At all times, my acts and my actions in life have stemmed from love
or eroticism, as you like it
Pierre Molinier, The Shaman and its Creatures
The Richard Saltoun Gallery is one of London’s most provokative art spaces, infamous for celebrating some of the 20th century most visceral artists in regards to the body and performance. So it was of great pleasure to discover that they have curated a solo exhibition of French artist Pierre Molinier’s photographs and paintings.
Molinier, being an artists of extortionate amounts of guts, taboo and originality paved the way for us to question how and what we consider shocking within art. The works on show are titilating in their obscure perversity; limbs, dildos and mannequin masks create Molinier’s bodies of odd exhibition, calling vulgar attraction with their fetishistic eroticism. So, to celebrate this exhibition we spoke to the curators of the exhibition, Giulia Casalini and Niamh Coghlan about Molinier’s bizarre but beguiling life and work to find out more about him and his work.
Reba – How long have you been planning this exhibition for?
Niamh- Probably for about six or seven months. We did a show before called Transformer last year where we had some of his works in that exhibition and ever since that show we’ve been buying up the works. As you know Molinier has become the new hit on the block since the Biennale. He is becoming much more of a household name as probably about four years ago that wasn’t necessarily the case.
Do you feel that Molinier is important to associate the gallery with?
Niamh – He fits a lot of what we focus on which tends to be artists that are exploring the body, performance, gender and sex, and doing it at a time when they weren’t supposed to be doing it. Particularly for Molinier, he was super progressive. You see other artists like Salvadore Dali who you could say was working in the same timeframe but its not as radical. Molinier is not an easy figure to like in any ways. There’s the story of when his sister died at the age of 18, he took photos of the corpse and then had sex with her dead body.
Is that true?
Giulia– He says so, we never know. We never know what’s true or not. He made interviews and recordings and every time he contradicts himself.
So everything was a performance, where does the reality and falsity end?
Giulia – He started quite early. His father was painting interiors and he took the work of his father. He started as an interior painter and he dropped that work and had a return to a more magical phase as a painter. In 1936 two Tibetan monks came to him out of nowhere and asked him to paint mandalas but not to say anything to anybody; he was born on a certain day in 1900 with the turn of the Century and he was ‘the one’ and the only one that could paint these paintings that these monks wanted.
How did they find him?
Giulia-They were monks from France, so they came from Paris to Bordeaux. Molinier was already active in the arts and he was painting and organising the Salon des Indépendants , the counterpart of the official salon, he organised that in Bordeaux when he moved there with his family, so he was a curator as well. His name would be in the artist’s list of France so these monks were told to research and go to him. Then he joined the Masonic Brotherhood and that’s why there’s a Masonic symbol in a lot of his works. In his house there are papers with lots of different signs and each sign has a meaning. He was using them in his signature also in his other paintings to convey certain meanings that were linked to magic and free masonry. He was not feeling he was part of the Surrealists but he was much more supported by them.
Niamh- because he was so radical people found it difficult to place him, therefore Surrealism seemed to be the movement that worked most with what he was doing. Andre Breton supported his first solo show and from that moment on he became much more well known and exhibited more widely. Molinier and Breton had a close relationship. He didn’t want to pin himself down or identify with a certain movement.
Even to this day he still doesn’t seem to belong to any particular movement. Obviously people have been very inspired by him but he hasn’t been tied down.
Niamh – I suppose the closest and most common comparison he gets is with Robert Mapplethorpe but that still seems so off.
Niamh- Everything. To the very sense he made his own clothes, he’d buy female corsets, he would take them apart and deconstruct them to fit the male body’s wider ribcage; he’d take them to a Peruvian shoemaker and have 10 inch steel spikes put on them to support his body weight because obviously they’re made for females.
Everything was meticulous
Giulia- Even the way he was producing the artworks themselves was individual because he was making love with the mannequins, ejaculating in the paint and then painting with that. Everything was driven by life, his life.
Niamh – That’s why the models he used were so special to him. He had very specific models that he used. It wasn’t like he had 50 different life models coming in and they were friends and they were lovers, they were very close to him. Luciano Castelli is actually the one exception perhaps in that he only worked with him for one week, whilst the other models were working with Pierre for quite a long time.
Giulia – There is a model called Emmanuelle who wrote a pornographic novel and he found it in a porn shop and somehow he found the writer who was living in Bangkok, they started having a written relationship between France and Thailand.
Niamh – He would actually ask her to produce images in a certain way and then send them back.
And she did that?
Giulia – Yes. He was giving her paintings as a gift. They had a strong relationship.
Did they ever meet in person?
Niamh – Not to our knowledge though
What about his own personal romantic relationships?
Niamh- He married, he had children, he divorced. He almost killed his wife and the cousin of the first wife.
What was the situation with his children, surely they’re still alive?
