhaps sexuality too.
GUATEMALA | Cantata
"Home of perfect lights, you were
the melodious, agrarian, ingenuous party,
but today arms in crosses cover your fields! […]
A homeland whose perfect pleasures were born...
also sound, colour, taste and smell.
that now our senses grow back horrified!"
Miguel Angel Asturias, Indian Messages
PART 2: - II, ADAM & ÈVE, THE SIN, THE ORIGIN OF THE WORLD & SOME WORKS OF WESTERN ART
- II-1, Adam & Eve, Human Exile & Mythologies
Here, I wanted to speak of course of original sin and also of human exile because we know that almost all human cultures are exiled. One know that the cradle of humanity is in Africa? So now I'm going to talk about some mythological and western works. Is that so? So we all feel exiled from our matrix Africa.
So here I'm going to talk about some Western mythological works.
Here is the West, the image is quite simple, you have Eve who still has breasts, but of course the sex are hidden, the sex of man (Adam) is masked, there is the serpent, the tree of Eden but it is still restrictive in relation to the greatness and the universality of consciousness; it is poor, although this work is very beautiful, but humanly it is poor.
The tree of good and evil is morality. And there, Adam and Eve driven out of Paradise, it's quite violent, when you think about it, that is to say that we would almost have to go and kill our parents because they procreated us and they drove us de facto out of Paradise; it still creates generations of crazy people, excuse me for saying so, but it's a fondamental problem.
Here again, God, the unic Creator, in all monotheists religion, it is always God who creates, it is not the Gods, it is not the flowers, it is neither trees, he creates the world in seven days. And the poor Adam and Eve are driven out of Paradise because they gave birth so it is a total paradox with life somehow! We can talk about anti-life without being any very wrong!
Here then, it is the beautiful Adam and Eve of Albrecht Durer who is at the Prado in Madrid. And so we see that sex are not featured, it is hidden by leaves of vines or apple trees, but despite everything, I will come back to this with the following illustration, we see that the woman touches the sex of the man, everything becomes a symbol and the symbol is not the true thing. As I mentioned earlier about the goddess Coatlicue... When the Aztecs or the Mayans incarnated a God, they were wearing reals snakes on them. When they want to regenerate the world they kill a victim, they flaying it and they coat the victim's skin on them! It's powerful! It's not some mushy stuff like that, it's real life! Life is very violent somewhere, so there we are in a childish ideology, even if it's very beautiful... But we are still in an ideology completely out of life (out of body!) once again.
You see, the detail there, from Eve's hand and we can say that it's erotic, the sex is hidden, it's maybe more erotic, but still it's hidden anyway. So how can we imagine our body as a whole. That's it, it's a contemporary pornographic image, that's what happens in real life, well, not for everyone.
And here, we are talking about two works of this museum, this one, The Death of Lucretia, by Lucas Cranach said the elder, is a very, very erotic work because although there is a small veil, the sex is still indicated and the nipples are erect somewhow and she pierces her breast with this dagger which is eminently a phallic symbol. It's a very, very beautiful painting and then you have to go back to 1520, so it's been over 500 years that eroticism has been banished from paintings. This one is alike, you can feel that it's a woman masturbating. With the spring running through there... There are also other sexual symbols, but the fountain springing and her hand towards the sex: it's a woman who gives herself pleasure; for me, after each one to its interpretation, I don't want to impose mine to anyone.
Contemporary pornography has nevertheless (there is good and evil!), but it has nevertheless put the body back in its entirety and made us reintegrate our body in desire.
Now I'm coming to Leda and the Swan because I'm going to talk about it a little later. In mythologies, there is always an animal or a tree that creates, that is to say that we (human being) were much more in connection with nature, this relationship that we have lost today, we have definitely lost it. But I want to come back to this painting to talk about Leda of the Swan. This is a painting by Peter-Paul Rubens. Of course, artists had "normal" sexual lives, so they had to create works in which sexuality were not allowed at all, it's really problematic. This problem was more or less solved with the arrival of the 20th century and I'll talk about it later! But of course the swan represents the male sex. That was tolerated in museums and you can see that the woman sucks the swan's beak, well it's very, very erotic and artists were forced to use some ersatz like this one (metaphors). So here, I wanted to talk about swans precisely, because I'm a canoeist and it's to show that these mythologies are totally arbitrary and childish, because swans are not very cooperative and kind animals. Once I went canoeing, I put my canoe to the river and this swan flew a metre high and it ran into me, I took my paddle and boom! I didn't kill it, because my sister was there and she took that picture! But that's a load of crap! Beware of swans!
One can easily realise that this painting (Leda and the Swan) is a mythological nonsense and purely fictional! It's dangerous to even approach a swan, but to make love with a swan, I wouldn't recommend it! We see here the Birth of Venus, by Botticelli, it's a very sensual painting too, it's magnificent! But it is always also the breath of life that arrives by the breath and does never not arrive by the sex, it is like that. We have to accept our weaknesses somewhere too.
This is an erotic statue that I found on the Internet but I have no idea where it is from and I think it's fabulous to put it in a church on a tomb, so that's very strong. It's very beautiful! You see there are three penises and the woman is open like this, it's really a very erotic work. I think it may date back to the High Middle Ages or sometime like that. I couldn't find any more information about this statue.
- II-2, Ulysses & the Mermaids & Some Erotic Works of Western Art
- The terror of women sexual ecstasies -
I am going to talk about this exit from Paradise and of Ulysses, because of course, it is a bit like the journey of Ulysses who left his wife at home and then comes back after ten years of absence and his poor Penelope who weaves his tapestry while waiting for him. As I said before, we are all a little bit exiled and I wanted to told you about the Sirens of Ulysses and of the fear, the terror in front of the sexual enjoyment of women.
Here we see a Middle Ages statue, with grotesque features showing an exaggeration of the vital organs, it's in England and so at a certain time the church, well let's say 10th or 11th century, people still showed sex but maybe to scare people too? That's pretty scary somewhere. I'll talk later about an American artist who used up this statue in her work. Also a statue where the sex is well marked there, it's good, with the breasts, in a Romane church.
This is what we see from the 15th century onwards: the Virgin Mary only breastfeeds (no more sex), that is to say that she was asexual, well I'm not going to criticise, we all know the story too well… And men are always asexual or childish. There are no more powerful & ithyphallic men as one could say. It's procreation soilless (Ex nihilo) somewhere, one could almost say that. There, despite everything, this image is quite erotic because it's a bit contemporary as its clothes are a bit like sadomasochistic clothes. I found this image beautiful: Madonna surrounded by seraphim and cherubim" (1420, Jean Fouquet). It's the same, the infant is a little bit impasted, klutzy, but it's still interesting anyway.
So I come back to Ulysses and the sirens, Ulysses had to be tied to his trireme so as not to succumb to the cries of women, the cries of women are the shouting of feminine pleasure. Even he had other adventures during his journey but despite everything he had to be chained to resist to his own desire. Somewhere living in society is a bit like that, that is to say, restricting our desires to live together. so that we can live together. Of course, we can't be crazy like Sade, I'll talk about that later. And it's an interesting picture. And it's an interesting image, this story of being in-chained, of asking to be chained so as not to have access to our vital energy, we have to think about it! Here is another mermaid and a centaur.
So in order to talk about sexuality, we have to mixt off our body part unsexed with an animal sexed body. It's quite problematic! Here is Ulysses and the mermaids again, it's a beautiful Roman mosaic. We thought that antiquity was a period of great sexual freedom but maybe not so much. We should think about it anyway.
- II-3, "The Origin of the World", the return home, the end of exile!
I wanted to mention Gustave Courbet's L'origine du monde and I wanted to start my lecture with that painting, but I wanted to introduce you to a few other works beforehand. Everybody in the West knows it as one and only paintings representing one sex woman sex in the history of art, and before talking about it I wanted to quote Anselm Kiefer, who is a contemporary German artist: "Ethics don't exist in art because ethics and morality are always linked to time, morality always changes, so an artist cannot have a moral because otherwise he is frozen in time." One need to understand that, we artists are necessarily outside or elsewhere, otherwise we do exactly what society ask us to do, Anselm Kiefer and German artists more than French ones, were able to gain power in their works of art because they were paying somehow for the debt of Germany that had exterminated so many people and were hold responsible for the two world wars. I will told you later about why the body and life return into art and painting. But there are of course people who feel guilty somewhere, or victims and then you have to pay the full price, one don't create wars without having to pay the aesthetic and also emotional price.
Here is this famous painting! We will talk about it in more deeply when my friend Thierry Savatier comes to talk about it because he wrote 2 - 3 books about this painting only. Beyond the anecdotes we can see that the sex, the hair and the lips of the pubis are well shown. It is a very beautiful painting which fortunately, was not destroyed. As it could have been destroyed of course... Now it's in Orsay and I had the chance to see it several times, in New York, it also came few times to Ornans as well. For westerners (French in particular), it's the only painting they know about a female sex, it's very distressing somehow!
