A conversation with Pablo Grand Mourcel, the “visual wrestler” – fixed by aurelien
You could describe Pablo Grand Mourcel as a talented illustrator, but that wouldn’t be doing him full justice as this artist with an instantly recognisable style also makes videos, trophy-sculptures and pendants. We fell for his unique creative world and artistic versatility right from the start and that’s why you’ll find some of Pablo’s unique pieces at French Theory. We went to meet this exciting artist.
Pablo Grand Mourcel pour French Theory : "Etreinte"
On your website and Instagram bio, you describe yourself as a “visual wrestler”. The first question is therefore an obvious one: What exactly is a visual wrestler and what does an artist have to wrestle with?
I came up with this term when I was working on a series about wrestling. At the time, I was too modest to dare to describe myself as an illustrator. I’d say the thing an artist has to struggle with is probably the question of identity and how they are labelled. I take on projects as they come up and I go where my desires take me, whether or not it is part of a commission. I experiment: it’s not up to me to say whether these experiments are art or something else entirely.
In parallel to your illustrative work, you also make talismans. Can you tell us more about that?
When I began making talismans, the idea was to make lucky charms to protect my family. I didn’t want to sell them because they had a magical dimension and were very personal items. After people saw pictures of them, I began to make them to order for people I met, but only in exchange for objects, recipes or tuition in new artistic practices etc. For me it was an experience of how you could create interaction around Instagram, a network where you rarely meet people face to face.
During your studies, you did an internship at Steven Harrington’s studio.Steven is a leading artist and designer, who has worked with many top brands and great artists. His palm tree character has become iconic. What did you learn from him?
I was a young designer at the time and this internship taught me all about the different creative processes in a studio, from customer relations to project management. However above and beyond that, there was also a studio where Steven Harrington worked on commissions and tried out new things, as well as pursuing his personal artistic explorations. There was a synergy between the two parts of his activity, graphic design and illustration, which I found very inspiring.
Following on from this experience, you decided to set up your own independent studio, first Super Groupe and then Maison Solide. Why did you choose to go down this road?
It happened quite naturally. During my studies (a DSAA in fashion and environment) my training was very experimental in nature, perhaps rather like in the applied arts. My fellow students came from a wide variety of backgrounds, some from visual communication and others from textile design or fashion. Whilst on an internship in Berlin during my last year (to study animation), part of my work was taking part in competitions and applying for grants, which taught me early on how to present my own projects. I founded Super Groupe with Lisa Laubreaux at this time with the idea of putting together illustration projects and working in different mediums. Back in Paris, we came up with the idea of organising workshops at Point Ephémère, took part in festivals and created events at Le Wanderlust. The question of finding a job in a firm never came up. We wanted to prolong this dynamic in which one project followed another.
You work in lots of different mediums, from printmaking to creating bronze talismans, football trophies and fabrics… Can you describe your creative process? What comes first, the idea or the choice of medium?
My process is conditioned by my training as a graphic artist: I need a commission, or some sort of obligation to get me started. The place or the theme is usually the starting point. For example, my series of trophies was born out of a Papier Magazine feature on the 1998 World Cup. I began by investigating how trophies are designed – I didn’t know that they could be dismantled at will – and I played around with this idea by making six totems resembling the stars of 1998.
In terms of colour and line your style can sometimes be described as minimalist; in other series you deform the shape of the human body. How do you preserve clarity and legibility in your illustrations?
I usually begin with a very precise drawing that respects proportions and includes the shadows. Next I do several more drawings, trying to reduce, pare down and generally make my production more legible to my eye. I need this study phase to be able to deconstruct the drawing and find what I’m really looking for.
A simple question to finish: in illustration, what mediums do you work in and what specific tools do you use?
I do my initial sketches in pencil and then go back over them in ink, before colouring and shading on the computer using a graphics tablet.
In 2014, you co-directed a music video with Antoine Marie (“La Malinche” by Feu! Chatterton). How did you approach working in video?
In fact, I studied video before turning to illustration. Arthur, the group’s vocalist, and Antoine Marie are both friends of mine and they discussed their project with me. Antoine had some ideas for the scenario, whereas my input was more graphically-minded. We had some very fruitful discussions and Arthur suggested I co-direct the video with Antoine. We had to manage the budget and assemble a team. There was a lot of pressure because it was the group’s first video and they were still wondering about the image they wanted to put across. We had to pay attention to every little detail, but we are very proud of the result. We turned this lovely story into a contemporary narrative by using different objects and delving into the stories each one had to tell.
"Popular art lies at the heart of my practice”.Pablo Grand Mourcel
Where does your love of sport come from – it’s something that we see a lot in your work?
From a graphic point of view the world of sport is very exciting. Whether it’s the jerseys, the trophies or the haircuts everything is very distinctive. I am also interested in the current MMA craze – it’s as if people were fascinated by its violence. I find it strange that nobody seems to have noticed the erotic aspect of these combats and the unlikely positions the fighters find themselves in. As part of my work on the human body, I produced two series of monochromatic screen prints – one humorous and one more sculptural – with figures that look rather like interlocking statues. I made one of them, “Étreinte“, for French Theory.
Pablo Grand Mourcel
What are your other sources of inspiration?
It can be anything really, but popular art lies at the heart of my practice. Sport, football, in short anything that is very accessible. I like the idea that my work reaches out to as many people as possible. By creating talismans, I also address the idea of rites of passage and different religious symbols. In my drawings, it’s obvious my interest is more in the human body and notions of deformation, twisting and tension. I recently went to see the French arm-wrestling championships during which I took quite a lot of photos. Perhaps they will be a new source of inspiration in the future.
You have been earning a living from your art for almost fifteen years now. What would you like the next fifteen years to bring?
I’d like to build a huge float for a carnival, maybe Rio, which would combine sculpture, drawing and costumes. Or why not a ghost train, as that would also bring all my interests together in one creation. Along the same lines, one of my dreams is to create a giant mouth that would swallow people walking past a hotel or a bar!
Pablo Grand Mourcel was one of the first artists we invited to exhibit at French Theory. To mark the event, he produced a limited edition of signed illustrations that you can find at the hotel in the Galerie Qui Monte, the rooms and our concept store.