French artist shows daily life through his ’Passages’
Rita A. Widiadana, The Jakarta Post, Gianyar
Bali and Balinese themes have been an endless source of inspiration for many artists. French artist J-Philippe, naturally and beautifully used the island as inspiration in the 30 works recently displayed at the CSIS building in Jakarta.
Under the theme Passages, J-Philippe brought viewers to the idyllic land of Bali through his imagination and artistic expression. The displayed works mostly reveal ordinary old men and women working at traditional markets and in the rice fields. Young female dancers fitting their glittering costumes, beautiful girls, women and their children often appear in his canvasses.
In his work entitled Passage VI , J-Philippe portrays a grandmother, with an old, wrinkled, sad face, sitting with three boys. Two more old women chatting can be seen in the dimly lit background. In his works he presents ordinary people with ordinary lives.
"Maybe because I came from low-class society in France’s rural area, it has been easy for me to vividly capture their feeling, their emotion and their everyday activities."
"What is so special about ordinary people," he said, "is that they lead a simple and honest life."
Born in Orleans, France, 37 years ago, to a talented artisan, young J-Philippe entered the prestigious Ecole Boulle art school in Paris.
"My grandfather was a farmer, while my father is a skillful artisan. Every Sunday, he did his painting work just as a hobby," he quipped, adding he might have inherited his father’s artistic prowess.
Upon graduation, he worked on the restoration of antique French furniture. In l989, he joined the monastery of Saint Benoit sur Loire,
A year later, the National Service Volunteer appointed him to serve at the Sasana Hasta Karya Art School in a village in Gianyar regency, thousands of miles away from his country.
"Since I was a boy, I had always dreamed of working as a volunteer somewhere faraway from my home. I meant a permanent volunteer, not just a temporary one who came and went in a certain period of time," he said.
J-Philippe was sent to Gianyar on a special mission to become a dedicated art teacher to dozens of young artists, many of whom were school dropouts.
A devout Catholic, J-Philippe said he did not come to Bali to become a painter or as a tourist.
"I landed here fifteen years ago just to serve the community — equipped with my knowledge on arts and my commitment," he said.
At the Gianyar art school, founded by French Catholic priest Father Le Coutour, J-Philippe developed new art teaching methods in the making of furniture, drawing, painting, carving and machinery.
Upon arrival, he stayed at Puri Abianbase with the royal family, where he learned about Balinese life and culture.
He became a member of the palace’s traditional music troop Ble Ganjur.
"I started painting seriously in l997," he explained.
"Being a foreigner was quite difficult sometimes. After 15 years in Bali, I feel quite comfortable here. When visiting my hometown, I feel like a foreigner," he said.
For J-Philippe, art is an effective tool for bridging two different worlds, the West and the East. "Art is a universal communication means that can reach any person, beyond geographical, cultural and social boundaries," he said.
Every morning before teaching at the art school, he hides himself in his lumbung (granary) studio on the slope of the river in Kubu Bingin art village in Gianyar.
When visiting his studio recently, J-Philippe displayed some of his unfinished works.
"I think of the background of my painting before putting objects on it," he pointed at a canvas already painted with soft-pastel colors.
"Just follow my mood and emotion," he exclaimed. After composing structures and colors on the canvases then he inserts objects and characters that fit with the mood of the surface.
Art critic Jean Couteau said of J-Philippe that it was it was "definitely color that structures the painting."
Couteau said the works were mainly abstract, that their main was was their color composition.
"A `sensitive’ answer to the problem of the encounter of genres, J-Phillippe’s paintings are exactly at the crossroads of abstraction and figuration; and of photography and painting," Couteau comments. J-Philippe is also an accomplished photographer.
The inclusion of his works in different genres does not bother this artist. "I only focus on my work," he said.
It was indeed difficult to persuade him to display his works. "It requires a very strong commitment and effort when you agree to do an exhibition," he added.
Talent, he said, was not enough to be a good artist. An artist should have professionalism, patience, persistence and self-discipline.
"You can’t accept any invitation to exhibit your works when you do not have something good enough to be shown to the public," he said.
In his current exhibition in Jakarta, he displays 30 paintings, the products of a year of hard work.
J-Philippe did not mean to overestimate his works; rather he had to explain his limited capacity as a painter and as a human being. "We have limitations — of ideas, of time and energy."
Market pressures have often drawn artists to endless work.
In the last ten years, J-Philippe witnessed many young talented painters walk across the Indonesian art stage.
"They were propelled to rich and fame instantly thanks to the power of media and art dealers."
However, many of them are now drained of fresh ideas after succumbing to the market’s demands.
Painters, he said, needed a good patron to protect them from the glitter and fussy market world in order to maintain their fresh ideas, their talent and the consistent quality of their art works.
"Galleries, art agencies or any parties can play this role," he said. The artist, on the other hand, has a responsibility to create quality work.
In J-Philippe’s mind, painting expresses his idea of humanity; of friendship and of life and culture around him.
J-Philippe’s works can be viewed at the Bamboo Gallery in Ubud, Gianyar, Bali.