Sunday, 12 December 2010

The Sacred & The Profane: The Enchanted Universe of Pierre et Gilles

Pierre & Gilles
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"On aime idéaliser mais on parle aussi de la mort, du mystère et de l'étrangeté de la vie. Il y a autant de douceur que de violence dans nos images..."

It is difficult to describe, but to view the photographic works of the French artistic duo, Pierre et Gilles, is to blithely abandon the cares and mediocrities of everyday life and magically step into the beguiling, captivating world - tableaux vivants, if you will - of their imagination. There is something of the charmingly surreal - and idealised - about the unique aesthetic vision of their portraits, something so captivating, so alluring, as to draw the viewer into that perfect, unabashedly (homo) erotic world. In short, it is the disparate elements of the the sacred and the profane, juxtaposed and entwined: of once-nostalgic Catholic prayer cards and pornographic imagery, of popular culture fused with Baroque or Rococo sensibilities, unique artistry melded with mass-market consumption and advertisement - all of it combined to form iconic imagery. 

Pierre Commoy, the photographer (born 1949 in La Roche-sur-Lyon), and Gilles Blanchard, the painter (born 1953 in Le Havre), have been living, loving and working together since they first met at a party in Paris in 1976, to where they had come in 1973 after completing their art studies. In their own unique way, Pierre et Gilles create fantasy tableaux of hand-painted, photographic portraits of pop icons and film/porn stars, transforming them into fabulous figures of historical  or mythical/allegorical legends; they create an enchanted, multi-layered cosmos of fairytale-like quality with an artful patina that draws heavily upon the visual language of past artistic periods. (Sources are courtesy of:, 2007; Goldman, J,, 2002)


But the glamour and delight of the finished portrait deceptively belie an intensely laborious (and complicated) collaborative process - a marriage between the suspended image of the camera and the art of the brushstroke.

As with any artistic endeavour, it all begins with a concept. First, they sketch the idea for a portrait according to the model and the role they want him or her to render - saint/sinner, angel/devil, sailor/marine, hero/heroine, god/goddess, et cetera.

Then, the set and its production is conceived with much careful planning  and with special attention paid to selected materials, props and accessories -  all of which is collected from their travels around the world to be utilized on the sets in their lavishly-furnished studio - including costumes, hairstyles and make-up (at times, if they are unable to find the right costume, Pierre and Gilles even create them). They map out the lighting for the sitting, choosing flattering angles and filters to achieve the desired effect.

Once everything is arranged to specification, Pierre snaps the photograph of the scene against an arranged, three-dimensional background; Gilles then painstakingly colours the print using a combination of successive layers of paint and glaze until the vestiges of the photograph's reality are blurred with fantasy (Gilles first painted a photograph by Pierre in 1977). The result is an original image unique in its aesthetic achievement, the facsimile of which is unattainable by any other method, including computer digital software.

Lastly, they conceive of the frame - an equally integral part of the overall aesthetic of the finished photograph - in fact, Pierre et Gilles consider the frame merely as an extension of the portrait. Nothing is left to chance; everything is conceived and realized as a whole. As Pierre has significantly stated, "This is a little bit of photo, a little bit of painting. There is the idealization of the stopped moment; Gilles with his brush can go and go back, and there is no limit." (Sources and citation are courtesy of:, 2007;, 2009)

La Madone au Coeur Blessé ~ (Lio), 1991
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The subjects of Pierre et Gilles' works are populated with many of today's iconic (as well as obscure) persons - from models, actors, entertainers, designers and celebrities - both famous and infamous. It is also apparent, at a glance, that much of Pierre et Gilles' themes are explicitly rooted in popular gay culture, with a particular emphasis on the flawless beauty of the (youthful) male body - oftentimes depicted in the throes of either torture, religious ecstasy, suggestive eroticism or profound pain and agony; whatever the mood, the subjects always submit to their fates with the serene resignation of the proverbial lambs led to their slaughter. And indeed, martyrdom and death play a significant, albeit beautiful, role in Pierre et Gilles' work. Conversely, women are cast in the (equally ideal and sang-froid) guise of somewhat campy, glamour icons.

In the course of their careers, many books have been written and several exhibitions have been held, featuring the duo's prolific body of work. For example, in September 2007, a retrospective exhibition, encompassing thirty years of the artists' collaborative work, was held at the Jeu de Paume Gallery in Paris. And more recently, held from July-October, 2009, another retrospective exhibition, Pierre et Gilles: Retrospective, was held at Germany's C/O Berlin, International Forum For Visual Dialogues - established in 2000 by photographer Stephan Erfurt, designer Marc Naroska and architect Ingo Pott - which comprised of eighty large-format pictures dating back to their earliest collaborations in the 1970s up to new, hitherto never-before-seen works. Undoubtedly, future works of art can only be imagined and eagerly anticipated. 
(Source:, 2009)

Jésus d'Amour ~ (Franck Chevalier) 1989

Opatica ~ (Kylie Minogue)
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Saint Sébastien ~ (Verlo Sung), 2009
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Saint Sebastian of the Sea ~ 1994
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The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian ~ 1996
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Saint Sébastien ~ 1987
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La Mort d'Adonis ~ (Paul), 1999

