Imagine a perfectly fleshy pre-Raphaelite bottom, rendered not in paint but in pastel-coloured foam. This is the work of fine artist Etienne Gros, whose series Les Mousses sculpts polyurethane foam around wire skeletons to form undulating chunky forms, uncannily like human bodies but completely inert.
Gros is aware of his dialogue with art history. “At first glance they recall the remains of Greek sculptures,” he says, “but marble is stable whereas foam is rather unstable, perishable, therefore more alive and closer to the human body.” It is this idea of “universality” that is present throughout the work: forms that are recognisable, human, but preserved and enduring. “It’s a metaphor for life and death.”
The photographs presented here are the result of a collaboration with photographer and visual artist Matthieu Lavanchy. He discovered Gros’ work through a friend and came to his studio to shoot the sculptures. The space was filled with mattresses – as Gros uses the foam inside to make the sculptures from – and Lavanchy was thrilled by the unusual decoration of the mattresses, “some cut and open, some still new and wrapped. It looked really great.” He used the balancing mattresses for the background of his pictures, and the result is bright and spontaneous.
Lavanchy poses the curves of the “bodies” against jutting pastel lines in the background, the form and colours of the mattresses juxtaposing the roundness of a sculpture’s belly or the curvature of its handmade spine. The sensuousness of posing these strange nudes against mattresses, with their own sensuous connotations, is inescapable; but everything we see is inanimate. It creates a curious visual experience: one as much of sensation as of stillness.
Gros’ use of foam goes beyond aesthetics or convenience. “Polyurethane foam is a material used by most human of all countries and all social categories. Every day we are in contact with this foam: sitting or lying on cushions, chairs, sofas, beds, car seats… All this foam wrapped in fabric or leather, taking on the shape of our bodies. We are born, we sleep, we make love and die on this matter.” The sculptor bridges the gap between the foam’s basic, invisible use, and our dependence on it, making work that fuses the two; and is visually gorgeous besides.
All images (C) Matthieu Lavanchy.