Art Deconstructed by French Artist Mathias Kiss

Born in 1972 in France, from a Hungarian father and a French mother, Mathias Kiss began in 1987 as an apprentice painter glazier, which led him to work for the Compagnons before finally devoting himself entirely to artistic creation from the early 2000s on. The artist explores past and future habitat codes. His work is based on timeless stylistic references, a blend of craftsmanship and contemporary experimentation, and questions the idea of in situ.
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About Mathias Kiss

This artisan-artist started as a painter-glazier apprentice at the age of 14, a time he was expelled from school. At 17, he joined the Compagnons du devoir circle, where he learned and perfected the restoration of national monuments such as the Louvre, Notre-Dame, Comédie Française, Opéra Garnier, the Conseil d’État, among many others. With these great works, of great importance for the traditional French culture, he graduated as a first-rate craftsman. 

Sixteen years later, the big bang came: he quit the Compagnons to start his own practice. The desire to do things differently, to leave the framework, to escape the protocol of French academism, to decode classicism full of rules, and, at the same time, to pay tribute to his masters, their construction site teachers. A courageous and liberating task.

Today, at 47, Mathias poetically deconstructs everything he learned and applied with such patience to the letter. But, of course, he never strays too far from the noble materials and craft techniques that have made classicism a landmark in art history. Mathias modifies and frees them, without questioning whether it is beautiful or ugly, just for the need to create, to continue doing what he learned. The result is a contemporary, avant-garde, and infinitely poetic creation.

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Mathias Kiss

Mathias’ artistic practice is based around reflections and questions about past and future housing design systems. His work is built around timeless stylistic references and experiences, effortlessly combining traditional craftsmanship and contemporary experimentation and materials. Since 2009, he has designed sculptural objects based on these codes of living and housing. Related art objects and in situ installations produced by Kiss explore larger environments and our perception of time and space. His Miroir froissé confronts these ideas more literally - an intricate system of fold and crease in the mirror that is infinitely multiplied, due to the reflections of the mirrored surfaces.

Mathias exhibited last year at the Mobilier National - Les Gobelins with 'carte blanche' to reinterpret the gold, one of his favorite themes. He also exhibited at the Museum of Lille a sculptural work called Besoin d’air,  an in situ installation of a mirror pool that it reflected the ceiling of the museum's atrium, filled with squares of sky and clouds, with a pixelated effect.

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Besoin d’air, 2018 Installation at the Palais des Beaux-Arts of Lille (France). Mirrors, painted paper on glass ©David Zagdoun

The Deconstruction of Classicism 

Mathias Kiss explores the deconstruction of the classical heritage at the crossroads of painting, sculpture and architecture. For reasons inherent to the stages of his career, his work blurs the boundaries between art and craftsmanship, in line with trends such as the Arts & Crafts movement or the Bauhaus school. 

He mastered the academic vocabulary of the Compagnons through the expertise of craftsmanship applied to the restoration of historical monuments, and the knowledge of the styles that have shaped the history of ornament. At the conclusion of his apprenticeship, Mathias Kiss felt the need to free himself from the dogmas dictated by his corporation. A work of artistic questioning then begins in which the decorative elements are diverted from their iconic status or function. They explore the field of abstraction to become sculptures, canvases or in situ installations. 

At the same time, his stylistic vocabulary asserts itself in a heritage completely opposed to his original culture. By evolving towards radical volumes and lines, he shows a modernist perspective to his works. 

As a result, we can observe the uniqueness of a postmodern approach where two heritages interact: French classicism, on the one hand, and modernism (or international style) on the other, through the merging of codes that constantly oscillate between the symbolization of the past and its deconstruction.

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Besoin d’air, 2018 Installation at the Palais des Beaux-Arts of Lille (France). Mirrors, painted paper on glass ©David Zagdoun

It was in a spirit of protest that Mathias Kiss first freed himself from the dogmas associated with the practice of restoring historical monuments. At the end of his years of apprenticeship with the Compagnons, the craftsman artist felt the need to confront an imposed language of strict rules and unwavering references to experimental protocols. Sans 90° radically expresses this intention through a mirror whose frame disappears completely and whose protruding forms ignore the golden rule of the right angle. 

With this work, Mathias Kiss comes one step closer to a purely minimalist approach that is expressed less by opposition than by a dialogue between the classical heritage with which he has had to deal and the modernist spirit with which he has become familiar.

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Besoin d’air, 2018 Installation at the Palais des Beaux-Arts of Lille (France). Mirrors, painted paper on glass ©David Zagdoun

The subject of the mirror is once again used to express the work of deconstructing codes inherited from the classical era. This time it is freed from its reflective function and its sacred status as a decorative object by being fragmented into different sections in equal parts. 

The result is a conceptual work by the degree of openness it operates in terms of perception and in its relationship to space. From a formal point of view, the object breaks away from its academic format to invest the field of abstraction with multiple interpretations, whether we see a screen or a panoramic landscape. Depending on its location and orientation, it is the environment that may be deconstructed: fragmented, amplified, and in so doing, metamorphosed. 

(David Herman)

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Besoin d’air, 2018 Installation at the Palais des Beaux-Arts of Lille (France). Mirrors, painted paper on glass ©David Zagdoun

At the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille, you can see a sky on the ceiling - one of the specialities of the former craftsman painter. “This sky is inspired by 18th century painting,” he comments. “It is dramatic, dark and even spiritual. Here it resonates with its surroundings, with the works preserved in the museum.” Printed on transparent plastic, blurred into squares like so many pixels, it continues a work begun in installations such as Underwater, where a paper marquetry sky was already playing with our perceptions. On the ground, a shimmering basin, also made up of a myriad of small squares, reflects this sky and also flows well beyond its rim, also continuing the pattern of previous drips calling for getting out of the frame (of our habits, of our classifications, of the academism to which Mathias Kiss must have bent in his previous life). 

(Delphine Roche)

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Golden Snake, 2016 Installation - exhibition view Double Je, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (France). Wood, moulded plaster, gold leaf gilding 100 linear metres, variable dimensions ©David Zagdoun

The Underwater installation is in line with Mathias Kiss’ reflection on habitat. It is composed of a marquetry of 4800 pieces of paper in 67 different colours drawing a sky through the lapping of the water surface. A belt of mirrors above the cornice multiplies it ad infinitum outside the basin, which is itself vertically painted with 56 horizontal blue strips in shades, materialising the depth of light disappearing towards the bottom. An installation between eroded rock and abyssal ruin imposes and allows to open perceptions and sensations to any possible cerebral escape.

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In situ #3, 2018 Installation in the Mobilier National’s Chapel, Paris (France). Gold leaf gilding on the ground ©David Zagdoun

As part of the exhibition Creating for Louis XIV, Mathias Kiss has invested the Chapel of the Gobelins of the National Furniture with IN SITU #3

The emblematic colour of the Sun King, gold, becomes a work in space. By taking hold of a 17th century decorative code, the artist reinterprets it in his own way, in a complete break with the past use that Charles Le Brun, Louis XIV’s painter and director of the Manufacture des Gobelins, had made of it. This colour is no longer a symbol of distance (royalty, wealth) but of physical proximity. 

This evolution of colour shows a change in status: it is no longer a symbolic distance but becomes a perception. It is no longer in the materiality of the decorative but in the sensitive spatial experience. 

(Marc Bayard, curator of the exhibition)

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