- Talking to artist... Jean-Pierre Sergent, by Grith Grough for The Eroticartlover, Denmark, february 2013
- Jean-Pierre Sergent: In Living Color, by Michael Corbin for The ARTBOOKGUY, june 2012
- The Alchemy of Desire, by Sooni Schroff-Gander in Kee Art Magazine, Hong Kong, november 2007
An Interview with Grith Grough for The Eroticartlover, Denmark, February 06, 2013.
At a first glance the work of artist Jean-Pierre Sergent has a flavour of Post-Pop, with its visual references to Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein and Ramos.
But Jean-Pierre Sergent’s work is so much more than mere decorative surfaces deriving from popular imagery. There is a deeper meaning to be found behind each and every one of Sergent’s works.
Despite Sergent’s use of popular imagery like manga cartoons, he has found a distinct visual language of his own. By mixing and layering popular imagery with archaic symbolism and yantras he links explicit sexual and erotic imagery with transience spirituality and death.
I am delighted to present Erotic Art Lover’s interview with Jean-Pierre Sergent where he talks extensively about his work and the ideas and processes behind it.
EroticArtLover: Have you been to art school or are you self-taught?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: Both. First I studied the basics of sculpture, painting and the use of colors for a year and a half in art school. After that, I learned about artists’ works and art history through travel and a lot of reading.
What made you switch from architecture to art?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: Architecture had too many constraining rules. I am a free spirit and I need to have as few boundaries as possible.
How would you describe your style of art?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: That is a small question that asks a lot to answer it. I will say, it is an art of “image-fusion” that we can call postmodern painting — a mix of images, patterns, abstractions, texts and concepts.
What is most important to you in terms of your art, form or content?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: My main work is mostly composed of huge murals formed by the installation of square Plexiglas panels mounted side by side. One of the biggest and most recent pieces was on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Mulhouse (in Alsace, France). It was 10,50 meters long by 2,15 meters high. In those large art pieces I can convey to the public the deep content within my work. Form and content work together to create a direct impact on spectators.
What is your preferred medium?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: I only paint with acrylic silkscreen on paper and Plexiglas panels.
What’s your favorite color?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: All the colors are important. I like to work with blue as it is perhaps the most mysterious and “spiritual” color.
You divide your time between Besançon (France) and New York. Do you have a studio in both places?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: Unfortunately not. I wish I could afford it! Right now I do most of my work in France.
What is the difference between the two locations when it comes to creating art?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: New York is active and creative. You have the feeling that people respect you more as an artist. It is also a place were you meet many interesting artists, art lovers and art dealers and you can visit many exhibitions. When I am there I visit the MET nearly every Sunday. The problem now is that the high rents for studios have become unaffordable for most artists. In France I live in a small city and the interest that most of the local people have in contemporary art is really very limited. But the nature is beautiful and it inspires me at a different level. Also the rent is cheaper!
EroticArtLover: Is your work a culmination of an intuitive process or hard graft and reworking?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: Painting is really an intuitive process. Because I am working on the reverse sides of the Plexiglas panels, I never know before having completed the work how it will look when it is finished. I am not running after a preconceived idea but I add layer after layer until I get the feeling that the painting is finally arrived at, and carries its own energy.
How do you prepare a piece? Do you use a sketchbook?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: No. I am always in the present, the now of the working process. I only use a sketchbook to organize the superimposition of images and colors and the order in which they are going to be printed.
Do you use photographs or life models for your work?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: I used to shoot a lot photographs of nature; trees, rivers, animals, museum artifacts and illustrations from books. Now, with the enormous amount of material available on the web, I find most of my information there. But I still take visuals wherever I can find them. I have not photographed life models ever.
What is the process for creating a silkscreen print?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: It’s a long process:
• First, I import an image on my computer. Sometimes I also draw directly on the film mask.
• Second, I redraw the image. Using design programs like Photoshop and later with Illustrator, to convert the design to vectors.
• Third, I send the information to the machine plotter in order to cut a Rubylith film with a blade. Two films are sandwiched together, the bottom layer is clear and is not cut, the top layer is red and cut by the blade.
• Fourth, I peel off the part of the film I don’t want to print so that my design remains on the film. If the design is simple it can take a few minutes and if it is complicated, it can take up to a day or more of work!
• Fifth, I clean the old silkscreen frames with a high-pressure water cleaner.
• Sixth, I coat the frames with two coats of photographic glue emulsion and let it dry.
• Seventh, I use Scotch tape to stick the ruby stencil that blocks light onto the back of the frame, and I expose it in a light box for five minutes. The glue dries where the surface is not protected by the film mask. After that, I clean the frame with running water to remove the parts that haven’t been exposed to light.
• Eight, finally I place my frame on the printing table and apply the ink with a squeegee onto paper or Plexiglas.
• Ninth, I add about three more layers of images on every Plexiglas painting. Then I finish it with three layers of monochrome coats with a brush, three coats of gesso and two of varnish.