Finally, it's the most famous. Here's another image that looks exactly like it, it's a contemporary pornographic image. The sex is more obvious because it's a picture!
So I wanted to talk about Gauguin who was so bored in Europe that he found sad and grey, that he went to Tahiti. He even helped to dig the Panama Canal and he had invented this "Maison du jouir" in 1901, just at the beginning of the 20th century. "Be mysterious, be in love, be happy." It's a bit of an injunction, but it's the deep and untouched pleasure he found in the Marquesas Islands. Today we'd like to get the Gauguins out of the museums and we're coming to a hell of a problem. I have great respect for his work and his courage. See this canvas which is magnificent, see the ochres, the reds, the cobalt blues, it reminds us a little bit of the lost paradise... And that's what he was looking for... and that's what we're all seeking for.
Here's a Rodin's statue which again shows an image of an open woman sex. Rodin also had a lot of courage because it's the body that obsessed him, because sculptors are more "obsessed" with the whole body than painters because they can't cheat. Obviously when one represent a naked body, it is necessarily sexed! Here is this beautiful Cambodian dancer, 1906, it's really magnificent, this sensuality... And many of her artists had gone to Cambodia, to Morocco to find back a sensuality that was disappearing in Europe with industrialisation, poverty, chain work and despair. It's true that peasant and traditional societies suffered much less from the dichotomy and conflicts between nature, work, religions and societies. Another drawing by Rodin.
Here I move on to Egon Schiele, because everybody knows his erotic works, you can feel that he is deeply tormented, yet it is a work of 1913, just before the First World War, and I think that Austrian society must have been very anxious, for artists to create such desperate art works. Of course there were perhaps epidemics that changed the face of the world and after the war, we will see other drawings by Schiele where the body was so badly treated that it shows in his works. This is an erotic work, it's a bit of a brothel eroticism. One can feel it's an eroticism of despair, an eroticism that you cling to when you don't believe in anything anymore. I don't know the story of its life so well, but I think he suffered a lot, those are artists who had suffered a lot, like Antonin Artaud of whom I will talk about later on. These works are terrible somewhere! Here is another painting by Schiele from 1915.
Here we go to Klimt, one feel that his work is more decorative and Zen, he is less anxious than Schiele and it is a bit like the "baba-cool" of the time and it is very beautiful, magnificent, he stated: "All art is erotic." And we can't say anything truer than that! I will say that even if you paint flowers or, like Giorgio Morandi, ceramics, plates, pottery, the sensuality has to remain. And here, I wanted to evoke the Demoiselles d'Avignon and pay homage to Picasso, this painting, that I know very well since it is at MOMA in New York where I had often the opportunity to go and see it. One can really see, in this painting, what we can call the primary vital energy. We know that these women (who are in a brothel) are sex workers and are there to seduce and to get fucked. It's Eros incarnated; with those "Picasso eyes", like that. We don't know if they're looking at us or if it's us, it as an impressive mirror effect. It's a painting that I like very much, and I won't talk about Picasso to long, but we have to pay tribute to him because like Gauguin, he reintegrated other cultures (African and Negro art as it was called at the time) to reintegrate this energy that had completely disappeared from the easel painting of the time. And so he was able to open up this 20th century to other experiences and forms of bodies, of desires and we can see that the painting is completely filled: the whole surface is full, it's obviously an energy painting!
In relation to it, one can see a scene from the Middle Ages where bodies bathe in joy while touching each other, in the 15th century and earlier, manners were more innocent regarding sex issues. Here I want to pay homage to Amedeo Modigliani, because it's a painting that's at the Guggenheim and that I'm going to see often. He also painted nudes like that, we don't really know who she is, but we feel the sensuality of this sleeping woman. I'll take this opportunity to talk a bit about artists life because, Modigliani lived in total misery and Chagall's son was talking about it on the radio the other day. His father had told to him: "Above all do never become an artist, I knew Modigliani and he ate the seeds that people gave to the birds!" And now this painting is worth maybe 30 to 50 million dollars. So there's a huge gap between the creation and the apogee of artists' works prices and I think France is a country that doesn't take pride in helping artists, even today. Because all the artists who were starving at the time were often saved and supported by foreign American and German collectors. Just wanted to mention it! That's a crude story, it's a parenthesis and let's close it! Here, I wanted to talk about Douanier Rousseau, in these works, there is an innocence and cruelty linked to this lost paradise where one can live freely. The desire is embodied by the two lions and there is this luxuriance found also in the Mayan vases, which I like very much. It is a bit the picture of innocence.
- III, THE RETURN OF THE SEXED BODY
- III-1, Contemporary & American female artists
So here, I wanted to talk about the return of the sexualised body with Frida Kahlo who is one of my favorite artists, well we all know the story of Frida Kahlo, but in a fews words she is a Mexican artist who had a serious car accident when she was a teenager and who suffered during all her life of excruciating pain! We see her in this painting with her broken column and she is important because she is a woman artist, I will come back later on the female art that we know very little about and her paintings have a rather particular strength. Here we see Frida Kahlo, she had a miscarriage at the Henry Ford Hospital and she really describes what a miscarriage is! It's not dumb as they say, it's really serious. She talks about her pelvis, her bones, her kid who died and her body bleeding. All her paintings have that power, evocative of what real life is like when you go to hospitals, when you're in pain... And in joy too! Here she is, I thought this photo was magnificent, it was taken naked, well, she was a bit of a pop star at the time! She played a bit the game of the woman artist and she was right because we know her today thanks to her courage and tenacity. There she wrote a letter to her photographer friend, she had several lovers of course, Nickolas Muray and I'm going to read you this letter because it makes us think about the situation in Europe and France in particular. So she talks about some surrealists painters, because some French artists had invited her to participate to an exhibition in 1939 where she could only show a few paintings, because unfortunately, most of her paintings were removed from the exhibition. So I will read her letter:
"They have so many rotten fucking intellectuals that I can't stand them anymore. They are really too much for me. I'd rather sit on the floor in the Toluca market (Mexico City market) selling tortillas than have anything to do with those artistic assholes from Paris... (That's strong!) I've never seen Diego or you wasting your time in those stupid chats and intellectual discussions. That's why you're real men and not pathetic artists (that's funny that!) - Damn! It was worth coming all the way here just to understand why Europe is rotting, why all those incapable people are the cause of all Hitlers and Mussolini. »
These are her own words, but it's true that when she comes here and even I, after the wars, coming back from New York, one can feel this loss of energy. There's something that's disappeared somewhere but is still there in Mexico or Guatemala. Or in countries that have remained more traditional. It has to be said that a third of their population is still indigenous, so it's very important! For example: we, our druids we no longer have them! We've kicked everyone out, including the witches! And the shamans in Russia, the government threw them out of the helicopters because of course the shamans can fly (in their trance). So, they captured them and threw them out of the helicopters to kill them.
- II-4, The Return of the Sexed Body, Contemporary Artists & American Women Artists. Here we see Louise Bourgeois, who is a very important artist, American but French born, who had worked a lot with sexuality, and I'm going to talk especially in this chapter about American artists whose work I know particularly well. Because they've done some fabulous work on sexuality, which may also have been done in France but I know less about it! So, Louise Bourgeois made this big penis because she had problems with her family, with her father... This is a picture of Robert Mapplethorpe which is beautiful from 1982 and you can see the joy of this woman. It's a bit like in Greece, where there were the Phallophories where women wore big penises like this, it's good and funny!
"In the classical Greek world, the Phallophories, were solemn processions in honour of Dionysus, in which an enormous wooden phallus was carried, accompanying the procession, with typical songs, like the one of the poet of Delos put in one of his theatrical works: Withdraw, make way for the god, because he wants to resist, to swell, to advance in the middle."
This is a very sexual injunction!
Here we are in Japan, I still dare you to do that in Besançon! But you can always try!
I'll talk later about Japan where they've kept their rituals. Here it's a drawing by Louise Bourgeois in cooperation with Tracey Emin, Louise Bourgeois did the drawing and her friend embroidered a little erotic woman on the penis. It's called: "Do Not Abandon Me" (a million ways to come somewhere). And when female artists appropriate sexuality, it becomes more real and true than when men talk about it.
Here I want to talk about the artist Kiki Smith, who is also a very important American artist. It must be said that all her artists were feminists, in New York, there is a gallery dedicated to their work (A.I.R.Gallery), in which only female artists are shown. And I recently heard that the museum in Baltimore, has decided to buy only works by women artists for this year 2020. That made some people laugh on my Facebook page but still, there's a real problem in art, because there's in museums, in this museum, I don't really know how many works are made by women, but probably less than 1%, I don't know? We should discuss this with the director. But it's very non-existent. When you go to the Louvre, it's the same thing. So you have to think that art is made by men, mainly European art is made mainly by men, and that raises a question somewhere. Half of humanity is not in museums, and this idea of creating a museum where only women's works are bought. I, as an American, think it's a good thing because there is a problem and they are facing it, Americans are pragmatic people and that's a good thing.
