GILLES BLANCHARD: French Artist & Painter from Pierre et Gilles

40 ans-Autoportrait, 2016. Photo Pierre et Gilles

“Our work explores the difference between individuals and shows people the beauty in homosexuality, and that is very important to us…”

TRQ: Gilles Blanchard Born December 9, 1953

As part of the art duo Pierre et Gilles, Gilles Blanchard is a French artist and painter who has made a genre-spanning impact in the worlds of art, fashion, and entertainment. Together with Pierre Commoy, Blanchard has worked with such cultural icons as Madonna, Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol, fashion designers Thierry Mugler and Jean Paul Gaultier. Their blend of photography and paint is sensual and instantly recognisable, and their style references the visually familiar to arrive at work that is uniquely theirs.

Gilles Blanchard was born in Le Havre, a port city in the Normandy region of France, in 1953. He earned his diploma at Ecole des Beaux-Arts du Havre in the early 1970s. In 1973, he corresponded with artist Annette Messager and then moved to Paris. There he painted, made collages, and worked as an illustrator for magazines and advertisements.

Blanchard’s relationship with Pierre Commoy began in the autumn of 1976, when they met at the boutique opening for the fashion house Kenzo. They soon moved in together in Rue des Blancs-Manteaux in a flat that doubled as a studio. By 1977, they were working together: Gilles started painting on the surfaces of Pierre’s photographs printed on canvas.

Grimaces, their first series, features their friends as models. In 1978 Pierre et Gilles produced invites and posters for Le Palace, the disco cafe theatre. In 1979, they worked for the first time with Thierry Mugler, and produced fashion ads, magazine editorials, and record sleeves. That year, they also travelled to India, which proved to be influential in their work. In 1983, Pierre et Gilles had their first solo exhibition, at Galerie Texbraun in Paris with Les Paradis and Les Garçons

Pierre et Gilles create in the language of artifice and draw from painting, porn, film, fashion, portraiture, and tableaux to put together a narrative story for each work. Their saints series appeared for the first time in 1986, in Naufrages and Pleureuses exhibited at Galerie Samie Saouma. This series tells the story of miracles and presents other religious themes. Other work explores history and mythology.

Though their work is dreamlike and provocative, it also engages with complex socio-political themes like AIDS, war, and same sex marriage. However, for Pierre et Gilles, the subject’s beauty—often male and nude—is never lost. Always present is their gay and culturally aware point of view, and their queer perspective on beauty, sensuality, and culture is often front and centre. Their men are beautiful but romantically hunt, cruise, and suffer in playful dismantlings of masculinity. Women in their work, who’ve included Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Nina Hagen, Naomi Campbell, Catherine Deneuve, and Tilda Swinton, are presented as nostalgic, glamorous, camp, and mythic.

Throughout their work, the duo creates visual pop art poetry that mixes imagery, styles, references, and genres and straddles the line between the divine and the banal, the beautiful and the smutty, the fantastic and the real. They have painted actors, porn stars, artists, friends, and family, all of whom are invited to be photographed on life-size sets in the studio, which has moved from Rue des Blancs-Manteaux to the Bastille quarter, to Pres-Saint Gervais over the years.

In 1993, Pierre et Gilles were awarded the Grand Prix de Photographie de Paris. After producing Au Born du Mekong in Laos and Boxeurs Thai in Bangkok in 1994, they designed the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras posters. In 1996, Maison Europeenne de la Photographie held their first retrospective featuring thematic scenographies. It was an immense success. In 1997, the duo contributed to Mike Aho’s documentary, Pierre et Gilles, Love Stories.

In 2000, the New Museum in New York and the Yerba Buena in San Francisco held major Pierre et Gilles retrospectives. It was a triumph. That year, they also befriended James Bidgood and Kenneth Anger. Their first retrospective in Asia came in 2004.

“Since the 80s, we’ve received many letters from gay youths in China, Russia and beyond telling us that we gave them confidence by depicting their desires in a positive light,” said Commoy. “That’s so precious to us.”

Today they continue to live and work in the Parisian suburbs producing 12 to 15 pieces a year.

Shigo in ‘Papillon du soir’, 2022. Photo Pierre et Gilles
Pierre et Gilles et Toto, 2020. Photo Pierre et Gilles
Pierre et Gilles attend the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, 2015. Photo Loic Venance, AFP via Getty Images
Olivier Rousteing in ‘Magical Mirror’, 2015. Photo Pierre et Gilles
Kylie Minogue with Pinto, Sébastien, Abdallah, Samuel, Nicolas in ‘La vierge aux serpents’, 2008. Photo Pierre et Gilles
Jean-Paul Gaultier in ‘De la rue aux étoiles’, 2014. Photo Pierre et Gilles
Gilles Blanchard in ‘Autoportrait en Président’, 2011. Photo Pierre et Gilles
Frederic Lenfant in ‘Bubbles shower’, 1997. Photo Pierre et Gilles
Danya Nikiforov in ‘C’était le Paradis’, 2022. Photo Pierre et Gilles
40 ans-Autoportrait, 2016. Photo Pierre et Gilles

About the Authors

Troy Wise is currently a PhD student at UAL Central St Martins and teaches fashion and graphic design at London College of Contemporary Arts. His background is in marketing and is founder and co-editor of Image Amplified. He lives in, and is continually fascinated by, the city of London.

Rick Guzman earned his most recent MA at UAL Central St Martins in Applied Imagination in the Creative Industries. He currently holds two MA’s and an MBA in the New Media, Journalism and International Business fields. Co-editor at Image Amplified since its start, he lives in London, is fascinated by history and is motivated by continuing to learn and explore.

Sources:

CNN

Forbes

GLBTQ Archive

Iris Covet Book

Luxo

Ocula

Pierre et Gilles: Sailors & Sea

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