Thanks to the successful launch of the Next MDF panels with our partner Panneaux de Corrèze we got to meet trailblazing artist Didier Demé. Didier considers himself equal parts artist, woodworker and illustrator. For several years now he has been using MDF as the medium for his sculptures, which are often inspired by beloved cartoons. He was one of the first to try our Next panels, so we sat down with him to talk about his art and the benefits of working with MDF.
I have been working as a sculptor for six years now. For 30 years I worked as a cabinet maker. To paraphrase the cartoon character Obélix, I fell into making things by hand when I was just a small child. My parents were both master upholsterers in the Essonne region and my brother currently works as a decorative upholsterer. I found myself gravitating to cabinet making as I was more interested in working with wood.
As a child, I was passionate about two things: cartoons and sculpture. When the time came to choose a career, I became a woodworker out of both passion and practicality. At 14 I started at Ecole Boulle in Paris and went on to earn my vocational certificate in cabinet making there. At the age of 19 I opened my own shop in my hometown, Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois, where I restored antique furniture by hand.
In 2006 I began branching out from furniture restoration and making copies of antique furniture, and I found a way to unite my three passions: cartoons, wood and furniture. I love the graphic style and curves of the characters in cartoons, as well as sketches and inked images. Uderzo is a major influence, of course, as well as his mentor Edmond-François Calvo, along with Disney and Cézard. These days, when I craft a sculpture or a piece of furniture, I use techniques drawn from cartoons, such as high and low angles and staging.
My trompe-l’œil pieces have proven very popular. I’ve sold over a hundred of them and I even applied to the French national intellectual property agency to patent the concept of faux cardboard furniture. One day when I was taking my daughter to school, I met Jean-Nicolas Boulmier, an artist and interior designer who inspired this new direction for my work. He reached out to me later with a commission for clients who were redecorating their home. He wanted to make a wooden chair that looked like it was made of cardboard. For this commission, I went looking for an isotropic and sturdy contemporary material.
So that was how I ended up working with MDF, almost by accident. The color already resembles that of cardboard. I just had to gouge it a little to make it look even more realistic. Exaggerating features like I would for a caricature, I make the ridges more pronounced to make it look like there are pieces of tape on it.
The trompe-l’œil effect is very convincing – you’re almost afraid to sit on the chair. This is my homage to Magritte’s theory of the treachery of images, exemplified by “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” French for “This is not a pipe.”
After that first commission I met Patrick Blondeau, with whom I make wall pieces that are also made from MDF. Patrick and I are more than collaborators or partners – we’re almost like brothers. We often play the surrealist game known as “exquisite corpse.” I don’t know what he will give me, and I don’t know what I will give him back either. This is how we ended up satirizing famous paintings like The Luncheon on the Grass, The Origin of the World and paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec. We pass the MDF panels back and forth between us.
I had to work quickly to find a panel that would work for my art. Since my sculpting involves deep cuts, the panel needed to hold up. Panneaux de Corrèze MDF panels are the only ones that I can “destroy” while still being strong enough for my sculptures.
I entered into a partnership with Panneaux de Corrèze and I even displayed my work in their showroom. I like to say that it’s like a fairy tale: an artist met a manufacturer and their two worlds merged harmoniously.
I learned a little about the manufacturing process and tried different techniques on the Next panels to compare them with a more traditional MDF panel. I played with Next a little by making a lectern out of it. I tried everything I would have done with an MDF panel: gluing, structuring, cutting, laminating, etc. to test its strengths and weaknesses. And I have to say I couldn’t find a real weakness, which is something I’ve never seen before. Woodworkers don’t know about it yet, which makes sense since it was just launched.
We need to spread the word about its artistic potential. We should also really highlight its properties and the fact that it is bio-based. That means it can be used with natural, bio-based products, including varnishes. One advantage it has over traditional MDF is that the dust it produces is very light and doesn’t cling. It’s almost a dry dust. By comparison, traditional MDF produces an oily dust that is very clingy. Next is much nicer to work with.
Next has all the same isotropic qualities as MDF panels made from petrol-based resins, but with no added formaldehyde. Working with a safe material like this is much better for my health. I protect my airways with FFP3 masks and I have a suction unit, but when you’re working with wood, particulates are always a problem.
I hope that Next will be a big hit and that Evertree and Panneaux de Corrèze will find partners to help them develop solutions that are better for human health and the environment.
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