With an explosion of colour and lettering, the work of Nantes-based Geoffroy Pithon treads the line between graphic design and visual art. “Every day I do a bit of everything,” he tells It’s Nice That. “I am a painter, graphic designer, accountant and project manager.” Having grown up in the city of Angers, France – a place well-known for its indie punk band Les Thugs, and natural wine – Geoffroy found himself playing music in a punk and hardcore band, spending his weekends at the local DIY Club, l’Étincelle. He’d attend “crazy, stunning and politicised shows,” he recalls, which inadvertently had an impact on his artistic and cultural senses. It also inspired him to move to Paris and study graphic design at Decorative Art School of Paris, which is where he first started dabbling in his broad mix of mediums.
It was also where he met Adrien Zammit and Nicolas Filloque, and later joined their graphic design collective Formes Vives. For ten whole years, the team worked on a medley of cultural and social commissions, including posters and visuals for theatres, music festival identities, graphic design biennale designs and non-profit organisations, plus leading a few “weird” workshops in art school. After a decade of work – the type that seamlessly incorporated their interest in the arts – the trio decided to split last spring so that they could each work on personal endeavours. Geoffroy moved to Nantes with his girlfriend, and has since been developing his own expression, “evolving at the border between graphic design and visual art,” he says.
With this in mind, you can clearly see why Geoffroy’s work is the way it is – not quite art and not quite graphic design. But there’s also another key influence behind it all. In France, there’s a tradition found amongst graphic designers such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard and Jules Chéret. All of them are at once painters, printers, decorators and designers. “I do not believe that this aspect of French graphic design history must be sanctified but, for my part, it continues to nourish me,” says Geoffroy. He also cites a handful of other designers and “mentors” that have helped steer his practice, including Léon Bakst, Mariano Fortuny, Oskar Schlemmer, Bruno Munari and Henri Matisse, plus Nathalie du Pasquier, Paul Cox and Benoît Bonnemaison-Fitte. “They’re artists who know both how to work independently and how to respond to a commission with the same strong language; unique and exciting while establishing adventurous strategies, crafts and never-seen kludges.”
Geoffroy sees each medium as an individual element, working in unison to amplify the others. Graphic design, in his eyes, is “a living, performing and generous art”, and he uses paint to implement these ideas. The design itself, on the other hand, allows him to bring his paintings into other contexts, such as the street, on posters, at music shows, in books, performances, on costumes, in plays or as part of a parade. “Painting is an infinite medium which reactivates all the time and does not end up systematically pinned on a gallery wall,” he adds, which is a viewpoint that he manifests throughout the entirety of his works.
For example, Geoffroy recently collaborated with graphic designer Grégoire Romanet to work on a brief for Hôtel Pasteur, a new building in Rennes that not only hosts social and cultural projects, but is also a nursery school. As such, the duo proceeded to develop a series of printed matter and a publication; a “toolbox” replete with grid systems, a custom-made front, digital paintings, posters, signage and flyers. What stands out the most throughout this project is the ample use of painterly techniques that are then combined with the structural glyphs of the typeface – a seamless merging of two worlds that makes for a highly interesting take on print design.
Another example is a publication named Coloratura, a book that houses many of his recent paintings and that was published by Dutch Riso printers Extrapool and Knust Press. “It’s a way of translating my paintings into Riso, and producing a mixtape of my latest works on paper exploring colour combinations, and some figurative and abstract aspects of my graphic language,” he notes. Meanwhile, Graphure et Peintrisme is both a magazine and exhibition programme lead by Vincent Tuset-Anrès, from Marseille-based Studio Fotokino, alongside Benoît Bonnemaison-Fitte. “It’s a collective research programme about the links and bridges between graphic design and painting,” adds Geoffroy, signalling how the project has been completed in his signature mixed-media style.
From digital paintings, analogue processes and utilising an abundance of varying materials, you’d be hard-pressed to find an artist who employs the same amalgamation of techniques as Geoffroy. He has a long list of future plans, like a solo show in September in Le Mans (at Les Quinconces L’Espal National Theatre), and a large-scale installation of paintings, plus a publication. Otherwise, he’s also been invited to take part in a residency programme in a small town in the south of France, creating murals to cover an old building, and he continues to work with the old gang at Formes Vives. Let’s just say that the mixing of disciplines works utterly in Geoffroy’s favour.
Geoffroy Pithon: Poster for Biennale des arts de la scène en méditerranée designed with Formes Vives, 2020 (Copyright © Formes Vives, 2020)
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.