How long does it take to make a silkscreen print from start to finish?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: Silkscreen printing is a long and laborious process. I have a huge database of images collected over the years. So it can take anywhere from a few weeks to several years for an image or a symbol to appear in one of my pieces of art.
Which part of the creative process do you enjoy the most?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: I like printing. It is the moment in which nothing can be changed. The color needs to be perfect. I also enjoy seeing the image finally printed in color after such a long design process in black and white. It is exciting.
EroticArtLover: Are you messy or meticulous when working?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: I am really meticulous when it comes to work. I need to be right with the placing of the frame and the studio needs to be dust free since I am printing on Plexiglas, a highly electrostatic material, which catches dust easily.
Do you work with music or in silence?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: I listen to the radio but I can hardly hear it. The printing vacuum table is really noisy!
Favourite type of music?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: World music. Indian or Bach.
What is the last book you read?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: I just finished the two volumes of The Florentine Codex from Bernardino de Sahagun. He describes Aztec daily life, time calendars and rituals before the time of the Spanish conquest. Before that, I read the Zen Buddhism essays of D. T. Suzuki, the complete works of Jack Kerouac and a few days ago I just started The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann.
Why is it interesting for you to work with eroticism?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: First of all eroticism is a secret and mysterious, hidden part of every human culture, and it is in every human being. You need somehow to be initiated and to encounter the right person to introduce you to sexual intercourse and arousal. Secondly, eroticism is part of our own culture, and it differs from one culture to the next. And even if the gesture looks the same, the rituals and the emotions are different. Third, eroticism plays with taboos.
Do you see your erotically themed series as entities separate from your other works?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: All of my works have erotic content to some extent. The different themes are connected and entangled in a complex web. Most of the erotic images displayed in my work are partially hidden by geometrical patterns or ancestral rituals. It takes time to discover what is actually there. It is a game between the artist and the viewer.
Your series Mangas, Yantras Y Otras Cosas, is a mix of cartoons, yantra (geometric patterns used in meditation) and words. Is the aim of this series to create a connection between spirituality and the bodily experience of sex?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: Yes, absolutely! All that we have is our body, and through it and sexual encounters we can access a certain state of trance, which takes us outside the linear arrow of time. Spirituality is always an experience that involves the body, you can’t detach them from each other. In monotheist societies we have disconnected these two entities: the flesh and the spirit, but in ancient societies that was not the case. Maybe it is because back then life was more fragile, and not as easy as it is today. People needed fertility rites not only for grain to grow and game to be hunted, but also to reproduce themselves and survive as a species.
Some of your images are very graphic and explicit. Is it your intention to create sexual arousal?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: No, not really. I want to create a consciousness, an awakening of the beauty and fragility of life! Also, an awareness of the cosmic order, a dissolution of the ego into the universal. As Artaud said, in Héliogabale: “The strength which sustains life and the one which aborts life, are as many concrete manifestations in which the sun is the heavy center.”
Do you see it as a failure or success if your work elicits sexual excitement?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: No, neither one. We have pornography for that purpose. Art speaks to the mind, individually and collectively.
Plus, I don’t think about that and I don’t think that De Sade was thinking about it either, when he wrote his books. I am just trying to be honest with myself and with the public. I want to show them what we can call the universal sexual energy, or life, a vital force. People can be surprised by the strong power of my large mural work within their bodies when they face it, but I doubt that they get any sexual excitement. Maybe teenagers. Anyhow, we never know how the public reacts to the work. Sometimes people have violent reactions against it!
In describing your series Dionysos, Perpetual Orgy of Life you refer to art and eroticism as being sulfurous taboos. Can you elaborate on that?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: In every culture norms of sexuality are set by the moral and structural thoughts of the time, by religious beliefs or socio-economical constraints. What is taboo in one society can be sexual common practice in another one. Nowadays in western societies it seems that the taboos around sex are gone, lifted! Eroticism and sex have turned into consumer goods. They have become a selfish, narcissistic “promenade de santé”, an individual practice. That was not the case in more traditional societies. With their orgies, fertility and regeneration rites, bacchanal in Roman times, human sacrifices every twenty days in ancient Aztec and Mayan times, Hindu tantric rituals in India and so on…
At times, sex was a connection to the universal, and as Michaux quoted in Un Barbare en Asie : “In making love with his wife the Hindu is thinking about God within, she is a presence and a part”.
Nowadays our societies are mostly constructed around work, profit, mass consumption and the exploitation of every resource, including our bodies and soul. Pornographic business profits are approaching those of the international market for weapons. Do we see that as proof of freedom or slavery? Is it a good or bad thing? If the diffusion of pornography were not such big international business, I don’t think it would be permitted to the extent that it is. Because sex destabilizes societies that are organized around work and the production of goods.
Anyhow, in porn images I sometimes find an entranced moment. Seeing a body and flesh climaxing can have the same power as religious images have in Catholic societies that a trance is achieved in death.
Of course, art also plays with the taboos of sex and representations of death, but artists should not link themselves to contemporary morality since throughout human history it is always changing.
