Marc-Aurèle Debut Investigates Human Reactions To Environmental Influences

London-based French Sculptor Marc-Aurèle Debut’s appetite for anatomy ignited while studying the intricacies of the human body’s biological makeup in medical school. As his curiosity grew, he stepped away from the clinical context to pursue a path into the arts roused by the philosophical and artistic theories associated with the human body.

These theories are rooted in the foundations of Debut’s approach as he questions the essence of human relationships, physical space, sexuality and objects to identify the body’s intrinsic reactions to structural and environmental influences.

Debut embraces an enriched framework of intense research and enlightenment from influential thinkers, such as Foucault, Bataille, de Sade, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

Marc-Aurèle Debut

I use my work as creative therapy. At the same time, it’s an expression of my past traumas. I let go of when the artwork is produced and put out into the world.

Marc-Aurèle Debut

Articulating his theoretical inquiries into compelling sculptural works emphasised in the smooth synthesis of latex to captivating qualities of upholstery and the more rigid properties of wood, glass, and metal. When witness produces a magnetic attraction to the subject matter, stimulating the viewer to relish in its presence and the space it occupies.

Debut has exhibited in Berlin, Paris, London and New York, including collaborating with global brands to raise funds for charity and has graduated from Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Arts. He also was shortlisted for Ingram Prize 2021 for his work ‘Safe Word’. I managed to catch up with the London-based sculptor to learn more about his work.

Q: For those who don’t know you, can you please introduce yourself?

A: My name is Marc-Aurèle Debut, 31, French London based artist. I graduated from Central St Martins and Royal College of Art. I have also participated in international exhibitions between Paris, Berlin, New York and London. I have partnered with leading brands such as Adidas and Polo Ralph Lauren on collaborative creative projects to raise funds for charities.

Q: What is your inspiration, and why do you do what you do ?

A: I’m fascinated with the human body and its reactions to its environment. It’s my primary source of inspiration and study. I explore the cultural and psychological complexities of sexuality, body language, body image, human anatomy and its physiology.

Particularly the emotional state of an individual when one reacts to the structural and environmental influences of an object or towards another human being. My interests initially led me to medical school. I then decided to pursue art studies inspired by the philosophical and artistic approach of the human body rather than the medical aspect.

Many confuse it with vanity
Q: Can you tell us about your creative process?

A: My creative process follows a specific methodology. The starting point is reading and researching, especially a lot of philosophy and human-related scientific studies. From all this theoretical research, my work transcribes in a material and sculptural body of work. I use a range of materials in my sculpture practice, such as fabric, latex, foam, silicon and more rigid materials like wood, glass, Perspex and metal.


I use my work as creative therapy. At the same time, it’s an expression of my past traumas. I let go of when the artwork is produced and put out into the world.

Q: Your work has a running theme exploring environmental influences, human nature, sexuality, and psychology. Can you tell us the motivation behind this?

A: Philosophers like Michel Foucault, Gorge Bataille, Marquis de Sade, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s ‘Phenomenology of Perception (1945) inspire my work. The latter is focused on the relation between the body and its environmental influences, identifying a triangle connexion: body – object – physical space.

This connexion between those three elements and the concept Art & Objecthood defended by Micheal Fried triggered my sculpture practice. It shaped my perspective on how the viewer perceives and interacts with my work, which influences the viewer, encourages him to move in space, and questions himself on the tangible limit of the artwork.

Tumescence III
Q: What was the first piece of Art you created that cemented your path as an artist?

A: The first piece is ‘Tumescence’, produced in 2015 and part of the Tumescence series ( 2015 – 2017 ), which is a body of 10 artworks on the human physiological reactions to sexual stimulation. 

The tumescence is the engorgement of erectile tissues with blood that marks sexual excitation and readiness for sexual activity. This work particularly illustrates my practice, in which I refer to sexual acts and connotations. The traditional upholstery technique I apply to most of my work embodies swollen human flesh and erectile tissues.

Tumescence I

The buttons penetrating the flesh of the work represents the moment of coupling and the traversing of barriers between people. The series took two years to produce, considering the experiments taken, including material tests and a six-month apprenticeship in a London upholstery studio to learn traditional techniques.

Q: How did lockdown affect your practice ?

A: During the 1st lockdown, I wasn’t able to access my art studio at the Koppel Project. I spent most of my time reading philosophy books and staring at my phone and laptop screens, overloading my brain with info.

My sculpture practice being on pause, my inspiration of producing art conducted me back to filmmaking, which was an early way of expression in my art practice. I also took this time as an opportunity to explore other creative fields like music production.

Ephemeral Intimacy
Q: Due to the Pandemic, you were unable to showcase your work until this year. How did that make you feel?

A: Incredibly challenging mentally, I would say. It has been a rollercoaster, to be honest. As I explained, my art has a therapeutic effect on my mind and body health. Producing then exhibiting work and exchanging it with viewers is vital. It felt like a relief when showcasing my work in physical shows for the 1st time after a year.

Tumescence 7
Q: In your opinion, what is the lasting impact of Art?

A: As good or bad as some art may be, it always impacts our lives by leaving any emotions and sentiments. A collection of songs brings me back to specific memories. I have favourite painters and sculptors – Old Masters or contemporary – that remind me of certain times of my life, and for that, I bow down to them for being able to relate to my feelings.

Safe Word

Also, a specific moment in art can define a particular moment in history. They go alongside each other. History will exist as long as time exists. If you take the Guernica painting of Picasso, for instance, one of his most known artwork, it relates to a specific moment in Spain history.

Q: Lastly, what does Art mean to you?
Tumescence II

A: Art allows conveying messages more disruptively way that wouldn’t be allowed through another channel. Artists intensely explore themes and concepts but at the same time in a more subtle manner. Art does not recognize any censorship, so it means a lot of freedom for artists in the way they choose to express themselves, which is therapeutic, as I previously explained.

©2021 Marc-Aurèle Debut