Born and living in Paris since almost forever, Nicolas Monterrat is a creator of GIFs located at the crossroads of humor, rhythm, aesthetics and poetry. Passionate about animation for as long as he can remember, this image format allows him to build little offbeat stories, to explore surreal and iconoclastic worlds. According to him, the interest of GIF lies in the fact that it allows one to approach the perfect loop, to tell a story in a few seconds. It’s all about the rhythm and quality of the sequences.
How would you describe digital art?
“If I had to define digital art, it would not be so much from a strictly technical point of view as from the point of view of the perspectives it offers. As far as I’m concerned, digital art is the medium that has provided us with tools without which I would not have become what I am now, especially over the last ten years. Digital art has allowed people like me to express ourselves with other means than painting, sculpture and other traditional media. More precisely, it is thanks to the emergence of this new art form that I was able to create animated collages.
Moon Area, Nicolas Monterrat
From a practical point of view, it is a medium that also has its limitations since the works created on computers are only viewable on screens. But even if there is a form of dependence towards technology and screens, I like the fact that this same limit is also a strength since it is an art without borders, contemplable from the four corners of the world.”
How do you conceive artistic creation in the age of social networks, where everything is about speed and content consumption?
“It’s in the air of time, this tendency to quickly consume, and quickly forget. When I first started on tumblr, I was hyperactive. I had a lot of subscribers and I was posting a lot of things, not necessarily very personal. I thought it was important to post regularly so that people would remember me. In a way, it was as if being an artist on the networks meant that in order to exist, you had to post. “I post therefore I exist”. Then I started to create much more personal things. It took me more time when I had less time to create. So I stopped posting as often. Now I post when I’m ready to post and when I feel like it.”
Why did you decide to do digital art? What do you like about the exploration of new media?
“Since I was a child, I have always been fascinated by the creation of imaginary and surreal worlds. I’ve also always been fascinated by animation, and especially by frame-by-frame animation, since it is, in my eyes, a way to create these fantastic worlds that captivate me, and to illustrate them. And then I started making GIFs a bit by chance. It all started at the time when I was frequently visiting a movie forum.
Sometimes, GIFs were posted on this same forum to illustrate words or movies for example. It amused me so I wanted to try. I quickly got the taste for it, and moreover, the other members of the forum encouraged me to persevere. Afterwards, I discovered the different digital tools that I use today. Thanks to online training and tutorials, I was able to explore the possibilities of Photoshop and After Effects and what these softwares could bring me to create.“
The Tatoo, Nicolas Monterrat
What are your tools as a digital artist? What is your technique?
“Generally, the starting point of my works is a photograph, often of things of the everyday life such as a river, hair, a bus stop… Very often, it is about photographs of the years 50-60 because I particularly like what they give off. At that time, photography was something a little more rare, complicated, and more the business of professionals. In fact, the atmosphere that emerges from these photos is quite funny and touching because everything is often very posed, as anti-natural as possible because of a particularly flagrant staging. Today, on the contrary, we tend to value what is more natural and spontaneous.
Once I have chosen a photograph that inspires me, I try to imagine what could happen in it. I think about how I could shift the universe of these photos and make a kind of side step in order to propose a universe a little different, a little more fantastic than that of the original photo. This is done by animating the photograph and these elements, which become a kind of puppet under my fingers. From this work emerge small short stories which turn in a loop. I make it a point of honor that the starting point and the ending point of these animations are exactly the same. This allows the absence of interruption during the GIF and gives the illusion of a perfect and infinite loop.”
What is your background? Did you follow a specific training?
“I did a BTS in cinema but it didn’t train me at all for the image professions. I realized even before finishing my studies that what I was trained for in this BTS was not suitable for me. I then chose to do a military service in the audiovisual service of the navy and I took part in the realization of training films for the sailors who joined. That’s when I really started to work with editing, camera, sound and so on.
When I got out of the army, I started working in television, exclusively on the image part. Today, I direct reports, corporate films, I illuminate programs… And as far as my artistic practice is concerned, I have been developing it for almost ten years now. It was the result of a long process of self-taught learning, so from that point of view I didn’t receive any specific training.“
What are your sources of inspiration?
“I will draw my imagination from scientific or popular images from another time. I like their formal side, a little rigid, applied, sometimes too serious. This makes me want to divert them from their original purpose, to bring a little fantasy, humor or to titillate the imagination. I am also inspired by Terry Gilliam’s work in Monty Python for example, by Nick Park, creator of Wallace and Gromit, or by Hombre_McSteez and his creative animations.
In a completely different genre, the amazing work of Georges Rousse, Felice Varini and the brilliant Philippe Halsman is also a great source of inspiration in my work. These artists propose worlds that are offbeat, parallel, funny and sometimes disturbing, and that is exactly what I aspire to create. I love everything that is a bit childish, iconoclastic and absurd, like the surrealist works of Magritte for example.”
Describe a particular work/series.
“The first work I think of is Instant Hairdo. The starting point of this work is an advertisement from the 1950s for a spray paint can. I was seduced by the attitude of the model insofar as it is quite surprising. Her look, the way she poses, everything seems so calculated and unnatural that I liked it. I caught myself imagining that this bombshell was magic and that every pressure exerted on her could radically change her hairstyle. To me, this is a real proposal of a world that doesn’t exist, of an alternative and fantastic world.
Instant Hairdo, Nicolas Monterrat
If you look at the details, the finger presses on the push-button of the bomb, activates the spray of hairspray and generates a kind of glitch that intervenes on the haircut and that will allow the change of haircut. What I found brilliant and phantasmagorical was the idea that the digital world makes it possible to change haircuts with a snap of the fingers. There is a fabulous dimension to it, a bit like the one offered by deepfake which allows for example to animate old photos and paintings.
The second work I think of is The Leak. In this work, I used as a starting point a photo of a bus stop on the rue du Louvre. The statue comes from the Porte d’Auteuil, the greenery from the Buttes-Chaumont park, and the water comes from elsewhere. What I like about this work is the illusion of relief which gives the work a dimension that is all the more realistic and captivating.
The Leak, Nicolas Monterrat
Moreover, since the setting of the work is very realistic insofar as it is a common bus stop, it reinforces the feeling of absurdity and fascination with the viewer. Indeed, the bus stop evokes a daily life so anodyne that we can only be challenged by the miraculous dimension that is added. One seeks to understand how what is presented can be possible, since if the work appears to us so realistic, it is well that that must be possible, and yet it is not the case. It is this idea of a side step, of a twist, that intrigues us because it seems so true. It is this collision of two worlds, one real, the other unreal, that I like.
You may have noticed that I sign all my works. My signature, UGDTG, is always somewhere, in a more or less obvious way from one work to another. It’s part of the game.“