“By gluing, one overlaps, shows and hides at the same time. Now, the most banal wall was the object of a choice: that of the mason, that of the town planners who wanted it to be made of brick or painted. In judging this choice, we enter into both aesthetic and moral considerations. But what right do I have to cover this wall if people don’t want it?” Morèje’s work, as meticulous as it is discreet, constantly questions our relationship to time and the city wall. How can we create while respecting our predecessors and our contemporaries? How can we reinvent monumental art from the dawn of humanity? It is with patience and through a reflection on the medium he uses that the artist tries to offer us an answer.
How did you become an artist?
I’ve always done drawing, a field in which I was not accountable, contrary to what the school expected. At the time, I imagined myself as an artist-painter, with a hat and easel, painting on the motif like Cézanne. I first took classes from Paris to Montparnasse. I painted compositions, live models. I got my baccalaureate and the entrance exam to the Beaux-Arts, but I couldn’t follow both courses so I went to college because my parents thought it was more serious. I discovered contemporary art with avant-garde teachers like Michel Journiac and historians like Jean-Michel Palmier. It was an encounter with conceptual art, Daniel Buren, Richard Long and Land art.
After a master’s degree at Paris 1, I passed the Paris City Examination, then the Fine Arts Diploma. For three years I took courses in morphology, perspective, stained glass, textile, but also painting with Henri Cueco and Matthey de l’Etang. I studied mosaic, which was part of the painting curriculum, with Riccardo Licata who had been teaching since the 1960s. He was a painter who had always thought of his pictorial work on different media, which we found in his studio which was full of easels.
Then I discovered a medium. The mosaic is a collage, composed of materials, which allows you to work on anything, without being a simple copy of a painting. It allows you to play with the essence of the object. I started to make a mess in the workshop, breaking bottles, fetching coal on the quays of Seine. I realized that the mosaic had missed all the avant-gardes of the 20th century and contemporary art. Despite some transformations, it remained confined to an almost antique dimension. I quickly became interested in the very notion of medium, wondering about its different combinations. Almost naturally, I linked it to architecture and urban planning, and therefore went out around the Fine Arts to confront it with the environment. I thus considered myself more of a visual artist than a mosaic artist or a graffiti artist, evolving through modes of expression that corresponded to what I wanted to say. We can thus distinguish two main types of training among urban artists: those who came from the plastic arts such as Mesnager or VLP, and those who evolved after starting to graffiti.
The mosaic in urban art
You say that mosaic is a monumental art, i.e. it is not only used in large formats, but above all has a memory vocation. The medium itself is a bearer of memory.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a revival of the decorative arts in Paris. Stained glass, fresco and mosaic were then called monumental arts. This did not refer to a gigantic dimension, but to the fact that the mosaic, like the monument, is linked to memory. My second observation was that small creations can have as strong a semantic or visual impact as huge things: it all depends on what you do, how you do it and why you do it. These three parameters make it possible to challenge the spectator, which remains the primary goal of Art.
In this respect, our joint work with Zloty is interesting because with his Éphémères he has a rapidity at the level of gesture, while I bring this question of time by using the mosaic. I work in particular with the idea of covering, the idea of layers that one discovers when carrying out archaeological excavations. I had prepared supports that allow this articulation: the Ephemera appear either under the mosaic as an ancient thing that has just been revealed, or above it as graffiti. It’s a play on time and memory. The material itself raises this question, because you can work with industrial porcelain stoneware, but also with materials that may be several million years old: sometimes I use fossils! The tension thus created is interesting, because the mosaic, being a collage, makes it possible to assemble pieces from different times.
How do you catch the eye of the passer-by when your work is often small?
The public space allows direct communication, because the viewer is face to face with the work, but also indirect because I don’t know who will see it. However, my works are small, on a pedestrian scale, and are often positioned at eye level. Some are even at child’s height. My goal is not to perch them up so that they can’t be removed. Thus, some pieces are visible only from close up, while others are seen from further away. For example, I sometimes include small gold tesserae because I know they catch the light. It only takes one or two of them to make sure that as soon as a ray of sunlight passes the eye is caught, even two meters away. But this can also be the case with a dissonant or bright colour. In my opinion, the house or building is also part of the painting, in which I insert the room like a painter composes his canvas. I don’t always know the result when I start and the viewer can read this process by looking at the mosaic. The realization of the work in time is thus visible.
The mosaic also has the particularity of not being visible in the same way depending on the distance at which one stands.
The mosaic, like the pixels, works according to the principle of optical fusion: from a distance you have a colour, and from close to the points. What interests me is that the work can be perceived differently according to the distance at which one stands, just as in painting one finds an overall view and a view of details. If I want a blue effect, I’m not going to choose just one: I’m going to use greys, blue-green tones, lavender blues? Each element of the work was posed separately and was the subject of a decision. Duchamp used to say: Art is a series of choices. The positioning of an element is a choice that can be found when reading the work.
Reversibility and transience
“The choice of whether or not to use reversible mortars or adhesives cannot be dissociated from the work. (…) A collage, even a small one, shows and covers at the same time, hides or reveals. (…) Reversibility gives the possibility of erasing, of disappearance.” The reversible and non-perennial character is important in your approach.
