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Mirror, mirror on the wall

Parisian artist-designer Mathias Kiss plays with French classicism, preserving and updating ‘historic codes’ by putting them in a contemporary context

Mathias Kiss’s iconic Miroir Froissé (creased mirror)

Generally speaking, mirrors, like frames, are mundane home decoration objects that transmit little meaning beyond their banal function – frames serve as borders for artworks or pictures, while mirrors provide a reflection of a subject standing in front of it. However, Paris artist Mathias Kiss sees things a little differently. Breaking away from the design consensus that form follows function, he overturns everyday objects to create wacky works of art, meshing art and design with an added architectural dimension. Kiss also pushes the boundaries of time by reworking historic conventions to form contemporary, brutalist free-form works, like the iconic Miroir Froissé (creased mirror), on show at two Swiss locations, Gallery Elle in Zurich and the Mudac in Lausanne, from March.

Mathias Kiss started his career as a painter.

Like a teenager bursting with angst, Kiss creates works that are a rebellion against his classical training, a call to do things his way. “My inspiration comes from a reaction to my historical past, which I confront with fashion, music and with contemporary culture,” he said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

Enigmatic, the bearded artist sails seamlessly between art and design, museums and fairs. A boxer in a past life, he is sometimes seen on the red carpet arm-in-arm with celebrities and he often collaborates with luxury brands. Born in Hungary, Kiss grew up in Paris, where at 14 he began training as a painter, restoring historic monuments, which he continued to do for 15 years. Later, in 2002, after several exhibitions of his work, Kiss created Attilalou, his studio and base co-founded with master craftsman Olivier Piel.

“It’s the materials and codes of French classicism that I use to express my reflections, sensations, and to create a new way of seeing things,” he says. However, unlike a stereotypical teenager, Kiss isn’t truly in revolt. Rather, his works are a tribute to that marvellous French savoir-faire that is revered across the globe. “I defend this [French] heritage by bending it, to take it elsewhere. I love these [classic] codes like gilding, painting, decorative work, but I suffer from the dust that’s settled on them for years,” he says. “I am trying to update this heritage by incorporating it in contemporary art installations, to preserve these historic codes by placing them in a contemporary context – like a cross-generational union!”

Forget rectangular rugs that lie just right under your coffee table, frames where pictures of your last holiday sit sensibly silent and square mirrors that hang flat on walls. Instead, Kiss’s frames, like in his installation Golden Snake (a collaboration with artist Janaina Mello Landini, at a group show in Paris, 2016), where a labyrinth of gilded frames traced the entire space like an old Nokia phone snake game, and jutted out from the wall, defying their usual flatness. The length of untamable frame contained no picture, no work of art, it was the work of art.

Golden Snake.

Kiss’s style is pared down despite his use of gold, which provides a basis for light, a reflection the artist likes to work with. But gold isn’t his only trademark medium. Mirrors are also a huge part of his creative process.

First created in 2008, his trio of Miroirs Froissés (Fox/JC/Oren), the smallest one of which won the 2013 Wallpaper Design Awards, were, up till now, exclusive commissions for three separate collectors. Showcased in Switzerland from March, the mirrors JC and Oren will be re-edited in limited series of eight by Galerie Armel Soyer. The mirrors, without a single right angle, swell from the wall in a fragmented crash of reflections that copy the lines of a piece of creased paper after it has been rolled into a ball. “It’s a study of my early works, of a constant need to contest, to crease, fold academicism to find new codes and to break down the barriers between disciplines by associating classicism and avant-gardism,” he says.

Other well-remembered works include the in-situ La Kiss Room for the Paris FIAC (International Contemporary Art Fair) in 2013. Using 1,000 mirrors, Kiss built a 10-square-metre hotel room. Light and image were refracted as far as possible, creating multiple reflections – all the way to infinity. If you looked into one of the walls, the result was dizzyingly surreal as your grip on space and time suddenly slipped and tumbled through the never-ending tunnels of your reflected self. Despite the physical size of the room, Kiss succeeded in created infinite space and intimacy, which for him, comprise ultimate luxury.

Igloo seat.

However, Mathias Kiss isn’t just a man of frames and mirrors. He also creates elaborate rugs, trompe l’oeil frescoes, poetic sky murals and furniture like the emblematic sheathed leather in the trompe l’oeil marble Igloo seat, among other pieces.

Largely focused on questioning past and future systems of home design and decor, Kiss plays with temporality while experimenting with traditional craft and contemporary styles and materials. He draws out the strength of objects by deforming them, allowing them to migrate from design to art, and constantly twists and challenges our perception of time and space further and further every time.

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