Hervé Di Rosa:
The Last Comic
“The great names in comics have affected me every bit as much as the great painters I love.” Growing up in the 1960s, relatively isolated in Sète on the French Mediterranean coast, Hervé Di Rosa got his culture fix from reproductions of fine art in books and from comics. “I saw no difference between them in scale or validity.” Starting to exhibit his art in 1980, Di Rosa with his brother Richard and Robert Combas drew on their passions for both art and pop culture to pioneer the radical French ‘Figuration Libre’ movement in the 1980s. Unlike most earlier Pop artists, who were not necessarily raised on comics, Di Rosa explains, “I don’t cite comics in a superficial way, I incorporate their techniques into my work.”
Interviewed in April at the second Pulp festival just outside Paris, Di Rosa enthused to Frédéric Brosser from dBD Magazine about comics’ lasting influence on him, not only through its “aristocracy”, from Winsor McCay to Hergé, but equally for “so-called ‘minor’ artisans”, whom Di Rosa admires for their “modesty, honesty and reserve which comes out of necessity”. He picked out Luciano Bottaro, a prolific Italian cartoonist on Disney comics, and his boistrous boy-pirate comedy Pepito, and artists like Jacques Kamb in the weekly Pif Gadget (1969-93, then monthly 2004-08), published by the French Communist Party, “a symbol of the liaison between populist lower-class comics and more bourgeois titles like Tintin and Spirou.”
Di Rosa had his first four-page comic published in 1978 in Charlie Mensuel, the monthly spinoff from Charlie Hebdo, but he produced no more. Raised on print, Di Rosa recalls, “I felt frustrated not to have my work printed, so in 1985 I created four issues of my own magazine.” In an oversize format, initially in silkscreen, Dirosa Magazine featured in the first three issues the stories ‘La fin d’un monde’ (16 pages, sample above)), ‘Renaissance’ (28 pages), and ‘La Transmutation’ (20 pages). Appropriately in 1989-1990 he created about 30 strips for his childhood favourite Pif Gadget. He went on to animate his characters in a series of cartoons, Les Renés, broadcast by Canal Plus in 2000 (trailer below). “Les Renés are happy cyclopes living in Bonheur-les-bains who have to fend off attacks by the International Villains who try to disturb their tranquility.”
His one-eyed wanderer René returns in his new Strip for ArtReview (see below), his first in twenty-five years and and his first experiment incorporating digital images and colours. “You see René‘s opinion of contemporary art after he has travelled through all the multiverses and arrives on Earth, where all the places are represented in which I have worked since 1989 during the 19 stages of my global project Tour des mondes.”
In 2013, Di Rosa was exhibited at the Musée des Beaux Arts in Angoulême (above). Currently, he is preparing a personal exhibition for La maison rouge in Paris for October 2016, while continuing to co-direct the Musée International des Arts Modestes (MIAM) in Sète [read my report on MIAM’s Heta Uma Exhibition here]. Di Rosa recalls, “I found contemporary art too narrow, caught between elitism and the marketplace. I was raised on the history of art but also by illustration, popular imagery, toys, all ‘the modest arts’, and believed they needed more recognition.”
Based on his success and his principles, in 2000 Di Rosa and Bernard Belluc co-founded MIAM to conserve, present and promote marginalised arts and artists on the peripheries of Art Brut, Outsider art and mass-market culture. MIAM has thrived, showing its large permanent collection alongside two wide-ranging exhibitions each year, with plans to relocate to substantially larger premises. Tirelessly curious and committed, Di Rosa sees “There is some progress, as art historians pay closer attention. The frontiers of the modest arts are always shifting.”
This Article originally appeared in ArtReview Magazine, May 2015.
Photo of Hervé Di Rosa © & courtesy of Roberto Battistini.