Here is an other work by Kiki Smith, it must be said that these artists started working in the 1960s, but here it is in 1992 and it must also be said that it was the arrival of AIDS in New York, which was one of the cities most affected and all these artists, either they are like Keith Haring, who died of AIDS, or it has profoundly marked this generation, just as the world wars have deeply marked previous generations. But AIDS has been in the art world specifically and it's really made a difference. That's why we can see such a work. It doesn't come out of nowhere and they're important works! These artists talk about their bodies. It's a bit like Greek mythology with the goat and his body like that... "Tied to her Nature", it's a work in connection with her deep self somewhere (her animality).
And here, I wanted to talk to you about Nancy Spero whom work I like very much, she systematically takes works issues from ancients traditions like this woman. It's a Greek drawing, painted on a Greek pottery, this woman with her two dildos masturbating like this, she liked this image, so she redrew it. It can be paradoxical: it can be a criticism of the way we see the woman's body; or it can also be the liberation of the woman desire! It's the artist who has to know this, but we have to ask ourselves the question. I'm going to talk about her Codex Artaud series, because Artaud had made some very, very violent drawings when he was in a psychiatric hospital and she completed a whole series on this codex. We can see that it is inhabited by madness somewhere, by the desire to get out of the societal straitjacket, of morality, to exist and for the body to exist in its wholeness.
That's it, that's also women that she's got back, it's beautiful, it's probably Cambodian or African women, it's women who dance like that... And here: Sperm Bomb, I think it speaks to you, it was the Vietnam War too! So all these female artists, or male artists too, wanted to talk about the war, this cruelty and stupidity that are wars. And all the time, wars are declared and fought by men, we know that very well, so it's kind of her way of saying: "Well men, fuck you, you fuck us with your atomic ejaculations, we're fed up with it!" There's Nancy Spero, in front of the statue I showed you earlier that she had redrawn, she made things with these statues. It's really to show that her body, her sexual body exists. You can't exist without your sex. And here she talks about it in an interview:
"I think the anger in the War Series and Artaud's paintings came from the feeling that I had no voice (of course women artists in the 60s and 70s were not exhibited in galleries!), an arena for dialogue, that I had no identity. I felt like a non-artist, a non-person. I was furious, furious that my voice as an artist was not recognised."
It's really important for an artist to be exposed and recognised!
"That's Artaud works. That's exactly why I chose to use Artaud's writings, because he shouts, screams, raves and raves about having his tongue cut out, about being castrated. He has no voice, he is silenced in a bourgeois society."
And that's exactly what is happening today: society is becoming more and more bourgeois! There are artists who find their place, but the only artists who find their place are those who sell for more than a hundred thousand euros, and who all and always do some politically correct works, that is to say work that should not disturb anyone. Because if you are like Damien Hirst, who exhibits in London, Hong Kong, Shanghai or whatever: your work must be understood and buyable everywhere! So obviously you won't go to Arab countries to show sex scenes and all that... Because it won't sell!
I advise you, if you have Twitter, to follow this account called WOMENSART where there are always really fabulous things, where they show us works of female artists that are really always amazing!
Here's a drawing by Artaud, look at this delirium he was in. It's both terrible, what year is it from? 19 46! It's also about war, despair, loneliness, enchainment and suffering.
I come to Basquiat of course, because he also liberated painting by creating his art works in the street. And I like his work which has a lot of energy and freedom! I'm going to finish with Piss Christ, I don't want to shock anyone, but Andres Serrano is a New York artist of Puerto Rican origin, who arrived in the years of AIDS in New York, so inevitably, he saw many of his friends die and being of Puerto Rican origin, which are very religious people; when you are a believer and you see epidemics like this coming, you ask yourself the question, of course, but where is God? And AIDS being transmitted through bodily fluids so he worked with piss, milk, blood, semen... This work was exhibited in Avignon and have been vandalised. We think what we want, but I wanted to talk about this work. Because during this conference, I did not show any Christ on the cross because it is not my subject but I wanted to end there. Here we see Jeff Koons and the Cicciolina, he made himself known, at the beginning of his career, by making love with the Cicciolina. So it's interesting, because it was sex that made him famous, but today, he doesn't talk about sex anymore to be 100% politically correct. And he says it coldly, crudely, cynically: "Anyway, I make Puppies, because it sells much better and more expensive than my erotic works."
"The painters didn't paint what they should have painted but only what they were commissioned to paint, or what brought them money or fame. The painters, all those old masters, who most of the time disgust me more than anything else and who have always given me the shivers, have never served one master, never themselves and thus mankind itself. All the same, they always painted a fake world that they drew from themselves, from which they hoped to obtain money and glory; all of them painted only for that purpose, out of envy of money and envy of glory, not because they wanted to be painters but only because they wanted to have glory or money or glory along with money."
Thomas Bernhard, Old Masters
Well, his work is really kitsch and it's dated from the 80s, 90s, but there are still artists who dared to stage their sexuality like that. It's interesting, you can get knocked out in front of works like that, it's courageous! And so he stated in an interesting sentence, even if I don't like to quote him too much:
"I think sexuality is important for my work because it's important for the survival of the species and Art tries to communicate what's most important. This dialogue of acceptance of sexuality is transferred to the realm of aesthetics and all other spheres of life."
I am going to talk briefly about Outsider Art, because it must be understood that although erotic works are not in museums, there are works that are nevertheless created by people who are not professionals artists, in quotes. But what we call: Art Brut. Jean Dubuffet, was a great discoverer... He visited asylums, he discovered and collected art works and he founded the Museum of Art Brut in Lausanne thanks to him. So, I'm going to talk about a few works of Art Brut.
Here is a work that I love, The Person Becomes Essential by Helga Sophia Goetze, she embroiders tapestries like this that are in the museum of Art Brut in Lausanne and she always talks about sexuality but also about what we had seen before in tribal societies: her family, the way people are interconnected with each other and so these works are beautiful!
Here's a male artist so he's dreaming about women in garters and stockings and his sex is symbolised by rockets; I think it's beautiful!
We're a little over time and so I really want to thank you for coming; we'll continue this conference next time!
Thank you all, go home safe and happy Valentine's Day! Goodbye, thank you!
LECTURE OF THE ARTIST JEAN-PIERRE SERGENT | MUSEÉ CHARLES DE BRUYÈRES | REMIREMONT | FRANCE | 28 APRIL 2019
PART ONE (16:44) HISTORY OF MY ARTISTIC CAREER: FRANCE, CANADA, USA & COSMIC REVELATIONS (View the video)
- Aurélien Vacheret (Museum Director): Good evening, the intervention of an artist in the exhibition "Charles de Bruyères invites" fifteen artists to the museum, which is a confrontation between ancient art, some paintings chosen by the artists of ancient works of the Museum and a work created by these artists that corresponds to their universe compared to the collections of the collector Charles de Bruyères. So I will introduce you to Jean-Pierre Sergent, who comes from Besançon and who has travelled, exhibited in the United States and in different places in France and Franche-Comté.
- Annie Tremsal (Curator of the exhibition): That you are going to discover, because he has retraced his journey in pictures and I wanted to tell you the interest of this kind of conference, because discovering the universe of an artist does make sense! And you will see that there is an extremely personal journey and a contemporary transposition of all these works that he will show us!
- AV: So the exhibition is running until May 19 2019 and I let Jean-Pierre Sergent spoke about his art.
1. HISTORY OF MY ARTISTIC CAREER: FRANCE, CANADA, USA & COSMIC REVELATIONS
- JPS: Good evening, thank you very much to everyone here for coming despite this rainy day, but you have come all the way here from afar, so thank you very much. I'm going to try to speak a little loudly because the microphone is at the end of the room and we're going to start with this first part, which is the history of my artistic career. I was born in France and stayed here until I was thirty-three, and then I had the chance to move to Montreal and that's where I really started my artistic career. Because in France I exhibited a little, but I hadn't reached this professional level and I was able to really learn my profession as an artist in Montreal by being confronted with professional artists from all universes. And then in Montreal, I stayed there for a year and a half and I had an artist friend who said to me: "Montreal is not great, we have to go to New York!" I said good New York ok, but finally I followed him a little bit and so it turns out that after a year and a half in Montreal, I went to New York, where I stayed there for ten years! I spent ten years of my life there having three successive workshops: first in DUMBO, it's in Brooklyn and then in Chelsea, where all the galleries are now! And then finally to Long Island City (Queens), where PS1 is, which depends on the MOMA. In New York, I really met a great energy, a great multiplicity, a diversity to see things! That is to say, in France, we are a little restricted, subject to the enormous historical past! You can feel it very well in this museum. With the whole history of painting, European painting and therefore what I liked about the United States (the New World) is that it is a country open to other cultures. We will talk about it in more detail when I show you the slides of the works that have influenced me and the works I have made in relation to these works.