Reversibility is important. It gives you the possibility of being able to get back to what you had before. This is what I learned from the maroufleurs at the Beaux-Arts, whose job is to fix one support to another. They taught us how to prepare dozens of different glues. Indeed, some 19th century glues were catastrophic because we could no longer remove them and if we wanted to remove the work we had to tear off the support. From now on, reversibility has become a fundamental rule in restoration. For stone walls I prepare a mortar which will maintain the piece but can be removed with a small chisel and a brush stroke. You can no longer see where my Courbet was installed in Place Vendôme because there is no trace of it. This reversible character allows to respect the support and the place.
While mosaic is a medium that could last, you choose to make it ephemeral.
The ephemeral character is part of the work. It is as important as the colour or the material. Even in the studio the colour of a canvas will evolve over time. Outdoors, the work is exposed to wear and tear. By gluing, one covers, shows and hides at the same time. But the fact of working outdoors also raises the question of the law. Even if there is nothing on the wall, we hide something that has been done before us. Now, the most banal wall has been chosen: that of the mason, that of the town planners who wanted it to be made of brick or painted. In judging this choice, we enter into both aesthetic and moral considerations. But what right do I have to cover this wall if people don’t want it? You then impose yourself on others with a form of violence. The pirouette consists in saying that town planners do not consult us when drawing up their plans either. That’s true, but it’s impossible to answer that without questioning the ethics of the artist, who is responsible for his works, their meaning, what they represent, their context.
Strolling and context
How is the idea of wandering and walking important in your artistic approach?
Parcours is the term that gives its name to a series of works, but it can be composed of one or more geographically scattered mosaics. Each route is different and is built around a thread that is specific to it. Charlie’s was complicated to achieve. I wanted to create a fresco for the link to history, while integrating small pieces of memory card to mark the current events and mask the separation between ancient and current memory. I also wanted colourful faces to testify to the fact that they were symbolically still alive. Finally, I didn’t want a rectilinear layout, because they weren’t people lining up.
How does the mosaic take root in the chosen locations?
Urban Art is not limited to the city and can also be in the countryside. The only thing that counts is the meaning we want to give, but we can express ourselves everywhere. That’s why I don’t strictly feel like an urban artist, because I don’t only intervene in the streets. I try not to repeat myself, which doesn’t make me easily identifiable. I don’t have a logo, and only my work is my signature: I have, for example, installed works by the sea: they got wet at the slightest wave and ended up washed away.
The choice of location is therefore meaningful.
In the city, installing a work in a chic neighbourhood or in a more idle area does not have the same meaning. The esplanade des Invalides does not carry the same meaning as the Trocadero or the rue de l’Orillon in Belleville. The place where it is placed is therefore essential in what we are going to say. If it is a creation in a small courtyard, are we still in the street? When I exhibited in Tower 13 I asked myself this question about the nature of the place. It was a disused place and this tower had to be destroyed. I did some work inside and outside, installing a kind of alarm clock with electric wires that almost touched each other. At the entrance, I placed a small mosaic at the place of the doorbell, including a toy rail because the building belonged to La Sablière, which takes care of SNCF employees. I had also bought a small hourglass Avenue d’Italie, which I had included. No matter what we do, it is important to grasp its meaning, because in the end it is us who decide, not fashion or advertising.
Reflection on the mosaic
Your work also questions the mosaic as an entity in itself.
Deconstructing an idea allows you to reconstruct something else with elements from the past. Deconstructing the notion of mosaic has earned me some gnashing of teeth, because there are always some very orthodox people when it comes to an art craft. But Art is precisely one of the rare fields where you can do what you want. Reflecting on the notion of mosaic allows me to imagine all the forms it could take: what counts is module and repetition, so a shirt could be one of them?
The idea of rehearsal is found in the stencil.
The stencil has something to do with the mosaic that can be found in my work with the Sigillosaïques on footprints. You have a module that you can repeat, and the effect given by the accumulation constitutes a mosaic. This offers possibilities of combinations, which we find in Warhol’s series. In my stencils, I’m going to play on these superimpositions, these juxtapositions. A mosaic in the strict sense of the term is therefore as unique as the stencil, because each element is unique.
Could you come back to the way typography has intervened as an element of reflection in your work?
I was looking for typographer’s leads, which was not easy because a lot of them have been melted down to recover the material and it is difficult to find them at flea markets. Paella? told me that he knew a retired engraver who sold his material, but that he would only give it to someone who could still use it. I convinced him that my work could be used to print things, that the lead would not be lost. I discovered a world with this typographer, Jean Hofer, who at the end gave me a demonstration. He separated each lead with a cigarette sheet so that all the letters could be distinguished within the word. Indeed, if they are too close you will not see their own quality, but if they are too far apart the word is no longer readable. It was a real mosaic and that’s how I nested these techniques to make Typosaïques. This allowed me to work on the idea of imprint and seal allowing me to compose a mosaic by repetition of the pattern.