Gallery Jerôme Pauchant & Nathaniel Rackowe

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Talk with Jerôme Pauchant & Nathaniel Rackowe

For this new body of work on display at Jerôme Pauchant’s gallery in Paris, the artist Nathaniel Rackowe wanted to look at something quite specific. Of course we connect with the artist’s fascination with elements of the city or the experience of living through urban space. Thus, here, the purpose is pushed to signs and supports as one may find at petrol stations or with dysfonctional signs. Starting with photographs and drawings, Nathaniel Rackowe brings out different structures as abstractions from urban landscape looking for the purity of form within them. Trought this work, cities gain a new aesthetic from the artist.  Along with the artist and his galerist for this exhibition, we spoke about their relation to art, the market, putting on an exhibition and taking risks.

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Fiona : Can you introduce each other ? 

Nathaniel : Jerôme is an ambitious and thoughtful galerist with the ability to really engage with his artists’ work and communicate in the best way with visitors and collectors.

Jerôme : Nathaniel is really living for his art and is very constant, he reveals some kind of poetry in an industrial world and its architecture which can look ascetic. While at the same time he makes references to major artists from 60’s, 70’s but adds a personnal  and sensitive dimension to his perception.

The image for the invitation of the exhibition is a picture of a gas station which can seem common, but it’s a reference to Nathaniel’s new series, full of surprises with different layers to explore.

Fiona : Yes actually it’s interesting because we don’t know Nathaniel’s photographic work and it’s just the first inspiration of what is to seen in the exhibition. It also tricks visitors who may think – if they don’t know Nathaniel’s work yet – that the show is only about photography.

Nathaniel : Hopefully people who know my work will be aware of the relationship ! But yes it’s also photography month in Paris so…

Fiona : But actually wouldn’t it in fact be possible for you to exhibit photography ?

Nathaniel : Yes, I have exhibited photographs in the past. With my art practice, despite the fact that certainly sculpture is at the centre, it is much more than that. One of the main project I’m working on is a dance piece in collaboration with a choreographer and it will be shown in London in June. Also at the moment I’m working with fashion designers on some kind of wearable artworks / designs. I’ve exhibited photographs, drawings, quite a lot of paintings as well. I describe my art practice as expanded sculpture: Sculpture is in the middle but there are all these kind of things in the periphery, thus it’s all connected and related.

Fiona : So you don’t close yourself to only one medium ?

Nathaniel : Yes, that’s what I love with sculpture, it can be as much a large scale sculpture in public as it can be a small contained installation in a private room or art gallery. I’m drawn to experiment in many approaches, but the only limitation for me is time actually.

Jerôme : It gives life and movement to your practice.

Nathaniel : Inspiration is not coming only from looking at the city but also inspirations come from relations between people in urban space. When I make installations, I’m so interested in tension, for example with the main installation at the gallery, what’s the effect of being under it and having this above your head. The work is only complete when there is someone within the space.

Jerôme : A work of art is the beginning of a conversation somewhere. It reminds me of Liam Gillick with his ceiling work called,  A space for conversation.

Fiona : It’s what is called Relational art according to Nicolas Bourriaud’s concept from Relational Aesthetics but I guess all art is relational.

Jerôme : At the gallery it will be very interesting to see how people appropriate the petrol station.

Nathaniel :  There’s a piece I made in 2006,  it was called Dead Reckoning. It was a kind of corridor work where you could view the piece from either externally, with the light spilling out, but you could also going inside it and be kind of trapped in this corridor space. You had to walk in it and see the light bulb moving above your head. It changed this closed environment as you walked through it. It’s a very intense experience pushing the viewer’s experience to the point almost becoming uncomfortable.

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Fiona : What’s the purpose or aim of this exhibition ? 

Nathaniel : With this specific exhibition if you start with the title « Signs of a city » there’s a duel meaning in the within it. It can refer specifically to signs and advertisement structures, these objects started to be a very inspirational point for the sculptures included in the show. Looking at dysfunctional signage, looking at all the fluorescent and colours of the plastic cladding and thinking about how it speaks to this city, and the experience in the way we directly read signs from the city. The second meaning is sign in a wider way and how the city  is signified. How looking at the things that make a city aesthetic, the traces of the city that don’t belong to architecture. I’m fascinated by all the structures that fill the space in between things. And for me this is what signifies a city, more than the structure or architecture and buildings. What people do to fill in the space. A petrol station is not a piece of architecture but it’s urban and it speaks so much about the urban experience. It interested me to take these objects and put them in the context of a gallery. It also allows the viewer to focus on them and to be able to reflect their own experience of discovering objects in the city. There’s so much to discover in a city that we don’t see. An artist role is only to open people’s eyes to the things that they ignore everyday because actually they affect us.

