Julien Comte Gaz – Splitting, cutting and reassembling
We know Julien Comte Gaz for long time. His previous works evolved from drawing on erotics magazine to splitting, cutting and reassembling old photography giving a new way to suggest sexuality.
We decided to present you more about who is behind this amazing work.
Interview by Eve Phan –
Translation by Michael Arrigo January 2020
You were born in Adelaide in Australia. When did you come to France? How did this dual cultural experience influence you?
I came to France, to Toulouse, when I was five. We moved for my parents’ work. Later, I went to Paris to pursue my studies with plans to get a degree in environmental design. My degree in interior design that I had gotten previously in Toulouse wasn’t recognized at the Sorbonne so I had to start from scratch.
Since my father is French, I was born with dual nationality. My mother is from South Africa, and I’ve spent numerous summers there. This cultural blend opened up the world to me at a very young age, and it was maybe this that gave me the curiosity that I have regarding everything around me.
When and how did you start making art?
I don’t remember exactly having a creative impulse in any one domain. I think that also as far back as I can remember, I felt the need to create and to do so in every domain, so in the end its just my medium that changes.
You use photo charms from the 20’s, old forgotten portraits or old covers of Playboy to make something new out of them. Where do you find all these images? Where does your love of past eras come from? Are you a photographer yourself?
One day a friend gave me some old magazines she wanted to get rid of. It was then that I started working on them in India ink. Those old photos have inspired me and have become my creative material. I wanted to make them unique while they were sometimes one taken out of a thousand other copies. It’s a way to sublimate those bodies that had been represented as mere objects.
I then obtained other photos and magazines at flea markets, auctions or online.
After trying to do the same thing on more modern images, I realized that I didn’t like the result. In our own era, which seeks to be modern and progressive, the use of a woman’s image for advertising purposes doesn’t seem to be in line with the times. I find more charm in nude photographs from bygone eras. As for photography, I do happen to partake in it, and I like it a lot, but I don’t consider myself a photographer at all.
You dress and cover the bodies—with pixels, for example — using cuts and collages. What is your own relationship to the body, to nudity, modesty and exhibitionism? Did your childhood and upbringing play a role in that recurring theme ?
By dressing the body with pixels or with geometric forms, I draw attention to the parts that I choose, nonetheless, to cover. What’s more, I take nothing out of the pictures, everything is there. I cut out pieces only to rearrange them next. I myself am relatively modest when it comes to my body as well as in my private life. I could never pose nude or use portraits of my own family as a base. I don’t see a connection between my upbringing, my childhood or my family history and this recurring aspect of my work. But the common thread is my passion for the body and medicine. I am also very conscious of everything that there is beyond anatomy.
I read that you have ideological influences like Edward T. Hall and Roland Barthes, and artistic ones such as Felice Varini and Georges Rousse. Do you have any popular influences, like cinematic ones, for example? Do you listen to music while you work?
I don’t have much knowledge of cinema, but the films I like are often the ones that a lot of people don’t like or few people know. I like music a lot. I can listen to Nina Simone as easily as Woodkid, Barbara, or The Carpenters. I also listen to podcasts while I’m working, mainly ones featuring personal stories, like « Les Pieds sur terre » on France Culture or « Transfert ».
You’ve studied environmental design, plastic arts and interior design. To what extent have your studies guided and influenced you?
I had to study plastic arts as a requirement when I got to Paris in order to be able to get a degree in design from the Sorbonne when I already had a diploma in interior design in Toulouse. The view that schools and universities in Paris have towards those in other parts of France is rather dismissive. That time spent studying plastic arts, which really annoyed me at first, turned out to be beneficial. It was a true revelation. I had the good fortune to have excellent professors, who pushed me to reflect and to invest in myself, like professor and socially engaged artist Sirine Fattouh or even senior lecturer Agnès Foiret Collet. I learned a lot about art but also about myself.
Have you always wanted to be an artist, or did you have other career plans? When did you decide to fully dedicate yourself to art?
Being of a curious nature, my interests are diverse and varied. Along with my passion for medicine and surgery, I’m also interested in aviation, like my father was before me. At one time, I considered pursuing psychology, but art has always been part of my life plan. I worked for seven years at the Galerie Dominique Fiat in Paris before I got started. It was only last year, in 2019, that I really dedicated myself entirely to artistic creation. The need to be free had become paramount.
Is the way other people see your work important to you?
Exhibitions and social media allows me to test the waters with people and have an idea of the kind of impact my work might have, even if in the end, it’s my own thinking that counts. To create is to unveil and shine a light on a part of yourself, there is a kind of stripping down bare. Despite that, you have to know how to take a bit of distance with your work. I am pretty excessive in how I work, in the sense that I do things all the way through. Some people in my life don’t understand what I do but that’s not important. What counts is that I am true to myself, rather than trying to please others.
What message about yourself or about the world around you do you wish to pass on through your work?
Splitting, cutting, and reassembling are a conduit for my thinking, and photography is my raw material. In my latest work, where I partially burn old portraits, I try to give life back to people who are now gone and, perhaps, forgotten. I don’t damage their image; I add an element that completely transforms the photo. The result sometimes looks more like a bit of the Milky Way than just a burn. The idea of universality is very important to me. At the end of the day it’s sad to see all these family photos, all these memories sold with such indifference. Still, the portraits carry a kind of energy and are useful to mediumship. I try to go beyond just the body of flesh. There is a sort of populism at the heart of my work, in the sense that I strive to offer a new perspective on photos and objects of everyday life.
How has social media, particularly Instagram, helped spread your work? Do you find inspiration in it?
In terms of spreading my work, social media allows you to share and relay, and are an important vector like the press, be it printed, televised, or broadcast. I didn’t realize the impact that Instagram could have before posting my work there. It’s an important showcase, thanks to which collectors and artists and others involved in contemporary art can get into contact. The trends you see there are eclectic and diverse but always enriching. I’ve even already dealt with censorship on social media but that inspired me and pushed me to keep going, notably with my series pixels by moving to circumvent the algorithms put in place.
Courtesy of the artist – 2020