We met visual artist DTONE at Jacques De Vos Gallery, where he is currently showing his work in partnership with hollington. We sat 7 rue Bonaparte, Paris 6, to discuss his work and the collaborative exhibition.
Picture of Babylon.23
To begin, can you introduce yourself?
“I am Jean-Marie, called "DTONE", visual artist and painter. I am 48 years old and I have been painting on canvas for almost thirty years. DTONE is my nickname; I took it around 1991 when I was in the tag world. The word literally means "one who is not in the tone" and comes from the verb "to detonate". It accompanied me until today. It was not as a graffiti artist that I was not in the tone, but as a human being: I did not see myself as marginalized in society but rather as a parallel personality. My key phrase was "Never follow fashion but always watch fashion follow you". I wanted to be creative so as not to duplicate, repeat things, but to be in action and in reflection.
I always knew how to draw – I basically come from drawing. I became interested in comics, and then I studied advertising design in Champigny-sur-Marne. Then I took evening classes in figurative narration and nude drawing at Duperré School and, at the same time, followed my personal projects.
I worked long-distance for a newspaper that my brother had in the West Indies. I drew small comics. Then I worked in the cartoon industry, in a design office. I was a substitute and did a little of everything: dialogues, detections (when we synchronize the movements of the characters' mouths with the sound) including Kirikou and the Sorceress with Michel Ocelot in 1995. And next to that I started painting on canvas.”
How did you start painting on canvas?
“All in all, I started with drawing on paper, and then I did graffiti on the walls, which opened me to a huge scale because we had no limits. The gesture changed, it was no longer the hand but the arm and the whole body that were operating.
There was one event that really struck me in 1989: the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was watching the pictures on TV at a friend's house and I saw people smashing walls full of frescoes from many different painters. There was a graffiti artist who I followed a lot. His name was SKI and he was part of the BBC, an international group of graffiti artists. I saw pieces of the wall fall with these graffiti on them and, at that moment, I told myself that I would also like to own my very pieces of wall. And the simplest for that was to paint on other media.
At first, I used cardboard, then wood and in 1992 I came to the canvas. My techniques have always been mixed but there, since the support changed, it was another approach. So I associated all my past experiences – I am rather a follower of "that and that" than a follower of "that or that". Associating represents the complementarity of beings.”
You are currently exhibiting at Jacques De vos gallery, and you have chosen to call this exhibition "Camouflage Evolution". Your previous show was called "Camouflage"...
“I work "in series", that is to say that I take a theme that I develop and that I exhibit thereafter, but each series remains open. From the moment I start, the theme lives and, even if paintings are sold, it will live until my last breath. I can repeat the same theme one year, ten years or twenty years later.
The most interesting is that my approach is now different because my gesture has evolved. I cannot do what I already did, but I can continue it, extend the reflection on a theme. One can see this sequence and this evolution in my work. While in some artists’ works there are sharp cuts, here the difference between new and old, which are linked, is softer.
The theme "Camouflage Evolution" is an introspection: I speak of what is inside, that we can sometimes perceive, and which is different from what we see. I pass what we perceive in the foreground and what we see in the background, and vice versa. Material effects accompany this visual discourse.
Often, we first look at what is in the foreground, and look only after at what completes the foreground. But each plan is important. When we look at something, we tend to look first at what is closest to us, which is hotter. What is colder becomes blurred and so it is not what we remember. We really remember that we see first, it's interpretation.
In general, I choose to put this interpretation forward. But here I reversed, because it went in my theme. Usually I emphasize or propose what is less visible, but here I impose it: we have to see it and take a step back. If we succeed, we also achieve it in life.”
Today, on the canvas, you start in pencil then you add a layer of paint, and then other secret ingredients?
“It's not a secret, but rather a mille-feuille. I add different techniques as my experience expands, and I find my own dosage. The creation is in the dosage, which is done by successive errors.
Currently there is an exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci. When one observes his work, one will often tell you that his inventions were great. But his ideas did not come all the time from him! He had often taken over someone else's work, but he was able to bring it in and dose it. It's exactly the same for the inventors: many will work on a theme but only one will arrive with this famous dosage - and it is the one that will have succeeded that we will remember.”
You have been making music for many years, and you sang in a hip-hop band, La Relève. Can you tell us about these times?
“Initially, music is a passion. Very young I had a group. I was nine years old and it was called The Castors Rockers. I was the singer (laughs) it was catastrophic! In the 80s, I started to rap a bit, but what really inspired me was reggae and that's how I met the future members of La Relève. The particularity of this group was that we only worked with jazz musicians. They understood the idea of playing "like machines". I wanted a very pure sound because I come from the ragga-hip hop world.
For the record, a young woman who admired us followed us on our tours and wanted to sign us in a label, but I did not want to. Suddenly, she offered us a deal which key was a week of studio recording all expenses paid, which was something at the time. She came to see us for an audition with Americans.
At the end of the recording week, she brought two people I had already seen in concert. They were The Roots drummer, Questlove, and their sound engineer. I was impressed. We did a showcase for them and we started working together on a title. Their entire group came to Paris to work on the title in question and, as they enjoyed the collaboration, they offered us to work an album with them in Philadelphia. Obviously we answered yes! We released this EP, did a tour with them ... then the group split up and I continued my career as a solo. So now I only play music for my personal pleasure.”