Fiona : It reminded me to Paul Klee quote : L’art ne reproduit pas le visible : il rend visible meaning that Art does not reflect what is seen, rather it makes the hidden visible.

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Fiona : Also, were you completely free on the exhibition and its content or would you consider it more as a collaborative work ? 

Nathaniel : It begins with a conversation.  I feel that Jerome trusts me, but at the same time it’s important for me to understand what is going to be a successful exhibition in this gallery and in this city. There’s no point showing works that won’t be understood or will not fit in the gallery, or won’t find collectors, because the reality is that these are all relevant concerns. As an artist it’s really important that I listen to my galerist.

Jerôme : Because the last show was two years ago, in the time between Nathaniel has produced new series such as DG series. I was very tempted to do an exhibition with some pieces from this series, but at the same time Nathaniel began to develop this kind of work that is actually now at the gallery. So I wanted to mix the two but at the end I told Nathaniel it was a bad idea and I really wanted to show my commitment to this new body of work. I think that’s really important for the art audience, for the collectors to see a real current exhibition but not in the intention to show something new because of the trend of the new, but to show consistent purpose developed specifically for the gallery, this space and for Paris. So after this, Nathaniel sent me some sketches and photographs of references or influences. It was a full discussion as well between old works from Nathaniel and new ones.

Fiona : Yes actually it’s really something to consider according to the large scale work at the entrance of the gallery.

Nathaniel : Because I had shown more contained works lately, I was really keen on to create a large scale piece. Jerôme was really behind that. So we had a discussion and also it was the right time for me to come back to Paris with this piece.

Jerôme : I find this piece really incredible as well, it’s a really large scale work inside a tiny gallery that really changes the architecture of the space. That’s a major preoccupation of Nathaniel’s work also.

Nathaniel : Yes and I’m also thinking about the future and how I would love to see  this piece in different kind of spaces as well, within a large interior space or exterior. It will change according to the surrounding.

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Fiona : Jerôme, how did you discover Nathaniel’s work ? How did you first encounter his work ?

Jerôme : It was from the Bodson gallery in Brussels. This gallery used to work with Benjamin Sabatier as well and he was represented by the gallery I used to work for previously.

Nathaniel : Also, when I was doing my project at le village royal at la Madeleine in Paris, we met for the first time. This was an independent project where I had been invited to make a public sculpture.

Jerôme : I think I just saw your solo show in Brussels a month before.

I was attending to opening my own gallery. On Charle Antoine Bodson’s (repréciser qui c’est) booth at a fair there was a solo show of Nathaniel Rackowe and Matt Jones but unfortunately Nathaniel wasn’t there. Thus, I met with Matt Jones and now I represent him as well. I really loved the work of Nathaniel and I’d been advised he was a professional artist, and that I should seriously work with him.

Nathniel :  It was a good time for this because I just completed this piece in Paris at the time and I still think it was an important work.

Since then it’s been exhibited in few places around the world. I remember very well our first meeting.

Jerôme : I didn’t have a list of artists for the gallery yet.

Nathaniel : For me at least, one of the things I value most in working with a galerist is the understanding of the work. Along with being enthusiastic and being able to talk about it. When we spoke about the work, it was obvious that Jerôme heard about and understood the work and that’s why I wanted to keep the conversation and invest in this, even if the gallery wasn’t already open.  I really value the personal relationship.

Jerôme  : It was very the beginning of my gallery and it pushes you back to the question : why did I open my own gallery in fact ? I had worked with big galleries in Paris for ten years, so I could have kept on doing this. But I had this goal to open my own gallery and to keep the relationship with the artist and the collector.  The most important aspect for me is this relationship and what the artist can bring and teach me. The same with the collectors actually.

Nathaniel : For me, again, galleries that are more interested in the long term prospect of their artists career are not only focused on selling this piece from the show. Of course, the reality is that we have to sell works but it’s not the only aim. What’s most important to me is simply to be able to keep making art.

Jerôme : That’s the most important thing for me, working with artists who can’t be something else. I’m very honoured by the trust of Nathaniel and his commitment to the very first show.

To come back to Nathaniel’s work, all of his preoccupations are in his work, his way of seeing the city and the architecture, this poetic looking at the city, and his minimalist forms are the centre of what I love and what I’m looking for. I really intend to show some artists who are really engaged in life, in the contemporary world and our contemporary world is urban, everywhere. The first show of Nathaniel’s was called « Edge lands » speaking about this limit which doesn’t really exist between the countryside and the city, as an old topic back in the time.

We don’t talk really often face to face, but we take time to make really long Skypes to keep us informed about our projects.

