Cédric Pierre-Bez, aka Cépé, loves change. His only routine is feeding his meowing cat every morning, but besides that, he doesn’t follow any other timetable. His work is also massively influenced by change: he studied graphic design but quickly turned to illustration. He started making black-and-white pieces with Indian ink but has been creating digitally these past years – and with a lot of colour, I must add. And more recently, he’s going back to the physical realm again, giving oil painting a try – although the subjects and themes he feels like painting when using brushes differ from his digital artworks. You see? Change, change, change. We talk with Cédric about the art market, his artistic evolution, and the differences between using brushes and digital tablets.
Cépé is a short and interesting name for an artist, which I guess comes from your birth name, Cédric Pierre-Bez. Could you tell us about its origins and why do you prefer to use a pseudonym rather than your full name? Is it a way to create an artistic character?
Yes, the pseudonym Cépé comes from my name, Cédric Pierre-Bez; it corresponds to my initials but phonetically. The style I’ve developed in my illustration work is quite personal. However, it may not be representative of all the artistic directions I may want to take in the future, so working with this ‘masked’ name offers me this possibility. Cépé is a label for this particular style.
After studying graphic design, you decided to focus on digital illustration. What are the pros and cons of working digitally? Do you consider giving oil and acrylics a chance in the future?
Working digitally offers many advantages, for example, being able to change everything at any given time, which is very important for my clients. I have a lot of fun using digital! I sometimes paint in oil or acrylic, but I realize that when I paint in a traditional way, I want to explore other directions, less figurative. The relationship between object and matter changes my approach radically. This plastic work that I’m developing in parallel is not online for the moment, but it won’t be long! And to show it, I will use my real name. With this work, the goal is to have no rules and experiment, unlike my illustration work, which is defined by graphic rules that I have defined over time.
Despite choosing a digital method, your works have many traces and brushstrokes, as if you were painting with real brushes. Why do you choose to recreate a manual technique even though you paint digitally? Has anyone ever thought, when they saw your works, that they were made using a more traditional method?
Yes, it happens regularly, some people think that these are real paintings – I like to create this ambiguity. In the beginning, I conceived my digital work as sketches before making an original piece, but little by little, I realized that it didn’t make sense for me to do this. As I kept working, there were no more surprises and it became just a mechanized step. So over time, the digital sketches were refined and became the final work.
From lettering to branding, the possibilities within graphic design are almost endless. But you started working on a more fine arts-related field. Why did you choose illustration? Have you always felt comfortable painting? Have you ever used any other artistic language (besides design, of course)?
In fact, I’ve been drawing since I was a child. By studying visual communication, I was looking for a stable job that I found socially rewarding. But I’ve completely changed my mind since then! I quickly realized that it didn’t necessarily correspond to me, so I decided to go back to my first love. Since then, I haven’t explored too many other artistic disciplines: it is limited to my digital work under the name of Cépé and to painting under my real name. From my point of view, everyone is an artist, it’s just that some express their creativity more than others.
You usually portray women, and generally, with non-normative bodies – basically, ‘regular’ bodies escaping from the unreal ideals imposed by advertising and the media. Was questioning mainstream beauty cannons one of your goals?
Yes. In fact, I’ve never liked the canons imposed by advertising and the media; I’m always attracted by what is on the fringes. I don’t know why the female figure predominates in my work, maybe there is something that I don’t manage to grasp in them and try to transcribe through my work.
Also, are we going to see more male figures in the future, maybe also fighting against the beauty cannons imposed on them/you?
I don’t know if there will be more male figures in my work in the future as I evolve more towards gender fluid characters. The differences in representation between men and women are fewer and fewer as I try to erase the binary system.
In your creations, you distort space, bodies and faces and use vibrant colours. These elements give your work a sort of naive, even child-like (art brut) look, but what other elements are essential in your paintings?
The most important thing is the one I have the least control over: what emotions and feelings will I arouse in the viewer.
You usually paint everyday scenes (sports, love scenes, friends having some drinks, etc.). In which way do personal experiences influence your illustrations?
My everyday life influences my illustrations, but it also comes a lot from my imagination and feelings. It’s a bit of a mix of the two. For example, sometimes, I have a good time picnicking on the beach with my girlfriend and I start to imagine how it could be translated graphically. Other times, I want to draw jockeys on horses because I imagine the movement and the colourful universe that it could give to the piece, even if I have never ridden a horse in my life!
If you had to describe your work in one sentence, what would it be?
I often ask myself this question and I can never answer it! I think I’m not the most gifted in the world with words… maybe that’s why I turned to illustration, to express things that I can’t say?
Clearly, you have a very personal style, but has it been difficult to trust your vision and your own criteria when it comes to creating? How was the process of finding your own voice like?
Finding a style was a long process for me. In fact, it has evolved a lot and it continues to evolve today, even if I have the impression that it is stabilizing more and more. This research process is very important because it allows to explore a lot of possibilities, to refine its design, its colour range. The main thing for me was to develop a style in which I enjoyed myself. It was the pursuit of pleasure that made me believe in this vision. I think it’s better to have a marked and recognizable style in which we have fun rather than trying to follow the vision of the art market.
Have you always painted according to these characteristics? What phases did your work go through?
No, my style has gone through multiple variations. I started by doing only black and white illustrations in Indian ink, and today, I am completely the opposite. I decided to keep my previous work on view on my Instagram account because I find it interesting to see this evolution.
What are the main artists that have influenced your work? Beyond painting, is there any other artist – filmmaker, photographer, writer, etc. – that has inspired you?
Most of the artists that influence me are painters – Picasso, Matisse, Basquiat, Kirchner… These constitute the basis because they are the ones I discovered first when I was young.
How is a day in your life? Can you tell us what your routine is like?
To be honest, I don’t follow that much of a routine – maybe I am still looking for it! I can easily change places to work and I don’t have specific or preferred times. In fact, I think I like change. The only routine I have is that I always start my day by feeding my hungry, meowing cat.
You work as a freelance illustrator. How hard is it to sustain yourself from art? Is making a living as an artist as utopian as some people say? What would you say is the best and the worst thing about being an artist?
I find it quite difficult to live of this job, but it changes a lot from month to month and from year to year. At the moment, I’m happy like that because I don’t need much. If things get too difficult financially, then I will take a second job. The worst thing in this business would be to do it exclusively for the money and to question everything if you can’t live with it. The best thing is the feeling of freedom, the feeling of being a free electron in society.
Of your career as an illustrator, what is the achievement that you are most proud of? Any future goals or plans for your artwork?
What I’m most proud of is having trusted me. To have developed a personal style that is not adjusted to major trends. The plans? I don't have one yet, we’ll see…