Artist of the Week - Ernest Pignon-Ernest

December 17, 2015

With so much attention JR’s work is gaining today, it might be a good time to speak about the art of Ernest Pignon-Ernest, the man who has paved a way for the generations of young French urban artists. Before JR was even born, Ernest Pignon-Ernest was wandering the streets of Paris, wheat pasting his monochromatic site-specific artworks and delivering powerful social and political commentaries. Situationist and a member of Fluxus, Ernest Pignon-Ernest is now widely considered a legend, urban art pioneer and forerunner of the street art movement in France. Born in Nice in 1942, he has been present on the scene since the mid-1960’s with his spatial interventions that bring to the surface forgotten histories, buried memories and politically informed remarks on the state of the society. Currently, the works of Pignon-Ernest, inspired by death and life of the Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini are on view in Paris.

Space Symbolism in the Work of Ernest Pignon-Ernest

To understand the art of Ernest Pignon-Ernest, one must look closely to his connection with Fluxus and the intellectual foundation of Situationist movement. Both of this movements informed Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s aesthetics and his political consciousness. His first public artwork was created in 1966 in reaction to France’s Nuclear Strike Force and Hiroshima victims, and in the years that followed, he continued a line of politically inspired artistry. The decision to take his art to the streets and the focus on site-specificity, as means of adding layers of meaning and symbolism to the image, is one of the main reasons why Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s work is now seen as a pioneering achievement in the field of urban art. Now, the artist is not only popular among the street art enthusiasts, but also contemporary art lovers and collectors (See auction results for Ernest Pignon-Ernest's pieces).Usually monochromatic, the drawings of Pignon-Ernest come to life only when they’re placed in a particular location, revealing the forgotten history of the place and memories connected to the specific site. His wheat pastes beautifully capture a range of social situations, honoring the historic figures who were pushed on the margins by the society and addressing the issues society tries to overlook.

Return of Pasolini

The questions of history and remembrance have always had a special place in Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s work. For his latest exhibition at Openspace Gallery in Paris, the artist will revisit an important moment from the past century, seeking the answers to the questions that have been left answered for decades. The exhibition titled Si Je Reviens (“If I Return”) deals with the murder of one of the most prominent figures in Italian cinematography - Pier Paolo Pasolini. New sketches, photographs, and drawings feature an image of the Italian intellectual and cinematographer, holding his deceased self in his arms, and asking for the questions regarding his death to be answered. Powerful, yet disquieting representation addresses the issue of false testimonies, forgotten witness statements, removed evidence, which in later years lead to the mystifications of the case, where it became unclear who is responsible for Pasolini’s death. Ernest Pignon-Ernest also placed the image of Pasolini on various walls in Italy, following the trail of the cinematographer, from the locations related to his films to the place where he was assassinated. As always, Ernest Pignon-Ernest passionately draws to the surface the problems that were pushed under the carpet, paying tribute to one of the greatest cinematographers of the past century.

ernest pignon ernest exhibition
Ernest Pignon-Ernest, in the studio

Ernest Pignon-Ernest - Ecce Homo - Photo Credits UCLyon
Ernest Pignon-Ernest - Ecce Homo

Ernest Pignon-Ernest - Homme Allonge Napoli, 1998
Ernest Pignon-Ernest - Homme Allonge Napoli, 1998

Contemporary Art
Ernest Pignon Ernest, YoYos

Featured images: Ernest Pignon Ernest. Photo via; Ernest Pignon-Ernest - Arthur Rimbaud; Ernest Pignon Ernest - Intervention in Naples. Courtesy of the artist; Ernest Pignon-Ernest - The work in Matera, 2015; Ernest Pignon-Ernest - Naples, 2015. Courtesy of Openwalls Gallery

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