Born in 1937 in Paris ()
Liste expositions


Born in Paris in 1937, Jean-Pierre Bertrand studied at the École Nationale de Photo-Cinéma in Paris. He graduated from the film section in 1957 but his work has always  combined different media: film, video, drawing, but also objects and above all various painting techniques making use of organic matter.


During the 1960s he worked as assistant cameraman on feature-length films, then as a video cameraman for O.R.T.F. (French state-run television). He thus participated in the 'Archives of the 20th century' programme as cameraman and then head cameraman, and worked on documentaries about Borges and Kandinsky.

In the 1970s, he began making a series of short experimental films in 16mm, without any apparent story: Playing Dices, Balance Ball, 54 jours de Robinson Crusoé (54 days of Robinson Crusoe), Bouteilles (Bottles), Livres de Sel (Books of Salt).


Bertrand subsequently produced a large part of his work in the visual arts, focusing on the interrelationship between nature and concept. He developed a technique based on the manipulation of organic matter on monochrome surfaces. Here, the body of the paper is nourished, as it were, by natural substances such as salt, lemon or honey. While the lemon and the salt are each related to a colour, the honey mixed with  acrylic creates a binder and furthers the penetration of the paint into the paper. The lemon, moreover, is a constant reference throughout his work. It is used as a tribute to Robinson Crusoe, who discovers lemons in the garden at the centre of the island where he has been shipwrecked.


Bertrand's works executed in traditional media are better known than his films and videos. In his different exhibitions, with simple means like reflections, brilliance or noise, he projects viewers into the world of appearances. Certain invariables emerge: he gives great importance to the positioning of his works in the exhibition or projection space. In most of his site-specific works, he isolates formal units in a given space and uses them to create a serial group based on a precise breakdown. For the Art Wall Sticker project (2001), for example, Bertrand created a series of 54 strawberry stickers to be placed as desired. He attempts to alternate the relationship of the real to the symbolic, the totality to the fragment.


From 1980 to 1985, he made Les cinquante-quatre boîtes à sel (The fifty-four salt boxes). Each one is like a book: a large slab which opens and closes on itself. Afterwards, he counted out the number 54, which, with its linguistic and biblical connotations, thus acquired an essential place in his artistic language.


In 1983 he participated in the exhibition “30 ans de cinema experimental” (30 years of experimental film) at the Centre Pompidou. In 1987, with Treize ans avant l'an 2000 (Thirteen years before the year 2000), he initiated an unfinished audiovisual series based on the idea of identifying thirteen stories to be told, or rather, thirteen ways of telling the same story. This first video had no follow-up, and the narrator's story never underwent the variations Bertrand had conceived.


In 1990, he designed the stained-glass windows for the Romanesque church of Bourg-Saint-Andéal in Ardèche. Of this experience, he observed, “I didn't see myself making stained-glass windows. I had to rethink the problem of the material: instead of considering the paper or the honey I was using before and the red mud on wood I use today, I imagined light as a material.”[1] He thus used two kinds of yellow blown glass and played on the superimpositions to create different densities and lights.


Bertrand received a public commission for the opening of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in 1995. He proposed a 'cryptogram' occupying an entire wall of 200 sq. metres. Composed of five dots and one dash repeated four times horizontally and eight times vertically, this work created a unity of place with the wall, the iron mesh of the ceiling and the library tables.


Bertrand was selected to represent France at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999. His work has also been exhibited in prestigious institutions such as the Carré d'art in Nîmes, the Centro per l'arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci in Prato and Documenta IX in Kassel in 1992.

Laetitia Rouiller

Translation and adaptation: Miriam Rosen




[1] . Artist's statement, cited on