ador & sémor
How can we present Ador & Semor, a duo of artists from Nantes working together for nearly 10 years, without mentioning their complicity and their incredible ability to share it with others? Each having their respective universes and their own inspirations, they nevertheless manage to bring them to life regularly in a common way in the composition of large frescoes in the heart of the city and the Nantes region. As part of the “Parade, stroll and distortion” project started during the Journey to Nantes 2016, they have undertaken the multiplication of these large-scale projects in different neighbourhoods, designing and carrying them out with all interested residents, children and the elderly, curious people of all ages wishing to put colour on the walls. Beyond street-art and the richness of the universe, Ador & Semor represent a beautiful vision of artists in the city, conscious of their luck, in love with their Art and turned towards others.
How did you become Urban Art artists? Did your Fine Arts studies influence your career path?
Semor/ Working outdoors has always been fun: the pleasure of being with friends, spending afternoons painting and sharing. Fine Arts didn’t trigger anything because this practice was already in place, even if the fact that we could take the time to question ourselves and do research may have allowed us to evolve differently. However, they have always been reticent, even hostile, to projects of frescoes, walls, street art.
Ador/ Personally, I was developing a work in which I was very involved. When they made it clear to me that I had to keep my adolescent delusions to myself, I took them at their word and that’s how I’m flourishing now. Even today, the Fine Arts still often retain the idea that there would be a separation between one “institutional” art and another, and do not stimulate practices that differ from their own.
So your taste for painting on the street comes from those youth outings?
Semor/ Rather than talking about the street, I would say that we like above all to share images, to spend time researching sketchbooks, to discuss them, to look at the walls without knowing in advance the possible result. It’s very nice to get up early to go on a mission with friends looking for a wall to paint on.
Ador/ I envy music groups that can share a common artistic intention. The physical support of the wall is big enough for several people to work together at the same time. The street is also a free and dynamic space for these collective works: these projects bring together those who are happy and there to do it, as well as those who are not happy or are not there for that!
Ador, your universe is made up of a gallery of characters that you make evolve in an animated world that can notably remind you of Wallace and Gromit.
Ador/ I try to transcribe by drawing the things I live in everyday life. It’s an extension of what I express orally which allows me to fix the thoughts or reactions I may have episodically. When I draw, each piece allows me to deepen my research. Taking a step back in a second step allows me to see what comes out of it, especially this cartoon aspect. Through this work I have a great desire to communicate, to tell stories, to joke and make people smile. So yes, I find myself in the world of artists like Albert Dupontel or Tim Burton.
In the short films Eratus, Belicus and Morbus Fabula, the main character sees his human feelings come up against impossibilities, which always lead him to death. Is there not a darker side to this comic aspect?
I’m artistically attracted to things that have a double meaning. In my images, I try to tell a story with a welcoming, rather soft and aesthetic aspect. If it can also allow a little reminder or mockery, that’s fine. The characters I create are symbolic and the fact that they represent common places allows for several interpretations. It’s surprising to see that commonplace is synonymous with public space: in any case it’s something obvious. The main character in these three short films, a bearded man in pyjamas, may remind us of a wizard or Santa Claus, who will be subjected to ordinary adventures that are made fun of, such as selling bananas to make a few bucks.
Semor, your work is more about accumulation and evokes Jerome Bosch or Arman.
Semor/ I always have the new realists in the corner of my head. Accumulation allows me to make bits of life or objects, more or less hard things, identifiable by fragments. The reading of the work requires an effort on the part of the spectator.
We like to work together because the apprehension of our images is going to be done in two steps, and allow us to stop there. Technically, I’m attached to really rough lines of drawings. I find that with black and white there is no artifice because it allows you to feel energy and instinct through the line. Thus, I feel I can better identify the work of an artist with brief sketches that show whether the person is very technical or clumsy.
Development of an artistic collaboration
When did you start working together? What is the advantage of being two?
We’ve been producing images together for ten years, and we’ve been working on professional projects for six or seven years. It’s very stimulating to work together while keeping your own world. As soon as we have a project, we talk to each other about it, but it is above all a question of pleasure: without institutions or money, we would still paint.
Why do you want to remain anonymous?
We want our work to remain autonomous and independent of us. We are not here to be the third protagonist of a finished image. Some people complete their work with their person, to the point that it sometimes takes up more space than the creation itself. This is a bias that is not ours, and we are too often disappointed when we meet artists. The starting point of a work must remain the desire to propose a work that speaks to people about itself.
How do you maintain a balance between your styles?
It’s important for everyone to have their own style, otherwise we wouldn’t do it. A lot of artistic pairs merge in their work, but it’s precisely the fact that each one retains its identity that we like. The excitement comes from the fact that we always bring something different. If a joint painting is planned and one of the two breaks a leg for a fresco, the other will not take its place.
You also insist a lot on the “mobile” character of your work, without anchoring it in a predefined place.
Mobility allows you to be surprised and to put yourself in danger by going outside your comfort zone. It means painting in different contexts, facing people who will have different reactions. Changing the conditions of creation will allow new encounters. You never know what to expect: while you might have preconceived ideas about China or the United States, the things that remain in your mind are sometimes very different from what you might have imagined before. Painting abroad also means adapting one’s vocabulary or the images offered. We won’t allow ourselves to do the same thing depending on the context, to try to entertain without shocking, without harming anyone, or even the world as much as possible.
You also put your universe forward, where other urban artists prefer an immediately recognizable figure.
The Art world today forces you to be identifiable but there is an easy way to mix visual identification and development of a universe. Two types of artists remain in the memory: those who have found a trademark that they can infinitely adapt and those whose artistic personality is such that no matter what they do they will be identifiable.
