Jean-Pierre Roc-Roussey’s paintings combine swirls of bright colour with dynamic movement

The paintings of Jean-Pierre Roc-Roussey are the very stuff of fairy tales: a mermaid reclines in an explosion of royal blue and a mysterious Japanese princess is wrapped in a brilliantly coloured kimono, as if escaping from an otherworldly universe. Always bearing his signature baroque stamp, Roc-Roussey’s work touches upon renaissance, neoclassical and Eastern themes, while hinting at the fragility of humankind and the power of love.

His most recent exhibition, Turbans and Kimonos, which ran from September 17 to October 1 at Opera Gallery in Beirut, showcased Roc-Roussey’s characteristic flamboyance, with imaginary characters donning the extravagant clothing the artist favours, most notably oversized turbans and striking kimonos.

“My initial idea was to get inspired by Japan’s famous erotic prints,” Roc-Roussey says. “I painted one, but then moved on to kimonos, and then to more Eastern-themed paintings. I ended with the works for Turbans and Kimonos, the majority of which were produced in 2015.”
Like his previous work, Roc-Roussey’s new paintings focus mainly on strong women. “I like to paint women wearing men’s clothes,” he says, “especially warriors and amazons. Their clothes are inspired by the Renaissance and antiquity, and there’s always an Asian influence.”

The 64-year-old French artist started painting at a very young age and went on to study art at the Ecole Supérieure d’Art Moderne in Paris. In spite of his passion for painting, he first found work as a creative director at various agencies, producing illustrations for books, graphic design and more. “I had exhibitions in parallel to my work,” he says, “but at the time everything I painted was dark, and I wasn’t selling very well.”

He started paintings in wilder and more brilliant colours — and unexpectedly his sales picked up.
“Gilles Dyan, the founder of Opera Gallery, approached me in 2000, and he’s been representing me ever since,” the artist explains, adding that his relationship with Dyan has always had a positive impact on his work. “He lets me paint what I want, whenever I want, and he takes care of everything.”

Opera Gallery’s wide geographical reach — with locations across North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia — has also given Roc-Roussey an incredibly varied audience, introducing his exuberant artworks to people across the globe.

Roc-Roussey works in acrylic, oil and sometimes even gold paint. “It’s a real pleasure to transform colours,” he said. “I love to work with natural pigments that I mix with glue or other media to obtain high-intensity paint. It’s as if I’m connecting with the master painters of the past, becoming one with them.”

Even though the paintings for Turbans and Kimonos have only just been completed, Roc-Roussey is already thinking about his next project. From his two ateliers, one in Paris’ Montmartre neighbourhood and the other in the South of France, he intends to explore Native American themes, in his own brilliant and vigorous fashion, of course. “It depends on my inspiration,” he says.

Whatever he decides to paint next, Roc-Roussey is sure to create works with exalting figures that bear his timeless, fantastical touch. •