It is rare to see an artist take on visual images with woodcutting tools;
Hiding a felling axe by discarding it in a thicket, is not enough in itself to calm the feeling of brutality that invades us on discovering, lain on the floor, a succession of trunks, branches or beams strewn around as if they had just left the sawmill.
A feeling of doubt invades us, on noticing several life scale, charcoal, drawings of crosses on the gallery walls.
We begin to recognise these "kits" as being a part of art history, and the initial constitution of drawn works, themselves, roughs of famous paintings.
It is of course about "ready to assemble", crosses, lain down
in perfect disorder, inciting us to assemble them to verify our guess.
Evocation of the forest, copses, where the murdered arms and limbs of tortured bodies are lain.
Dali and Gauguin are probably the most well known to the public, Mantegna, Grunewald, Cimabue and some others are more recognisable to true amateurs.
These "deposited crucifixions" question us with regards to a strange and unusual relationship, sharply created by the artist, between raw material and the drawings. It begins to dawn on us that there is a possible relationship to painting.
We are doubly enlightened , because charcoal is produced by wood combustion.
The drawings on the walls were drawn with techniques proper to encyclopaedists. Metaphorical condition, a form of ignition in the representation, that is what leaves a mark, against the artists will.
These kits talk about manufacturing, if not of painting in any case, that,
which enabled artists, in their time, to draw us into the heart of their work,
on their side.
The easel is the central object of the execution, Christ is the patient, the victim: no crucifixion without a cross!
Jean Michel Petit chose to elaborate this exhibition as an artist manipulator. Inventor of strategies, he takes us through successive layers, towards a confrontation with the Judeo-Christian complex, which we nurture collectively, (more often unawares) regarding the death of Christ.
Jean Michel Petit reveals through this exhibition, the global total lucidity,
that these crucifixion scene painters were capable of.
He informs us of the precise and conscious responsibility that all had to assume in conceiving an execution easel.
Gauguin chose prosaically two planks, abandoned as if at the edge of a
building site, Grunewald put together an ecstatic dramatised composition of
beams and trunks,
Dali conceived a three dimensional ascending cubist cross, Cimabue built a piece of furniture which deliberately placed the crucifixion in an indoor space, that of the cathedral, home above all else of the elite in the social domain.
If Jean Michel Petit has a complex personality, his destiny is probably as complex, he belongs to that small group of artists who saw, a few years ago their work go up in smoke.
One day, or maybe one night. The Corsican FRAC burnt. The smoke may have stung the eyes of some, maybe they even cried?
Once again illusions went up in smoke, along with the beautiful collection.
Jean Michel Petit felt a real anger inside, to extinguish it he set it on fire.
In this instance to honour the lost works, Jean Michel Petit concocted a representation of the stations of the cross with burnt matches, (reproduced here on the cover of this catalogue).
This violent but humoristic evocation of the firelighters remains ironically linked to the theme of the Vanities, dear to the Renaissance period!
Jean Michel Petit, a lumberjack, certainly not!
Lets try, rather, carpenter for Dali or cabinet maker for Cimabue so that he can rebuilt crosses as furniture.
Occasionally, he becomes a pit sawyer in order to get rid of those that overshadow his vegetable patch.
His far off look is not a good omen
He continually repeats Brancussi's famous phrase, "nothing grows in the shade of large trees"
Murder in a homeopathic garden
From his first exhibition, a series of unexpected difficulties presented
themselves to the public, reading cartels in Latin, exploring references that
seem familiar and which however establish a gap between what appears original
(art history) and the supposed spheres of activity of the artist..
Botany, architecture whether it be military, religious or profane, construction and assembly techniques as well as Italian painting from the thirteenth or fourteenth century are for Jean Michel Petit, as much worlds of fascination as conjectures.
Jean Michel Petit behaves like a sleuth carrying out an investigation. Proceeding through successive stages starting with a first clue, he accumulates information, researches, asks for scientific verification of his hypotheses;
From the library to the museum, he scrutinises the works of Diderot, Rousseau, Linné, Vitruve as well as those of Hamilton-Finlay, Gette, Sarkis, Buren and also Masaccio, Piero de La Francesca, Giotto, Cimabue, la Tintoret, Fra angelico, Le Bernin, Rubens, Poussin, Mantegna, the list is never ending
On his bedside table, the encyclopaedists offer material for reflection
: nature, philosophy and the paradigms of a society whose myths are just beginning,
inspire a pantheon of works, of which the term experimental, is a soft euphemism.
Not insignificant either is that before studying art Jean Michel Petit belonged to the botany section of an agricultural college; his immoderate taste for naming plant species and a leaning towards genetic manipulations and genesis springs from this experience.