2. EGYPT & COSMIC REVELATION
So I wanted to talk about Egypt before, because I also went on a trip to Egypt, when I was in France, again at the Beaux-Arts and there I had a kind of vertical revelation. That is to say, in Egyptian temples, one can feel what one feels in cathedrals in France when one is a believer. That is, at one point I was in a priest's cell that was perfectly cubic with a small square window on the ceiling and I was alone in that room and it came to me as a kind of revelation, a cosmic elevation. It is a journey into what is called the axis mundi, through which we can acquire another spiritual dimension. That all pre-industrial peoples knew or (still know) today. They used this axis to meet the spirits and to, one cannot say dialogue with the dead, but to be able to make a cosmic journey. And so, at that time, I was still at the Art School in Besançon, I came back from Egypt and I thought to myself: Art doesn't happen in museums or schools: it's really a physical experience! It's a spiritual revelation! So from then on, I became interested in what a spiritual process could be. And I also had this kind of revelation when I travelled to Mexico in the great museums such as the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, where we see these Aztec, Olmec, Toltec and Mayan works, which have these telluric and spiritual forces. Energies that I personally do not feel in European paintings. There are of course very rare paintings, for example one can feel a very strong spiritual dimension in the Italian primitives (also in Vermeer) because they had unconditional faith in God and what interests me is faith in something else. That's really what feeds me!
3. INITIATORY JOURNEYS & WORKS FROM ELSEWHERE...
So here we are going to discover some works that have nourished me, for example this prehistoric Venus, the Venus of Hôhle Fels, Germany -35,000, they are all beautiful! The Venus of the Espuge is beautiful too! They are very feminized, the genitals and breasts are very exaggerated! Because they are fertility statues. The world must be regenerated and its descendants ensured. So according to this prehistoric Venus I made a little drawing with another prehistoric Venus, it's from another statue! These are my first serigraphs made in New York. And I had the chance to visit the prehistoric cave of the Perch Merle, on the ceiling of this cave, there are digital traces and what interests me particularly in cave art is that they are almost always collective works. This drawing was completed during two, three or ten thousand years, we don't really know! It's like the rock paintings of the Australian aborigines, they were caves that were used for rituals, so they initiated the young people and each one added his own drawing. So what interests me is this temporal compression. Let's say that the origin of this drawing dates back less than seventeen thousand years and maybe it's from minus seventeen thousand to minus thirteen thousand, we don't know? Since artists and shamans came to visit the caves, its burying itself again and were rediscovered and they came back etc. It's like Lascaux! And what interests me in these works is how to exit a single art work to enter into a collective one, because it necessarily has more strength! For me, that's my own opinion! So that's it, it's kind of my approach. And I used this drawing by Perch Merle to make this work called Supended Time, which was presented at the Alliance Française de New York in 1998. And I really like this confrontation between the image, less than twenty thousand years old in contemporary places. What always remains in common is desire, it is life, it is the regeneration of life, the will to live, the desire to live! During my career, I have taken a lot of pictures in museums, this is a small Egyptian statue that is in the Louvre, which is not very big, we see that it is copper that is embedded in lead, and I found this woman's dress really so contemporary, beautiful design, it's fabulous! So I made a work on paper that we see here! And on this work; we see this Egyptian statue, I spent a lot of time reworking this image on my computer. It's not: we scan a photo and that's it, the drawing really has to fit perfectly with my idea and the artist's idea of the work he completed. And it is in this way that I feel in great connection with all these artists and craftsmen, who have created these works. Behind the statue is a drawing of a Japanese kimono, which forms waves like that and these waves represent for me the infinity and the waves of the brain. It just so happens that when you change your state of consciousness from Alpha or Beta zone, the brain waves change! And I saw the other day on the Internet that they could record the noise that brain waves make, it's fabulous, it makes a noise like electronic music. And we are all built of noise and vibration (quantum mechanics). That's what this work tells us about! So in Egypt, I had the chance to discover Nefertari's tomb with my grandfather and sister and to enter there, it is a totally strange and weird place! That is to say, the paintings accompanies the dead in another life, we really feel that it is a matrix of life. Because the colours are so vibrant and there is also this sumptuous starry sky above our heads (the power of art). I also did a work with these stars, but it's really like an inverted cosmogony, that is to say, it's the matrix of life! And to have had the chance to visit this tomb, it also gave me a great aesthetic shock and perhaps also a great joy. Because unlike other civilizations, Egyptian civilization is more anguished by death and survival in the afterlife, but artists have a very strong sense of form and color that they can bring us out of this mortiferous anguish. Oh! Look at that! It is really Isis who welcomes us with his vulture wings, like that. And it makes us think of the Tibetan people who when someone dies in Tibet, they give their remains to the vultures to eat. It is important to keep this cyclical relationship with nature. To be wrapped by some animal spirit. This is an Egyptian goddess whose picture I took at the Louvre too. I did that, because of course I was in New York on September 11, 2001 and it was such a disaster, that with many artists, we couldn't work for a long time. It was so horrible... but after a while, I was able to start working again, maybe two or three months later after that event, I started working on the theme of beauty again. For me this Egyptian goddess, she carries both water, she can carry water, but also funeral urns, we really don't know? She is probably a healer, and all my work is a bit focused on healing the soul and body. Also sensuality, it is very voluptuous, I also worked for a long time on this drawing to make it perfect like that. And at the time (it's between us), I was very much in love with an African friend, it's true that her body gave me the idea to draw what we can call the anima, it's the feminine part that accompanies us. And I also worked on this Egyptian statue that is in the Louvre, it's quite another thing. It's a small statue made of clay and stitched into it: there are nine copper needles that are inserted into all the vital points. There you see the heart, the sex, the anus, the ears, the eyes. It is actually a fetish statue and they tell its story in the window in which it is presented (wrapped in lead sheet). So it was a lover who wanted the eternal love of his wife, or his lover, so, on the lead sheet are written magic love formulas and instructions for use of this statue that needed to be buried with someone who had died a sudden and violent death, so that the charm can work! So here we are really in the primary function of art: that is, to get us out of our human condition and into another multidimensional universe. And for me, that's the most important thing, it's absolutely necessary that art has a function! I made this little silkscreen print in New York and wrote the magic text, but it's upside down because I printed it on the back of the Plexiglas sheet. So, I wanted to talk, we're in front of my work with Adam and Eve, I'll talk about it in more detail later! We still have a big problem in the West with the representation of sex, whether male or female and therefore to see in Rome this drawing of a Roman priapic man, I think it's great, it makes us laugh! But for them it was normal (or satirical), to increase the size of the sex disproportionately. To talk about life in a simple, humble, humorous way and so often, we find this in my work. This is the work that is presented here at the museum, and I have used this phallic drawing extensively in my work in New York. In New York, I often went to the Metropolitan Museum almost every Sundays and in a large space, there were the great Asmat totems from Papua presented like that. Unfortunately, they changed the room a little bit (this is not a picture of the Met, it's in New Guinea), but anyhow, these totems influenced me a lot and made me think about one thing: at the time I was thinking, maybe there were a hundred thousand artists working in New York working immigrants like me comming from Germany, Korea, Japan or Mexico to make art and none of us were able to make such a strong work! The Asmat people were cannibals, I'll tell you a little bit about these poles, it depicted the succession of generations if you will. So there, we see for example the grandfather or the grandmother, sometimes it's men or women and then above we see the father or the mother, it depends, sometimes there are three or four successif levels… And at the top again we see the sperm spurting out of the man's sex (like a cosmic ejaculation like a Pollock's painting!) and the baby is all over at the end, see! So it describes so well what happens in real life! There we have no code, we have moral codes of course, but they talk about the regeneration of the species without taboos, through aesthetics, it is still magnificent these poles, I know very few art works that have this strength! Personally, I'm very impressed. And here too, it is also a statue, a skull and they kept these skulls (stacked in rows) in their homes to live with, they were the totems of the ancestors and they lived in huts where the whole family was present there! I will talk about this a little further on when I talk about the North American Indians. This skull is embellished with feathers, it is the spirit of the dead that is present, that inhabits us and that has not disappeared! So I also did these works in New York in connection with this Asmat skull. I made one of the first works on Plexiglas, we can see the image a little overlaied, it is a little further away and we have to spend time to see it and there are in superposition symbols of vulvas that also come from tribal societies.
4. THE SHAMANIC TRANCES
Now, I need to talk to you about shamanic trances, because in New York, I had the chance to do shamanic trances under hypnosis and so in these trances, it is a bit of a cosmic journey, we are present… But not really there, it is ambiguous and ubiquitous. That is, we travel a little around the world and into the cosmos. One can find ourselves in Africa, in Siberia, into the sea... This is what all shamans tell us (who metamorphose into animals). Very often in trances, we die, so inevitably when we die, we have to wake up and there are spirits that rebuild your body. So in this drawing we see that there are four female spirits who have come to rebuild my body: a yellow woman, a red woman, a black woman, a blue woman. These transes impressed me a lot and marked my work very deeply. Likewise, it is another shamanic trance, during which I returned to the Earth center and Gérard de Nerval speaks very well about it in Le Voyage en Orient, where the great architect Adoniram burns himself during the construction of the Great Temple of Israel, he goes into a trance and meets with his ancestors spirits. It's a bit like that, when you merge with the center of the Earth, you meet your ancestors. I think we are all living memories of the Universe. So necessarily, we have these memories in us, and shamanic transes allow us to access them.
