Talking to artist…Jean-Pierre Sergent Interview with Grith Grough for The Eroticartlover, Denmark, February 2013

Talking to artist…Jean-Pierre Sergent

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.

Enjoy!

Talking to Artist…: Jean-Pierre Sergent

Jean-Pierre Sergent in Besançon studio © of Jean-Pierre Sergent — Photo by Yves Petit

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.

EroticArtLover:
 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.

EroticArtLover:
 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.

Blue: Mangas, Yantras & Otras Cosas, 2009, acrylic silkscreened on BFK Rives paper, 25 x 25 cm © of Jean-Pierre Sergent

Blue: Dionysos, Perpetual Orgy of Life, 1998, acrylic silkscreened on BFK Rives paper, 25 x 25 cm© of Jean-Pierre Sergent

EroticArtLover:
 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.

View of the wall installation of 18 paintings on Plexiglas in the studio, June 2012, 3,15 x 6,30m © of Jean-Pierre Sergent

EroticArtLover:
 What is your preferred medium?

Jean-Pierre Sergent:
 I only paint with acrylic silkscreen on paper and Plexiglas panels.

EroticArtLover:
 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.

Blue Skulls: Mayan Diary, acrylic on Plexiglas, 1998, 1,40 x 1,40 m © of Jean-Pierre Sergent

EroticArtLover:
 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.

EroticArtLover:
 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.

EroticArtLover:
 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.

Yellow : Mangas, Yantras & Otras Cosas, 2010, acrylic silkscreened on BFK Rives paper, 25 x 25 cm © of Jean-Pierre Sergent

EroticArtLover:
 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.

EroticArtLover:
 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.

EroticArtLover:
 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.

EroticArtLover:
 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.

Orange : Bondage and freedom, 2003, acrylic silkscreened on BFK Rives paper, 25 x 25 cm © of Jean-Pierre Sergent

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.

Jean-Pierre Sergent at work in his Long Island City Studio, NY, photo by Sachie Kumano © of Jean-Pierre Sergent

EroticArtLover:
 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!

EroticArtLover:
 Favourite type of music?

Jean-Pierre Sergent:
 World music. Indian or Bach.

EroticArtLover:
 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.

Red : Mangas, Yantras & Otras Cosas, 2009, acrylic silkscreened on BFK Rives paper, 25 x 25 cm © of Jean-Pierre Sergent

EroticArtLover:
 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.

Green : Mangas, Yantras & Otras Cosas, 2009 / 2011, acrylic silkscreened on BFK Rives paper, 25 x 25 cm © of Jean-Pierre Sergent

EroticArtLover:
 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.

Yellow : Mangas, Yantras & Otras Cosas, 2011, acrylic silkscreened on BFK Rives paper, 25 x 25 cm © of Jean-Pierre Sergent

EroticArtLover:
 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.

Black : Mangas, Yantras & Otras Cosas, 2011, acrylic silkscreened on BFK Rives paper, 25 x 25 cm © of Jean-Pierre Sergent

EroticArtLover:
 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.”

EroticArtLover:
 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!

Red : Dionysos, Perpetual Orgy of Life, 1998, acrylic silkscreened on BFK Rives paper, 25 x 25 cm © of Jean-Pierre Sergent

Red + Blue : Dionysos, Perpetual Orgy of Life, 1998, acrylic silkscreened on BFK Rives paper, 25 x 25 cm © of Jean-Pierre Sergent

EroticArtLover:
 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 where 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.

Red & maroon : Dionysos, Perpetual Orgy of Life, 1998, acrylic silkscreened on BFK Rives paper, 25 x 25 cm © of Jean-Pierre Sergent

EroticArtLover:
 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.

EroticArtLover:
 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!

White over yellow : Bondage and freedom, 2003, acrylic silkscreened on BFK Rives paper, 25 x 25 cm © of Jean-Pierre Sergent

EroticArtLover:
 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?

Red pink : Bondage and freedom, 2003, acrylic silkscreened on BFK Rives paper, 25 x 25 cm © of Jean-Pierre Sergent

EroticArtLover:
 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.

EroticArtLover:
 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”.

EroticArtLover:
 What other artists do you admire?

Black over yellow : Lady of the Ants, 2003 acrylic silkscreened on BFK Rives paper, 25 x 25 cm © of Jean-Pierre Sergent

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…

EroticArtLover:
 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.

EroticArtLover:
 How do you relax?

Jean-Pierre Sergent:
 In summer I go canoeing on the river. In winter I snowshoe in the mountains.

EroticArtLover:
 Living or dead, which artist would you most like to have dinner with, and why?

Fra Angelico (1395–1455)

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.

EroticArtLover:
 What do you prefer, day or night?

Jean-Pierre Sergent:
 Both, but I love the sun.

EroticArtLover:
 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.

EroticArtLover:
 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.

EroticArtLover:
 Fact or fiction?

Jean-Pierre Sergent:
 Both are really important. Fiction is always based on real facts. You need a base, a starting point.

EroticArtLover:
 Favorite restaurant?

Jean-Pierre Sergent:
 Japanese.

EroticArtLover:
 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.

EroticArtLover:
 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.

EroticArtLover:
 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.

EroticArtLover:
 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.

Click here to download this article as a Pdf.