We meet him every day in the streets of the capital of Guadeloupe. Both children and adults know him. He is cool, smiling and ready to discuss with people. It is Jean-Pierre Fronton alias “Jipé Fronton”, best known as a plastic artist but, as we will see, the man has many occupations that he exercises with talent.
Jean-Pierre was only 8 years old when he received the call of painting. “The first thing I painted was a coconut. We went to visit my father’s cousin who was a fisherman, there were paint pots in his house so I took a coconut, I drew on it the map of Guadeloupe with Basse-Terre, the whole mountain not forgetting the Soufrière volcano and Grande-Terre with a man sat down under a coconut tree, the sea, a bottle of rum which is floating in the water…”, he remembers. But Jean-Pierre never imagines at this moment that the practice of this art will become part of his adult life.
In Basse-Terre, where he grows up with his parents, his brothers and sisters, he receives a classical schooling which he will continue in France where, in 1973, his whole family settles down. However, the need to create, the taste for aestheticism, manual work remain present in him :“First, I had training in ironwork in Strasbourg, I made for example balconies in Louis XIV style (…)”, he says. Jean-Pierre always thinks about his native island so he regularly comes back “to recharge his batteries”. In 1976, a month after the eruption of the Soufière volcano which causes the displacement of thousands of inhabitants from southern Basse-Terre Island (commonly known as La Soufrière events), Jean-Pierre returns to his land…
A quest for identity
In the 1980s, the young man decides to return home and to create his company in the ironwork industry. His new life lasts only three years because he eventually follows his girlfriend at the time who chooses to go to France. He settles in Nantes.“Given that this town is known for its past in the slave trade, I started to ask myself questions about me, about my miscegenation. Indeed, my maternal grandmother was a Vietnamese-Cambodian half-caste. My father, a native of the municipality of Bouillante, is a descendant of the Carib Indians, he met my mother in Vietnam during the war. As for my mother’s father, he was a Martinican. I was thinking a lot especially about, in the French West Indies, the children were forbidden to speak Creole, about we were taught at school that our ancestors were Gauls etc.” It is during one of his introspections and his quest for identity that Jean-Pierre takes the decision to express himself on paintings : “One Sunday in Nantes, I was thinking of the West Indies, I was sitting in the living room and my eyes fell on the famous coconut that I had painted at the age of 8 which was near the TV. I had kept it for all these years and it was with me everywhere. So, I decided to come back to painting”.
At that time, the young Guadeloupean works in the entertainment, a sector where he came up by chance. Indeed, when he is in a bar in Rouen with a friend, two directors – one in events planning and the other at the head of a training center called ARTS (Agence Régionale des Techniques du Spectacle), which has since become STAFF (Spectacles et Techniques, Association Française de Formation) – sat not far from them, ask them if they want to work in the entertainment and give them their contact information.“I went to the appointment. I learned everything on the spot, I became a lighting technician, a machinist and a sound technician (…)”, he says
Plastic artist “Jipé” was born
In France, thanks to his training as technical agent for the intertainment and then as electrician, between 1989 and 2003, Jean-Pierre collaborates with numerous festivals (Festival de la Mer in Saint-Nazaire, Festival de la Gournerie in Saint-Herblain ; Festival Tropical in La Baule, Festival des Allumés, Festival Reggae Night and Festival Fin de Siècle in Nantes ; Festival de Théâtre in Lille etc.), he works in various cultural places like Théâtre Onyx in Nantes, Salle Olympique in Nantes, La Coursive Scène nationale in La Rochelle…
At the same time, Jean-Pierre Fronton begins, as we said, a career of painter under the pseudonym of Jipé Fronton : “I made my first painting in 1993… When I had a dozen paintings, a friend – Christophe Maisonneuve – pointed out to me that I could make an exhibition, personally I thought I needed a lot more. Then one day, with a friend of his, they told me : “We registered you at an exhibition”. I went there and I must confess that I was pleasantly surprised by the public comments. The press had described my work as an “imaged and colorful painting.” For me, my painting was a part of expressionism, impressionism, symbolism… I had signed my own name, Jean-Pierre Fronton, to my works but a journalist made a mistake by writting my first name, he had called me “Jipé” then I adopted this pseudonym’, he explains.
As from that date, the artist regularly presents his work to the public : today, he has organized or participated in some forty exhibitions in the region of Pays de la Loire (including at the 1st Salon International de Peinture-Sculpture Nantes Façade Atlantique where he is the recipient of the Diplome d’Honneur awarded for his painting “Île Romantique”) then, in Guadeloupe ; for his works, he obtains other distinctions such as the diploma and medal from Salon GANFA in Nantes, the bronze medal painting-sculpture from the National Federation of Fine Arts in Nantes or the medal of the city of Basse-Terre…).
After his travels to Spain in 2015 where he visites the Picasso, Dali and Miró museums and to Cuba in 2016, now, Jipé Fronton experiments with fauvism and cubism.
An artistic bulimia
Being on all fronts and planning comings and goings between his native island and France, by 1997, he exercises punctually his skills of lighting designer at L’Artchipel Scène Nationale in Basse-Terre, at Centre des Arts in Pointe-à-Pitre, at Basse-Terre’s Auditorium during several concerts, including that of Guadeloupean singer Tanya Saint-Val, he makes the illuminations at Maison du Patrimoine, Chapp House, the town hall and the Cathedral in Basse-Terre…
In 2006, he is part of the original team that creates several slideshows on : the history of La Route du Rhum, the slave trade, Zabim Theater Festival…
His thirst for creation continues with a comic cabaret, a show of musical prose, theater plays…
In 2007, he launches the Creators of Art Fair “Chèz an nou Bèl” which takes place now, and every year, in the town hall square of Basse-Terre.
Thanks to his professional experience and his title of Technical Director of the performing arts companies and his degree from Institut Supérieur des Techniques du Spectacle (ISTS) in Avignon in 2002, as a performer intermittently employed in the entertainment industry, he becomes responsible for the technical management in many performance halls including the Auditorium in Basse-Terre.
In 2007, Jean-Pierre Fronton joins the town hall of Basse-Terre as a local officer. Since 2011, the artist goes to the middle-school Richard Samuel in Gourbeyre to introduce children to the history of art and to present his show of musical prose.
That same year, he decides to create an art gallery, a resident in Basse-Terre lends him a room near the bus station. La Maison de l’Art is born. In 2014, the municipality of the capital places a larger space at its disposal at Rue Baudot.
“What I want for my city of Basse-Terre is a culture of quality for the largest number of people”, declares Jipé Fronton.