Many of the images in your Dionysos Series clearly reference death. Can you explain your view on the link between death and eroticism?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: When I was creating this body of work, I was traveling frequently to Mexico and I visited a lot of Aztec and Mayan archeological sites where you could discover skeletons and skulls on most of the sculptural bas reliefs. They were also in art pieces in Mexican museums. Since then, this omnipresence of bones has influenced me a great deal, and I use it in my work to show the inevitable presence of death. Throughout our lives, we all experience this attraction-repulsion. These two forces of energy fight each other within us: the libido, which creates life, and the opposite force, which drives us towards death. In my work, as in life, these two instincts definitely fight each other. It is like a ritualistic scene in a tantric dance. It is not overly dramatic, but it is present.
You talk about eroticism and structured society being at odds with each other. Is your intention to provoke a reaction of letting go of logic and structure so we can immerse ourselves in passion and desire instead?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: Art is a space in which we can freely express ourselves and we can also feel connected to the collective unconscious. Rational, contemporary societies no longer care about this important human aspiration. What has become of our dreams, other than buying merchandise? Is there an initiation ritual passage anymore, other than bringing kids to Disneyland? Who knows how to pray today for the dead? Who can still feel a connection to the animals, the stars, the water, fire? So it’s not only with passion and desire that we need to be reconnected, but to the world itself as a whole. Nature and sexuality are a good way to experience it, as within those experiences we can have direct access to love, compassion, infinity, now, the void.
The “letting go” of the Buddhist tradition, teaches us to forget about logical and rational thought, to see things as they are, and try to reach a state of satori, it could be a way!
The title of your series ‘Bondage & Freedom’ from 2003 could be perceived as an oxymoron. Can you explain the meaning behind this title?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: Yes, I have been working on this series because I found the images of bondage fascinating, attractive and repulsive at the same time. The image of a nude woman’s body tied up artistically, roped like a piece of meat, an object, a package “ready to fuck”, sex lips open and the woman climaxing into a trance or a spiritual experience, is pretty exciting! It comes from the ritual practice of the old Japanese Shinto tradition, in which they used to tied up some things: stones, trees, persons, in order to create a sacred object and to bring the Kami spirits alive!
At the other end, it may appear totally disgusting if viewed from the rational European concepts of free will and the freedom to dispose of our own bodies, that is, if you are not a practicing sadist or aficionado of masochism.
All these questions come to my mind when I am working with such powerful and controversial iconographies: are these bound women goddesses of life, venal prostitutes, or victims of male chauvinism and stupidity?
Is it possible to liberate the mind by restricting the body?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: It is a paradoxical idea, but I believe that the brain is the main powerful organ of pleasure and liberation. In moments of extreme anxiety, it transforms suffering into an ocean of pleasure and of mystical experiences. The power of imagination is endless. You can read all the accounts of prisoners from De Sade to Nehru and look at the paintings of Frida Kahlo. It is also worth considering the power of body-mind liberation, all the experiences of the Hindu cave anchorites, practitioners of fasting, the Mayan monarchs who perforated their penises for bloodletting in order to meet the Cosmic Vision Serpent. The Sioux North Indians painful initiating rites, and all the shamanic trance experiences with Ayawaska, Peyote mushrooms, physical exhaustion — all over traditional cultures.
Looking at your pictures it is tempting to ask if you subscribe to the Bataillen notion of death as the ultimate sexual liberation.
Jean-Pierre Sergent: This grand idea suits the thoughts mostly of young people. I don’t believe that older people, who are dying in hospitals, see death as a sexual liberation. They see it more as the end of their suffering. Bataille also to believed that the disconnected personality of individuals, could through sexual climax or the experience of death, enter into a trance, which would bring them into the eternal continuity of life, or the end of the life cycle. Also Bataille insisted on the connection between the sexual act and sacrifice, as in this quote in L’Erotisme: “The ancient comparison of human sacrifice and erotic conjunction: this human being through death, is brought back to the continuity of being, to the end of his particularities. This violent action, removing from the victim its limited particularities and giving it the unlimited, the infinite, which belongs to the sacred realm, is an act of enormous consequence. This act is similar to the erotic one. When the lover denudes his victim, he desires and wants to penetrate her and disintegrate the body of the woman he loves. In this he is similar to the bloody sacrificer, killing a human body or an animal”.
What other artists do you admire?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: I am mostly interested in the anonymous artists in pre-modern societies, who created artifacts with a spiritual meaning and a social function. An intercessor art that speaks for the human to the spirits, like the Indian sculptors of Yupi masks from the west coast, the pre-Columbian tunics, and weavers and potters, the Egyptian muralist artists, the shaman cave painters, the monks who illuminated middle ages manuscripts, or the Tantric tungas painters…
In modern times, individual artists, or in official museum art history, to name a few chronologically from the Italian primitives, Filippino Lippi, Cranach, Brueghel, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, El Greco, Vermeer, Goya, Gauguin, Picasso, Morandi, Matisse, Rothko, Newmann, Pollock, Klein, Beuys…
What’s your most challenging work to date and why?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: To realize my work as a whole is always challenging, as it’s difficult to make a living out of it. But I am really proud of the big shows I had in NY and my last two museum exhibitions in France. It’s always great to work with institutions that have faith in what you are doing. Working in an artist studio is a bit lonely, so it’s a pleasure to work with all the museum staff, from the technicians to the communications team and the exhibition curator.
