Meet Jacobleu, the contemporary visual artist from the Ivory Coast
“Do what you enjoy and move forward!” Who better than artist Jacobleu to make this motto his?
"I couldn’t begin this latest chapter of my portraits without talking about this man – visual artist and Ivorian cultural operator – who both intrigues and inspires me."
His fields of expertise are painting and artistic photography. This Basquiat aficionado also undertakes initiatives in the field of art and culture.
This man, who received the Ivorian Cultural Order of Merit in 2007 and the Côte d’Ivoire Cinema and Visual Arts Excellence award in 2016 for his many actions to promote the arts, was not predestined to become an artist. “I like drawing, but I was more drawn to literature, philosophy and management careers, so becoming a visual artist wasn’t one of my priorities”, he says. For his family and teachers, his place was in a secure job such as lawyer, officer, judge or doctor, rather than the Arts. That was without counting on the resurgence of this raw talent that had been lurking in him since his childhood. “I was a very creative young boy. In fact I was the best drawer in my neighbourhood and in my class in primary and secondary school”, he adds proudly. ”I’ve always been fond of culture and doing art. It makes me immensely happy when I paint, draw or write. Maybe that’s the gift God granted me”.
At the time, his Year-9 art drawing teacher took the class on a visit of the Institut National des Arts (INA). It triggered something in the young Jacobleu when he saw all those beautiful things done by hand. At that precise moment of his life, he had discovered the founding element that would make him the world-renown artist he is today. “When I decided to go to the arts academy, I promised myself I’d be one of the best. I had a challenge I intended to meet. Very early on, I began doing paintings, portraits, scenery for events and publically exhibiting my creations. It quickly made me ‘famous’ at college and amongst my family and friends. I managed to make a little money and feel ‘good’. So I realised that my future lay in art”
Since then, having graduated in the arts, Jacobleu has regularly participated in exhibitions and professional gatherings in America, Europe, Africa and Côte d’Ivoire over the last twenty years. “I have excellent relations around the world. I have friends in almost every country. And, as you know, art unites and is a wonderful way to meet people”.
Having contributed to the launch of a number of art centres and cultural promotion structures, in 2014 he opened an art gallery called the Lebasquiat Art Gallery. He notably chaired the Cultural, digital arts and development activities commission at the 8th Francophonie Games (a combination of artistic and sporting events). He was also behind the Rencontres internationales des Arts numériques d’Abidjan (RIANA, the Abidjan International digital arts gatherings) in partnership with Enghien-les-Bains (France), a UNESCO creative city. He received the Fierté Dan (Dan pride) award in 2017 from the Tonkpi region of western Côte d’Ivoire from where he comes.
Jacobleu gets his inspiration from everything around him in his environment, the society in which we live today, the news and his journeys. “My works of art focus on highlighting our culture and observing society: masks, dancing, gatherings, peace, migration, etc. To design and create works of art that relate to these various themes, you have to read up on them, have a database in terms of images. Then you need to undertake graphical research, chromatic research and compositions that result in the work of art. But it can take days or even weeks to get to this result. Only when I am personally satisfied can I stop and say that a work is finished”.
Regarding his style, Jacobleu positions himself as a contemporary spirit free of ties to any school of thought. “I essentially like to convey messages of hope, peace and joy. Art critics and art historians, retrospectively, will say in the future to which artistic movement I belong”. He likes to make people think, to question society and politicians regarding issues relative to identity and social crises. Uninhibited and authentic, Jacobleu doesn’t hesitate to mention three major artists he would have liked to meet when they were alive: “Jean-Michel Basquiat, Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon. Hypersensitive painters! They managed to deconstruct the anatomy, reinvent composition codes and be inventive”.
So, driven by all his successes, the artist’s career is in permanent evolution and revolution. Each day represents a new opportunity for him. “I make the most of every opportunity that presents itself to me. And it always gives me joy to raise the Côte d’Ivoire flag in Rome, Paris, Athens, Kassel, Ottawa, Las Palmas, Santa Cruz, Casablanca, Dakar… wherever I am invited to exhibit or participate in major artistic and cultural events. It’s nice to feel honoured”. And by assimilating the fact that life hasn’t been a straight line and you always learn from life’s disappointments, he understood that the most important thing was not to focus on these difficulties. “For me, time is precious and you have to do more better in order to progress. I’m always projecting myself, and that’s partly what constitutes my strength”.
As a well-known artist, Jacobleu isn’t inward-looking perched on a pedestal. On the contrary, he has made the Ubuntu concept his own: “I am what I am thanks to what we all are”. Armed with his dual role as a cultural entrepreneur, he regularly organises professional gatherings, conferences, festivals and exhibitions for the benefit of or with other creators. He is notably very involved in highlighting his culture via the Tonkpi Nihidaley festival of arts and Dan culture. He also speaks highly of the ties he has with the Ivorian arts community thanks to his LEBASQUIAT ART GALLERY, created in 2014. Through his many initiatives, he also strives to encourage young people do become more fulfilled and autonomous. He’s upfront: “Arts and crafts are sources of financial resources and an outlet that asserts brilliant minds and skills”. Jacobleu feels that Africa’s future lies in its youth and its culture via its art. There is hope and a bright future for this sector. But it is up to governments to put clear cultural policies in place and to support artistic initiatives. He also thinks that companies need to devote part of their budget to cultural operations. “We (Africans) are known, beyond our agricultural production of raw materials, for the wealth and diversity of our arts. This is illustrated by the fact that today, all around the world, major collectors and art promoters are turning to African creators”.
When I mention his next exhibition, his eyes light up even more: “2020 is drawing near, and the social climate is heating up. That’s why I’ve decided to put together a major art exhibition, in mid-March 2019, that will promote peace and social cohesion. I intend to invite all partners of development, domestic and international institutions, economic operators, civil society and the media to this exhibition. We need to increase our awareness of the necessity of living together”.
But, just before this umpteenth exhibition, at the end of March he will organise the Abidjan International digital arts gatherings (RIANA) at the French Institute.