Imagine making a painting out of a mould/casting. Sounds weird, right? Not to Jean-Philippe Dordolo, who’s been working like these for the past three years. He was as a mould-making technician at a university and soon started to experiment with the technique, and found a new way to use it. After the discovery, the London-based artist has been exploring its possibilities and presenting artworks moving between painting and sculpture. We got to chat with him about experimentation, muses, clowns, and the current state of London’s art scene.
Please share some insight about yourself; what was your first encounter with art, and how does it compare to the moment you decided to turn it into a career?
I’ll give you the short version of the story: I’ve been interested in art for as long as I can remember. The rest just happened.
At first glance, I thought most of your pieces were painted with gouache due to the matte finish, but I read in a previous article that you use polymer compound and glass fibre. Your pieces are basically casts; how did you come across this technique?
In 2015, I was working as a casting and mould-making technician in a university. I was familiar with casting but I was approximating the methodology too much. Learning the right way was crucial. Then, I became more thoughtful and imaginative with the way I used the technique. Casting often focuses on replicating objects. I wanted to challenge that by speaking the language of images but treating them materially as sculptures. The first few attempts are usually daunting, it doesn’t work the way one imagines. But then it ends up being about adapting a known technique and refining it. You end up tweaking it until the technique is yours.
Your methodology goes backwards as opposed to the traditional method; instead of starting from the background, you begin with the foreground. Why take this preference?
It’s not so much a preference but rather a necessity. The way I apply the material in the mould means there is an order to respect for the image to come through. I have to be methodical about it if I have a set design in mind. Although it can be fun to break the habit and get into it haphazardly.
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Stilleben als Optimist / Stilleben als Banana. 2017
I love how you took Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo’s Pulcinella, the clown figure that appears in several of his paintings, and adapted him into your artworks. I interpret it as a way of teaching younger viewers a little bit of art history, but maybe you hold a different motive. Why did you use this character?
I remember seeing an image of Pulcinella on Holiday in a book and that was it. I had to look into it. There is a series of etchings from Tiepolo that covers every aspect of this character’s life: love, triumph, death… Everything is mentioned. I like the idea of the mundane permeating art. I think I grew fond of Pulcinella for what he represents. As a character, he wasn’t born in Venice. There are notes about some of his earlier appearances in Southern Italy. So Pulcinella was a traveller, an outsider. He has mastered the way to both be part of society (where he travels and settles), and also to step aside and look from a distance. Pulcinella can socialise with his peers but also be critical. And not without laughter. As a foreigner leaving abroad, perhaps, I find it relatable.
In a previous interview, you described your work as “deceptive jazz carnival”. May I ask why? Any other definitions that fit what you do?
I wouldn’t know how to define my work. I make things. The ‘deceptive jazz carnival’ description was just a pun. I was asked to qualify my work in three words only. ‘Deceptive’ because of the principle of illusion I employ in my paintings/sculptures. ‘Jazz’ because I listen to a lot of it in the studio when working. And ‘carnival’ because making work is like a performance, and it should always be fun.
Most young artists tend to flee from their roots to chase their dreams elsewhere. You’re from France, a country embedded with art. Why did you decide to move to London? And how’s it going so far?
Sensitive topic! I did not come to London to make art. Art came later. But yes, I originally came here looking for a different experience. I understood very early on that I needed to leave home to challenge myself. One thing led to another and I’ve been in London for fifteen years now. Sadly, things have changed a lot over the last couple of years. London is still vibrant and a major place for art, but the current political climate and the quasi hostile attitude of this city towards people on low to medium income make it unsustainable for young artists to stick around and do their jobs. Affordable housing is never affordable. And there are fewer and fewer studio spaces for artists to rent out.
“I don’t make art because I want to communicate something. I make art because I have no idea how to communicate anything. And art is the only thing I can do and not get tired of.”
Do you believe your muse comes from within or do you rely on your surroundings for ideas?
Sheer hard work. That’s where it comes from. I find the idea of a muse terribly corny, annoyingly romantic and a bit cliché. That being said, people get influenced by the world they live in, so it’s only normal it also affects what artists produce.
Some artists like to use their art as a vessel to communicate with the spectators, others think about it at all. Where do you see yourself in this scenario?
I like Peter Fischli’s point of view on the matter – I’ll just paraphrase. He said his job is to make an offering to the viewer. The public then decides whether or not they want to engage with it. I like this approach. I don’t make art because I want to communicate something. I make art because I have no idea how to communicate anything. And art is the only thing I can do and not get tired of.
Have you ever worked with fellow artists? If not, why and do you plan on doing so in the future?
Yes, I have, on a couple of occasions. It can be fun, even more so when ideas bounce back and forth. It’s more like an exchange. Someone starts a sentence and the other finishes it – except it’s not a verbal language. Instead, it’s a bunch of stuff looking quite awkward in a room full of people trying to make sense of it.
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Schönheitsfleck. 2018
I found out about your work through my Instagram feed. Some believe the Internet and digital media is consuming young minds, but I believe otherwise, it works as a strong asset. What’s your opinion?
I feel split about it. I think Instagram is a good PR device. I like to treat it as a sketchbook and an archival tool. But it can also be superficial. The way an artwork looks on social media is very different from the way it looks in the flesh. A friend once told me that if a work looks better in a photograph than it does in the flesh, then the work isn’t good enough. I thought it was a valid point and a good benchmark tool. But I’m concerned by the declining numbers of visitors in art galleries combined to the way most people consume Instagram-like images (at least as far as art is concerned).
Could you share some constructing words to fellow art students struggling through their studies?
If you’re passionate about making art, don’t treat it as studies. It’s a job, it’s a commitment – and a beautiful one! Come in at 9 am and don’t leave until at least 6 pm. Be rigorous and generous with yourself and others.
Tell us about your future plans. Can we know what you’re currently working on?
No major plans. I’m just doing bits and bobs.
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Verschwindender Akt. 2018
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Cassandra "Ich sehe große Gefahren" (Wilde Sittiche). 2018
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Alt. Im Park. Auf einer Bank. Mit gebrochenem Fernglas. 2018
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Alt. Im Park. Auf einer Bank. Mit gebrochenem Fernglas. 2018
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Ein Ei auf einem Ei. 2018
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Papagei eines Papageien. 2017
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Er war eine Kartoffel und der Zahnarzt hatte ihn gern. 2018