PART TWO (18:45) | INITIATORY TRAVELS & INFLUENCES: CENTRAL AMERICA, INDIAN ART (View the video)
Here I would like to talk about my Mexican travels, I thought this was nice, this inscription of "Guatemala" on a cactus! I like folk art, everyone's art. This statue is at the New York Museum of Natural History, it is a terracotta that is about one meter twenty, and it represents a priest who made a human sacrifice by flaying his victim and wearing the skin. During this ritual, he kept the skin on until it fell apart, sometimes for a month or more. Of course we judge that with our morals, with the way we think, but having read a lot about it and travelled a lot in Mexico, I don't defend human sacrifice at all, but I think it's important to keep rituals because it's what allows us to keep a connection with the earth, with life quite simply, with the sun. Because they had, for example, the month of salt where there was a festival to honor the salt! The month of rain, the celebration of rain, the celebration of trees, flowers...! And we no longer celebrate or honor anything. I am very sad about it, I am very sad about it. This is the work I made from this picture! And every time I go to the natural history museum, I go to see this statue and I think to myself: Wow, it gives off a lot of energy! I had the chance to go with my friend Olga, who is of Colombian origin and we travelled a lot in Mexico and Guatemala; during these trips we went to see the pyramid of Uxmal. At that time, you could still climb on this pyramid: now it is forbidden in order to protect it! It is true that above, we also have this kind of cosmic revelation, feeling this axis mundi, to be at the center, not of the universe, but of a world somewhere that allows us to communicate, as the ancients said: to communicate with the Gods! This pyramid is fabulous because it is not square (like other pyramids), it is oval. And it's a very special shape, I really like this site, it's really fabulous! That's Chichén Itzá, you all know this pyramid, at the equinoxes the feathered snake god, Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god goes down when the sun goes down the stairs of the pyramid, it's as if it comes to life, at the equinoxes you see the snake go down and people go there on March 21 and September 21. It is also an impressive pyramid! Inside, at the center there is the throne of the jade jaguar, it is as impressive as the prehistoric caves. It's a small jaguar and it is very powerful. These are Mayan skulls! They had a different relationship to death. We too, in this room of the Museum, we see a Christ on the cross, a descent of the cross, it's the same thing! Each civilization has its own iconography in relation to death! But this is more violent, it's less sweetened than our paintings. And we feel the energy that remains, we feel the reminiscence of the vital energy, the life-death transgression. That's a Mayan vase painting! I think it's really beautiful, see the costumes they wore With jade, quetzal bird feathers and flowers. Of course it was nobles or important warriors who wore this, despite everything it's impressive, French couturiers can get dressed again! There in front of a dressing like that, it's really something else! We're in another dimension! We're really caught up in a supernatural cosmic-magical dimension. This is a mural painting whose colors I admire... a fresco. Inspired by all these Mayan works, I started my series called Mayan Diary in New York. Here it is a priest who incarnates the God of the corn Wak-Chan-Ahaw and the ambiguity of this image is that we do not know if he is being dressed or undressed and then the women are naked; so the men are dressed and the women are naked, maybe it is the same everywhere in all civilizations? But I found it quite funny, very symbolic and I think there is a beautiful energy in this ritual! Here we see a proposal for a wall installation, which I did not end up exhibiting, with nine paintings on Plexiglas (4.20 x 4.20 m). We see the Mayan god in the middle and we also see drawings of shamanic transes.
A. T.: Very large format!
Yes very large format: 4.20 x 4.20 m. And, often I take pictures in museums; they are called patterns, that is to say repetitive patterns. It is important to know that many of the motifs that we think are decorative had a symbolic and social meaning.
(to be read: Patterns That Connect: Social Symbolism in Ancient & Tribal Art by Carl Schuster). We no longer know it, Claude Lévis-Strauss has also talked about it a lot. They knew and knew very well what they were doing and I will tell you an anecdote: I read in a book on Mayan art that the woman journalist who wrote the book was walking around Yucatan or Chiapas. She had seen a Mayan woman embroidering tunics and she said to her: - "But your embroidery is so complicated, small and meticulous that no one can understand what you are doing!" The weaver simply replied: "Yes God can see it!" That is to say, today, art has lost the function of speaking to the gods as I said earlier. But in traditional societies, it's not art that they made, it's not folklore, they were really talking to something that connected them to the universe! And that's a very important thought. Here is a large paper with this drawing (pattern), which I have reworked on computer.
5. NATIVE AMERICAN ART
So I wanted to talk to you about Amerindian art, although I haven't taken many pictures of it, but when you see this work, for example, it's worth all the contemporary works. They have a culture, it's a bit stupid to say that, but yes, a culture is an innate worship of beauty. Women and men can do beautiful things; for us and for them beauty is a universal value at this level and the colors are fabulous. So, I come to talk about Georges Catlin who is an American painter that travelled to the Plains Indians countries in the early 1830s (North American Indians), left with his easel and painting equipment and painted the Amerindians, because their cultures fascinated him and they were disappearing! Of course we all know Edward Curtis who took a lot of pictures of Indians, but we don't know him very well and I had seen a retrospective of his paintings in New York (George Catlin and His Indian Gallery, National Museum of the American Indian). What is interesting in this painting is that it describes how the funeral rites of the Mandan (Sioux tribes) were practiced. First, the remains of the dead were placed on some kind of platform, which we have already seen in movies like Little Big Man, or other movies! And the body would decay like that for two or three years. This is still done today in Japan other countries where the dead are buried and then after a while they are dug up and put the ashes in a smaller urn. So there, once the skeleton has disintegrated, they put the skulls of all the people of the tribe in a circle. It's a different concept from home, where we often have family tombs, but here there's the concept of the tribe, the community and it's a more open concept; we're a little less alone and reintegrated into the universe. So I advise you to read this book by George Catlin because there are illustrations of these works and it also tells a lot of anecdotes, as well as the Indian rituals he attended (La danse du Soleil); it's fabulous, it's an important book! This is my workshop in Besançon where I repainted these skulls and placed them together, because I really like this idea of the circle, of continuity. According to this, I made this work on paper.
6. THE HINDU ART
Here is the Hindu art that fascinates me enormously: we see an Indian statue, with this sensuality, this lasciviousness, we don't have that in the West, we can't really compare these two things, but it's still very rare to see: "This profuse sensuality that spreads like a river without a slope" as Marguerite Yourcenar, whom I will quote later on, says. There is no anguish in their erotic art. There, we see the lingam, the phallus representing the god Shiva. So in India, we can see this with the yoni, which is the female sex when walking the streets. Yet another Hindu statue: we see these breasts which are like the breasts of today's porn actresses, it is incredible that in the twelfth or fifteenth centuries, artists already had this idealized vision of a woman's body. But it is a generous and a little provocative vision despite everything and this body (of a deity) has this flexibility of people who do yoga and who practice spiritual awakening, because I don't think there are many women in the West who have this flexibility and sensuality today ! It is important how you build the image of your body and how you use it. I'm going to talk about an erotic gouache from Kamasutra! You realize that in the West, a work like this would be very difficult to present in a museum! It's still a problem...! These gouaches were made for the Mogul elite, maybe they were passing these images privately, like that, but the temples with their myriad erotic sculptures, were visible to everyone! So there was probably no censorship of erotic art in India, at least not at that time. Here, we see the goddess Kali beheading herself during coitus to regenerate the world and the universe (Kali of great wisdom nourishing the new life of her blood-nectar gushing from her beheaded neck). This image is somehow ultra-violent because we see Krishna and Kali making love, we see precisely the genitals in action and above, there is Kali's subtle blue body being decapitated, her blood flowing and her servants collecting this blood in bowls and drinking it to regenerate the world. All this takes place on a lotus flower, a symbol of great wisdom and spiritual awakening. It's images with an incredible evocative force, it's amazing! That's takes one's breath away, That's fabulous! The imagination of these Hindu artists is boundless. Even in our wildest dreams, we cannot dream of this scene (the Indian collective imagination is much stronger and richer than that of the West, except in our period of the Middle Ages and with Jérôme Bosch), congratulations to them! What also interests me a lot in Hindu culture is their yantras, their assemblages of geometric figures, here these triangles. This yantra represents a little bit of what we call the Big Bang (the Nava-Yoni Chakra floating in the original cosmic soup). This is the beginning of the beginning of the origin of the world, that's it! The triangles pointing down are female and those pointing upwards are male. It is an entanglement like the two principles that create life and the world. I made this work on paper and on Plexiglas, it is a large format: 1.20 x 1.07 m. This Indian drawing represents tree seeds and the evolution of levels of consciousness. That is to say, for Hindus, we do not only have one conscience, we have several, just as for Buddhists, there is not only one void, there are nineteen! So it raises questions, even if we can't understand everything about these different levels of consciousness. I have reproduced this little drawing in this work. I really feed on these works inspired by Indian metaphysics, because they represent something I don't know, something I feel intuitively close to in my very depths, but that I still have to go and find. Here is also a work representing a yantra (the sacred point bindu of origins and return, with concentric circles representing the eternal cycles of cosmic evolution and involution) that represents a level of consciousness that spreads in the Universe as when we throw a stone into the water; and circle after circle, our level of consciousness increases. I should have quoted a book by Jodorowski that talks about awakening consciousness, but you can't talk about everything! And I love this little eighteenth century Indian gouache, it has always amazed me to see that, because it represents "The metacosmic void or pure consciousness" (the title is so beautiful and evocative!). We talked about consciousness and emptiness earlier and probably in the West, we have to wait until the middle of the twentieth century to finally talk about the concept of emptiness with artists like Yves Klein (Le Saut dans le vide), Barnett Newman (Shining Forth, to George) or Morris Louis (Delta-theta), American artists. Yves Klein was French, but Morris Louis painted colored verticals and the center of the painting remained empty! And emptiness is as important as void! Sometimes I use this idea of the frame to define the void. This work is part of the series I am working on called: Shakti-Yoni: Ecstatic Cosmic Dances. In this painting on Plexiglas, these are drawings of Japanese cherry blossoms (sakura), put together to cause, as I have already mentioned, a change in the state of consciousness of the brain. That is to say, when we are in front of this work, we no longer see the work, we feel that it titillates us a little bit in the neurons and that is what is important for me, it is to provoke a mystical revelation. I want to create something that vibrates and is alive.