Niamh – Yes Francois Molinier is.
Giulia – The first wife, Dominque left him and she took away the son but she left the daughter with the father due to her jealously of her own daughter. Molinier is a very contradictory figure and not really politically correct. He was doing dirty business on the side at a striptease club , The Texas bar, with mafia associations.
During his lifetime it seems improbable that he would have been able to be financially dependent on his work, so was his day to day business was running this Texas bar?
Giulia – He did make money from his artwork too.
So people were buying his work at the time? Who?
Giulia – Among the Surrealists, we have a painting that belonged to André Malreaux . During his lifetime he was respected and was selling work to private collections. Some of his income would come from his property’s grounds, fruits and vegetables.
I suppose what I find interesting is to this day his work is still deemed so shocking. I still get taken aback by some of these images, even in a society so engulfed in pornography. Thinking of what society was like fifty years ago and how much more Conservative it was, it is quite incredible that he was able to live his life as he did and especially interesting that people were buying this extreme work.
Niamh – It is but if you look at his paintings are an important part of his work, he would never of said he was a sole photographer he was always a painter and a photographer. His paintings are quite soft and delicate. They’re slightly less aggressive.
It’s not quite literal pornography
Giulia – There was a big scandal during one of the salons and they censored his painting and had to put a curtain in front of his painting just before the opening. After this he protested and wasn’t showing any more with the salon. It was still controversial at the time but the subject was more abstract.
How many pieces of his work are you going to be showing at the exhibition?
Niamh – About fifty, we’ve got one painting, two drawings and about fifty photographs
You’ve been sourcing them from all different places I suspect.
Niamh- Yes, from private collections and dealers over the course of the past year and a half, two years.
Did he have any journals that we know of?
Niamh – I’m less familiar with his writing but they are with the estate
Who looks after the estate?
Niamh – His heir, his daughter Francoise.
The works are obviously incredibly sexual but how much of it is pure fantasy? Do you think he explored his sex in work and domesticated life beyond the bedroom? What do we know about that?
Giulia – There wasn’t much happening in Bordeaux at that time, he made it. He said in a letter he wanted ‘to make the world his brothel’.
Who do you think he was inspired by in terms of his own sexuality, Marquis de Sade, Bataille, Bellmer, that excessiveness, is there some kind of link?
Niamh – Bellmer would be interesting due to the use of the doll as Molinier used dolls in his work as well. There’s one model with a doll face that he uses quite prolifically through his work. He would’ve been, one imagines, influenced by de Sade and artists such as that but in terms of …
Giulia – He was influenced by poetry a lot, like Rimbaud. Most of all the refusal social convention and Christianity… He got fed up with this reality so he just made up his own.
There must be stories of the trouble and controversy he got himself in though?
Niamh – Even his death by suicide was controversial in this way. Especially the story about his sister.
Was there an uproar about his work’s content when exhibited? There must’ve been so much disgust over his work.
Niamh – During his lifetime he was showing the paintings and not the photographs
Did he ever show the photographs in his lifetime?
Niamh – Yes.
Giulia – I’m not sure how much though. The only exhibition he had in his life was with Breton and it was a monograph exhibition and he didn’t want photographs shown.
There’s a huge difference in exhibiting these drawings which are technically fictional and the photographs which are physically acted out. Obviously they’re so entwined.
Giulia – It was kind of stage performance. It was part of the whole process of creating the paintings. At the end of his life he stopped painting and he was doing more photographs than painting. Also symbolically for him painting was more related to a dead drive and photography to a life drive. All the paintings are more dark in the content and heavy themes. Whereas the photographs are created with more of a joyful drive. Paradoxically approaching life and death in his photographs. He was very much influenced by his beliefs that we don’t know much about the free masonry or the brotherhood he was affiliated with as they’re all very different. He certainly showed his paintings more than his photographs, he was creating the photographs with intimate friends, they were never quite ready. He kept on reworking on everything, nothing was ever finished.
Obviously his influence is huge but do you have any examples of people who you feel have been intrinsically affected by his work?
Niamh – Genesis Breyer P-Orridge
Can you give me an example of how Genesis has been inspired by Molinier?
Niamh – The interlacing of gender and breaking its boundaries. Not being afraid to restructure your appearance and sexuality in a distinct way.
Who are you hoping to come to the exhibition? As you said the Venice Biennale has given claim to his work but he does seem to be becoming more and more popular. That also has a resemblance with the current interest in gender and performance that’s happening at the moment. Like the huge change in the Trans movement that’s pioneering.
Giulia – People from the fetish world, of course. He definitely attracts a certain type of community.
The Temptations of Pierre Molinier is on at Richard Saltoun Gallery, London until the 2nd October
More information can be found here.
The exhibition is open now and runs until the 5th of October 2015.
It is open from Monday – Friday, from 10am – 6pm