We spoke to artist Xavier Veilhan about meeting the robots, sculpting Rick Rubin's beard, and his new double exhibition, 'Music,' which opens this week at Galerie Perrotin.
"The funny thing is I didn't even ask them," Veilhan tells me via phone call while installing Music, a double exhibition opening this week at Galerie Perrotin's New York and Paris locations. "It was a very logical response to my proposal: I proposed to introduce them as producers, not as musicians, and so after talking to them, we decided that they should appear with their civilian names. [...] They proposed to me: 'Okay, we should make the sculpture the non-existing image of us. So if somebody wants to see how we are like in real [life] they'll have to look at the sculpture."
The resulting artworks are part of a collection inspired by the parallels Veilhan saw between music producers and visual artists—"like a kind of not-very-visible person behind the work." In addition to Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, Veilhan has turned Nigel Godrich, Quincy Jones, Giorgio Moroder, The Neptunes (Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams), Lee “Scratch” Perry, Rick Rubin and Philippe Zdar, among others, into statues. "I had been thinking about it for a few years and we made the decision quite late. Everything was done in a rush, but it was a great energy, because the biggest part was not to make the actual sculptures, but to contact the actual producers," Veilhan says, "and I didn't have a clue about how much they would respond to the idea."
Apparently, they responded well: "They were all kind of easygoing with the fact that I showed up and made their portraits, and it was not such a big deal," Veilhan explains. "It was more of a discussion, you know? I came with my small sketchbook with a drawing inside." The results, created from scans made using two Artec wide-angle scanners, 1 Artec Eva scanner, and modeled in Artec studio, are lifelike statues of the sonic superstars.
"I wanted to have a certain density and realism in these sculptures, as opposed to the immateriality of music and the non-visual aspects of what the producers are doing," Veilhan tells me. "I wanted it to be very real. That's why the first statues are smaller than human-size: you have a human figure but the scale is not [human], so you look at them kindly, in a way."
In the case of the Rick Rubin sculpture, Veilhan recalls he "read somewhere that he spent most of the time laying on a sofa in the studio; that he was keeping a distance with what was happening in the studio." The artist proposed that the producer lay for the sculpture, which Rubin immediately agreed to.
"It was more like a dialogue," he says. "I tried to find the essense of the physical presence of the person in the room. Not a portrait like a psychological portrait, but more like the feeling that you have from them."
But it wasn't that easy. When asked about sculpting Rick Rubin's beard, Veilhan laughs and explains that it was "Very difficult. The light gets lost in the hair, so you have to reconstruct it in post-production after the scanning, and of course Rick Rubin's beard is kind of extreme. We looked a lot at several renaissance sculptures, which were interesting because when you're doing a marble sculpture, you also have this problem of how to give the rendering of hair. We looked at a lot of Classical sculptures, especially Bernini, and we tried to find a kind of compromise. But I think it worked quite well in the end."
Also on display as part of Music, Veilhan created Mobile (Music), a massive mobile consisting of 30 floating spheres, "as well as several Mini Mobiles, which evoke the music created by the producers," according to the exhibition's press release. "The mobiles are interesting because they are very freely moving," he explains. "They don't have a definitive shape. They're always changing, but they are also strongly filling the air, like music does."
Ultimately for Veilhan, who sees the process of artmaking as "building a situation where you can meet and interact with people that you like, love, or that you admire," creating the sculptures gave him the opportunity to simply enjoy the company of artists he looks up to. Of the 15 minute scanning process, he states: "If you want the person to stay still, you can't talk to them. It was strange because you have all of my heroes, and you're in the same room, but you can't really talk. Sort of a frustrating process, but also very funny. With people I like, I like to not talk, and just to be in the same place, like a family in a house, or when you're driving in a car and you spend some time with people and you don't always talk. You might listen to the same music or look at the same landscape, and during the scanning session, I had the same feeling. Like, Quincy Jones was in the same room, and we were just spending time together."
Click here to learn more about Xavier Veilhan's Music exhibition in New York City from February 26th – April 11th at Galerie Perrotin.