7. JAPANESE SHUNGA & OTHER EROTIC WORKS
I wanted to briefly mention the Japanese shungas, where we see the genitals of the woman very well represented (the vulva with small and large lips, as well as the clitoris). There is a whole school of Japanese erotic prints, especially in the nineteenth century. In the following work too, where we even see a sodomy scene, it's quite rare, it's a close-up, the format is stretched into four parts, it's a work by Torii Kiyonaga, Sode no maki, 1785, which could be and is contemporary in its spirit. It's beautiful! And the pleasure shared is very well shown. I will finish with "The Origin of the World" by Gustave Courbet, because unfortunately in the West, we only have that painting of a woman sex! Some contemporary artists work a little on sexuality, but it must be remembered that for centuries, we could not have increased the number of genitals or sexual acts... In the Middle Ages, we could describe genitals, but then it was forbidden and erotic works were sold privately. So I wanted to pay tribute to this painting and to my friend Thierry Savatier who wrote a very interesting big book about this work: The origin of the world and with which I have already done several filmed interviews.
8. JOHN CAGE, BUDDHISM AND NATURE
I wanted to finish this part with John Cage (1912-1992), an American musician and visual artist, he was very influential in the seventies and at that time American artists were very influenced by Japanese Zen Buddhism. They had all met or read (including Kerouac, you must read his Dharma Bums) the great Japanese Zen master D. T. Zuzuki, who wrote a very large block entitled Essays in Zen Buddhism (the Bible of Buddhism), which is at least ten centimeters thick, which I read passionately and which is very interesting ! And all these artists have been greatly influenced by the void (great principle of Zen): what is the void where is the presence, where is the absence, who is present? And here we see him taking his huge brush dipped in ink, then walking on his large sheet of paper... and life passes like that and in the end, there is no more ink, no more trace, no more life, no more energy, we evaporate and dissolve in the universe. He is an artist I respect very much. I often take pictures of nature and this is a water lily that was in the Japanese pond (a little Zen) at my grandfather's house, it's to talk about him and pay tribute to the beauty of nature. I am always dazzled and amazed by it every time I encounter it... I think it is a beauty that touches me and soothes me. We have to look more deeply into things, but I often realize that when we are stressed and our brains are not available, we can no longer see this beauty and I think it is important to work on ourselves a lot, it is the same for works of art, it is the same for love and friendship. To access something, you need to free your mind, it is important and essential to clear our heads of all the things that embarrass us and prevent us from loving the world.
PART 3 (16:18): DEVELOPMENT OF THE SHAPE AND STRUCTURE OF THE PAINTING (View the video)
- 10. PAINTINGS IN FRANCE 1984-1991
So here we're going to start on something else, I wanted to introduce you a little bit to how my work has developed over time. I lived on a farm in Charquemont (in the Jura Mountains), breeding American horses and I started painting by doing abstraction. I was then very much influenced by the American painting of Barnett Newman or Mark Rothko, because these painters were talking about something I didn't know, especially for Barnett Newman: verticality and for Rothko: colour and energy exchanges. That is to say, if you go to Beaubourg Museum and see Barnett Newman's big painting with the black zips, you can feel that he means the vertical position of man and woman and God in the center, it's a little pretentious! But I really like this vertical relationship to things. So I started painting verticals like that, it's very influenced by this American painting and I also started working on the square format and surrounding the square with a perimeter like that! And we will see later that my paintings on Plexiglas are currently built in the same way! It was in 1987 and now I'm still working on this square shape, the dimension has changed a little, I was at 1.30 x 1.30 m and now I'm at 1.40 x 1.40 m, so it's really changed very little. I was also working on the polyptychs, because I don't like the idea of the unique work, so we see three panels side by side and it's 1.30 high by 2.57 m long. Here is a painting with a transparent blue in the middle. I also made columns like this in five parts and I also started to integrate newspaper clippings, with numbers and symbols.
- 11. PAINTINGS IN MONTREAL 1991-1993
Now we're moving on to Montreal works, so I moved to Montreal in 1991 and continued the work on the columns, but I had met a gallery in Toronto and the columns I had made in France were painted on Masonite, of course Masonite is not a stable enough material and they didn't want to work with me if I kept working on this support. It was a big problem to resolve for me, because when you're asked to change the support you've been working on for years, it's not easy! So I thought about it for quite a while and thought why not try it on Plexiglas ! But at first I painted on top of it. After that, I started painting in the back to use its transparency effect. So I continued the series of columns by painting them on Plexiglas. I also worked on cardboard, with materials such as beeswax and scotch tape, also integrating press clippings. The good thing about living in Montreal or New York is that every Sunday you can buy The New York Times, so you buy that, it's four centimetres thick and you always find images that appeal to you! These are large formats that are: 2.79 by 2.24 m, in four parts, and I continued to work on this idea of the polyptych. Always with the centre and sides, I added numbers because I was influenced by Jung's book: Man and his Symbols, where he said that among human beings, there were four stages of spiritual development: the sportsman, the poet, the politician and the saint. I thought it was important to be all these men at once in one life! Because we can't be one thing ony, that would be really sad ! And for Jung, the final evolution was Gandhi! I think that we can be all at the same time and that spiritual development is important. I also worked with the confrontations between the smooth and flat surfaces on the exterior panels and the exuberant material, overflowing on the central panel. This is really my last abstract canvas: it's a large four-part canvas that measures 2.76 x 2.76 m and I stayed in my studio looking at this canvas without working, because I had worked a lot in Montreal and I thought to myself: well, I can make infinite variations like many other abstract painters have done! But I was missing something! So I decided to reintegrate images into my art work. In this painting we see the images that appear with press clippings... in the material of the painting and in a more obvious way than before! There we see the manufacture of another series of paintings. I silkscreened my images directly on copper or zinc strips and I also glued silkscreened images on paper or cardboard in the paintings. So now we see this painting with an aluminum strip inserted in plastic construction nets. I really wanted to have a material and a very physical presence of my paintings at this time. We will then see the large size of these canvases! And when you're younger, you really want to live in the painting with your body, after that it changes. Here I am in front of a large square painting of 2.76 m. From that moment on, I also started to make assemblies with small plates of Plexiglas (35 x 17.5 cm). I took pictures of birds and trees in France during my summer holidays and went to screen print them in Canada!
