Jordane Saget is a chalk artist who roams the streets of Paris to draw his arabesques on the ground or on the walls. His wavy chalk lines have gradually established a dialogue with the inhabitants, to become today one of the markers of Parisian street-art. With this artist, we address the ephemeral nature of the chosen material, but also the aesthetic possibilities offered by erasing. Finally, we will come back to the importance he gives to meeting the public, to the point of wanting to focus his new work as close as possible to people, by working on their windows.
Birth of the line
What was the starting point of your artistic career?
I started these lines without an artistic approach, so I didn’t feel like an artist. That was five years ago, on paper, with very fine lines. After two years spent experimenting at home, during a rather complicated period of my life, my entourage encouraged me to go for a walk. But I had never learned to walk: why would I go out? Wondering what I could do outdoors, I thought about reproducing what I did indoors. I was rather reserved and didn’t want to disturb or make it look like something bad was going on. I chose chalk for this, thinking that by working on the floor it would disappear very quickly without bothering anyone. So I started drawing on the floor and on the walls, before after six months an artistic look emerged. I realized that there was an interaction between my work and people and I asked myself the first questions about the city, the erasure, the ephemeral nature of my drawings…
Why did you choose the line as a pattern and decide to draw three? What determines its thickness?
The thickness of the line is eight millimetres, the thickness of crushed chalk. Graphically I have no particular training, I didn’t draw when I was younger. I liked Vasarely-like geometric shapes, and reproduced straight lines, triangles and squares in the margins. I was looking for some kind of mathematical magic formula to make it beautiful. Going back to it ten years later, I put aside the straight line to go towards the curve, which is free and not predefined. This idea may have come from my practice of Tai Chi-Chuan, or it is central to my practice. But how do you exploit this idea? I began to manipulate two lines, before I realized that there was a dimension missing from my work, a third dimension, which gave birth to the third line. I understood through this progressive reflection that I had found a subject that I could dig into for years.
Is your street work prepared in advance or spontaneous?
Before I didn’t really know when to stop. There are no rules, it can depend on the place, whether the frame is already defined or not. I also adapt myself according to the time or the meetings. Talking with someone for thirty minutes or the sun going down can also play a role. The dominant lines are due to the speeding up that slightly offsets the third line, giving a kind of choreographic aspect to my work. In the beginning, I used to start with the dominant lines before filling in the rest, but the metro has changed that, and I can now alternate between the two. Indeed, I never knew in the subway how long I would have before I was stopped, but if I did, the drawing had to be finished. That taught me to work very quickly, whereas a large fresco on the ground can sometimes take up to five or six hours.
The city and its spaces
How do you see the city as a space?
I continue my street work but today I want to open a new chapter in my career by drawing in people’s homes. As I walked around, I wondered how the city was divided into surfaces: floor, wall and windows. What I find extraordinary about the window is that it only represents a few millimetres but nevertheless separates the outside from the inside, the public from the private, the street from the intimate. This reflection on the glass and on the city will change my work perspective. Maybe people will call me to draw in their homes, so I will enter their intimacy. It will be a photographic project with my lines in red thread.
How will you proceed?
I will use the white of Meudon, a very fine chalk powder, which disappears if you touch it. Mixed with water and applied to the glass, it stabilizes as it dries. It was previously used to clean mirrors. This will also raise the question of street art, because my work will be visible from the street even though it was done indoors. One might wonder if it is still urban art. It will remain a street work because it will be free and I will go to people’s homes all over Paris. The person will have a very fragile work, potentially ephemeral, but which, if it is not touched, will be able to resist for months.
What impact has photographing your work had on your work?
It has changed my way of working enormously. Now, I almost visualize the photography before making the mural. The image brings something else to my work, and I consider that there are now two works, the lines and the photography. In fact, it is not an archival image: sometimes I don’t take a picture because I know that it will not render visually, or that it is not justified. However, I always choose the place according to the lines rather than the possible frame. I’ve drawn so much on sidewalks or manhole covers that I won’t photograph them, but the lines can have their place in these places to be in the heart of the street and the flow of passers-by. I want to see if people react to them or not, if they step on them when all it would take is a very slight diversion to avoid them. I would love to study these behaviours as a contemporary artist and therefore I feel like an experimenter or researcher in my street work. I am interested in the meaning and experience of the viewer.
So your relationship to places has evolved?
At the very beginning I was looking for places to draw in. Today I prefer to concentrate on quality. I’m beginning to understand that what happens in the street takes time. It’s not because they’re not spectacular that stories aren’t written. At first, when I was told about Art and that there were people who seemed ready to die for it, I didn’t understand it. Gradually, I realized that Art is a very beautiful opening to discover the universe, to discover oneself and to discover others. You can experiment a lot and that’s how I see this project related to windows: a new field of possibilities.
What is the difference with your other forms of work?