How do you relax?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: In summer I go canoeing on the river. In winter I snowshoe in the mountains.
Living or dead, which artist would you most like to have dinner with, and why?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: Fra Angelico. I like his work, the purity of his colors and he could explain to me how he lived his faith in God. Unfortunately, nowadays we have lost our connection with the sacred. Meeting someone in direct contact with faith can transfer a fragment of it to me. It would also be great to have an exchange with a Mayan artist, or Pasolini.
What do you prefer, day or night?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: Both, but I love the sun.
Biggest ambition for your art?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: I would like to have more museum shows, mostly in Europe outside of France. Why not in Denmark? Also in Asia, were my work has never been shown. I can feel a strong connection between my work and the Asian aesthetic. I would also like to have an established gallery defend and represent my work.
Do you prefer gallery representation or personal interaction when selling your work?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: I love to sell my art though my studio and at art fairs, but, selling is difficult and time consuming, so it would be great to work with a gallery. I am too busy working on important exhibition projects to focus on selling the work.
Fact or fiction?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: Both are really important. Fiction is always based on real facts. You need a base, a starting point.
Jean-Pierre Sergent: Japanese.
When was your last holiday?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: Three years ago. I visited an artist friend in Marseille, it was great to spend time with her and her family in that beautiful city by the Mediterranean sea.
What is you next project?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: I am preparing several solo exhibitions for 2013. One in a new gallery in my home town were I am going to show large works on paper, in March (CLICK HERE for more information about Jean-Pierre’s next show Sex and Rituals). A show in Badenweiller in Germany in June and maybe also a new museum show in a city nearby.
What do you hope to achieve in 2013?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: I would like to have more shows in well-known art places and to meet important collectors. Also, I need to print out all the numerous new images that are already designed in my computer and ready to be printed.
Where can people see and buy your work?
Jean-Pierre Sergent: For the time being they can contact me directly through my web site: j-psergent.com.
Erotic Art Lover: Thank you for taking the time to talk about your ideas and work with us.
JEAN-PIERRE SERGENT: IN LIVING COLOR / an interview with Michael Corbin for The ARTBOOKGUY
Jean-Pierre Sergent is a French artist who does amazing assemblages of colorful mosaic panels that he creates. His masterworks on plexiglass www.j-psergent.com look fantastic alone, but are true explosions when displayed as huge installations. I wanted to chat with him about what inspires his work.
MICHAEL: Bonjour Jean-Pierre! Your work is really cool and it's very bold and graphic. It's also very textural and the images are strong. What inspires you to create?
JEAN-PIERRE: Bonjour Michael! Thank you for the interest you are having towards my work and for your questions! Yes my work is really bold, graphic and colorful, but so is life in general if one can get a chance to live it fully. The boldness and aesthetic of the work come from the mediums I use; silkscreen on the back of Plexiglas panels, which allow me to have great brightness and purity of the printed colors. The images I choose are strong and stunning, even sometimes shocking also for some people! They are mostly inspired by iconographies of rituals in archaic societies and contemporary erotic cartoons. What inspires me most is to seek and research deeply in history, in different cultures at different time periods, and in our collective unconscious. I search for the links and similarities that connect us, beyond the contemporary bonds through socials rules, morality, religious constraints and different native cultural roots. Freedom of thinking and creating life energy and spirituality are also essential mainstream themes for me, as I strongly believe that art can be a place to find fullness, to grow energy and feel connected to the universe, both, for the artist and the public in general.
MICHAEL: Absolutely. To me, the works look like a cross between posters and fine art mosaics. They’re very luxurious. Do you ever think of them as rich and luxurious?