- 12. THE PAINTINGS IN NEW YORK 1993-2003
I arrived in New York in April 1993. It was my workshop in DUMBO, right next to the Manhattan Bridge. We can see all the pots of paint etc.... On this painting, we find the obscene graffiti that is displayed here. I then started to assemble these formats into squares that are 1.05 by 1.05 meters and since then it is the module I still use today! There we see images of giraffes, manta rays, women, it's a whole set of things. We discover here a larger format that is 2.10 by 2.10 m, we even see a Mexican human sacrifice, a painting of Fra Angelico, as well as a "primitive" fertility ritual with women wearing some huge phallus like that! I like to use images of rituals, because they show a human community that gathers to share something (the rituals creates the social cohesions)! Here are assembled three squares of total dimensions 2.10 by 6.30 m in a group exhibition that we organized in 1995 with other Brooklyn artist friends. It's starting to make large works! This installation is 3.50 by 3.50 m and has been specially created for another exhibition in a gallery in SoHo. This painting is : 3.50 par 3.50 m. This one is a little more erotic, it's a work that measures 1.40 by 2.80 m and makes me laugh, because at one point I started working with a gallery in SoHo and the gallery owner Eric Allouche came into my studio to choose works for a show and he burst out laughing when he saw this one: "Ah, you make me laugh Jean-Pierre, I think if Matisse were still alive, he would do a job like this! I said thank you! "But we can't show this in our gallery!" (in reference to the double penetration). We always have the same problem with works dealing with sexuality: this is the place where we can present it! It's a very beautiful piece! There we can find again the axis mundi, which is Maya, with the center of the world and the four directions and it is called: The dream of the imprisoned man, with the axis mundi and the vulva coming from a Japanese shunga drawing. This one is of the same series, with a text by the Marquis de Sade (Les 120 jours de Sodome). Indeed, from that moment on, I started to integrate images with very erotic, provocative, even obscene texts into my work! I was photographed in front of this large wall installation (Mayan Diary, 2.80 x 4.20 m, 2002, photo Charles Esheleman) that I had made at the Taller Bouricua, which is a Puerto Rican Cultural Centre located in East Harem. I was friends with the directors of the Centre and the architect Miguel Baltierra who worked there. So I had the chance to present this beautiful work in New York!
- 13. WALL INSTALLATIONS IN FRANCE SINCE 2004
Here, I am seen installing my paintings on plexiglass for the decoration of the Opera la Traviata at the Opera Theatre in Besançon in 2007 (photos by Yves Petit). The Opera technicians built a large panel measuring 6.30 by 3.15 meters, made of plywood reinforced with aluminium structures on the back and on which I hung my paintings on the floor. Then they lifted the whole monumental structure and hung it up above the stage! It was really a mystical, lifting, magnificent experience! Here I pose in front of the panel. They would move up and down the panel following the scenes of the Traviata! It was really a great achievement and the singers were happy to have sung in front of this colorful fresco and I was also very happy to have accompanied them in this erotic-mystical delirium! This was at the Mulhouse Fine Arts Museum (Mayan Diary 20), this wall was 10.50 meters long by 2.10 meters high and the technicians built a wall especially to support the paintings. This painting is entitled: Indian Names, I made it for an exhibition in New York in 1999 and I love Amerindian cultures so much that I included a whole list of names of emblematic and famous Indian chiefs and shamans such as: Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Cuathemos, Black Elk, Chief Joseph etc... I had chosen all these names of famous Indians who resonated in my memory and to whom I wanted to pay tribute with this particular painting. Here I am in front of this large wall installation. Here we are at the Ferme de Flagey (which depends on the Courbet d'Ornans Museum), It is the house where Gustave Courbet was born and I was lucky to present a large wall installation: Nature, Cultures, The Origin of the Worlds, 18 paintings, 3.15 x 6.30 m in 2012. We are seen fixing the paintings on the wall with Velcro strips. I gave two filmed lectures with my friends Thierry Savatier (world-famous specialist of Gustave Courbet) and Laurent Devèze, (Director of the Besançon School of Fine Arts). This is in Narbonne where I exhibited in 2016. It is the School of Fine Arts of Besançon which presented and organized this group exhibition entitled : Is the artist a shaman? We see the technicians installing the wood panels on the wall. This installation: Shamanic Ecstasies And Flowers is 3.15 by 6.30 m. We're installing the last painting here! Exhibition on the theme of shamanism. You can see the scale on this wall installation! Here, it's with my friend Laurent Devèze.
- 14. THE SERIGRAPHIC TECHNIQUE
I wanted to briefly mention the silkscreen technique (which I use daily to do my work). It is a really old technique that satisfies me, because it is a rather sensual technique and requires many different steps. For example, we see here a positive film here. I am already working on the image on the computer and then printing the image with my printer on a transparent film. So we see some positive films, we find the patterns. Here we see the films I am assembling on the workshop table. My assistant Christine Chatelet took these pictures; here I am taping two films together to make them more opaque and that they block the light well when exposed in the light table. See, it's a very sensual work, silkscreen printing... The name silkscreen comes from silk, it's nylon nowdays, it's not silk anymore, but touching these screens is really very sensual! In addition to that the images are very erotic...! There I check if the screens are well cleaned because once the image has been exposed (the glue having hardened in the light) we clean with water everything that has been protected by the opacity of the film, to reveal the image! So I look to see if the image is properly cleaned. It's a little tedious work, but it's interesting! Here I tape the films on the screens before exposing them. Here are the screens that I place afterwards in the light table where I expose them to strong light for three minutes. Sometimes I take pictures because it's a bit like images of ecstasy, a bit mystical! Here is a picture taken by another friend Sonia Oysel, who came to take pictures in the studio in 2018. Here is a workshop view when I print my serigraphs, I always work on a small format: 25.5 x 25.5 cm. I also work in a serial way, with a repetition of images. I print twelve serigraphs on white BFK paper and yellow Wang paper in editions of five or mostly unique prints. Here I am seen screenprinting the ink with the squeegee. I use acrylic paint for artists.
Public: is that ink?
JPS: No, it's not ink, it's Golden or Lascaux brand acrylic paint and it's what gives a great density to the colors of my art works! We can see here how the paint passes through the silkscreen, in general, I put two to three layers depending on the density of color I need!
- 15. THE SHAKTI-YONI SERIES: 2016 - PRESENT
Here is now the series I am currently working on, I will read you this sentence highlighted in the text I wrote about it:
"It is jouissance that is the substance of the world. It is it that brings us closer to the divine state."
It is taken from the book: Shiva and Dionysus by Alain Daniélou. As I said earlier, it is interesting to talk about jouissance, somewhere to say that it is necessary, indispensable and consubstantial to life! There is no more to be said! I printed out nine hundred different of this series in the summer of 2018! It's very erotic content, and the problem is that it's hard to exhibit. My Zurich gallery owner Heidi is having headaches out because she can't sell it! Being an artist is already a difficult! But then with an erotic work like this, it's even more difficult! Maybe even Mission Impossible! But that's what I like to do and I think my work is important! I also use erotic texts retrieved from Japanese manga erotical cartoons! And this summer, I have a friend Rose, who came to visit me at the workshop from Australia and those erotical texts made her laugh a lot! Because it is very rare for the French to laugh in front of my work! It's funny because it's a very trashy thing, funny! She said to me: "Ah Jean-Pierre, you know women so well!" (she took silkscreens with her to be my agent in Australia and Asia!) It was really nice (like in New York!). It was really nice.
I think that in France (essentially a serious country and only intellectually oriented) we are really very, very stuck with these stories regarding art and sex! Everything is so taken so seriously! But we'll see! We may soon have an exhibition at the Charles de Bruyères Museum on the theme of eroticism?
PART 4: EVE, ADAM & THE GRAFFITIS & QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
16. "EVE, ADAM & LES GRAFFITIS"
We are now going to talk about the work that is there, so the painter was inspired, that's what you told me Aurélien, by this engraving by Dürer from 1504.
Aurélien Vacheret: Yes, yes, and the funny thing is that in fact, when I saw the painting, I hadn't seen it very closely for a while, but when I inventoried it a few years ago, I noticed which animals were on it. They were almost all there! So there's a rat, a cat, a hare, an ox and I think that's weird, they're not all there! There is a little goat that is all the way up there perched on a rock and in fact when I looked at it very, very closely to try to understand, well they were almost all there, except that the varnish, the paint becomes opaque over time and therefore it makes it less visible. So sometimes with an engraving, it makes it possible to better look at a work that we have before us but that we do not necessarily see.
JPS: Yes, so here I wanted to mention in the West this problem we have with sex representation, not only in the erotic act, but for the body itself! Since good, my friend Thierry Savatier has noticed that since ancient Greece, there are very few representations of the female and male sex in art. Or if the female sex was represented, it was represented without the slit or the hair. So we live...! Our collective unconscious is built in a schizophrenic way, because no one has a vine leaf on its sex! It still poses a problem with the way we are whole (complete) and how we experience our presence in the body.
"Listen to me, dear Sadhu! From the top of his head to the soles of his feet, man is poisoned by intelligence."
"On this tree is a bird, it dances in the joy of life".
In The flute of the Infinite, Kabîr, translated by André Gide
So this is my work on display here: Eve, Adam and the Graffitis, in fact it's a work I made a long time ago. Annie sent me the picture of the Adam and Eve, I said yes! It clicked in my head, I had made it in New York in 1995. I had taken a picture of Adam and Eve, probably on the front of Notre-Dame de Paris or another French cathedral, always on the theme of the leaf (of sin), of Adam and Eve, on the representation of desire! And then in New York, I had printed a Japanese erotic graffiti on it and I drew a graffiti like that, a big blue sex like that! Just for the fun of it! You have to be a little subversive, provocative! Sorry!
17. SOME ARTISTS QUOTATIONS
Here are some quotes from artists. I am reading a book by Marguerite Yourcenar where she talks about Gîta-Govinda, I have already read Yourcenar's book and then I read this Gîta-Govinda translated by Jean Varenne, it is a Hindu book of the twelfth century whose passage is as follows:
"Her hair rises and her whole body trembles when she reaches the peak, and the god of Love manifests himself in her cries, this unknown, sensual and pretty girl, who is having fun with Murâri! […]
She conceals between her hips a sanctuary where the throne of Love is placed; he places a garland of stones to mark its Triumphal Gate!"