I try to bring together the different uses I make of my drawings. I consider that if they are the same lines, they are not the same work. When I’m in a private home, I’m going to use my outdoor experience of space management to ask myself how the person evolves and moves. But I’m also interested in creating with furniture that is part of the design process. This very pure work is more graphic than street work, which is more experimental. Indeed, the street layout has given them a very physical curvature, formed by the shoulder or hip joint.
Chalk, a fragile and graphic material
Chalk is a particular material, doubly ephemeral due to its intrinsic fragility and the temporality of street art.
That’s what I thought as a neophyte. From experience, I can say that chalk doesn’t fade that quickly. If it lasts three or four days on the ground, I realized that the concept of fragility and ephemerality did not apply to the wall. If you don’t touch it and the wall is sheltered, it holds very well. I appreciate this double temporality of a material that is at the same time extremely fragile but which, under certain conditions, can last. When I met Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, he explained to me that some of his angels were ten years old. So I sometimes pass in front of some of my first frescoes, like the one at the top of the rue Tombe-Issoire, which has been there for two years.
In two and a half years, I must have produced more than nine hundred frescoes. I’m told that I’m everywhere, whereas now I work a lot on the floor and less on the walls. It’s precisely because the chalk is holding and the frescoes are still there. They’re getting older, but they don’t fade away completely. At first, it hurt me to see them fade and I thought I would come back myself to erase them. Now I find them beautiful and I’ve learned to appraise them to see how the rain fell on them, or how people touched them. From now on, a big part of my work will be on this theme of erasing.
Can the graphical aspect of the lines refer to a mathematical obsession like M.C. Escher’s drawings?
At the very beginning it is true that they were tangled, but this is no longer the case. I wondered why I necessarily wanted them to follow each other, locked in a kind of mental framework that took me a year and a half to get past. You could imagine them diving in and coming out at another end of the picture. I love Escher’s work, and in my drawings we find a mathematical aspect, but not a rigid one: rather an ordered disorder. I see my lines as a kind of DNA, like human beings all made of the same thing and yet all different. In this respect they still surprise me.
What is striking about the lines is their clean, almost primitive graphic appearance.
At one time I wanted to make them more complex, but now they are very pure, even if I sometimes make variations. People, perhaps according to their own roots, have compared them to all the primitive arts on the planet: I was told that they evoked Aboriginal, Amazonian or even Celtic art. I think that this primitive aspect and simplicity gives them a universal dimension. Many people tell me that the lines soothe them. I’ve been thinking about this idea, and I think that everywhere in the city where you look there is an injunction. There is always a meaning or a demand. If they soothe, maybe it’s because they don’t ask for anything.
Lines and the Public: Building a Relationship
How do you record your urban work over time?
People ask me why I don’t draw in cities other than Paris. I would if I went on a trip, but creating a non-verbal dialogue with the inhabitants as I managed to do here takes a lot of time. You have to be able to fit in enough with everyday life to create intimacy and sharing. If I were to draw elsewhere I would have to start this work again. On the other hand, perhaps I would be identified too quickly. But this relationship is what is really interesting for me. I want to continue what I have set up here, especially since I feel the link with Art Nouveau. My arabesques fit in well, I know the city well and I like the dialogue with the Parisians. At the beginning I wanted to be all over Paris, but I don’t want to add lines in neighbourhoods where others are already getting older. As in any relationship, you need moments of respite and I don’t want to saturate the landscape. Perhaps one day I would like to be able to perform with the public.
How do you interact with this audience?
It’s great, some people recognize you and others don’t know anything about you. People are kind, they stop to pay compliments, to say they’ve finally found me. That’s also why I didn’t sign at first. We often want to go faster than the music, and the relationship to time is important. There are two dialogues that interest me: the one with the people I meet, but also the non-verbal one that I create through the lines. The first interaction with my work was a boat at the Oberkampf station. Why not before? There had to be a maturation, a time of appropriation, and the result was wonderful. From there people came to write inside, children came to colour. As a result, I now create spaces, like bubbles in the subway, to invite the public to interact. Taggers came to draw, with a form of mutual respect. The white of Meudon appeared thanks to an interaction. Some taggers must have wanted to tag me, but without any equipment they had the idea of using their fingers to erase the chalk. After being surprised, I thought it was great to draw with one’s finger and wondered how to apply it. The white of Meudon was the answer. These lines are mine, but in the street they belong to everyone and become a kind of collective work.
The lines also make it possible to create collaborations with other artists.
The collaboration with Jean-Charles de Castelbajac has been self-made. For the little story, there was a place in Alesia where one of his angels occupied a superb spot. I used to pass by there every week, thinking about how I would have liked to draw there and meet the artist. One day, the angel was erased and, while I could draw there, I didn’t, out of respect. After that I met the creator of this angel. I would also love to work with choreographers, around dance or music.