Different expressive media have a tendency to attract different personalities. Famous directors like Kubrick are known for their microscopic attention to detail and intense style of management. The archetypal artist is perhaps Vincent van Gogh, a troubled and melancholic loner. Popular music conjures different images of artists based on the genre—the subtle, calm persona attributed to composers like A.R Rahman is a far cry from the image of the hard-drinking blue collar country crooner perfected by Johnny Cash.
When an artist comes along to challenge these notions, they often bring with them perspectives that stand out from the norm. One such artist is Philippe Perrin, one who is known for his short temper, right down to the incorrigible and boastful attitude
A former boxer turned artist, Philippe Perrin has something of the bad boy; rock star looks, an explosive temperament and a shady past which he likes to allude to when talking to journalists. He cultivates his subversive image by creating provocative artworks revolving around the subjects of evil and crime
His subjects tend to revolve around violence and crime, subjects with which he has suggested in interviews with an intimate familiarity. What we know with certainty is that he dresses the part and has the résumé to back it up—before turning to art, Perrin cut in his teeth in the grueling world of professional boxing.
One of Perrin’s most famous fascinations should come as no surprise: his appreciation for and subsequent tribute to controversial French criminal Jacques Mesrine. Mesrine gained fame and a particular form of adoration in the 1960s and 1970s as an anti-establishment figure, despite his penchant for murder that accompanied his robberies and theft.
After being captured by law enforcement, Mesrine and his crew became the first men to escape from the allegedly inescapable La Santé in Paris before he was finally gunned down in late 1979. Perrin paid tribute to the legendary criminal by reconstructing and photographing the gold BMW in which Mesrine was killed.
Most of his other works focus less on direct historical references and more on basic, visceral symbols of crime given the same overblown treatment as Perrin’s own personality.
It has been said of Perrin that he “has always been addicted to overstatement, and so the millimeters became meters.”
Such is the case with GUN, a piece consisting of a three-meter handgun accompanied by bullets over two meters themselves. Knives and handcuffs, among other items whose mere silhouettes are enough to evoke a gut reaction of fear and caution, are other items to have received the signature colossal Perrin treatment.
Another of Perrin’s famous works, Bloodymary, blends the line between theatre, sculpture, and performance art through the lens of murder. A living actress sits on a couch, photographs and magazines scattered to one side and a book hastily dropped to the floor on the other, with a bullet hole through her forehead and blood splattered on the wall behind. It is an example of an installation that truly must be viewed in person, as a photograph eliminates the intent of placing the viewer in direct contact with gruesome violence.
Among his more modern works is Heaven, a 2006 installation at the Church of St. Eustace in Paris.
The work follows Perrin’s penchant for stark, oversized images of violence by placing a massive crown of thorns under a spotlight on the floor, depicting the iconic image from the crucifixion of Jesus in a cold, metallic form.
Perrin subverts the holiness of the crown by placing it on the floor, closest to Hell, and treating it as a symbol of violence. The underlying message will naturally vary based on one’s religious convictions, but what remains is the striking image created by Perrin.
This is the signature of Phillipe Perrin—to place the viewer face to face with images inexorably tied to modern violence, subtly aestheticizing the violence in art
Their disproportionate power is reflected in their size and sturdy build, restoring the horror to images that have lost their impact due to desensitization over a lifetime of repeated exposure and acceptance of violence as the norm. He chooses subjects that have the power to instill immediate shock and presents them in a bold way that ensures they do.
It is very true that great art comes from the heart, doesn’t come from doing what you’re told. Real art is alive. It is given power by the artists who see a different world and show us exactly what they perceive.