Le Miel et les Abeilles ~ (Loic), 2000

Le Retour ~ (Maxime), 2003

Amour Taillant Son Arc ~ (Tipayaphong), 2003
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Mercury ~ 2001
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Saint John
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 Le Marin au Bucher ~ (Karl), 1998

Renaissance ~ (Paul), 1999

Cain et Abel ~ (Esteban Pelaez), 2001

Cain et Abel ~ (Franklin Torres), 2001

 Eaux Profundes ~ (Layke Anderson), 2005
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(Laetitia Casta)


The Goddess Diana ~ (Naomi Campbell)
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Saint-Michel ~ 1988

Saint Rose de Lima ~ (Ruth Gallardo), 1989

Sailors & Sea ~ 2005
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Dans le Port du Havre ~ (Frédéric Lenfant), 1998

Ice Lady ~ (Sylvie Vartan), 1994
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Lolo Ferrari ~ 1996

Jeanne D'Arc ~ (Ophélie Winter), 1988

Saint Gilles ~ (Gilles), 1989

Saint Pierre ~ (Pierre), 1989

Le Bouquet d'Amis ~ 1988

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Saint Martin de Porres ~ 1990

(Nina Hagen)
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Shiva ~ (Boy George), 1989

Jean-Paul ~ (Jean-Paul Gaultier), 1990
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Le Petit Jardinier ~ (Didiér), 1993

Matador ~ (Fernando Leonne), 1999

Bubbles Shower ~ (Frédéric), 1997

 Spideries ~ (Yvan), 1998
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Midnight Cowboy
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Le Purgatoire ~ (Marie France), 1990
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Le Diable ~ (Marc Almond), 1989
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La Mystère de L'Amour ~ (Marc Almond & Marie-France), 1992
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Le Diable ~ (Marie-France), 2001

La Voyante ~ (Marie-France), 1991
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Méduse ~ (Zuleika), 1990 

Le Petit Communiste ~ (Christophe), 1990
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The Ganymede Chronicles ~ (Frédéric Lenfant)
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The Ganymede Chronicles ~ (Frédéric Lenfant), 2000
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The Ganymede Chronicles ~ (Frédéric Lenfant)

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Le Cauchemar d'Alice ~ (Sanna), 1999

Le Traingle Rose ~ (Laurent Combes), 1993

The Black Poppies ~ (Bianca & Sierra Cassidy), 2007
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Boy Saint

Didiér ~ 1994
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Les Amoureux de Paris ~ (Hélène et Stephane), 1990
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(Dita Von Teese)
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François Sagat ~ 2008
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Neptune ~ 1988

Jean-Paul Gaultier ~ "Le Male"
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Carrousel ~ 1999

Le Fluteur
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La Princesse et le Paon ~ (Sophyia), 1989

Asian Venus ~ 1992

Un Monde Merveilleux ~ 2008

Bloody Amélie ~ 2008
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The Black Dahlia ~ (Dita Von Teese)
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Sucré Salé ~ (Jaime de Oliveira), 2008

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Le Grand Amour ~ (Marylin Manson & Dita Von Teese), 2004

Extase ~ (Arielle Dombasle), 2002

Legend ~ (Madonna), 1990
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Le Chant du Cygne

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Watercolour ~ (Timo), 1998

Sur la Plage Abandonné ~ (Rupert Everett), 1994

Le Pecheur de Perles ~ (Tomah), 1992

Krishna ~ (Tao), 2000

Hercule contre L'Hydre de Lerne ~ (Jean-Christophe Blin), 2006
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Jardin d'Eden
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"It's hard to think of contemporary culture without the influence of Pierre et Gilles, from advertising to fashion photography, music videos and film. This is truly global art" ~ Jeff Koons

Pierre et Gilles ~ Les Cosmonautes
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Recommended readings:

Pierre et Gilles (1993), by Pierre et Gilles & Nicholas Currie: Benedikt Taschen

Pierre et Gilles (1994) by Tomomi Semba: Treville

Pierre et Gilles: Grit and Glitter (1997), by Pierre et Gilles, Glasgow Museums & Gallery of Modern Art: Glasgow Museums

Pierre et Gilles (1997), by Bernard Marcadé, Gilles & Dan Cameron: Taschen

Pierre et Gilles: Douce Violence (1998), by Pierre et Gilles: Gallerie Jérômed de Noirmont

Pierre et Gilles, Volume 2000, Part 2 (2000), by Pierre et Gilles: Merrell 

Pierre et Gilles: Double Je, 1976-2007 (2007), by Pierre et Gilles, Jeff Koons & Paul Ardenne: Taschen

Pierre et Gilles: The Complete Works (2007), by Pierre et Gilles: Taschen America LLC

Pierre et Gilles: Sailors & Seas (2008), by Pierre et Gilles: Taschen America LLC

Pierre et Gilles: Retrospective (2008), by Pierre et Gilles, Renaud de Varbes, Oscar Hing-Kay & Samuel Kung: Art Pub. INc.