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In the intimacy of the dark duo of goldsmiths
To say that one is a fan of the incredible work of the duo Førtifem, composed of Jesse and Adrien is an understatement. We already told you about their work in a first article last month and we also showed you the Tarot project inspired by the Lovecraft universe. We took the opportunity to interview them, to talk about their career, their way of working with four hands, their inspirations… In short, everything that makes up their incredible work. Enter Førtifem’s lair.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and what made you choose art as a career?
Jesse: We both come from graphic design at the base, after studies in this field, Adrien aux Gobelins and me at the Beaux-Arts de Caen, we both worked a few years in this field. Adrien went through a few Parisian communication agencies and I did freelance work. When we met, we realized that we both did illustrations on the side and that it was mostly that which animated us rather than what we spent our days on, websites, flyers… But we saw it as a hobby, not as a possible career. But we were lucky enough that a friend of Adrien’s, Olivier Marescaux (a silkscreen printer, but not that, far from it) saw a little more of it and suggested that we organize an exhibition in Reims. We produced quite a few collaborative works for the occasion and that’s really what put us in the stirrup and made us realize that this was where our passion and motivation lay.
Could you tell us a bit more about the history of your duo?
Adrien: Førtifem is often described as a Work of Love, because that’s his best definition. We’ve been a couple for almost ten years, and we’ve been working under the same name for almost eight. Originally, we only worked together at night, after our respective workdays, communicating our influences, know-how and fields of action. Then came the moment when we made the big leap, changing time zones and making our night job our main job. Initially, we were helping out on concert posters, which led to label logos, band logos, then covers, then merchandising, and it never stopped.
How would you describe yourself as an artist? What is your philosophy on art?
Jesse: We don’t really feel like “artists” but rather illustrators or craftsmen, in the sense that the majority of our production is commissioned work that we respond to and that we produce rather little of ourselves in the end. We like to transcribe the desires of the people who solicit us and sometimes find ourselves with requests that we never thought we would have to face. A few years ago we would never have thought of working in anything other than black and white for example, it’s thanks to the impulse of clients like Carpenter Brut that we found ourselves playing with colors that are sometimes hyper vivid and now it’s part of our style but it was not at all premeditated at the beginning. For us artists are those who don’t need anyone to articulate their universe, we often need external stimuli and to know that once our illustration is finished we will be able to share our satisfaction with the sponsor. That doesn’t prevent us from enjoying doing completely personal things from time to time and it’s always a pleasure to experiment and surprise people, we would love to be able to organize a new exhibition when the outside world allows it.
You can feel many different inspirations in your work: from engraving, fantasy literature, metal, tattoo… Can you tell us more about your influences and inspirations?
Adrien: We are lucky to have always shared many influences, whether they are purely artistic, visual or cinematographic. Beyond our training in art history, we like to draw from the masters of engraving, Gustave Doré, Albrecht Durer, Hans Holbein, to the English illustrators of the 19th century, with Aubrey Beardsley Harry Clarke and Frank C. Pope, the Japanese geniuses Suehiro Maruo, Takato Yamamoto, Shigeru Mizuki. Beyond that, all the visionary and fantastic imagery of Bosch, Virgil Finlay, H.R. Giger, the bony illustrations of Pushead, and Florian Bertmer, and many contemporary illustrators and craftsmen we are fortunate enough to count as friends, Dehn Sora, Zbigniew M. Bielak, Aaron Horkey, Marald, Sin-Eater, and many others. Add to that a thick layer of pop culture, B-series from the 1980-90s, games without auto-save, and Mp3 compilations downloaded from Kazaa.
Your illustrations are rich in symbols. How does the past influence your work and what does it symbolize?
Jesse: We have a common love for the symbolic, the esoteric, the alchemical… all of these notions have an immutable force and mystery, it’s fascinating to manipulate and to keep going because ironically it’s sufficiently in the “past” to be timeless. And it is our way of traveling when we draw or when we look for inspiration, we immerse ourselves in engravings, in anatomy boards or in old astronomy books… It’s fabulous all the ways we used to represent the real and the imaginary before it was possible to do it with a camera or a computer. That’s also why we continue to work mostly on paper, it seems more harmonious with the subjects we evoke.
You work on different forms of medium, to make album covers, textiles, prints and so on. And yet, it gives the impression that all your creations are part of the same universe. Is this something you want?
Adrien: We want to deny the existence of a Førti-verse, but it’s true that even if we try to blend our style and influences as much as possible with the world of our collaborators, and try to free ourselves from creative reflexes, we can sometimes detect a coherence. In any case, we like the possibility that music offers us, for example, to be able to vary the supports and themes. It’s a huge chance for us to be able to offer our interpretation to the universe of other artists and on top of that we get paid for it!
Have you had any artistic encounters that made an impression on you?
Jesse: I want to say all of them actually… as many other visual artists as musical or other, it’s always enriching to share one’s approach to creation and to listen to artists talk about their vision, what drives them and what they’re passionate about. We have tremendous respect for Dehn Sora, in particular, a multi-disciplinary artist that we are lucky enough to count among our friends, he has an incredible vision and investment in his art, it’s super inspiring.
Adrien: We consider ourselves very lucky to be able to evolve in the field of Metal, in music or as in illustration, occult, and less occult. We spend our time building relationships with uncompromising artists and performers who are passionate and dedicated to their art. Not a year has gone by without creating a strong bond around a project, or a common interest.
Who is the artist who inspires you the most?
Jesse: If I really had to choose just one, I would say Shigeru Mizuki, Japanese illustrator and mangaka who single-handedly brought the Yokai lore back to life. Not only does he has an ultra-rich universe but he also has a bluffing technicality, I could spend my life looking at each of his boards I would never be jaded.
