Even on a laughing April morning, it would be hard to find any charm in this Biel suburb. On a grumpy fall afternoon, we don’t even try. The ugly building blends in with its thankless environment. The freight elevator sinks into the basements, anxiety rises. But the door opens on the cellar of the Wonderland, even the brain of Walt Disney one day of acid test… We are at the epicenter of the world according to MS Bastian and Isabelle L. Their workshop being too small, too intimate to welcome visitors, the artists receive in this warehouse of the suburbs where they keep their abundant production.
It is a hallucinatory flea market combining the most bizarre shapes and the most vivid colors. Lamps disguised as Halloween ghosts, bizarre Mickeys, variations on the cover of the Blue lotus, a big black wolf preparing a bad move, fake manga, real straw hats transformed into funny faces, shoe boxes converted into small cartoonish theaters, hilarious and cubic birds perched on their trees, flat octopuses, posters colorful …
MS Bastian was born in Berne, in 1963, under the name Marcel Sollberger. The visual arts attracted him from an early age. His parents, prudent people, imposed on him an apprenticeship as a draftsman in civil engineering. “I wasted four years of my life,” he grumbles. But, I learned to work there. ” In the mid-1980s, he trained in graphic design at the Visual Arts in Biel, where Isabelle Laubscher, born in Biel, in 1967, took the preparatory course. In this small school with about fifty students, everyone sympathizes. Marcel and Isabelle are comrades. “We have almost the same DNA,” she smiles. Love will come later.
These are beautiful years of creative freedom, bursting with punk energy. MS Bastian snorts in the anarchist movement, has fun at the Autonomous Center of Biel, is delighted that artists are opening their own galleries, wants to change the world within the Polstergruppe collective. Navigating between Art Brut and comic strip, he rejoices in discovering the Zurich magazine Strapazine: “It was punk, politics, freedom … With comics, my head was opened.” He binds himself with designers like Mix & Remix, Noyau, Anna Sommer, “a small Swiss scene which is spreading everywhere like free-jazz”. Regarding the 9th art, German-speaking Switzerland had “remained with Globi and Papa Moll, very stories…”, and there, Isabelle rolled up her eyes and waved the index of morality.
The pogos until the end of the night are over. The artists are currently exhibiting at the Museum of Art and History of Friborg. And, in 2018, MS Bastian was named Biennese of the year. The shortcuts leading from the underground to honors leave him wondering.
Isabelle worked in advertising. He lacked craftsmanship, “Bastian’s little Mickeys made me want”. They become a couple in the city, but do not mix their brushes right away. They collaborate for the first time on a commission project around Globi, the blue parrot dear to young German-speaking children, then on a school dental prophylaxis campaign.
Their first major four-handed work is Bastokalypse, three years of work for a 52-meter-long black and white fresco. This fascinating hodgepodge mixes Otto Dix, mutant sharks and toothed bombers, the Picasso of Guernica, the skeleton of Mickey invited to the Mexican Day of the Dead, King Kong and Dracula riding the Hokusai wave and 1000 other references evoking the end of time in its appalling splendor. “I would never have managed to do it alone,” says Bastian, happy to share with Isabelle the pangs and joys of creation.
After this feat, the couple collaborate 100%. The works they produce become “denser, more detailed, richer”. Side by side or back to back, they spend days painting and sculpting. After a few hours, they turn around and, “wow!”, Discover with admiration what their partner has created. Sometimes they don’t know who did what. “There are some weird things going on,” says Isabelle.
The universe of Isabelle L. and MS Bastian is situated at the tangent of nursery and gehenna, Silly Symphonies and no future. The authors believe that the macabre dances of the Middle Ages constitute the first Luna Park. They haunt amusement parks, funfairs, the Tarot Garden by Niki de Saint Phalle in Tuscany or Disneyland. The cartoons enchant them because they deny death: “The characters explode, flatten, tear themselves apart, they cannot die.” They plan to work the next twenty years on a ghost train project whose model reveals a labyrinth full of spectral and smiling figures.
On the back wall, a high shelf accommodates a whole small crowd of mice, dwarves, vegetables, robots and aliens. Mickey occupies a place of choice in these nuggets of collective imagination amassed at random from flea markets and garage sales. Donald, Goofy and Pluto accompany him. We also spot Snoopy, Pinocchio, Bugs Bunny, Bob the monocular monster of Monsters, Inc., the azure genius ofAladdin, The marshmallow drink Ghostbusters, Olive Oyl, Homer Simpson, Astro Boy, Sonic the blue hedgehog, the Barbapapa family, a few Teletubbies, as well as Swiss cousins, Globi, the pixie Knorrli or the man Sugus… Once a year, this swarm of marmosets goes to the bathtub to find the shine of the new
In the midst of the motley swarm, a pale figure grows and multiplies. It’s Pulp. Shroud-white, he has a head like a light bulb, a small smile and large astonished eyes. If they never wanted children, Isabelle and Bastian wanted a “mascot”, an “alter ego”. They had Pulp, “all white, a little worried, neither male nor female,” and they are happy to feed the theories on the surrogate child. This “drop of milk that fell from the Milky Way after collision with a meteorite” is found in Hergé, in Edward Hopper, in Delacroix, in Hieronymus Bosch himself, a benevolent witness of demons and the wonders of the world. In Biel, he is entitled to his statue. Monumental and livid, Super Pulp stands 5 meters in front of the Omega center.
Bastian draws a drawing dated 1974 from a heap of colored things. The black dominates in this fresco. On the right, a sea of ink guarded by a vulture. In the middle, a bald mountain crowned with wine-red mists measures a greenish plain where crawling crocodilian toads crawl. On the left, the hanged man’s tree, skeletons and a tomb from which escapes a ghost with outstretched arms and hanging tongue: the first appearance of Pulp. By making this work, the schoolboy understood the power of drawing. His teacher also offered to buy the spectral panorama for 5 francs. The artist declined and is still happy about it. This dark nativity testifies to an early anxiety. Bastian nods: “When I was young, I was touched by the misfortune of the world. The Pinochet coup in Chile, the wars really hurt me. ”
The darkness of the couple’s works testifies to the no future present and past. The vital effervescence expressing itself in countless creatures comes from the gallery of African art that Bastian’s parents kept in Bern. There he discovered the power of masks and figurines: “We take a piece of wood, we cut three small pieces and it becomes alive.” As for inspiration, “just open your eyes, like Pulp”. Sometimes Isabelle and Bastian go for a walk in the desert, where “there is nothing to draw”, to clear their heads – then fill in sketch books.
Freiburg. Espace Jean Tinguely-Niki de Saint Phalle (rue de Morat 2) and MAHF Art and History Museum (Rue de Morat 12). Until June 27, 2021. www.mahf.ch