Nathaniel : I’m really interested in how the art world functions. How things go with galleries, because I’m very much engaged not only in making art but also its surrounding. You need also to understand the business a bit. The art world is weird and unique as well. It’s not as if it’s just about marketing, it’s about the ability to reach the right people at the right place. It’s not about advertising yourself, but you need a balance and allow people to kind of find you as well, it’s delicate.

Fiona : What you are saying reminds me of this book written by Howard Becker in 1982 called Art worlds. The sociologic studies all connections that occur in people working in the art worlds, and how all of them combine to make art possible, it’s not only one artist but all this network working on it together with all kind of relationships it includes.

Jerôme : Yes, actually a lot of artists really want to have success as fast as possible, and they can’t see that some of their works are ok but it’s not consistent yet because it takes time, for the artist as well as for the artistic world to understand.

I work a lot with young artists too that are coming out from the school and I feel that I help them when I talk about the nature of a work, for example do you think it will go to a collectors room ? You need to think about this, not only tomorrow but in fifteen years also.

Nathaniel : When I make my work, I have to consider the longevity of it and if the material will still be available etc. It’s the professional practice part of being an artist, so many layers you have to deal with as an artist.

In addition, what impressed me with the early conversations with Jerôme was his open approach. Because some galleries are very over protective with artists and build a wall around the artists while Jerôme directly makes connections with the other galleries showing my work,  building a beneficial support structure between galleries. They don’t need to be in competition and it’s not the best interest for the artist. Nowadays more galleries understand that there needs to be collaborations.

Jerôme : Thus, it’s important to represent an artist, because you have collectors around your gallery. If  you show an artist only one time, and after this it’s finished they won’t trust you. You have to show them as well, your commitment to the artist and promote again the artist.  But you don’t need to build a wall around the artist, it can also be dangerous.

Nathaniel : One of the things I value also is really about transparency. As long as you have an honest relationship with the gallery you’re working with, then everyone is on the same page and it makes it so much easier. Even with Jerôme, we do have a contract but we do have conversations each time. I’m not trying to show my work in a group show or something in secret. That’s also in my interest, we have a conversation about if it’s good or not and why I should or I shouldn’t do it each time.

Jerôme : It’s about strategy as well, we really have to be careful of which piece we show and where.

Nathaniel : Again, it’s about being selective with the people you work with.

Jerôme : It’s really collaborations. I really don’t want to only sell artworks or being just be recognised as the big galerist. I really want to have fun in fact, and it’s what pushes the limits of the art with my artists, and the space and the freedom I give them with my gallery. I’ve already – after two years of gallery – received good feedback from other galleries, about the way I talk about my artists. And people feel that I love what I present, and I cannot be more proud.

Nathaniel : It’s a different approach, things have changed and I sometimes feel that there is an older generation of galleries and collectors that hasn’t follow this new approach, and they are very much of the old school. Sometimes you can feel the tension in between the old and new system.  Things do change but it’s kind of slow.

Jerôme : I’ve been collaborating with different foreign galleries in Germany, in UK, in USA, each time they tell me about my age, my generation and we all want to follow the way of collaborating, exchanging artists and ideas, sharing some booth at fairs, etc. I’m really open on this but it takes time for some. Everything goes fast in the world, but art is something else.

Nathaniel : This is the kind of disadvantage of the social media and Instagram age. I sometimes feel that art is becoming confused with fashion. Obviously with fashion an important part of the industry is that it’s always about the new, and has to change from season to season, and sometimes some people think that art should be according to season as fashion can be. Right from the beginning, when I was a student at the Slade, I never wanted to create fashionable art, I’m gonna make the art that I make and some years it’s gonna be the fashion and some years it won’t. I prefer to let the cycle of fashion comes to me rather than chasing it.

Jerôme : That’s true, I always feel I keep fighting with the constant speed of everyone. With collectors asking like « How much he sells ? How much work does he make per year ? How many artworks are in collection ? How many projects he has ? » calm down haha.

Nathaniel : Remember some company wanted my work because colours were the seasons colour, so ok it was the month where my work became fashionable.

Jerôme : I mean why not, art has always inspired fashion.

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Fiona : What do you think about some artists who refuse to post any of their work on social media such as Instagram for example because for them, you can get nothing of the work while scrolling on your phone screen and spend maybe 2 or 3 seconds on an image, jumping from one to another endlessly. 

Nathaniel : I think in a way it could be more dangerous for painters or artists who are producing two dimensional works. I think as a sculptor and as an installation artist it gives  me a little bit more freedom because everyone knows that when you’re looking at something two dimensional through Instagram it’s not the full story.

Fiona : Yes for you it’s different because it’s so different from a picture to real life.

