“As a painter, Jean-Luc Sanhes is an alchemist, combining disparate elements to create something brash, gestural, rich, and yet incredibly subtle. His work is simultaneously loud, vibrant and elusive. He brings a sense of endless questioning, of constantly searching for new processes and experiences in a contemporary art world often satisfied with its own well-learned tricks. Nothing is more valuable to an artist than true originality, precisely because so few people possess it. Jean-Luc is one of such rare, authentic original voices (…) whose unique sensibility, profound poetic vision and innovative work contribute to new developments in the art world, and to culture in general.”
Marc Donnadieu, December 2014
Marc Donnadieu is the Curator of Contemporary Art at the Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Ousider Art (LaM) in Villeneuve d’Ascq, France; Director of the Regional Fund for Contemporary Art in Normandy (FRAC Haute Normandie, France) from 1999 to 2010; Member of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) since 1997; Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres in France since 2004.
Born in France in 1962, Jean-luc Sanhes was not trained in the traditional art academies of Europe, though he spent a year taking drawing and painting classes at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Rennes, Brittany during his teenage years. Growing up in a working class family, he never imagined that he could make a living from his art. It would take a long time and many personal experiences before he would believe it possible. This would put him in the category of "Outsider Art" (Art Brut), though such label is too restrictive and would ignore the sensibility and subtlety of his work.
MOVING TO PARIS, BECOMING AN ARTIST
Jean-Luc acquired this artistic education by himself once he moved to Paris for work. He wandered the streets of Paris and spent days in the museums with his tiny sketchbooks and charcoal sticks. He would also go to the zoo in Paris' Jardin des Plantes with a bottle of ink, a bottle of water, a pencil and a few sheets of paper. All this exercises helped train his eye and hand. But the majority of his early artistic development came from time spent alone in his apartment where he filled pages and pages with interlaced lines, sometimes figurative drawings, mixing ink, gouache, and pens. He also started painting with oil but soon decided to give it up when he realized that most of the products needed had skull and crossbones labels indicating that they were highly long term toxic for the environment. From then on, he favored acrylics.
The energy informing Jean-Luc's early work comes from his culture shock when he discovered the gay Parisian night life of the eighties, and from the French skateboard scene. At the time, Jean-Luc was one of the leading French skateboarders, influenced by the US skate scene, and the images and music from the videos, magazines and fanzines. He was mostly fascinated by the amazing creativity and dedication of skaters from all over the world he met in Paris and during the international summer camps organized each year in Bourges, France. He was especially impressed by Tony Hawk, and by Mark Gonzales, a leading pioneer of modern street skateboarding and named by the Transworld Skateboarding magazine as the "Most Influential Skateboarder of all Time". Both challenged his own creativity.
The sudden surge of AIDS in the late eighties and the death of his Californian boyfriend were a defining milestone in Jean-Luc's life. Yet, instead of making his paintings darker, he strived to bring more light and color.
Eventually, he stopped competing in skateboarding contests and took up contemporary dance and choreography. In 1993, he won an important amateur contest as a choreographer at the Biennale de Danse du Val de Marne in France, but given the difficulties of financing his projects, Jean-Luc decided to concentrate his creative energy solely on painting. At this time, his work was beginning to find an individuality strong enough to make him decide that, whatever his success, painting would be a lifetime quest.
Slowly, friends started to buy Jean-Luc's works, and by 2002, he had a large and diverse clientele. Denis Blais, a Canadian painter and architect settled in London, bought five drawings on paper made with Bic pens. Denis happened to be close friends with Matthew Collings , a famous artist and art critic who also worked with the Saatchi Gallery and had several TV-shows about art on the BBC. Among the many accolades Jean-Luc received at the time , it is worth mentioning that in 2002, he met John Galliano, then haute couture fashion designer for Dior, who took a particular liking to Jean-Luc's works with silver felt-tip pens, finding them "gorgeous".
In 2003, Jean-Luc organized his first exhibition in a friend's apartment in the center of Paris. His London client came and bought ten works further to the earlier drawings' impression on Matthew Collings. Ingrid Wauthier, cultural correspondant for the German newspaper "Die Welt" also attended the exhibition, and greatly praised Jean-Luc's work. This would be the start of his professional artistic career.
In 2004, Samy Kinge, owner of the eponymous gallery in Paris' 7th arrondissement, decided to follow Jean-Luc's work, even though his gallery specialized in well-established artists such as Martial Raysse, Victor Brauner, Jean Tinguely or Niki de Saint Phalle. In December 2004, he invited Jean-Luc to show some of his works in a group exhibition of artists from the gallery.
In May 2005, Matthew Collings curated the exhibition named "Bunking Off" in London, where he showed his own works along with works by Denis Blais and Jean-Luc.
Jean-Luc's second show, in June 2005, this time in Paris' 16th arrondissement, confirmed his success when main art collectors bought several of his works.
But shortly afterwards, the financial crisis impacted the art world and galleries became reluctant to take on new unconventional artists.
Nevertheless, Jean-Luc kept on painting, while continuing to receive support from the art scene, including from the French art critic Alin Avila, Director of the art magazine Area, and from Christophe Comentale, Chief Curator of the “Musée de l’Homme” in Paris, who was Curator, for example, of contemporary art at the China Pavilion of the Shanghai World Expo in 2010. Christophe Comentale, who is also an art critic, regularly stopped by Jean-Luc's studio.
In 2009 Jean-Luc met American art critic Deborah Zafman, who was about to close her Parisian gallery in the Marais in order to open Zafman-Greenberg Art Advisory in New York. She visited Jean-Luc's studio and, despite the closing of her gallery, displayed several of his works during the last two months.
Jean-Luc's December 2014 show at the gallery À Rebours in Paris 4th arrondissement of Paris, owned by Patrick Favardin and David Mistre, would be his last exhibition in France. Patrick Favardin is a reputed art historian who curated exhibitions in some of the most prestigious cultural institutions in France, including the Centre Georges Pompidou and the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris, and the Museum for Contemporary Art in Marseille.
In 2010, French fashion designer Julien Fournié, owner of the eponymous Maison de Haute Couture Julien Fournié, asked Jean-Luc for an artistic contribution on three pieces for his Winter-Fall collection. Jean-Luc drew on a leather jacket, leather pants and shoes with Bic pens. The pieces were a huge success, including with Vogue Italy's editor in chief as well as the blogosphere. The French Beaux Arts Magazine published a full page of the leather jacket in its October 2010 issue.
Jean-Luc's interest in photography increased over the years and recently became an important medium for his artistic expression, in conjunction with his own artistic language. His photographs use a grammar very similar to his paintings. It is often about transparency, subtle yet vivid color harmony, complex compositions, humor and poesy.
The relationship between his graphic and photographic work is particularly visible in the pictures he made in the Paris and Berlin subways, with scratched windows echoing the silver felt-tip pen lines of his paintings. Similarly, the small pixelated disruptions seen in his series of photographs entitled "TV-Shots" are in a formal dialogue with his recent paintings.
Jean-Luc showed a few of his photographs for the first time in 2013 at the anniversary of the photo editing company Agence 414 in Paris, and for the second time at his last exhibition in Paris in December 2014 at the gallery À Rebours Mistre-Favardin.
In May 2015, Jean-Luc moved to Los Angeles to dedicate himself entirely to his art and widen his cultural horizon under the magnificent light of California, in a city whose art scene is becoming one of the most vibrant in the world.