The choice of the mundane

Among Jean-Christophe Robert's main themes, the human being and his environment.

His characters are generally depicted in various ways and at different time periods - they appear as celebrities or public figures who are famous the world over. The artist recomposes their images drawing on the identical copies of snapshots which circulate throughout the world. The anonymous characters can be anybody, age or occupation do not really matter. In both cases, the artist's interest lies in the universal emotion that the sense of proximity or recognition can convey to the spectator.

Oeuvre de JEAN-CHRISTOPHE ROBERT : Diana y croyait

Diana y croyait (détails), 92 x 91 cm

Que fait Diana ? (détails), 255 x 130 cm

Etudes pour le portrait d'Eva Lovato (détails), 60 x 60 cm

The artist portrays the world through daily and familiar objects, which you can use, touch or handle at home on a regular basis. The objects are chosen in terms of their widespread circulation and their ordinariness. They are used by any social class or groups - whether you are a millionaire or a less financially privileged person, you use toilet paper or wiping cloth. These objects are not rare and are easily replaceable.


Torchon à bandes vertes, oranges et roses, 65 x 45 cm

La télécommande, 2,5 x 7 x 16 cm

Le rouleau de P.Q., 45 x 10 x 10 cm

Oeuvre de JEAN-CHRISTOPHE ROBERT : Papier peint

Tût IKEA, 218 x 53 cm

Le papier peint de l'escalier de ma chambre, 218 x 53 cm

Papier peint Tintin, 218 x 53 cm

Le papier peint â rayures bleues, 114 x 194,5 cm

Contemporary society is also represented through images taken from the media such as logotypes or captions. Logotypes are inescapable, imposing images saturating the whole world (advertisement boards, clothes...). Since they are standardized and immediately identifiable, logotypes may ring a bell but also remain unobtrusive and not catch your attention. The captions used may be very short, Jean-Christophe Robert often uses catchy magazine titles or decontextualizes publicity blurb as he re-uses them in his drawings or in his mythological installations.


Vivre, c'est ce faire livrer en 24 h!, 29,7 x 21 cm

Paysage 007, 115,5 x 162 cm

Nana normal, nana super (dyptique), dimensions inconnues

Elle quitte Vincent pour Arnaud, 92 x 65 cm

Dialoguing with art history

Whether in his relation to subject or mode of representation Jean-Christophe Robert keeps referring to art history.

Drawing on the notion of genre as early as 1994, the artist establishes a clear link with art history as he transposes this dated concept into his own work on contemporary society. It is an explicit way of anchoring his works in the present time frame while maintaining bonds with the past. In this regards, still lifes which, typically, were made of natural products or handicrafts are changed into industrial objects; the social or psychological portrait now becomes a psychic one while the legendary mythological scene refers to the overexposure of celebrities, and natural landscape paintings become icons of a new urban landscape.

Now and again, the artist incorporates snatches of art history through renowned pictures or by re-using an older canvas. This is the case for example when the artist brings together celebrated artworks in his portraits and landscape paintings. In his mythological pieces however, the link may seem more oblique figuring only in terms of textual, intertextual or thematic overtones.


Paysage 015 (détail), 115,5 x 62 cm

Portrait d'Arnaud de Raignac (détail), 180 x 180 cm

Avec Antonia il trompe Camilia (détail), 73 x 92 cm

Jean-Christophe Robert's compositions clearly display his will to be part of tradition. It is not surprising that he has chosen to explore genre even though a number of contemporary artists are no longer interested in it. He posits that it is vital to know about the innovations of the past if one wants to be a significant painting artist. Hence, he acknowledges the artistic legacy of the past without meekly submitting to its precepts, that is. As such, he entertains a dynamic relationship to art history, borrowing from genre in order to better distort it - in terms of both form and substance. The target being to express his perspective on his own aesthetic terms.


Van Gogh Cornfield + cadre IKEA, 80 x 59,5 x 2,5 cm

Portrait d'Eric Laurent, 180 x 180 cm

Referencing twentieth century art are introduced in the artist's still lifes phase. Jean-Christophe Robert draws on the innovative techniques of that period, notably using the stretcher (with the object portrayed to the scale of one), highlighting the dual possibility of canvas (as a painting surface and as raw material) and underscoring all the possibilities of paint. He makes reference to Beuzet's work on material, or Dezeuse's use of the stretcher and Parmentier's experimentation with canvas. The artist's favourite subjects also echo back to 20th century art's preoccupations. There are numerous allusions to former artistic movements or artists. Some pieces clearly resonate with identifiable past artistic trands, namely abstract painting or the works of artists such as Daniel Buren, Andy Wahrol, Richard Artschwager or Donald Judd. Elsewhere the allusions to art history remain more tenuous and are mostly visible in the technique or form used by the artist.