Facing the wall: the painting of a fresco
You paint a lot of murals. In this case, is it the size of the wall that will determine the format of the work?
Ador/ Sometimes I have an urge to paint and project a sketch on a postage stamp while thinking about where to do it. If the wall format I have at my disposal does not lend itself to this, I will, for example, allow myself to lengthen the nose of the character to adapt it to the space.
Ador & Semor/ The image must be well arranged in relation to the wall. It also needs to be adapted, because of its roughness or surface. This creates surprises at the time of painting, and ensures that something always happens. Adapting, racking our brains so as not to come up with a ready-made idea, is what is most pleasant, and that is why we like to be two. The important thing is not to know if the result is successful or not, but to have an idea in mind before the realization, and to make sure that it is about as good as we imagined it would be.
So, do you improvise once you’re there or prepare your fresco beforehand?
Ador/ For my part, the more I prepare myself, the more efficient I am in front of the wall. If I leave it to chance, I’ll have to do it again. In fact, I know at least the main lines and the composition of my drawing. I don’t mind doing the same thing three times, and I don’t think it’s enough to get bored. Even if it’s a very precise sketch that I spent hours on, I’d be happy to do it again on a wall to make sure the message is getting through.
Semor/ I’m much less prepared, which usually leaves him a lot of time! I find it less exciting to have his sketch ready to be reproduced on the wall, because then you already know the final result and it leaves less room for surprises. So I always try to keep a certain amount of freedom, even if we agree on the general composition, while keeping the possibility to add details or dedications afterwards.
Ador/ I often add a yellow detail, like a banana or a piece of Swiss cheese. This can take us quite far: for example, if I want to paint animals, I may want to represent a penguin copulating with a banana.
Semor/ And then we’ll end up with a seal and a pineapple…
Ador/ But we’ll be happy because we were in agreement and in cahoots at the time.
Semor. What’s annoying are the surprises. When I don’t want him to add something, I erase it, but then I realize it’s reappeared. And even if I take it off again two days later, I know that the next day it will be there.
Ador/ We did a mural of a horse stealing an amphora. I absolutely wanted to add a piece of Swiss cheese because I thought it was important that there was a third element that interfered with the reading. It’s quite free but I’m sure it takes the viewer to another possible reading.
Semor/ And I think we made some very intellectual connections about this Swiss cheese that you missed.
How do you see these rather perennial frescoes in relation to the ephemeral nature of Urban Art?
We don’t stay stuck on the finished works but try to evolve. In a public place, some things stay, others don’t, so some frescoes disappear more or less naturally depending on the context. If there can be a game with someone who adds an element to transform our work into an exquisite corpse, so much the better. It’s not for us to judge whether our piece deserves to be preserved: if it is the case, so much the better, because it’s an additional memory. But the goal is always to share images, regardless of the medium and its durability.
Parade, stroll and distortion
You start the project Parade, ride and distortion during the Journey to Nantes 2016. Could you go back over its genesis?
After receiving support from the city of Nantes and the French Institute for a month and a half trip to the United States, we told ourselves that we had to do something in our city. The idea was to do more than our usual scattered frescoes, and to create an event in Nantes itself.
We first wanted to show our research, which takes up a lot of our time and is the very essence of our work. That’s when we discovered the Alain Le Bras workshop, a singular place by its architecture, in which we immediately imagined an exhibition. We wanted to transpose our universe into formats and volumes other than those of the street. The second part of this great project was a fresco in consultation with the inhabitants, so from the very beginning we thought about how to involve them.
Inhabitants are at the heart of your approach, and you are pushing them to reappropriate urban space, as in the fresco The Researcher, painted with children in Orvault.
It was envisaged that this project would be institutional and general public, to get away from the usual wild graffiti. In the beginning, we tried to get in touch with neighbourhood parties to talk about the project. Then we had times of exchange with the inhabitants to discuss together what the neighbourhood represents, what bothers them, what they like. We then try to transform their ideas into images and build a model with them. Of course there were also workshop times, because the little ones want to get involved.
Such a project creates a social link between the inhabitants.
We wanted to offer our enthusiasm in the hope that it could participate in the life of the city, but we were not sure of our coup. When about fifty people were there to paint, it was huge! It’s interesting to make a format big enough to really be part of the landscape, not a small intention but something voluntary, on a par with an architecture or a building. The inhabitants will live with it and they often prefer to have a wall with a little bit of colour rather than something dull or grey.
What were their reactions?
Showing pictures in a public place is always a pretext for reaction and discussion. Indeed, as a free and available place, the street makes returns instantaneous and spontaneous, all the more so as a work in a public space is made to challenge everyone, even at different levels of reading.
However, this encounter usually happens by chance. One paints, which arouses the curiosity of passers-by and creates an exchange. Here, these positive and negative feedbacks are also made upstream. Very often, we are surprised by the interpretations of the passers-by. But it’s a good surprise because these are things we hadn’t thought of, a part that had escaped us.
How did you choose the places in which to install your murals? Traffic is one hundred and forty metres long and seven metres high.
We presented to the different partners the places we wanted the most, such as the location of the Trafic fresco, which we hadn’t been able to obtain before, or that of the Rezé castle. We chose the others as we wandered around, adjusting our choices as the project progressed. Trafic thus became the appealing work of a larger group in the priority districts. The periphery is less well served than the city centre as far as Urban Art is concerned, and we wanted our frescoes not to remain on the edge but to be at the heart of the neighbourhoods.