Monday, September 03, 2007

Art Space Talk: Jerome Prieur

Jerome Prieur examines the profane elements of day-to-day life-- the intricacies, eccentricities, and absurdities that define humanity and modern life. A central focus on his subjects’ bodies allows him to explore careers, hobbies, relationships and social roles that are re-invented and reinterpreted through the complexity of his work and his unique stylistic approach. This results in studies that appear to be a mix of science and psychology-- mangled together within the context of contemporary society.

Brian Sherwin: Jerome, I've read that you were raised in a family of artists. Can you recall any early experiences you had with art? Who first noticed your talent?

Jerome Prieur: I remember that it all started with dinosaurs. I was completely fascinated and began to draw them. A vivid memory would have been when I was 7 years old, I did a drawing of a T-Rex and I came into class and asked permission to show and talk about it. This would have been my first public showing of something that I was proud and passionate about. During my youth and teenage years my teachers and classmates knew that the only things that mattered to me were to do with the arts, as I had the worse marks (except in Art)!
My parents and my sister were the first to notice, and still help in my research through conversation and location of resources (my mom is forever bringing me books on subjects I am interested in). I could never thank them enough for all the liberty they gave me and understanding about my artistic thoughts and pursuits. Let’s say that I rarely paint anything "really pretty", but they know me well enough to know the inner meanings of my pieces and for them it is natural.

BS: Jerome, you have collaborated with artist Marie-Josee Roy and Grant Cunningham. Can you go into detail about this experience? I assume that you enjoy collaborating with friends, but are their draw-backs to these forms of artistic unions? Creative differences? Or do you think that is more of a question of who you are working with and for how long? Do you plan to work with anyone in the near future?

JP: Marie-Josee Roy is my prime example of my trust and confidence in showing with other artists. Marie-Josee and I have known each other for 20 years and have had numerous shows together; even today we are respectfully represented by the same galleries on the same street! For mysterious reasons we unintentionally follow each other and ironically a lot of clients buy our works without even knowing about our relationship (keep in mind these would be separate from our group shows). We grew together surrounded by art and sharing ideas. Even though our styles are completely different we complement each other.
Grant Cunningham is another example. We have shown together. We are more into the individual rather than our artistic approaches, yet we dig each others works. Marie-Josee, Grant and myself collaborated in 2003 on a piece entitled "3 dissection de l’interieur" This piece united 3 self-portraits on one canvas. Were there any draw-backs? No, we painted our sections, swapping the canvas between us, and then we showed it, had a vernissage, and got drunk. Off it went to a new owner!
I am very fond of being around other artists. Some say that it can be awkward at times; I have not experienced that aspect. Perhaps that is because I truly believe that art is a freedom of speech and is not competitive as a corporation would be. Artistic ideas are too individual and personal to be copied. I love to see my fellow artists grow in their works and addition to their CVs etc. In our society, the best gift is for me to see any artists make it out there.

BS: Jerome, what else can you tell us about the underground art scene in Canada?

JP: The underground scene is Canada in my opinion is growing. In the USA the underground art scene has grown very rapidly and it is currently catching up in Canada. Mind you, "underground, lowbrow, contemporary"…whatever we currently are labeling it, is in my opinion a vague series of words; you have serious artists that respect the genre and you have others that claim to be part of it, yet without completely understanding it. Furthermore, we have artists that are doing great works, but yet fall between these categories, depending on how narrowly we define it.
So far, I have been really fortunate to have met and shown with very creative minds, most of us have began in the underground art world, this underground scene in Canada is very broad, often it touches further than just art, it is fashion, stage shows, performing arts, music, poetry, spoken word, literature, film etc. I find in Canada that we put a great deal of effort into everything that revolves around the arts, and from there we network together; and it ends up being at everyone’s advantage. Especially the underground, as it is often associated with the unique, the unusual, freedom of speech and the non-commercial production of art.

BS: Jerome, tell us about your art.... you are obviously influenced by Art Nouveau- can you tell us more about artists and art movements that have influenced your work?

JP: Gaudi is my hero! I have been an admirer of his work since I was a teenager. Hector Guimard is also a very strong influence in my works. Art-Nouveau, to me, is a design and architectural movement that will never be equalized in our modern world (the cost of such creation and the freedom of imagination through patronage…you cannot find this, not in today’s economy and trends). The mystical aspect of such style is that it is the only architectural movement that flows yet is motionless.
If you look at one of my paintings, it is truly inspired by the movement, but I make it my own without stealing specifics, from the subject’s clothing to the fusion between human flesh, mechanics and objects. Art-Nouveau is soft, I have been told many times that the subjects I use for my paintings are perceived as harsh, but the implementation of an art-nouveau style softens it enough for people to attend and to have time to really contemplate what the piece is about. If the subject matter is challenging, then they can get lost in the intricacies of the technical skill and details of the lines.

