Jean-Luc Déjean: “I see the woman’s body like poetry”

Guadeloupean sculptor and painter Jean-Luc Déjean - Photo: Évelyne Chaville

On April 19, 2021, we interviewed painter and sculptor Jean-Luc Déjean, in his studio located between Pointe-à-Pitre and Les Abymes. We were surprised that the work of such a talented artist has never been highlighted by our media, immediately after our visit some journalists came to visit him (including national television in Guadeloupe but for a superficial report), strange coincidence… His major exhibition project at the Arawak Hotel last June did not materialize, it was a big disappointment but others were born like this exhibition “Mayaj” which was held from December 14 to 24 – with Michèle Chomereau-Lamotte and Catherine Plugliesi-Conti – at La Galerie in Pointe-à-Pitre. Kariculture invites you to discover this great Guadeloupean artist through this long interview.

Jean-Luc Déjean 23A
Jean-Luc Déjean : Where do you come from?

Jean-Luc Déjean : I’m from Pointe-à-Pitre, at the time when we were still born in Pointe-à-Pitre, I was born in the old Saint-Nicolas clinic (laughs). : Since when are you an artist sculptor?

J.-L. D. : I started drawing when I was 16 or 17 years old, when I left school. I’ve been sculpting for 10 to 11 years. I started with painting which led me to sculpting, I still paint. I am self-taught in both disciplines. I have always been attracted by beauty, colors, shapes. I used to paint, I didn’t get tired of it but I thought I could go to the “3 dimensional” side and that led me to sculpting. : When did you decide to become a painter?

J.-L. D. : By dint of creating, you accumulate a quantity of paintings, and you think that you will have to do something with them.

Jean-Luc Déjean 31D : What did you study? Are there any artists in your family?

J.-L. D. : My school career was chaotic because I was dyslexic and I still am, it was not detected so I was considered lazy. I took refuge in art. Maybe I have inherited my artistic side from my grandfather, he was a dancer, singer… : Why didn’t you study in an art school?

J.-L. D. : We are a large family, we were 11 at home. It was a luxury to go to an art school. : What was the reaction of your parents when you told them that you were going to make an artistic career?

J.-L. D. : My father was a masonry contractor, I worked with him and, whenever I had time, I drew. I had a life in the morning and another life at night and this habit of working art at night has remained with me. Then, my father died at the time of Hurricane Hugo (1989), I did not want to continue the profession so I was freer to devote myself to my passion. I had not yet started working with junk.

Jean-Luc Déjean 13CC : What was your mother’s reaction when she saw you coming in with all that junk?

J.-L. D. : (Laughs) At first, as long as you don’t make noise, nobody minds. My mother lives in the house next door. You didn’t have to store things in front of the house in the first place. My mother was polite and said, “How many days is this going to stay there?” every time I put scrap metal behind her house (laughs), and I answered her tomorrow and finally it stayed there for a long time. She and people thought I had a problem when they saw me picking up all this junk, but when they saw me turning things into art, it became something beautiful. : Didn’t she tell you that her house is not the Gabarre dump?

J.-L. D. : Yes (laughs)… At the time, I was studying the human body in books and it took me years. In this phase, there was, the human body, beauty and the movement, the biggest difficulty. In terms of aesthetics, I studied Michelangelo, in terms of movement, it was Rodin, he is very clever. In Guadeloupe, there is Rovelas, we crossed each other once, we talked for 5 minutes. He is a guy who doesn’t talk much and I don’t talk much, we looked at each other in the eyes, saying “hello! : After all these years of collecting, it was necessary to produce. How did that happen?

J.-L. D. : Then I found myself in a dead end. There are 10 billion women and you have to focus your brain on one woman, one body and it was a big problem. I asked myself what to do? So I was attracted to the easy way, that is to say the Caribbean, because I saw women passing every day…

Jean-Luc Déjean 10B : Why didn’t you take your inspiration from the Guadeloupean woman from the beginning?

J.-L. D. : When you do something, there is a symbol, a shape but there must be a thought behind it. Guadeloupean women are fighters, little warriors, they often sulk.

There are very beautiful Guadeloupean women and I say this without being misogynistic or pretentious. An Italian woman can be in a museum and that doesn’t bother anyone, a Caribbean woman can be in a museum, for a Guadeloupean woman people will think that you are using her body for profit. People here only see the nude… What was your first work? What was it called?

J.-L. D. : It was a human-sized sculpture, a romantic scene, but I broke it down to recover parts. It was a guy crouching, asking a woman for her hand or asking her forgiveness. The first work is rarely successful unless you’re very lucky. This piece was called “Les Amants Crépusculaires”. I reused the pieces to make “The rape of the Sabines women” which has been in front of the studio for two and a half months ; it is a copy of a work that speaks of a war, I have to finish the feet and the two heads, it will be the centerpiece of the exhibition at the Arawak Hotel. : How many painting exhibitions have you done?

