Sex appeal

French artist Cédrix Crespel talks us through his erotically-charged bright canvases depicting seductive, strong women in various guises, including the ultimate muse: his wife.

2018-09-28 | byKim Laidlaw

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Sous La Lumière - Pleurer de JOIE by Cedrix Crespel
Sous La Lumière - Pleurer de JOIE by Cedrix Crespel

Dressed head to toe in black, with tattooed arms peeking out of his shirt sleeves, and silver earrings glinting through dishevelled hair, Cédrix Crespel could easily be taken for a rock star. Even his name, with its unexpected “x” and sibilant alliteration, conjures up a slick stage name lit up in red neon. But, while this multi-talented 40-something Frenchman does indeed create music—featuring poetic lyrics and an electro-synth sound—it is art that has been his focus for the last 20 years. Through his large-scale canvases, he explores eroticism, femininity and sexuality, painting abstracted women surrounded by graphic lines that zigzag across the surface like expressive swipes of spray paint.

"An artist has an obligation to be a reflection of their generation."

Both his style and his subject matter are firmly anchored in our times. Even if, by his own admission, he didn’t own a computer until he was 25 years old, right from the very start of his career, Crespel thought about the use of digital in his work. It is important to him that a contemporary artist be a product of, and a mirror to, contemporary culture. “An artist has an obligation to be a reflection of their generation. More so than even sticking to the spirit of the times or even the tastes of the moment,” says Crespel. As a part of the digital era, he feels a need for this to be transposed onto his work. This manifests itself in his highly stylized world, in which a lacquered surface painted in enamel mixes solid blocks of saturated flat colour and provides a dynamic, virtual atmosphere for characters outlined in black. Writer and journalist Olivier Cachin goes as far to say that Crespel’s subjects escape cliché as “they are painted with the love of an artist who refuses to choose between the coldness of the computer and the arbitrary line of the spray can”.

Indeed, as a further reflection of the times in which we live—a post #MeToo era— the pressure and harassment that women experience don’t leave Cédrix Crespel indifferent either. All the more so as his work is so heavily centred on the portrayal and treatment of women. In contrast to what he describes as the “abuse of power, which is the antithesis of how I see the relationship between men and women”, he tries to make the male-female dynamic “more beautiful”. He sees his role as an artist in this context as continuing to pay homage to those who inspire him, “by attempting, in my own way, to paint and portray a woman who invents a story, rendering her even stronger and wiser than man in all his bestiality”.

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"I am simply a painter who tries to translate his life, his anxieties and his questions through a graphic vocabulary."

More than mere subjects, his muses contribute to the creation of his work. They are not passive models, but active, powerful accomplices. “The muses with whom I work have all participated in a playful way to the creation of work which, more than a representation, is a homage to their unfading charms.”

She Is Sidoni - Pleurer de JOIE by Cedrix Crespel
She Is Sidoni - Pleurer de JOIE by Cedrix Crespel


In addition to working with muses—whether they be friends or strangers—his wife Tiphaine Crespel has also played a role in his work. “And then life and its cracks led her to question the role of the couple in art, or more specifically how to be, how to remain, how to become a Muse,” Crespel recounts. And so it was that, whilst on an artists’ residency in Morocco, correspondence with his spouse led to the creation of a new series, which would later make up the exhibition entitled Pleurer de Joie. Tiphaine sent him self-portraits and he created sketches directly inspired by these photos.

His wife is also a source of inspiration for his upcoming exhibition in Hong Kong in 2019, in conjunction with the Galerie Paris 1839, which will be called DEEP POLA. For this, he will be working on five of her Polaroid photos, “The idea being to stretch her own work to the limits through a profound and deep reading of it.” In contrast to his signature bright hues, he explains: “I will also renounce my colour palette to respect the original shades of her photos.”

As much as Cédrix Crespel might look every inch the rock band frontman, in many ways it is the women he paints who take the centre stage in his work. His role is as the artist who transcribes their physicality, their femininity, their power on to the canvas. “I am simply a painter who tries to translate his life, his anxieties and his questions through a graphic vocabulary which is, in the end, the consequence of work that has been repeated a thousand times.”

Visit Cedrix Crepel's website