Lionel Sabatté’s use of toenails and dead skin to make art pieces

Dead skin, toenails and dustwolfs ended up being on the menu last saturday when I lured two friends, visiting from Denmark, to the Backslash gallery‘s vernissage with tales of wine and art. The Backslash gallery was this evening celebrating its second birthday with the opening of the exhibition « Family and Friends ». An exhibition that summarizes the lifespan of the small gallery with a potpourri of the works of the different artists that have been showcased there throughout the years and some that have been invited as a guest artist for the event. The classical, but not too stern-looking, white-cubish space of the gallery contains many interesting pieces, but our attentions were especially drawn to the works of the french artist Lionel Sabatté. Works that can be labeled among other things as brilliant conversation starters.

From afar the works of Lionel Sabatté, exhibited at the gallery, looks quite traditional and almost more scientific than artistic; three frames with pinned butterflies on a white background. But as you look closer you quickly realize that the insect bodies have been replaced by what appears to be tiny human skeletons. Tiny bones and skulls made of nailclippings and human skin. A fact that is not pointed out by any plaque at the gallery, but which makes the works a sort of exploration, where you have to establish the artistic materials yourself. A task that we completed, when we found a skeleton thigh with a fingerprint on it. Whereafter our discussion quickly turned pragmatic and was infused with bad humor, as we wondered where the nails and the skin had been procured. The seemingly gloomy pieces do in fact seem to invoke humor, despite the fact that they are created by the stacking of mortality and fragility connotations, such as pinned butterflies and skeletons, and executed with literaly dead materials. The absurdity of the use of nail clippings and peeled of skin as artistic materials creates an interesting contrast to the representation of  bones and death. A contrast that destabilize the works and keep them from becoming too serious and too literal, which would have pushed them dangerously close to being clichés because of the overwhelming use of memento mori connotations. This means, that even though the artist uses instantly recognizable images in a very tradition way, he still makes sure that they suddenly become somehow distorted or more foreign when you look closer and discover the materials. The images that easily could have fallen into bad pathos and a reminiscent chanting about memento mori therefore appears interesting and the mini-sculptures seem too offer a new view on the old « we are all going to die sometime » theme, without being reminiscent or repetitive.

It is especially Sabatte’s choice of unusual materials that render the pieces interesting and induces discussion. A tactic that are also to be found in his latest project where he, as he jokingly explained, have made wolfs of dust. The juxtapositioning of odd materials and traditional motifs continues in this series of work, where the image of the wolf is contrasted by the ephemeric quality of dust. The main movement in Sabatte’s works seem to be an interaction between context and construction. An interaction which gives the initially easily recognisable works an unpredictable and interesting quality. A quality that is to be found in many of his works, where he, in different ways and in different mediums, seems to invoke the relationship between the expected and the unexpected. The friends might have come for the wine, but they ended up stayed for the nailclippings and the stories of dustwolfs.

Some more of Sabatte’s works, that also examine the relationship between motif and material:

One of Sabatte’s dustwolf, whereof a whole pack has been exhibitioned at Jardin des plantes – Grande Galerie de l’Evolution.

Another example of Sabatte’s work. An owl made of nails and footskin.

An example of Sabatte’s work on paper. A work which also incorporates the use of dust as well as the remains of an eraser.

Another work on paper, this time executed with eggshells.

A work made with traditional materials such as acrylic, oilpainting and vernis. The balance between the traditional and the untraditional (before seen with the untraditional materials and the recognizable motifs) is this time upheld by the relationship between the traditional materials and the more abstract motif.

N.B: Martina, Yasmine and me were invited at the Backslash gallery thanks to Frédéric Léglise and Jojo Wang who took part to the KSAT#5.

Lionel Sabatté was invited by the Backslash gallery and is represented by Patricia Dorfmann‘s gallery