JEAN-PIERRE: I am not so much into poster advertising, except sometimes for their powerful colors and beauty. I may be closer to the Matisse's paper cuts. But fine art mosaics are exactly the technique I use. I stick to the walls my squares of plexiglass paintings in order to create some monumental site specific mural installations. My influences also include those ancient murals that I had a great chance to discover and experience in Egypt. Things like the fresco paintings in the tomb of Queen Nefertari and also all of the other different Egyptian temples and museums. I also traveled to Mexico to see the Aztecs, Olmecs and Mayans bas-reliefs in the stunning architecture of Uxmal, Monte Albán, Chichen Itza, etc. It impressed me a lot. I do also like the Roman wall erotic paintings from The Pompeii's Villa of the Mysteries, and the Indians and Tibetan paintings in temples, that unfortunately I have not visited yet. Michael, you are totally right. My paintings are very rich and luxurious, but also generous and sensual! All the pre-industrial, traditional cultures that impress me (American, Asian, African, prehistoric European) were producing art using a profusion of images, colors and details in order to explain their complex mythologies. Also, as most of them didn't have important writing skills and books to record historic events, images were the only way to communicate and share between communities. They referenced their memories of all political, technological, aesthetic, sexual and spiritual facts, discoveries and experiences. As a visual artist, I believe it's important to communicate with a large flow of images, but I do also include sometimes small erotic text extracts into my work. Luxury and exuberance are also present in life in general. The great master of creation is always over doing it in nature and in the cosmos! With its unbelievable exuberant vitality, diversity of living beings, forms and life energy, there’s always this display of inconceivable contrasts between structural geometrical patterns and organics shapes, as well as opposing order and chaos and void and profusion. From all of that comes a beautiful harmonious result. Just let me add two small excerpts from Jung: "God is present into the absolute void and the utmost vitality" and in Mircéa Eliade: "All creation implies a superabundance of reality, that is to say eruption of the sacred into the world.”
MICHAEL: Are you in Paris? France is known for its deep and rich culture. Does being French inspire your work?
JEAN-PIERRE: No I am not in Paris. My studio is located in a medium size city named Besançon, on the East side of France, close to the Swiss border. It's an old, historical city were you can find a XVII century castle and old churches and houses. We had prehistoric culture and then it became a Gallic city and after that it had been under Roman colonization and reconstructed by the Romans and 1500 years later by the Spanish. So it benefitted from a lot of cultural influences. The countryside landscapes are very beautiful and have a lot of rivers and mountains. Yes, French culture is rich and diverse and I feel lucky to have studied here. First of all, French literature and philosophy, especially during the 18th and 19th centuries, what we named "Le siècle des lumières" were really important in opening our way of thinking and promoting abolition of slavery, equality and freedom, individual well being and the French revolution. We can claim Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, Sade and Casanova. Plus, later the 18th century brought us all of the famous novelists like Flaubert, Stendhal, De Nerval, Huysmans, Chateaubriand, Dumas, Balzac, Zola and poets like Rimbaud, Baudelaire etc. They opened up the path to dreamers, romanticism, imagination, but also social drama realism and anti-Capitalism. In the 20th century, we had Céline, Proust, Bataille, Malraux, Artaud, Camus, Sartre, Michaux, Levi-Strauss, etc. All those 20th century writers opened the way to existentialism, cultural interconnections, insanity and self reflection. In architecture, it's the same; we host Roman churches, the cathedrals, Versailles, Le Louvre and Beaubourg. In art and painting we welcomed foreign artists who worked with French artists in all of the important art movements from cave art to the Middle-Ages manuscripts, the Renaissance, Realism, Impressionism, Cubism, Abstraction, Minimalism, etc. To name a few of those important artists: Courbet, Cézanne, Manet, Bonnard, renoir, Monet, Gauguin, Picasso, Duchamp, Matisse, Van Gogh, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Yves Klein and so on. As an art student and a young artist, I fed myself all this important art creation and followed the steps of my precursors throughout my own doing! But as with most artists in the old Europe, I got a bit overwhelmed by all those unmovable cultural museum landmarks. Pissaro once said that, "We should burn the museums, the art's necropolis.” Luckily, I didn't burn any museum, but instead I moved in 1991 to Montreal and in 1993 to New York, where after years of being stuffed with traditional European culture, including the old Greco-Latin mythologies, it was time for me to discover the new world. I enjoyed this freedom of approaching the body and a new way of thinking and communicating. Also, I enjoyed the hugeness of space and this art from the American pop artists and abstracts painters and all of the American Indian art, craft and mythologies.
MICHAEL: You know, Jean-Pierre, your love and knowledge of history and culture are so clear in your work. You salute the past, yet the work is contemporary because it’s being made today. So many people are missing out on the power of art. What do you think it will take to get them to understand the importance of art?
JEAN-PIERRE: An economical turmoil with the eradication of money or another world! Seriously, education, education, education! We are living nowadays in a society where we take everything for granted and with immediate access. But art and culture need to be introduced and have to be approached throughout our entire lives, from birth to love to sex to death. Therefore, it takes some time to understand it. The rhythms of this learning process are pretty slow and laborious. It's like the rhythm of the seasons, the trees, the whales, the elephants, the sea tides, the sun, the stars and the tigers, all those are not in hurry! As we usually say: "Time is money." This concept has forced a linear timeframe to history which is in opposition to art. Art is eternity and repeats profound cyclic times. Also, money is really a new invention in human history and art got connected to it later. During the Renaissance, artists started to be employed by princes and after by the Bourgeoisie. Long before, the first artists were shamans, they needed to find a way to write their powerful experiences under trances in order to share it with the tribes through song and drawing. Art was probably invented at that moment. So, at the beginning, art was deeply free, generous, religious, cosmic and also powerful, as you needed a lot of strength and courage to enter into trances and meet with spiritual entities like animals spirits and monsters, to be fighting death, healing the sick, seeking the future and finding lost souls in the underworld. All that experience gave the shaman the role of political leader and I believe that at that period, the artist was at his highest achievement; he or she was a great communicator of his spiritual experiences, he viewed and knew how people should interact with each other and gave them social codes and behaviors in order for the group to survive and live in harmony between themselves and with other cultures and nature. Later in time, artists were used by the political and religious powers in Egypt, Greece, Rome, China and pre-Columbian cultures, etc. But unfortunately throughout the growing and expanding process of those great civilizations, the political and religious powers expanded social casts. As a result, artists lost freedom and chances to express themselves and experience spirituality. They became disconnected from the whole universe and served the temporal power imposing his aesthetic tastes and rules.