This approach was already apparent during his first exhibition at the micro gallery of the art school in Macon.
Jean Michel Petit placed on the floor of the gallery, dozens of rows of
galvanized steel, botanical, label holders.
Each oak floorboard was inscribed with the words, Quercus robur followed by the describers name K.v. Linné.
Several times during previous exhibitions and in relatively similar forms, he would repeatedly decline this question / affirmation :
- Chevets lined up in the form of a military parade, marble slabs which made up the set are engraved with Latin inscriptions :
- Juglans regia, for the walnut
- Abies alba, for the pine tree
- Populus tremula, for the poplar tree
Giant chimneys, engraved on the lintel, the Latin names of firewood used in the region:
Quercus robber, for oak
Carpinus betulus for hornbeam
Fraxinus excelsior, for ash in the south of Burgundy
Installations are a contemporary solution which become progressively necessary
to the artist, more because of the unavoidable aspect of values born of the
formal upheaval between Abstraction and Cubism, than for the simplicity of
work or the triumphant dimension of formal inflation that it supposes.
Jean Michel Petit takes from these values essentially their capacity to synthesise in a non hierarchical manner a new relationship to the world which determines the production of works freed from the weight of expectancy, dogmas, for the profit of delicate objects which intertwine debates at the heart of their constitution.
The aims progressively put into a crisis are painting and galleries, in a series of games which have the pretext of floral patterns, plants and undergrowth.
In 1987 Jean Michel Petit invited a member of the commandos to come and
paint camouflage for a singular exhibition in a forest gallery.
A soldier face blackened, combat uniform, and paintings became invisible in this place.
Overabundance, superfluous expression, entropy, are expressed as if a visual war against consciousness is taking place.
Later in a humorist homage to Paul Cézanne this camouflage pattern was reused to evoke, our societies capacity, to reconvert works of art into pure objects of consumerism and fascination.
The famous series of paintings "La Sainte Victoire" patronized in combat gear directly cut from Cézannes paintings, a military jest in the title "The Singing Sainte Victoire".
Jean Michel Petit, when faced with clichés, manifests, as much
suspicion as authority summoning them, in order to take to pieces the responsibility.
No indulgence or condescendence in the face of works painted by the famous Dutch or Italian Masters. Is it even possible to remark a certain irreverence with regards to the inalterable character of the models?
The theme "Exodus in Egypt" provided him with a wonderful opportunity to massacre our innocent gullibility, or even our intellectual conformism.
In 1991 Jean Michel Petit hung on the walls of the Gallery Verney Carron
a series of seven reproductions of Exodus in Egypt ; all A3 size and framed
as if real works, colour photocopying here leaves no doubt as to the modest
nature of the proposition.
Taking up the Predel principle the artist stamps with trichlorethylene under each painting, road maps corresponding to the places the works were painted.
The surprising effect of polychrome marble veined with, red, green, brown and yellow, the maps used in this way reveal an unsuspected pictorial image to those who have never taken the time to stand back, squinting, to study the folds of the maps relating to the areas of the Sienne or Gand.
To realise at last in this gallery, that the scenes of Egypt were painted in each artists studio with their own familiar view and to understand that at that moment exoticism can wait
This journey through the history of art should maybe be looked at from the angle of the relationship of interdependence that it suggests, but even more that which it authorises: to approach as raw material endowed with memory, unexpected reactions and a linking of antagonistic theories that mingle and reject each other
Resorting to the use of homeopathy in his work is symptomatic of his interest in potential even infinite invisible powers.
He therefore produces series of works made up of homeopathic granules (a sophisticated form of gold work) that he transforms into intricate constructions of garden labyrinths.
The artist deliberately retraces royal gardens to provoke our mental universe, our historical and formal vocabulary and to reinforce our dependence with regards to our taste for perspective.
At the same time he blithely mixes ceramic techniques, proper to pharmacopoeia, with those of gardening; a complete mess or an inborn sense of balance and derision?
The semantic shift that he provokes are certainly labyrinth like, but
they are no less jubilant, like the subtle and enthusiast technique that he
uses to decide the contamination fields that he wants to display in order
to subvert us to his ontological worries and to parasite our sleep.
Jean Michel Petit always chooses a perspective outlook on art history, opening up his work whilst keeping an eye on the mirror to avoid being assassinated for plagiarism, copying or more crudely citation.
Through his frequentation of the works and thoughts of men who founded and scoured the totality of western culture, Jean Michel Petit has picked up some flaws : that of familiarity with them during the night in his dreams is probably the most excusable of his mistakes, on the other hand, re visiting their works, the most famous paintings of the Renaissance period leaves no doubt about his split personality : manic-persecution and deeply anxio-criminogene.