This couple of French artists realize portraits that transform their subjects into sacred and sublime creatures
Madonna, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Kylie Minogue, Dita von Teese, Rose McGowan, Isabelle Huppert and Catherine Deneuve – the most iconic stars of their time have all come under the lens of Pierre Commoy, 71, and the brushstrokes by Gilles Blanchard, 67 years old. , who retouches and beautifies each photo by applying real paint on canvas, thus having invented Photoshop without a computer even before digital editing existed. Working according to an original operating method, each of Pierre et Gilles’ creations is a unique piece. They pose their models – friends, celebrities and strangers – in sophisticated settings that can take up to 10 days to handcraft from A to Z, from the objects they have on hand or that they themselves. provide, after making pencil drawings on paper. Once the photo has been taken and digitally printed on canvas, the long painting process begins to refine and sublimate the image, performed on an easel on the ground floor of their apartment under a luminous glass roof. Pierre explains why they went digital: “We shoot digital, no longer film. With digital, you can see the screen and control the photography in real time. Digital technology allows us to work directly with the model. Working in the cinema had become complicated because the material is not as readily available as it used to be – you have to order it online. After taking the photo, we then work on the colors, printing and hand painting. We are therefore not against modernity: we live in our time, and we like to combine modern and ancient techniques.
The real couple have been inseparable since their fateful first meeting in 1976 during the opening night of a Kenzo boutique in Paris. After several months of living together, they decide to create pictures together, their first series being that of their friends making faces on brightly colored backgrounds, inspired by photo booths. Disappointed by the results, Gilles then began to paint them. In the 1980s, they were regulars at the Palace, Bus Palladium and Le Sept, nightclubs frequented by gay crowds, fashion royalty and pop stars, stumbling across their models just by chance. outgoing. Everything happened naturally through meetings, friendships and the desire to work with each other. They alternated commissioning work – making images for the gay press and album covers for music – and personal pieces, and never had to call a particular actor or singer to pose for them. In fact, it’s their famous portrait of French singer and songwriter Étienne Daho in a white and navy blue striped sailor top with a parakeet on the shoulder that they made for his album. La Notte, La Notte in 1984 which truly launched their careers. Today, artists and even strangers contact them via social networks to serve as their models, or they contact them themselves. Fascinated by strong characters, by originality and difference instead of beauty, by magnificent people in a strange, new and surprising way, they are as interested in the personality of their model as in the image. that they project.
Immediately recognizable, the universe of Pierre et Gilles is full of artificial flowers, streamers, cotton clouds, fake stars, birds, Christmas balls, talismans, trinkets, toys, wreaths and halos of light. Straddling the profane and the sacred, lightness and melancholy, their kitsch works in saturated colors evoke emotions and dreams. Inspired by their childhood, cinema, music, fairgrounds, starry skies, fairies and saints, they have a singular aesthetic exploring the boundaries between art history and pop culture. Having always worked at home, the compositions of Pierre and Gilles have gained in complexity and sophistication over time. Starting from a small studio where they could only make stylized and close-up portraits on monochrome backgrounds reminiscent of the pop art aesthetic of Andy Warhol’s screenprints, they then moved to a larger apartment in Bastille, where they built whole sets by hand, overlaying foregrounds and backgrounds. Speaking of the handcrafted nature of their work, even the photo frame of the final work is designed by the artists themselves. Today, their images come to life in their 60 m² studio located in the basement of their Pré-Saint-Gervais duplex in the Parisian suburbs, filled with a small stage, projectors, models and boxes of accessories. . They work non-stop, because making an image takes time. Requiring between 15 days and three weeks to complete a portrait, they produce 12 to 15 per year. Their creations tell their story and illustrate a whole era, each model playing a role, playing a different character than theirs. There is something eternal in their works, for they metamorphose their subjects into sacred and sublime creatures, immortalized forever.
Without being outright activists at heart, Pierre and Gilles subtly express their social and ecological commitment and their messages of commitment to freedom and tolerance through their works, addressing subjects such as identity, sexuality. , politics, religion and immigration, including the Arab Spring and marriage for All Movements. Passionate observers of society and its evils, their activism is not evident in their art, but reveals itself as an undercurrent. Their The shipwrecked series of sleeping young men spoke about the AIDS crisis that claimed the lives of many artists. “The topicality has always been present in our work, which has evolved over time, depending on the contradictions of our world”, comments Pierre. “At the beginning, our vision was more positive: we talked about happiness, beautiful things, dreams, while taking inspiration from popular culture. The older we get, the darker and darker we find the world. The AIDS epidemic of the 1980s changed us a lot; our work has become deeper. This is why it is important for us to be artists, to respond to this harshness: we try to see the world in a better light. For us, art moves the world.