Art and Architecture with Jean-Baptiste Monnin

Published 31st Jan 2017, Written by veronica

Artist Jean-Baptiste Monnin carefully constructs detailed drawings of the architecture around him. Dissecting buildings and putting the pieces in new contexts; we meet in his studio to see it happen in real life.

For some, architecture is just the set-design in our everyday lives. But for Jean-Baptiste Monnin, it’s the leading star. When he looks at buildings, he sees the small architectural details that many of us pass by. For him, architecture is never static; it’s the backbone of his art.

Jean-Baptiste Monnin drawing

It’s a typical grey morning in January when we enter Jean-Baptiste Monnin’s apartment in Schöneberg. The style of his home is a mirror of his drawings. It’s precise and in order; every object has its place. The difference, though, is that the cat Bisou doesn’t run around in his artworks. It makes sense that a person who builds impressive abstract architectural drawings with thousands and thousands of exact lines is a person who also orders his succulents by size.

Picture hanging on a wall
Part of a drawing and a plant

Jean-Baptiste was born in France. He moved to Berlin six years ago after he’d fallen in love with the city while on vacation. With a background in architecture and fine arts, he has developed a unique style.

The process behind the series “Basculement” starts with a trip, either in Berlin or somewhere else, to find a modern or contemporary styled building to photograph as a reference. Jean-Baptiste then spends approximately a week redrawing the photo. He reframes, reverses or rotates the picture to create the abstract urban landscape he’s envisioned.

“I want to give the feeling to the viewer that they can go inside the picture and walk on this landscape,” he says while sipping on a cup of tea. The last part of the process is to fold the big canvas as one would do with architectural, technical plans.

Drawing table
Diptych. To the right closeups of hands drawing. To the right: Cat sitting under a table.

We ask him to draw for us, and the vibe in the room immediately changes; his pen dances over the canvas to the sound of a track from Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of The Moon. It’s a soothing thing to watch. By spending hours standing still and making repetitive hand movements in pursuit of the ranging shades of grey, typical for his drawings, Jean-Baptiste tells us that he comes close to a meditative state. “In a way, I even become a part of the art,” he says, leaning over the big canvas.

Jean-Baptiste Monnin in front of one of his drawings

Diptych: To the left: Jean-Baptiste drawing. To the right: Detail of a book shelf.

The subject of the first piece in his “Basculement” series is the art museum Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid. The drawing was originally part of his exam project in Fine Arts at EMA Fructidor in Chalon-sur-Saône in Eastern France and is now hanging on one of the walls in his room. “I will not sell this one,” he says with a laugh while pointing at the black and white cross-shaped urban landscape.

“For me, it’s important to experiment with the architecture physically. To travel inside, to touch it, to see how the light reacts to the material. Architecture is never static. It depends on its environment and the passing of the time.”

Jean-Baptiste’s portfolio not only consists of drawings; he also takes photos and makes sculptures. Even though these art forms differ from each other, his style and point of view are consistent; one can see that it’s a Monnin piece regardless of the medium of the artwork. When asked how these different art forms complement each other, he answers: “For me, all these art forms are indissociable from one another: Photography can be part of the process of creating a drawing, or sketches are essential for the production of sculptures.”

Artwork by Jean-Baptiste Monnin

Artwork by Jean-Baptiste Monnin

We decide to head out for a short walk in his neighborhood in Schöneberg. The path we’re walking on is slippery but it’s not as cold as it could’ve been on a Berlin winter day. He delivers trivia about the buildings we pass and it’s obvious how inspired he feels here.

When asked where one can find the most intriguing architecture in Berlin he answers: “It’s impossible to say only one area because there are interesting buildings everywhere in this city”. Riding his bike through Berlin, instead of taking the U-Bahn, is a way for him to find inspiration and feed his work with new material.

Drawing in the foreground, brutalist building in the back
Diptych. To the left: Jean-Baptiste Monnin on a walk in Berlin. To the right: A cloesup of one of his drawings

But Jean-Baptiste doesn’t always have to leave his home to nurture his architectural thirst; he can also look through his windows. Opposite his room stands a striking green brutalist apartment building with concrete moldings. When asked about it, Jean-Baptiste smiles and says: “I love my view! I have even drawn it”.

He quickly runs off and comes back a minute later, holding that specific drawing. He explains that it’s part of a new series in which he takes architectural objects out of context. “I’m drawing them by using a perspective method called axonometry. This method has the particularity of not using any vanishing points. All the lines are parallel and don’t represent what the eye sees. So it gives an immaterial and artificial aspect to the drawn object,” he explains.