J.-L. D. : About ten, everywhere. When you do research, you always find Picasso, the classics, I was inspired by Cuban painter Wifredo Lam, I like his vertical side, his Caribbean side.

Jean-Luc Déjean 55M : Have you ever exhibited your sculptures?

J.-L. D. : Yes, I did private exhibitions, for example, I did two editions at Mercedes. Private organizers don’t advertise so people don’t pay attention. : Are your works purchased?

J.-L. D. : Yes, one of my works is at Mercedes… : Your workshop is located between the biggest hospital in Guadeloupe, the University Hospital, and a well-known funeral home ; you work here on the roadside so everyone sees you and hears the noise of your tools. How do you explain that no media outlet has made a serious report on your work during all these years?

J.-L. D. : (Laughs) I don’t know.

Jean-Luc Déjean 14F : Are you very or too discreet?

J.-L. D. : Some people like to show off, to be a star, but I think that’s not the goal of the artist. The goal of the artist is to be in his studio every day. That’s why I consider myself between a craftsman and an artist, more like a craftsman. : How old are you?

J.-L. D. : I am 50 years old. : But, you look 16 years old...

J.-L. D. : (Laughs) It’s sport. I’ve been doing some sports all my life…

Jean-Luc Déjean 22G : About sculpting, why did you turn to metal? You could have chosen wood… What attracts you to metal?

J.-L. D. : Metal has a masculine, male side. The idea was to make people forget about metal, the primary object, to transform the thing into a beauty like the woman’s body. That’s why I make more women than men. : Are you fascinated by women?

J.-L. D. : By the woman’s body (laughs). Women are curvy, I am inspired by the Caribbean morphology. My dream is that a Caribbean morphology is found in a museum, I cross my fingers. : Companies working in recycling surely have problems with you since you collect all the junk. Where do you find it?

J.-L. D. : (Laughs) I find it in unhealthy places, in the trash, people look at me strangely. Every time I see a piece of metal in the trash, I pick it up.

Jean-Luc Déjean 20H : Do people come to bring you metal objects that they don’t want to take to the dump?

J.-L. D. : Yes, very often… I’ve been here since the beginning. This was my grandmother’s house, I even grew up here… : You don’t have a car, how do you transport the parts when they are heavy? How much metal do you recover per week?

J.-L. D. : No, I don’t have a car, I ride my bike, I am 100% green. I collect a lot of metal waste every day. That’s a lot. I spot it first and then I collect it. I always make sure I have enough metal to make a whole female body. If there’s a commission, I collect more, I collect anything and everything because you never know what you’ll need. At the moment, I have a commission from the city of Les Abymes, the contract is not yet signed, it will be the body of a woman… I also have an exhibition at the Arawak Hotel from June 3 to 25, there will be painting and sculpting : 4 large sculptures and 8 paintings as well as a dozen small works, in wood and metal, way primitive art. : Apart from the female body which fascinates you, have you ever made other metal works?

J.-L. D. : A cat, for the sweet side of the beast (laughs). The world is quite brutal, I’m not someone who does things for shock, we already have a lot in real life to add more. I see the woman’s body like poetry, in my head it tells a story. For example, a woman with a more dynamic body, we feel that she does some sports, she is been through some rough stuff, I would say… There is everything, Beaudelaire, romanticism. I like poetry, I am a fan of words. I write because I have to. When I create I have to write to guide me, otherwise my mind goes in all directions, I write a small text of maximum 6 or 7 lines.

Jean-Luc Déjean 44
Michel Belrose : How many sculptures have you already made?

J.-L. D. : About ten, and all of them are human-sized. It takes me between 3 and 4 months to make one. I have also had an assistant for years named Michel Belrose. He has an artist’s soul, he is proud when the sculpture is successful. : What are your tools ?

J.-L. D. : The hammer, the welder and the pliers. : You have been in the art for about thirty years, do you live off your work? How do you live through this Covid-19 period?

J.-L. D. : More or less. During this Covid, I saw things less badly than the other artists, I was creating. In fact, I had applied to exhibit at the Arawak, if they keep the date of June, it will be very interesting for me otherwise it will be very complicated.

Jean-Luc Déjean 53K : Are you confident?

J.-L. D. : They are serious and even more efficient than the public sector, when you apply to them it’s a minimum of 1 year or 1 year and a half of waiting. I called the person in charge, Élisabeth, recently and she told me it’s okay. : Who comes to see your exhibitions? When was your last exhibition?

J.-L. D. : My last exhibition was 4 or 5 years ago at Mercedes. There are visitors who come to see beauty, aesthetics, others who are more expert come for morphology, proportions and often, people tell me that it is really well proportioned. The human body, you rarely venture there because in sculpting, you cannot cheat. : What are your recent works?

J.-L. D. : I made a totem pole for Pousse-Pousse, 2m40 by 5m50, it’s 3 tons of metal, I had to make something beautiful. I also started designing and I make small pieces, I create things for a wedding, for example. I have already sold three tables (…).