MICHAEL: And the money part?
JEAN-PIERRE: Today money is running the game with the art market and this corporate art! The art is more like a big Disney or Coca-Cola; a humongous brain washing entertainment business enterprise where everything is for sale. The childish it is, the better chance to sell it! So, it's somehow normal that people get turned off by part of the contemporary art world now. These days, nobody needs artists anymore, except humanists who are very few. The art market with its art dealers and museum directors are totally connected with money making for the most part. There still are some exceptions! But so few! Mainstream contemporary art has almost totally lost its main raison d'être as it no longer supports and helps people to find their truth spiritual self, bringing them into a state of wholeness, interconnection with the universe and into a place of beauty, purity and delight. To achieve this, people need to become humble and their minds need to be transformed and reshaped in order to lose rigid and irrational behaviors. They need to be introduced by teachers, family or friends. What I notice with people visiting my studio is that those who really appreciate my work are mainly the ones who were exposed to art during childhood. They had parents bringing them to museums and art exhibitions and through that learning process, they opened the right side of their brains which we don't use anymore - the part with the emotion, compassion, intuition, love, and creativity. Lastly, to understand and appreciate the essential importance of art, be curious, be humble and be happy, be patient and don't be afraid! And as the Buddhists say: Let it go! And if you still don't get it, find a mentor! Maybe that was the first thing to do!
MICHAEL: In America, there are many people who love art. However, the true art community remains very small. Is this also true in France? I have this idea that all the French love art.
JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we all are hoping that a small piece of paradise exists somewhere on Earth! As in Ovide's quote about the Golden Age in his Metamorphoses "From veins of valley, milk and nectar broke; And honey sweating through the pores of oak." But the worldwide accepted idea that French people love art in general is actually wrong. It's about the same here as in every other country. There’s very little financial help for the artists, people are very conservative and not ready to spend any time or money discovering new ideas and buying paintings. In a certain way, we are in a total paradoxical situation. If you ever go the MOMA and look at Monet's "Nympheas' and Picasso's "Demoiselles d'Avigon", on the same floor, nearly all of the paintings have been created in France! Then, if you walk upstairs to the other floors, you can hardly see any artwork done by French artists anymore! I am sure almost nobody in the U.S. will know a single famous French artist born after World War II! The part of French art selling in the worldwide market was after the war about 40% and in 2010, it dropped to only 6%. I am guessing today it will be closer to 4%.
MICHAEL: That’s very sad.
JEAN-PIERRE: The terrible art economy is due to several points to be explained: Of course the worldwide economical crisis and the emergence of other artistic markets specially China, the huge costs of maintaining and renovating our architectural heritage which is impacting a lot on the state cultural budget, everything in France needs to be politically approved, in art as well, and we haven't had a president interested in contemporary art since Georges Pompidou, who initiated the Pompidou Center construction! Also mainstream art galleries and museums are all congregated in Paris, which is not helping if you are living far away. Also, the French public in general shows more interest in literature than in visual culture, art institution directors are really snobbish and dislike living artists. They strongly believe since the seventies, that painting is not a contemporary medium anymore, so they only really promote installations and videos work. There aren’t enough exhibition spaces to show contemporary art and not enough good explanations for visitors. So, my point of view is that French people don't love art so much as one might imagine! For all those reasons, I am now trying to show my work in Switzerland and Germany, both countries are situated less than 100 miles from my studio and people there are more open-minded, they collect and are responding better to my work than my dear fellow countrymen!
MICHAEL: That’s very interesting. Are you a full-time artist? Tell me about your daily routine. Do you paint every day? What do you do while painting? What are your work days like?
JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, I am a full-time artist since a few years now! My days are always busy. In the morning, I read the news on the net, respond to email and make telephone calls to contact people in order to bring them to the studio or find some new shows. The afternoons I spend working on projects on my computer or in the studio and in the evening I read. Reading is important for me as I am always exploring different ways of thinking and acting in all the rituals and behaviors through our history. I am finding a lot of information in philosophy, anthropology, biographies and history books. I read a huge book by D.T. Suzuki, some Zen Buddhist essays, the complete works of Bruce Chatwin and Jack Kerouac and today I am reading the Florentine Codex from Bernardino de Sahagun, who describes Aztec country and daily life, time calendars and rituals before the time of the Spanish conquest.