In your pieces, the faces are made of very fine lines. You apply the colour, your line, as a music score that unfolds…
“The arts are often linked; music is a form of calligraphy. In 2005, I did a CD-ROM project in which I linked my two worlds. It showed that I sing my paintings and paint my music.
Picture by Samuel Cueto
When I was in Philadelphia, we did an unplanned gig at a university. The Roots were promoting their album and they invited us to go on stage. In a split second, I realized that the people who were in front of me, in the audience, had never heard a foreign language except Spanish. And then the magic with the public operated and people started to move.
The approach of music by Americans is not at all the same as ours, for they always understand the words of the songs they are earing; we are not, and I the first! Especially at the time, I reacted more to the rhythm and groove of music than to words. There, we were told "you speak European", as when we hear people say "you speak African". But we do not speak a continent!
The approach of Europe that many have in the United States is a Germanic approach, because of the military bases they had in Germany. Apart from that, Europe for them is an abstract notion. My painting, like the music that made the audience move despite the foreign language, is a universal language: I can talk to everyone.
Music is the art of vibrations, and painting the art of lines. In both cases, one can feel and interpret. I propose something and the public deals with it. It has a reflection on the image. We cannot be satisfied with what we think we are seeing; we must be certain of what we see. The image is what it is. We may not like it, but as everything around us, it is important. So I work on being able to appreciate things at their true value. It's sort of a proposal, or simply an option.”
Picture by Babylon.23
You have declined your art, your drawings on T-shirts, sneakers. What do collaborations bring you? Is it for your art to come alive with someone, on someone?
“In fact, it's more of a lifestyle. I like creating and I have lots of ideas but I'm not always able to create in all areas. Some subjects are more down-to-earth than others, and turn into a project. But what I do as part of these collaborations is really related to my personality, to who I am. That's why I worked with brands and craftsmen who have the same field of vision, because they are related to my personality.”
This season, you are initiating collaboration with hollington, Posca and nous Paris. It begins with your exhibition at the Jacques De Vos Gallery. Tell us this story, this blending.
“Yes, I am really the conductor of this collaboration. I imagined a jacket and a bike concept, and I found the right protagonists, related to my lifestyle, to realize this project at the same time as I exhibit at the Jacques De Vos gallery. I work with the gallery since 2012. Those are people who follow me, who exhibit my work, who help me develop my art and with whom I also make editions of objects and furniture. I exhibit there until December 31st, and the protagonists of the project have become partners of my exhibition.
I discovered hollington about twenty years ago. I loved this style of clothing that I did not find around me: its shapes, colours and materials. I liked this context where style takes precedence over fashion. I do not particularly like fashion, but I love style and that's what I found at hollington. For this jacket project, I wanted a brand of utility clothing that goes with my lifestyle.
Nous Paris were people I knew from Colette (Paris most well-known concept store). I found the idea of concept store very interesting. It is a place where you can find many different things, but with a sharp selection by the owners.
At age 17, having a Posca felt pen was the Holy Grail for me. They are related to my first activity, that of painter. One thing linking to another, I met them and we started working together. With them, I developed an electric bike model with the same colour code as Posca, a code I had used in my works. I live in the suburbs and often travel by bike – these days it's serving the public good, so we chose an electric mini-bike model.
I found the right partners, related to my lifestyle not to a stereotype. To return to what I said above, I want to wear more than the obvious appearance, the camouflage. This project associates my gallery: Jacques De Vos, my clothing brand: hollington, my tools: Posca, and my favourite showcase: the concept store nous Paris.”
Picture by Samuel Cueto
Patric Hollington and you have many things in common: music, colour, cycling, work clothes... He offered you to work on an iconic jacket of his brand. You chose the Grenoble cut for this project. What did you like: its shape, its fabric, or its details?
“I like a "utility" garment, and that's why I like design because it combines aesthetics with usefulness. At the very beginning of the project, I made a jacket design. A very classic work jacket to which I had added pen pockets. When I met Alban in the shop, he smiled: "we already have this model", and he showed me the jacket. I knew hollington models without knowing them, and I found by chance exactly what I drew! Alban showed me the jacket in black cotton moleskin: a work fabric that is both chic and accessible, solid but not luxurious. That's what interests me a lot with hollington. We can put it with what we want.”
Patric says: "I like classics that are out of the ordinary" "I defend elegance on a daily basis" "The form follows the function"
“Yes! It's exactly that. With fashion, everything becomes beautiful, everything we found ugly becomes pretty, what is uncomfortable becomes comfortable: it changes all the time. While in style, it's something else. Style is like a uniform because we are identified with a garment. And indeed, we dress according to what we have to do in the day, as if we put a second skin on. Our body adapts to fashion; style emphasizes us.”
After this exhibition and this collaboration, what are your projects?
“The series is never closed, as I explained for "Camouflage" and "Camouflage Evolution" ... I rarely live in the present. I am in the past and the future; these are the two times that exist for me. I am referring to what has been done: the past, and to projection: the future. The present is the snapshot. So I have a lot of hot things I would like to do, but I'm waiting to see.
What I find interesting is to have my exhibitions travel the world. I have already exhibited in Berlin, in Luxembourg, South Africa and Switzerland. I work exclusively with Jacques De Vos gallery, but for collective exhibitions I can sometimes exhibit elsewhere. And at the gallery, people from all over the world come to see me. Come too!“
Thank you DTONE for this rewarding exchange! The whole hollington team wishes you the best for the future.