Oeuvre de JEAN-CHRISTOPHE ROBERT : Papier peint, Evian, IKEA

Le papier peint à rayures, 218 x 53 cm

Evian, eau minérale naturelle, 33 x 35,5 x 26,5 cm

Etagère IKEA, 202 x 48 x 28 cm

Table de nuit en sapin IKEA, 63 x 35 x 36 cm

Paying homage to humanity

One of the outstanding features of Jean-Christophe Robert's art is his attempt to capture a deeper sense of humanity. Indeed, he endeavours to bring to the fore the unseen emotions lying everywhere around us.

His purpose is not to cast a judgment on society, but to offer a renewed perspective on it. Jean-Christophe Robert's concern as an artist is not exclusively with art theory, but with contemporary society as well. Rather than critiquing consumer's society, he focuses on some of the most widely disseminated items in order to better redeem and re-appropriate them, enhancing their aesthetic potential in the process - typically, utilitarian objects are now transformed into aesthetical artefacts.

There is a twist of humour and tenderness in Jean-Christophe Robert's treatment of subject. The represented objects are all part of one's daily intimacy and cherished by all. The artist conjures up childhood fantasies as when he portrays, engraved on a salt container, the image of a little boy throwing salt on the tail of a bird. In the same manner, the use of commonplace motifs makes the viewer more comfortable. The spectator may feel more intimate with the portraits as he is able to quickly identify celebrated images which echo everyday life without being an art specialist. The sensual feeling he may have when using a bath towel carrying an impressionist motif can be recaptured and reactivated in a new way when facing the artist's landscape paintings.


Au programme : le plein de douceur, 29,7 x 21 cm

Paysage 015, 115,5 x 162 cm

Jean-Christophe Robert's attempts to do justice to human beings as fully as possible. Hence, the stretcher is given pride of place, with the canvas left raw in some places or with pencil marks or stitches still showing in the completed work of art. The artist only paints over the foreground of his still lifes in order to enhance authenticity and reveal what usually remains hidden. He likewise replaces artificial fashioning with what may look more natural. An instance of this is the excessive number of portrayed items - lavish and incomplete details often left unfinished may enhance the feeling that the work is somewhat incomplete and not processed; the artist's trace thus remains in the composition.


L'oreiller, 70 x 70 x 12 cm

Etude pour le portrait de Sylvestre (détail), 60 x 60 cm

Oeuvre de JEAN-CHRISTOPHE ROBERT : Nounours, lapin, choutte, petit chien, Serre di Rapolano

Le nounours de Serre di Rapolano, 14 x 12 x 5 cm

Canne canne, 32 x 34 x 8 cm

Le lapin, 17 x 7 x 5 cm

Le nounours, 20 x 20 x 6 cm

Le petit chien, 13 x 10 x 2 cm

La chouette, 17 x 7 x 5 cm

"Quick" painting which shows in the presence of traces of dripping paint along with unclear contours reveal the human hand. Emotion transpires in the portraits in the ways in which the artist deeply probes into characters. Privileging immediacy and intuition in his mode of painting, the artist tries to grasp intimacy and the unconscious; the purpose being to help the viewer get deeper access to his own character or life features through the painting.

Oeuvre de JEAN-CHRISTOPHE ROBERT : Eric Laurrent

The way in which his manufactured items seem to be reshaped by the human hand and by the passing of time contribute to the feeling that they are ordinary craftworks and totally handmade, unlike industrial objects. The object is transformed and looked as if it had been modified by daily and frequent handling. The metro ticket is reproduced as an item crumpled by human hand or daily usage. Fragility is thus brought to the fore - metro tickets or detergents like "PAIC main" are shown as changing items constantly modified by the human hand or by daily contingencies - like dampness for instance.


Le paic main, 23 x 18 x 6 cm

Le ticket de métro, 1,6 x 6,5 x 3 cm

As an artist, Jean-Christophe Robert feels totally free in his aesthetic choices. Painting still remains his most privileged mode of expression and continues, according to him, to be the most relevant option in contemporary art; he has chosen to leave aside the older techniques and even though he still selects historical subjects and reference, he tries not to be enmeshed in history. Also, the use of diverse aesthetic forms is not just meant to signify rupture, but rather to generate creative change. His aesthetic orientations go counter today's dominant trends. The artist's originality derives from his thorough way of handling detail as years pass. Hence his long-term enterprise is extremely powerful and attuned to human sensibility. Ruthlessly pinpointing society's main features and modes, Jean-Christophe Robert also discloses its fragility, weakness as well as its capacity to generate emotion.

Texte de FLORENCE MONTAGNON, docteur en muséologie.

Translation: Andrée-Anne Dika