Nathaniel : But at the same time, it can feel frustrating for me when I feel that there are a lot of people aware of my work only from images and not seeing the works in reality. But on the other hand, a lot of people that I reach through social media it would be impossible for them to come to my exhibitions.

Jerôme : Yes that’s the same for me, I feel I have to play the game. I do play it on Instagram but not too often.

Nathaniel : I think as an artist, what I have to keep on mind is to not feel affected by popularity or the lack of popularity on works I post. The amount of likes is not connected to the success of a work for me. An image getting a certain amount of likes is just a kind of thing which is popular at that moment. I know it’s not the reality of experiencing an artwork. It’s just another little window on what I do, and yes, it can be a fun distraction haha!

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Fiona : Also I remember for your DG series, I liked the fact that it was nearly impossible to get a proper picture of any of them because colours were changing through all angles and I kind of like when art resists  the picture. Such as Malevich for example. It just reminds you that’s there is no such thing as getting to see the work in real life.

Nathaniel : I think that some of the best art is that which is impossible to photograph as well. Ultimately as an artist that’s why I’m making work. Because I want people to have an experience with the actual work that they cannot have in any other way. There has to be some thing special and unique to that.

Jerôme : Yes, How would you feel a James Turell’s work on Instagram ?

Fiona : Actually, they did try to make you feel his work if you consider the installation occurring in Drake’s music video called Hotline Bling, and actually none of us get the opportunity to see this work since it’s in a music video, only pure aesthetics on a screen.

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Fiona : Jerôme, when did you decide to have your own space ? 

Jerôme : It’s an old desire. From the first time I worked for a gallery I wanted to have my own one. Thus, I understood pretty fast that it wasn’t that easy. It could be really dangerous personally and that things will take time. That’s why I stayed in a big gallery for a long time to really learn the job and know as many people as people. And, somehow maybe to reinforce my own desire to have my own gallery.When the gallery I was working for closed in 2014 I was the director of the gallery, taking care of artists and collectors, the gallery was about to become a production place and it didn’t interest me. And I didn’t have any interest to work for a big gallery again so my ex boss pushed me to create my own gallery. It was a need when I was alone with myself. Do I have to keep my financial comfort for my family and me ? In fact I talked with a lot of friends about that and one artist who told me : «  You know, what will help your family won’t be only the material comfort but the most important part will be the value that you will put in it ». And being myself is the most beautiful value that I can give to my family. Good always wins and I believe in that. The future will tell us.

Nathaniel : Indeed, this approach makes it clear your ambition was to be a galerist with a long term serious vision, and not one who was chasing a short lived fame or ambition.
Jerôme : I think that the galleries who stay open are the ones with real and deep support with collectors and friends and people believing in your artists and artists bringing real philosophical things to society along with a unique sensibility.

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Fiona : Do you have any advice for young collectors ? 

Jerôme : Just be as passionate as I am, and as artists are.

Nathaniel : If possible, meet the artist and talk to the artist. Because I think it’s important for the collector and for the artist to have that conversation. The collector will get more meaning from the artwork and the artist. And the artist understands as well that it goes out in the world and not only to the door of the studio. There’s a life beyond the studio.

Jerôme : Yes, the only way to understand art is to talk with the artist.

Nathaniel : Don’t be scared of artists, that’s what I want to say to collector. You can’t imagine how many of them don’t dare to speak to the artist!

Fiona : Yes because you still have the cliché from modern art or tortured artists with despicable behaviours, etc. I mean of course it can happen but it is the same with any human.

Jerôme :  I can’t tell collectors to read books and learn, still the best way is to meet  and talk with the artist. And in the eyes, gestures or words of the artist you will understand what art is. Art is questioning, art is what’s around you, and what you haven’t see yet. But I can’t say that as a galerist, they will think I’m crazy.

Nathaniel : Go on studio visits. It’s something else, speaking personally. I’m always happy to receive people at my studio. Taking a little time out of my working day in the studio is interesting if people can get the maximum of the artwork.

Jerôme : But every single artist is a communicant in fact, in their way of communicating. For young collectors I would tell them if they have money just to have fun and if they don’t have big money to be really careful about what and where they buy. Be passionate, document yourself and go see every kind of museums or exhibitions to see all kind of art and get your own gaze.

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Fiona : What is art to you ?  

Jerôme :  ” Art is life and a big freedom. ”  Artists are the most free people to think and express.

Nathaniel : Art gives this ability to look anew at the things that surround us, and become inspired by them, opening our eyes to the world.

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Photographs courtesy of Gallery Jerôme Pauchant & Nathaniel Rackowe.

Questions of Fiona Vilmer writer specialized in contemporary art.