A Conversation with JEAN LABOURDETTE aka TURF 1
By Lori Zimmer
The first work I’d ever seen by Jean Labourdette–aka Turf 1–was a big, fat guy at Fuse Gallery at the back of Lit. Literally called “The Great Fat Fuck,” the life size wood cut out was so realistic that I found myself saying “Ewwwww!”–not my usual reaction to a piece of art work, but this piece was so grotesque that I could almost smell his stinky pits.
Jean’s work takes the picture out of a picture plane. His hyper-real portraits, often of mustachioed tattooed men, are brought to the next level by incorporating antiques and vintage cabinets into the actual piece, making a cross between painting and sculpture. The resulting pieces combine the gilded style of Renaissance religious art with the aging beer bellied tattooed post-hipsters from the local bar.
I met the Montreal-based Frenchman a few years after I’d seen the giant fat man piece, expecting him to be as tough and gruff as the brutes he paints. But instead, Jean is just the opposite–a well-spoken, nice guy who I bonded with over an open gin bar in Miami (it didn’t hurt that I somehow speak French after a few drinks).
I’ve seen his career grow, from the small gallery in the back of a bar to sold out shows across the globe. His work has become bigger and better, challenging the dimensions more than ever with figures slipping from 2D to 3D, then back to 2D again, like a scene from Johnny Depp’s head out of Fear and Loathing.
His latest and greatest milestones have been having the most adorable baby ever–and a show at the Halle St-Pierre Museum in Paris. Things are on the up for Turf.
Lori Zimmer: Your work seamlessly toes the line between 2-dimensionality and 3-dimensionality. It is not quite painting, but also not sculpture. When did you adopt this style? How did it come about?
Jean Labourdette: I have always been obsessed with bringing my characters to life and with bringing them to existence within the real world. I can trace back the roots of this approach to several origins. I used to love puppet theatres, pop-up books, and all that kind of stuff as a kid. Basically, objects that would transgress the given limitations of their own kinds, that would exist beyond their frame, therefore creating a passage between fiction and reality. Later on, as a graffiti artist, I got really into creating life-size characters interacting with the architecture of the space they were painted in, again mixing reality and fiction and blurring the lines between those two realms. So there was already the notion of this interaction between 2-dimensionality and 3-dimensionality at that point as I was painting 2D fictional characters and giving them a 3 dimensional “real” world to exist in. From that point, creating life-size characters interacting with the space of a gallery or a museum was a natural evolution.
LZ: You also work a lot with vintage cabinets. What brought on that influence? Where do you find them?
JL: Well, during my graffiti days, I started collecting found objects while visiting those forgotten places and using them as a starting point and base of my artwork, creating pieces as an answer to what those objects were inspiring to me. Using antiques and vintage cabinets is an extension of that. Cabinets become small sideshow and cabaret stages, life-size windows opened for the viewer to stare into a different reality. They become doors between two dimensions, between our world and the world created by my imagination.
I have much more fun picking an old cabinet and creating a piece from it as an answer to its own uniqueness than painting on a neutral, mass-produced blank canvas that has no soul of its own. It becomes a “dialogue” between the object and me, and this is this interaction that creates the piece.
LZ: You began as a graffiti artist, but now paint incredibly realistically; when did your skills transition from the streets into more serious work?
JL: Well, as I said, I’ve always been obsessed by giving life to my characters as much as I could. About ten years ago, I realized that in order to achieve that, I had to spend more time analyzing reality and applying that knowledge to my characters, which I did! The idea was that my pieces would almost become taxidermy pieces rather than paintings. Something like that, anyways.
LZ: You now have a little boy named Theo! Has fatherhood changed your work at all?
JL: Having Theo around has also changed me and my perspective on life so much that this is of course starting to change what I paint or want to paint! In essence, my work is very much about opposites and their dynamics in life, light and darkness, hope and despair, life and death, etc. The joy of having such a wonderful being in my life sometimes tend to influence the ratios in certain pieces!
LZ: That said, you’ve developed your own language of realism, Victorian influence, celebrity, and taxidermy. Have you noticed your work transitioning into a next phase?
JL: Thank you! That is a beautiful compliment. I think my work is constantly evolving and shifting without me being fully in command. My subconscious is steering the wheel, and I am often a somewhat clueless passenger. But yes, lately I have been interested in delving a little deeper in my practice of portraiture. I have a growing interest in capturing a glimpse of one’s soul through the study of the face.
LZ: What’s next for you ?
JL: I have two group shows this year with the BeinArt Collective–”Taboo” in July at Last Rites Gallery in NYC, and “Abnomalies”, in October with Copro in LA. My main focus show-wise is a two person exhibition with my friend Martin Wittfooth that will happen in the spring of 2013, which I am very very excited about. Martin and I have been discussing this for a few years, and it is finally happening!
I have also been developing a TV show project for a couple of years with my wife Marielle Quesney, a director herself and my friend Eric Cohen. The show is titled Karl’s Pathetic Theater and it combines various types of animation with live action. It is very much based on my aesthetics and characters. Story-wise, in a nutshell, it is the Muppet Show on crack. We have a teaser made and are now starting to shop around to get the show produced. Fingers crossed.
Jean Labourdette, aka Turf 1, lives in Montreal with his girlfriend, and baby boy Theo.
Written by Lori Zimmer
Edited by Meaghan Coffey
Portrait Photography by Emmanuelle Tricoire & Silvio Magaglio
Design by Marie Havens
(L) Jean Labourdette, aka Turf 1, (Color Portrait), Photography by Emmanuelle Tricoire
(R) Vanita, 2010, Acrylic on board and customized antique frame, 27″x17″x5″
(L & R): Apocalypse, 2010
Acrylic on panel and wood, doll parts, material, child shoes, taxidermy and antique wooden cabinet
Jean Labourdette, aka Turf 1, Portrait Photograph by Silvio Magaglio
Fate Toys With Man, 2010
Acrylic, gold leaf and engravings on wood, material, child shoes
Gypsy Midget with Holy Ghost, 2009
Acrylic and gold leaf on canvas
Jean qui Rit, Jean Qui Pleure (life-size), 2011
Installation at the Halle st-Pierre Museum, Paris, France. (Hey! Modern Art and Pop Culture exhibition)
Jack (2), 2010
Acrylic and gold leaf on board, antique frame
Acrylic on canvas
The Artist’s Unconscious Mind (Self-Portrait), 2010
Acrylic and gold leaf on panel
The Royal Arms, 2006
Acrylic and gold leaf on wood
Acrylic on board and customized antique frame