BS: Jerome, where else do you find inspiration? Your work contains a lot of visual information pulled from several sources... your images are like an explosion of genres scattered upon the surface in a controlled manner. I see references to cyber-punk themes, old side-show posters, every traditional playing cards. I get the feeling that you could write an essay about your interests and how they are conveyed in your art. Can you explain how you get all of these ideas to come together... to mesh as they do?

JP: Upon a multitude of situations, I question the human body and it’s relevance to our incomprehensible society, our limits, our abnormalities and our mortality. These subjects are transformed by the fusion of science, genetics, mechanics, madness and humour. I am always revisiting subjects and objects to make them more efficient.
For example, I am currently finishing a painting involving a boxer whose legs have been amputated and fused with giant mechanical grasshoppers (to help him skip in the ring). Additionally, two tiny elephant heads are fused to his shoulders, and using the water from his body splash water on his face. This is an ‘improved’ version of the recognizable white water bottles used in the ring. These are two examples specific to the subject, out of many in the overall piece, which show my ‘making’ (reconstruction) of the boxer. I am inspired by the overall body, as well as the individual aspects of it, and how this is so perfectly engineered.

I paint a lot about what we do as humans. I take a lot of inspiration by people’s professions. When you think about it, even in our free time, our careers are what define us in so many ways, we talk about it, we are even questioned on a first date, and we are often remembered by our career when we die.

The word "controlled" in your question is the one I have always struggled to explain. I am not sure where it comes from and why I spend so many hours on details. To help me understand my strange behavior toward tiny details is that I say to myself that the best car prototypes always take years to achieve, so it makes me feel better! The only answer I can find is that the subjects I create have to be perfectly engineered and rendered. Therefore this perfection, this controlled environment of my paintings, needs to be controlled by its creator. Think of a mad scientist. I guess I would be a mad ‘scientartist’. Everything must have its place. Every piece of the larger work must be eloquently drawn to fuse properly into the next. By doing this I create a flow that connects all random, obscene, and conflicting details.
I do write essays about my work when I get a chance, I feel that it is important, sometimes the essays are not made public, I know that whenever a piece sells, I often get a request from the new owner to write about the piece, I do it gladly. Writing about a piece in length after its creation is a great time to decompress.

BS: Jerome, tell us about your studio. Where do you work? What conditions must you have in order to create?

JP: I live and work in my studio in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. My conditions in terms of working is a lot of music, books and a TV playing with lots of films , that I watch over and over again. I have an old dining room table that I paint on. I work on a flat surface, no easel. I paint my largest canvases by propping them against the wall and painting them standing up.

BS: Jerome, what projects are you working on at this time as far as your personal art is concerned?

JP: I am currently working on a piece that will be shown at Yves Laroche galerie in Montreal for a group show called Sweet Calvares in October. It is about my hate for the KKKs. This exhibit is around the theme of celebrating death and I have decided to paint my own pay-back to the @**%^^&# KKK and the damages they have done. It is simultaneously political and factual. I love painting it. I knew I would do this piece or one similar to it eventually, and it should be done in about a month… or so. Then, I have a few group exhibits here and there in Canada and the USA. When the Laroche show is over, I will be starting a new series of paintings, with the goal of a solo show. Not sure where it will be yet, but I have not had one since 2005 and I already miss it!

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the artworld?

JP: The art world is very indefinable and very vague. What is art? What is good talent? Who is posing? All of which are cyclical and unanswerable questions. Our economy forces us to either self-promote or to rely on a gallerist in order to survive. What I can say is that there are so many amazing talents that deserve a strong base in our economies and a just legacy. The public needs to be educated regarding emerging and living artists. How to seek them out, how to access art, etc. Our masters often starved and were misunderstood when they put their art/creations forward. The support was not always there.
In today’s economy, political climate, etc., we are dealing with an entirely different, yet strikingly similar situation. Who patronizes the arts? We cannot deify the art world/market. It is not an entity that is dictating to us, it is something that we control. Either we feed it and it grows and (re)produces, or we starve it and it dies. It is easy once someone dies to recognize their talent as their body of work and their capacity to create becomes finite (at this point we know they will not fail us).
You can learn more about Jerome Prieur by visiting his website: Feel free to read my other interviews by visiting the following page:
Take care, Stay true
Brian Sherwin

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