Interview with Martin Jarrie
by Karina Miller
Martin Jarrie’s artistic life story reads like a wonderful, meandering journey. He spent his childhood on a farm with eight siblings. He moved to Paris. He studied literature, and after that, worked in advertising. He changed his name and, artistically, moved from hyperrealism to a freer, surrealist-inspired style. His art explores the relationship between bodies and machines, de-familiarizes everyday objects, and invents constellations of plants, flowers, humans and mechanical things with great beauty and a sense of humor.
Martin's compositions are like the Cabinets of Curiosities of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, each detail created with a passion to organize, classify, compose and illustrate the world. His work is deeply influenced by psychoanalysis, and, to me, it resonates with Freud's brilliant comment on the importance of beauty, from Civilization and its Discontents: “Beauty has no obvious use; nor is there any clear cultural necessity for it. Yet civilization could not do without it.” I believe we cannot do without Martin Jarrie’s work, without his intense colors and witty re-imagining of everyday worlds. Here, he provides insight on his life and work. Enjoy.
How did you start drawing?
I loved drawing when I was a kid. After high school I studied literature in College, which reassured my parents, who are farmers and couldn’t understand how one could make a living by drawing. After those studies, I attended art school the Académie d’Angers. Later I moved to Paris to work as an illustrator. It was the era of hyperrealism in advertising, and I adopted that style for ten years.
You changed your name and became an artist, how are these two things related?
I quickly became tired of making hyperrealistic pictures. I wanted to express more personal feelings. Psychoanalysis helped a lot in this journey. I’ve got two styles: one hyperrealist, documentary, and another more free, inspired by artists I admire, Giotto, Magritte y De Chirico, Arroyo. My agent suggested that I create a pseudonym for this style, so I decided to make up a name related to my personal story. “Jarrie” was the name of the farm where I grew up and where my eight brothers and sisters spent their childhood. For them, “Jarrie” was always a kind of paradise lost; they used to talk about that place all the time. When I was eighteen months old, my family moved to a house in Chemin of Saint Martin, named for a nearby farm. Martin+Jarrie was a way to unify my personal and family history, and especially to relate to my siblings. It was like finding the origins of my childhood, and with that, returning to connect with the pleasure of inspiration and creation.
Your work is a combination of botanical themes, collection of objects, machines, the preoccupation with the mechanical, encyclopedia, dictionaries, alphabets, gardens, labyrinths, and classification in general. To me, it evokes the Cabinet of Wonders, the imperial collections that represented the desire to conquer the world through the appropriation of culture and the accumulation of knowledge, born in the 16th Century. Do you see a relation of your work with these collections?
I love Cabinets of Curiosities, encyclopedias, dictionaries, lists, and catalogs. I feel an affinity with the spirit of eighteenth-century encyclopedias and their aspiration to embrace and unite all of the knowledge of the world in a few books. I’m always connected with this childish pleasure of recreating or inventing a world.
In Les Mots et les choses Michael Foucault mentions Jorge Luis Borges’ Chinese Encyclopedia, which classifies animals in this way: “… (a) those belonging to the Emperor, (b) those that are embalmed, (c) those that are tame, (d) pigs, (e) sirens, (f) imaginary animals, (g) wild dogs, (h) those included in this classification, (i) those that are crazy-acting (j), those that are uncountable (k) those painted with the finest brush made of camel hair, (l) miscellaneous, (m) those which have just broken a vase, and (n) those which, from a distance, look like flies” I find this classification very close to your work, have you created your own “Chinese encyclopedia”?
I didn’t know that quote by Michel Foucault, and really, I like the idea of a Chinese Encyclopedia. It reminds me of a French artist who I discovered in the seventies named Jacques Carelman who designed a catalog of impossible objects. He was in the same group as Marcel Duchamp, Georges Perec and many others from Oulipo, a workshop of littérature potentielle (potential literature) founded by Raymond Queneau, which was connected to Alfred Jarry’s Pataphysical University. In Carelman’s catalog there was a coffee pot for masochists that I’ve found very funny.
What is the relation between the human and the mechanical in your work?
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of “inhabit” a body. How do you represent that embodiment? Body-machine, body-map, body-house, body-labyrinth are all attempts that stimulate my imagination and that I find in the surrealists. More than twenty-five years ago I found myself very impressed and seduced by an exhibit at the Pompidou Center about Andre Breton and the surrealists who surrounded him, particularly Duchamp, Chirico, and Picabia.
Are you a collector?
I’m not a collector. I love books, art books, all kind of catalogs, geographical atlases, medicine books, but I don’t have a collection.
Do you enjoy illustrating children’s books?
I actually like illustrated books better than children’s books. I became a children’s book illustrator because of my love for painting more than a love of children’s books. I’m afraid that someday somebody will discover this and I will get kicked out of that job!
Where do you work? How is your work routine?
Since a little more than a year ago, I’ve been working in a new place a half-hour away from home by subway. It took me a long time to get used to my new workplace. I’m in the 12th floor, with lots of light but it’s much smaller than my previous place. I arrive every day at 10:00 AM and leave at 6:30PM. From my workshop I can see the Eiffel Tower to the left and the Montparnasse tower to the right.
Tell us about Catalogue Imaginaire, what was your inspiration, or what are your ideas about this artwork?
I made Catalogue Imaginarie right after the publication of my book Rêveur de cartes (Dreamer of Maps). The book is a kind of imaginary atlas. First, I drew maps and invented places, and then I wrote short texts about these places. After that I wanted to make a catalog of imaginary objects. Catalogue Imaginarie is a prefiguration and an extension of Rêveur de cartes. On one side, a page of botanical images and on the other, objects, like in a shopping-by-mail catalog. It’s a project that is suspended right now.
In your work Bonne Anné, it seems that the strainer is used as a form of communication, what is the concept behind this?
In French we say “time passes”, and something that doesn’t have an English translation, like: I hope the year passes well for you.I wanted to play with the double meaning of the verb “to pass.” The strainer in my picture symbolizes the passing of time.
Which is your favorite museum?
How difficult to choose! I really like the Quai Branly Museum and the Louvre, of course.
What is your next project?
My next project is a book on Greek Mythology and it’s going to be called “Six Tragic Heroes” (Theseus, Oedipus, Perseus, Odysseus, Hercules and Jason). It is a great pleasure to be able to explore the complex, marvelous, and terrible adventures of the heroes of ancient Greece. It will be published by my life partner’s publishing house, which she created five years ago, called “The Red Ants.” I also have two exhibition projects, one next year in Switzerland and another in the Netherlands in 2020.