So we are still in this kind of joyful eroticism and in her book, Marguerite Yourcenar quotes Baudelaire and his Fleurs du mal, and so this text was Baudelaire eight hundred years ago! She says:
"At times, it seems that humour slips into these sacred scenes of Hindu statuary as in the work of our medieval imagers, putting into them the equivalent of that little muffled laugh, which is no less than sighing, one of the sounds of love. But nowhere is the almost unbearable nervous tension of certain Japanese licentious drawings, or the intelligent, almost dry statement of such a Greek vase on an obscene subject. This profuse sensuality spreads like a river without a slope".
I think it's perfect to say that, because often in erotic representations, there is always this anguish, which is very present towards procreation and there we feel in India that procreation is joyful. There is also a pre-Inca civilization called Moche, in Peru, which has created many erotic pottery! They are absolutely fabulous too! I continue with Marguerite Yourcenar:
"What India adds to this immense cosmic pastoral ministry is the profound meaning of the one in the multiple, the pulsation of a joy that crosses the plant, the beast, the deity, the man. Blood and sèves obey the sounds of the sacred flutist; the poses of love are for him dance figures." On some erotic and mystical themes of the Gîta-Govinda.
So there is this dance, this joy, this pleasure... It's a bit like Dionysus for us Europeans in Greece. I'm going to quote Andrei Tarkovski, because I'm on Twitter and they often present artists interviews and I found that what he said was very important about art:
"As long as man feels human, he will try to create something. What does creation actually mean by creation? What is the purpose of art? How? Why? Is it good, is it bad? Is it constructive or is it just art? But it is clear that art is a prayer, and that means everything! Through art, man expresses his hope and the rest is irrelevant. And anything that does not express hope, that has no spiritual basis, has nothing to do with art!" Interview on art
You can meditate on that! I also saw a beautiful interview with Joseph Beuys, who is a German artist that many of us know, in this film, he seemed a little drunk and spoke vehemently about art: "Art therefore goes back to the creator process itself. Deep down, everyone knows that man cannot live without art. Without artistic education man would probably wither away and after 2000 years without art, he would probably lose his brain!" Art is food for man.
And it is a reality, we are no longer aware of what artists have brought us through history. Because we have been here for thousands of years (we artists) and we think that it is granted for good, but if art were to disappear, so would the human being! It's important to be aware of this! I also like this sentence from Anaïs Nin:
"The great beauty of my life is that I experience what others only dream, discuss and analyze. I want to continue to live the uncensored dream, the free unconscious."
And it's true that many of the people I meet around me, I'm coming to an age where people take stock of themselves, many people have trouble with their own lives, they feel really frustrated and I think we should go to the bottom of things and go deep inside ourselves and be able to live our dreams as Jacques Brel said! And Anais Nin did it and Henry Miller did it too! I will quote the American artist Barnett Newman:
"We need to go back to the beginning of art, as if painting had never existed."
I think that for us artists, it is very important, because culture is like a kind of immensely tall building, but it is a building that is not two thousand years old, but a hundred thousand years old, two hundred or a million years old. Of course, we're above the building, at the top, since we're alive! All the people who disappeared before us, they all participated in building this building. And for my part, I always try to return in my work to what primary energy is (the foundations of the building), as well as to our present reality: the body. And so what Barnett Newman says is very interesting! "Go back to the beginning of art, as if painting had never existed." And Pier Paolo Pasolini, who is a great thinker whose films are magnificent, says:
"Culture is a resistance to distraction."
Nowadays, it is obvious that distraction is culture! And that poses a problem for artists whose work has a content, it is that we are no longer heard at all. That's a really big problem! Since art becomes only this kind of distraction for rich people. I end with this sentence from Charles Bukowski that I found the other day on Twitter:
"There is only one lesson life is trying to teach us: shut the fuck up and enjoy the view!"
In other words: Wake up and smell the coffee! As they say so well in New York! That is, you don't have to ask yourself too many questions and then enjoy life as it is, that's all!
18. QUESTIONS - ANSWERS
So we'll move on now to the question-and-answer, if you ever have any questions, I'd be happy to answer them, if I can do so. So do you have any questions? Yes ?
The audience: I don't know if it's really a question, but it challenged me when at the beginning of your conference you talk about both physical and spiritual experiences, it's as if... I don't know, in my culture we oppose directly the physical and the spiritual experiences and in your work, it's at the same time?
JPS: Yes, absolutely yes, you can't have experience outside the body! Please do not forget that! I think it's a serious metaphysical error, it's a complete error. For me, because without a body, there is no vehicle. I often think about this and I know from experience that human beings are connected to each other. I don't know if you've seen this film: James Cameron's Avatar (2009), where people are more or less connected by some kind of fiber-energy systems, so I know from living experiences that we are connected like that. After beyond death, I really don't know! I know that there is the collective unconscious that survives, but when there are no more men, there will probably be no more collective unconscious! There must be life, and life is the body! I don't think we can think of spirituality outside the body! I think many cultures and religions have made this mistake, but I am not here to judge anyone.
The audience: My question is quite simple: Why did you decided to come back to France and are you fulfilled (I also experienced the same thing)?
The audience:: It's an artist who is speaking!
JPS: AH, ah, ah, ah! AH, ah, ah, ah! That's an interesting question! Yes, Being totally fulfilled in France is much more difficult than in New York, of course! But you can't have everything in life, that's right, there are choices to be made! I was happy to make this choice to live in New York where I stayed for ten years, but it is true that being an artist is much harder in France than in New York, because artists are considered in a different way (as creators of wealth and culture!). For example, in New York, I was able to meet the greatest gallery owner in the world at the time (Mr. Leo Castelli). I called him and he received me. And in France, the situation is totally opposed, it is not the artists who are important, it is the gallery owners, it is the museum directors. Anyhow we have an exception here today with Aurélien Vacheret! but I have already had two exhibitions that have been cancelled in France because my work was too erotic for example! I really don't think if someone had signed up for a show in New York, it would have been cancelled for those reasons! But there are many other things in France that suit me: there is the beauty of nature that I have already mentioned, of course. That doesn't mean there's no nature in New York. But what I miss, of course, is contact with other cultures, other civilizations, other ways of thinking! But I've filled up with these energies, so I can't complain, ten years is quite a long time... There are a lot of artists who go to New York for six months and leave, because it's not an easy city to live in either! But I learned a lot of things there, it's true that I'm less fulfilled in France, but I can work here! So as long as I can work there, good with me!
Aurélien Vacheret: A little clarification on the painting of Adam and Eve from the museum or the engraving, there is a cat and a mouse, there are many symbols, Dürer has put many things in his engravings, these are images that are very, very rich. Yes, there is the cat and mouse, so with Adam and Eve it can be quite explicit and then the parrot is symbolically linked with lust, finally it is an ambivalent symbol. So even in this work there, eroticism is there despite the vine leaves. And also, someone who represented the bodies with the male sex is Michelangelo. After the Vatican was in a lot of trouble, so they had them repainted by an artist some time later and precisely, they gave him the nickname Braghettone, which is the nickname he got like that!
The audience: I was also thinking of another painter: Egon Schiele, who also painted many erotic works and who also pushed things around a lot!
JPS : Yes, of course!
The audience: And Picasso too!
The audience: I have a question: In your work, you talk a lot about spirituality, but you stuck at a format? You seem to be very attached to this format, what is the connection, I can't really understand?
JPS: I am working on this square unit for practical reasons! Well yes, everyone has the right to do what they want (especially artists)! And for me it's practical because I can assemble works and build large wall installations. It's a formal decision I took, it's a bias, it's a work choice!
The audience: Ok yes of course!
JPS : Because I want Unity to be integrated into the Whole, I want to build a coherent group of paintings.
A. V.: It works like a module!
JPS: A module, yes, absolutely! And so I invite you to go to visit my website: j-psergent.com, where there are videos, I have done a lot of video interviews with my friend Marie-Madeleine Varet, who is a philosopher and researcher at the C.N.R.S., and we get along really well. Of course, there are the art works too! There are many texts, the texts are important too! And precisely in the text De la beauté etc, were I speak of beauty, the relationship to the body and the relationships I have towards other civilizations, other cultures. Here you have all the information to contact me, I am on social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube.
Look, I really thank you very much for coming in such numbers tonight. I wanted to thank: Annie Tremsal, the curator of the exhibition of course, who put this exhibition together with a masterful hand and who did a really fantastic job with the fifteen artists present in this exhibition, Aurélien Vacheret who is here, thank you very much to the entire museum team, to Géraldine Couget, who took care of the communication and the film crew (Michel Renard) as well as the City of Remiremont. Thank you all very much, have a good evening and go home safely!
The audience: Thank to you!