MICHAEL: You are definitely well-read.
JEAN-PIERRE: My work schedule is organized by the seasons, as my studio is big, it's get difficult to warm it up in the cold winter time, so during that period, I am mostly working on the computer, designing new images to get them ready to be cut in silkscreen ruby films, designing the layouts for my exhibition catalogues, preparing the press releases and working on updating my website. In mid-Spring, Summer and Fall, I mainly print my big works on plexiglass. This work is very physical as I need to handle the silkscreen frames to scrub them with the high pressure water gun, exposing them to the light machine and finally silkscreen the images on my vacuum printing table. I do also cut large papers rolls in 48 x 42 " & 24 x 42" pieces, paint the last coats on the plexiglass panels with a brush on a monochrome color, then apply the gesso and the varnish to have the paintings completed. I do also record photos of all the paintings done, wrapping them if they are going to be exposed in a show or sold. Finally as I did yesterday afternoon, I spend time engaging with the public, trying to explain my work and the importance of art and art collecting! When working, I am always listening to the radio and never watch TV as I have none!
MICHAEL: Since your work relies so heavily on culture, how do you document current happenings without television?
JEAN-PIERRE: Who needs TV? As I said before, I am listening to radio programs all day long and they are giving important news spots every hour about national and internationals main events. On the web, I am reading several newspapers with different political views. Then when you go food shopping or running some errands in the city, you can feel the vibes of the community you are living within and if you travel, you can feel different vibes of energy, joy, fears or happiness. When I can afford to travel between New York and France, both places feel really different. Anyhow, Europe is confronted now with a really big economic crisis. The situation in France is not as bad as it is in Greece or Spain, but the unemployment rate is really high and people are afraid to spend their money on art, if they are lucky to have any! So of course, it's a harsh time for us artists! I am hoping that for you in the States the economic situation is not as bad!
MICHAEL: Unfortunately, it’s difficult here as well. Finally Jean-Pierre, what goes through your mind when you’re painting and what do you want people to see and feel in your work?
JEAN-PIERRE: When I am painting, I need to be in a high state of consciousness and concentration, especially when mixing the colors before printing. I need to get this feeling that my mind is totally free and can choose any colors from everywhere in the world and beyond time. It could be a color used by an artist, a flower or an animal, by the sky, the sea or the earth. I need to humble myself, the same way once Nehru said in his anecdote in Malraux's book, the Anti-Memoirs, when he was jailed. At that time, he became friends with the Ants who walked into his cell, he was talking to them and they represented for him the lines of Indian gods and the millenniums of the Indian cosmic times. He said then: “The world is only made from fleeting moments. To paint is this fleeting moment and you need to kneel down and talk with the Ants in order to do it! As for the public, I am hoping they can feel a sense of aesthetic, an ethereal and imminent beauty in all my work. If they have a chance to physically experience my large wall painting installations, I hope that their minds-bodies and imagination get transported in some other dimension, within the life vitality of the Karma-forces energies, sexual energies, death-destruction and chaos-forces energies and ultimately the love-colors energies which inhabits all of us!
MICHAEL: Thanks Jean-Pierre. This has been great.
JEAN-PIERRE: Dear Michael, it was a great pleasure to chat with you! I am sorry it will be my last answer! Thanks again for all your interesting questions!
The Alchemy of Desire
Although the artist Jean-Pierre Sergent lives and works out of France for the moment, his artworks are unequivocally international.
Highly sophisticated and intellectually coherent abstracts, Mayan imagery, silkscreen technique, Plexiglas and stage sets for opera. French artist Jean-pierre Sergent is nothing if not diverse.
And this applies to is background as well as to his art. Born in the small town of Morteau in the northeast of France, Sergent studied architecture in Strasbourg and then painting at l'école des Beaux-Arts in Besançon before moving to settle in Montreal, set up a studio in New York, and then returning home to his native France again. He has exhibited in France, Canada, the US, Switzerland, England and Austria.
But what is it that drew him to art? "I first became interested in expressing myself, through drawing and gouache painting while I was just a child", explains the artist in his atelier in Besançon. "Art was and still is for me a safe and pleasurable place for my body-spirit to thrive, live, breath and communicate with the inner-self, Mankind and the Universe."
Upon graduating, Sergent raised and trained horses in the Jura Mountains and later completed his first monochrome abstractions of hardboard (masonite) polyptych panels. However, he soon moved to Montreal to devote himself fully to painting. It was in Canada that he started creating works using Plexiglas as well as incorporating industrial materials, newspaper clippings and photos into his art. It was also around this period that he began experimenting with silkscreen techniques. "In 1995 I decided to use silkscreen frames only, and to use squeegees as my painting tools. Acrylic is the medium I most favor and Plexiglas and paper are the supports which challenge me the most."
While plenty of contemporary art comes under flak of being intellectually unrewarding or abstract in his definition, Sergent revels in work that is tangible yet moves beyond the framework of structure and mind. "I admire traditional artists such as Fra Angelico and other Italian masters for their colors and purity; their marvelous spiritual content. However the concept of painting since the renaissance doesn't really interest me. I personally prefer prehistoric and "primitive" art as it is more alive."