Adrien: There are tons of them, it’s always difficult to retain only one facet of our inspirations but for my part I would say, Aaron Horkey, one of the illustrators who made me want to draw, then to take care of my lines. There is a kindness, an absolute sense of detail and an incredible love in his work that I find inspiring to the utmost.
What is your favorite work in your portfolio and why does it resonate so much with you?
Jesse: For me, I think it’s the re-adaptation of the poster of the movie Freaks that we did at the very beginning of Førtifem. It’s one of the first large formats we did with four hands, I remember we were both breaking our backs, bent over our coffee table for hours. We reissued it for our exhibition at the Treize-Dix gallery in the spring of 2018 and to see it again while reflecting on everything that happened between its creation and that moment was rather moving!
Adrien: These are for months these tattoo plates we made in 2014, for our exhibition Bad Vein in Hong Kong. We had started to draw them on a trip because we were in a hurry, we finished them on the wire in our little vacation apartment in Wan Chai, to follow the sleepless nights and the supplies in the 7Eleven and the Nuits restaurants of this fascinating city until the opening of this exhibition which met a nice success, and which may have become the best night of my life.
Four-handed work is something I find fascinating when it is as well-executed as what you do. Do you have a particular way of working?
Jesse: It varies from project to project but it’s always very organic. When we start a new thing we know pretty quickly if we’re going to draw on it together or if it’s just one of us who’s sticking to it. We each have our favorite subjects and techniques and the chance that they combine well without stepping on each other too much. We don’t have any difficulty passing the ball to each other, it often happens that one does the sketch and the other draws the final version.
What is your relationship to pop culture, between yesterday and today?
Adrien: It’s mostly cinema that takes place in our pop culture, and we’re still pretty much stuck on our childhood and teenage love affairs. Music, we often listen to the same stuff over and over again and it hasn’t really changed. For the cinema, all our heart remains dedicated to Carpenter, Verhoeven, Cronenberg, Jackson, Cameron, McTiernan, but without feeling the need to maintain this nostalgia, a permanent tribute that we would have by accumulating new goodies tribute, Funko, merch or others. Of course, we are sensitive to small capsule collections of artists or brands we like, but we will always be more tempted to buy period pieces, old toys in blister packs, a signed lithograph or a Japanese edition of the poster for example.
You have a busy end of the year in the news, between the illustrations in the Kodex Metallum of Alt 236 and Maxwell and the Tarot inspired by the universe of Lovecraft at Bragelonne Games. Can you tell us a little more about this last one, which is surely one of the projects that we expect the most at Geek-Art at the end of the year?
In February, Bragelonne invited us to a meeting to talk to us about this project which ended up keeping us busy all year long in fact. We had been wanting to make a Tarot deck for years, looking for a bias, and they came up with the sprawling idea of basing a Tarot deck on the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft, putting us in touch with a specialist, the author and translator Maxime Le Dain. We then had the privilege and the heavy task of putting into images his visions of scholar, purist and punk. For each card, we exchanged around briefs of several pages, suggesting references, compositions, winks to Lovecraft news, to the traditional tarot, to alchemy, to occultism and as many counterpoints to the agreed imagery of the myth! Each arcana then became an enigma in itself as they were loaded with symbols and references. In the end, what was originally intended to be a divinatory card game illustrated by us took an unexpected form, and the deck ended up accompanied by a book of one hundred and fifty pages, sometimes narrative, sometimes explanatory, with a whole story and a lore. This is why Maxime likes to call this tarot an OLGLNI (Unidentified Literary, Graphic and Playful Object). In view of the project’s ambition, Bragelonne suggested opting for participatory financing and we are amazed at the triumphant reception given to it! Since it was launched, the page has been nervously refreshed with the excitement of being able to unveil new surprises every day. Because there are still a lot of them!
What subject would you dream of dealing within an official way (manga, comics, film etc)?
Jesse: Neon Genesis Evangelion, a film by John Carpenter, Hellraiser, Hausu
Adrien: All the same! Having the chance to be part of the history of work by offering our interpretation is a great pleasure, so overall… any official proposal of something we like will be a dream in itself! If it can also involve Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ll take it!
What are your current projects… And future projects?
Adrien: We’re still quite active on the tarot, to tell the truth, the campaign is an incredible success, so we’re fine-tuning and preparing the many upgrades to reward this massive support! Next, we’re going to look at some shirt designs for bands we’re used to working with, and a couple of album artworks. At the same time, we plan to try to take advantage of some free time to produce stuff for us and our online store. And pass a JLPT, a driver’s license, ride a Gunpla and finish Hades. And go on vacation as soon as the situation allows it.
Finally, do you have any advice for young artists wishing to follow your career path?
Adrien: It seems like there’s no talent, just work. We have never worked towards success, it’s this certain recognition that came through time and sweat! If we are lucky enough to have our collaborators today, it was done one thing at a time, starting with friends, then friends of friends, and so on, always with the same devotion. To quote H.P. Baxxter from Scooter, who quotes John Templeton, “it’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice” Build a caring network of creative people, providers, clients, inspirations, friends, it’s important to surround yourself, to exchange, to inspire, to help each other. It is also this entourage that will allow one to do greater things, and eventually to find one’s identity, and to affirm one’s style, one’s universe, and to gain one’s own place in a saturated and sometimes difficult field at first sight.
In a nutshell:
Your favorite movie?
A. Last Action Hero
J. The films of John Carpenter and Takashi Miike
Your favorite book?
A. Over There by Huysmans
J. Ryu Murakami’s automatic locker babies
Your favorite comics/bd/manga?
A. Akira or the Maruo yes!
J. The manga of Suehiro Maruo
Your favorite video game?
A. Castlevania Symphony of the Night
J. The Yakuza series
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