by Anna Samson
Denis Proteor’s eclectic works take the form of photographs, videos or fantastical paintings; their interconnection is the French artist’s unique perception of and relationship with the world around him. Proteor unearths beauty where many would not know where to look. His work can be seen as a kind of visual manifestation of undefined fairytales yet it is rooted in and inspired by reality. It should not be confused with the fictional and the narrative and is more so about a personal quest to investigate different levels of reality.
“I am in the position of an explorer, whose aim is to be a man-system,” declares Proteor. “Ideas interest me little. Yet I believe that problems exist in a limited number but questions in an unlimited number.”
Indeed, Proteor’s work is less about solving problems than asking questions, probing at how things happen, owing to the artist’s wondrous, childlike fascination and urity of vision.
Much is explained by looking at Proteor’s unconventional trajectory in life. He has worked in a morgue, in a veterinary clinic, in a forest and on a waste-treating site. On each occasion, his artistic practice has infiltrated the respective domain, such as taking a photograph of a deceased person with fairy lights lit around the body.
“It’s the role of the artist to do things like that, to transgress,” he insists. “I go to the other side of the mirror. Whether we ask for permission to take such an image, and have permission or not, has no importance.”
The image, called ‘La Guirlande’ [The Garland], has a poetic poignancy and its existence only became possible through the artist’s unlikely presence working at the morgue.
A reflection on life and death underscore much of Proteor’s photography, from a close-up of a caterpillar to images of insects, sprouting potatoes and the morning dew glistening on leaves. The focus isn’t merely on humanity but on various forms of life. Intimate moments of amorous pleasure are also captured by his lens. Nothing in nature and in life escapes his eye. His photographs also portray the nude body of a lover, a rainy road streaked with puddles in the evening, or an elderly woman’s face with a snail resting on her eye.
Proteor refers to the “internal logic” underlying his work, which is connected to his aim to witness the fragility of life. His work is informed by the intersection of diverse cultural references and social backgrounds, which Proteor explores further in order to identify new approaches and uncertainties that can be suggested in his art.
His drawings and paintings, combining scenes of nature and fairytale-type imagery in an anecdotal manner defined by strong, black lines are clear examples of this. These works are intended to evoke a vertiginous feeling, like a sense of trepidation mingled with excitement about entering the unknown. Certainly, Proteor regards himself as “strange” and imbues his works with this idea of strangeness. Yet every element in his drawings is interlinked and dependent on Proteor’s internal logic. From this starting point, he sets about creating an ambitious work, inspired by the mystery of life.
“I have more sense than feelings,” Proteor says. “This is part of my secret intention. As one says about chance: chance is a secret and I keep my secrets.”
Anna Samson, November 2009