When asked which contemporary artists he admires, Sergent cites Jackson Pollock who worked with his body on the canvas in order to access the universal; Joseph Beuys "for his reference to shamanism and his trying to heal social conflicts"; Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and the American Abstract Expressionists "for their large paintings to get away from the idea of the traditional painting and for reintegrating the canvas to the wall size"; Picasso "for his courage to use primitive forces"; Giorgio Morandi "for his subtle sense of color and his metaphysical approach to still-life; and Matisse "for the freedom in his drawings, colors, spirituality and sensuality..." As for his own work he identifies it simply as "fusion painting", referring to free association in jazz or John Cage music, with improvisation, hazard, chance, coincidence, chaos and popular references.
It is not surprising then, that Sergent's work is hard to classify. He takes his inspiration from many sources: Mayan mysticism, cosmology, shamanism and more, but underlying his oeuvre is a deconstructivism of the very language of painting. Sergent laughs when I put this to him. "Sure, it is true that I am de-structuring from the past because it is mostly obsolete, what I am doing is layering and compressing severals images coming from different cultures and time periods to get a mix of energy as in an alchemical crucible."
From his extensive travels, Sergent has gleaned a great awareness and appreciation of pre-industrial cultures and their iconography. "These are a great inspiration to me, they radiate a serenity, beauty and energy in connection to the social, sexual, mythological and ritual context. Art at that time had a sense and a function that is totally lost and forgotten nowadays. We live in a highly complex world run by money, media and monotheist fanatics. Our world has been so turned upside down by wars, colonization, industrialization, religion, pollution, globalization,dehumanization, desacralization..."
So is it in his art that Sergent seeks to redress the balance? "Primitive energy is still in our body and the collective unconscious in each of us. It is highly beautiful, sacred and it honors every life form. True beauty used to be related to interior time, like an organ, an aura, a cosmic harmony. Our freedom rests in finding our way back to this cosmic time. Man has understood this empirically during thousands and thousands of years because Nature has perfected herself and man seeks to imitate her. It is our only hope of survival in a chaotic and dangerous world; it is a spiritual necessity."
Sergent's philosophical aesthetic translates into his work. It is the essence of what he tries to distill from his life, his soul, his beliefs in a more essential and therefore more honest world of inner purity. Currently, he is continuing his "Mayan Diary" series begun in New York in 2000, which are paintings on Plexiglas. Large works on paper such "Sky Umbilicus" are inspired by animals spirits guiding the soul into the realm of the after-life and use Egyptian and Mayan animal iconography plus personal shamanic dream-trance memories. Smaller works such as "Red Jaguar Dreaming" and as Sergent says, "All may current works integrate the timeless encounters of life: Birth, love, sexuality, pleasure, violence, spirituality, wholeness, life cycles and world cultures in my painting process."
Sergent's work has been bought by collectors and gallery owners, and has been commissioned to hang in banks as well as featured for the sets of Verdi's "La Traviata". The latter saw a monumental mural installation of 18 paintings on plexiglas, a continuation of his Mayan Diary theme of "fusion painting".
"I have been working with digital imagery for over 10 years, and I find that design programs give me the freedom to work as much as I want on repetitive geometrical patterns, changing the scale or the outline to reach the purity of design of an image." This would appear to be the natural progression for an artist who has always been fascinated by art that pushes the boundaries of it medium and the confines of artistic language to leap beyond what confines it.
Indeed, sergent is deeply interested in "Paintings done on cave walls, on Greek, Mayan and Moche vases; paintings in Egyptian tombs and sarcophagi, Islamic ceramics, prehistoric Chinese pottery, manuscripts of the Middle Ages, Tibetan mandalas, graffiti scrawled on city walls, Indian miniatures, mola blouses of the Kuna Indians of Panama, finger imprints on the mud of cave ceiling in Pech-Merle, Siberian and American shaman drums, painted loincloths on bark strips of the Mbuti and Mangbetu Pygmies, Japanese shunga on rice paper, magic paintings on Sioux teepees, Australian aboriginal dream maps on bark, sandpaintings of the Navajo medicine men and paintings on wooden shields made by the Asmat people of New Guinea."
A reflection of the world like it visually appears is not enough for an artist like Jean-Pierre Sergent. It is the mysteries of the unconscious, the earth's telluric energies, cosmogonies, the connections of womb-dwelling mythologies, communal social structures dreams and the entire directional spiritual axis mundi that he wishes to encompass in his work. And don't categorize it as "painting", for Sergent insists that "Painting as pictures get me bored. It alienates me because it remains a narrow, representational, European and religious way of picturing the world." Fortunately, neither Jean-Pierre Sergent nor his art will ever be described as such.
Jean-Pierre Sergent interviewed by Sooni Schroff-Gander in Kee Art Magazine, Hong Kong, november 2007