It’s not often that an artist manages to wear different career hats, successfully, while still creating extraordinary pieces that engage and leave viewers in awe. One of the few who get this fine balance right is Olivier Menanteau, also known as Moon, a 2018 Beautiful Bizarre Magazine Art Prize Finalist.
Based in Nantes, France, Moon is an art director and illustrator who, twenty years ago, started to make art with graffiti for the first time. From there, he grew to graduate from art school, worked as a graphic artist, an art director, and as a teacher in these disciplines for five years. A deeply creative individual at his core, Moon shares his personal world through his drawings and paintings under his pseudonym. When glancing over is creations, you’re at once drawn into the intricate details, the delicate lines, and the bright colour palette as a picture of mystery unfolds before you. The eyes of his subjects are shut, beguiling, hidden or even downright creepy – but don’t look away! There’s more just beneath the surface as you peel layer after layer of imaginative wonder from each piece of work. Moon’s been in the business for almost 26 years now and has honed his craft down to a millimetre.
He works with a wide variety of products and techniques to tease the best out of each painting, from Indian ink and watercolours, to copper ink and coloured pencils (and of course the odd paint spray can along the way with his immense wall murals). And each design is infused with a unique flavour, each character developed to a point where you can become lost staring at the page.
In 2018, Moon entered the inaugural Beautiful Bizarre Magazine Art Prize and made the shortlist as a finalist. We caught up with him earlier this year to find out more about his experience, his journey with this art form, and more.
Firstly, tell us about your journey in art, and how you came to the place and style you work in now.
It was at the age of 15 (in 1993) that I really started on the graphic design process. Before that, my graphic culture was composed by Disney feature films, manga anime on television in the 80s, and the Franco-Belgian comics. I lived in a small provincial town and the internet did not yet exist. One day a friend came back from Paris with two graffiti magazines. I immediately fell in love with this form of expression, which I sought to practice and pursued for years.
After a period in Economics College, which had the benefit of making me realise that my place was not there, I started studying graphic design and illustration in a school of applied arts. Then I went to work in a graphic design studio for almost 10 years. And from 2010, I started teaching graphic design for a few years. All the while, however, I was developing a personal universe under the pseudonym Moon. Today, I spend my time almost exclusively to my personal creations and in the self-publication of my art books.
If you could do anything creatively, would you still be doing this?
I don’t know if I really understand the meaning of the question but besides illustration, I have never stopped practising other disciplines like photography, a little bit of video and sculpture. But each time I end up staying very close to the same themes of my paintings and drawings.
Take me through a typical day in your life. What does this entail artistically?
I have two children and work at home with my wife (who is also an artist under the pseudonym of June Leeloo). My typical days are therefore punctuated by school and family life. Usually, the morning is spent replying to messages, spending a little (too much) time on the internet looking at paintings, photos or reading scientific articles, preparing mailings for customers and sending them out. In the afternoon, I produce, draw, paint or sculpt. In the evening, either I continue the things started during the day or I read, watch movies or play video games.
Who or what are you influenced by at the moment, and how do you come up with a new concept for your paintings?
I believe that I have always been inspired by nature and everything it includes, from the infinitely small to the infinitely large. The more I observe and learn about it, whether it is about living species, physics or astrophysics, the more ‘magical’ it looks. This constant wonder also brings me a lot of anxiety and sadness when I see the dramatic consequences of our lifestyles on our environment. This leads me to think that my creations may have an intrinsic militant aspect in trying to show a form of beauty.
But human beings are also capable of the best. I am currently very interested in past Mesoamerican cultures, and more broadly in the cultures of different peoples around the world, who, through their creativity at all levels, are an infinite source of inspiration. On a painting level, I look a lot at the work of Pre-Raphaelite painters. And I always deliciously immerse myself in Moebius’ work. This is obviously a non-exhaustive list.
What are your thoughts on the modern art world and your place in it? Where do you see the industry headed in both the near and far future?
The world of modern art is for me something very abstract. It is therefore complicated to define my place in it because I essentially work alone to promote and sell my works through social networks. Anyhow, they are my modern art world and it’s a great tool that offers a potential window on the world. But it is also very dangerous because we are becoming dependent on algorithms that manage our visibility and the ephemeral nature of our publications.
In short, I find my position as an artist rather fragile. In the future, I think it will be more and more difficult to be visible in this world that is growing a little more every day. But on the other hand, there are no limits and everyone can find their own place.
What are some of your favourite works to date (of your own), and why?
The set of drawings in my last book 365 Squares 2 (one drawing per day for one year) because it represents a huge amount of work.
My book Circus of Souls with Z. Maselko because it is a beautiful collaboration and also my first book with a real story.
The Big One because it is my largest watercolour to date and one of the most accomplished.
My series The Spring Muses because it represents a turn towards a new technique.
Vespidae (a graphite work on gesso) because it is one of my greatest works on canvas in this technique.
The Big One
Congratulations on making it as a finalist for the Beautiful Bizarre Magazine Art Prize last year! We’d love to hear your thoughts on the prize – what was the process like for you, did it meet your expectations, and in which ways?
Thank you I am very happy about it. 🙂 Everything went very well, but in the idea of improving the experience, I think that giving selection criteria could be a plus (even if I know that judging works can be based a lot on feeling).
Let’s talk about The Big One. Why is this piece special to you, what does it represent, and why did you choose this as your entry to the Art Prize?
For my participation, I hesitated for a long time between a watercolour and a graphite work. I chose The Big One because it was a major challenge for me. It is my biggest piece in this technique and therefore was the most accomplished in terms of detail.
Why did you enter the Beautiful Bizarre Magazine Art Prize?
I usually don’t participate in any competitions because I don’t have much confidence in myself and my work. It is the kindness of Beautiful Bizarre’s team and the feedback I have received from them over the past few years that has encouraged me to take my chances this time!
What do you feel you have gained from this experience?
Entering a competition is a risky experience. The fact that I ended up in the finalists gave me a boost of confidence!
Would you recommend it and encourage others to enter?
It’s a very personal choice, I would especially recommend other artists to follow their desires.
Any upcoming exhibitions or news our readers should know about?
I have started working on a new book project that, I hope, will be launched this year but I will say more when the project will be more mature. Otherwise, I will participate in a number of group exhibitions of WOW x WOW. 2018 was very busy and full of surprises, I hope 2019 will be even better. Many thanks to the entire Beautiful Bizarre team for all the work done!