Shadows and lines
A text by Gérard Pisana tells us that when you wake up you first paint the background. Then you add and scratch the layers of paint….
Until today I don’t like working on a white background, so I smear the paint surface. Once it’s dry, I can start to put the drawing down and deal with the subject. The white page terrifies me: when I paint I will have several layers to always let a background appear that will make the colours vibrate between them. The sheet metal, as a support, is like a blank page, and I have to paint the minimum to keep the most. I need this material in the background.
Once I have my subject in mind, I put it down and paint it. This use of the background as I have just described it will sometimes help me to bring out the subject. In addition, I do not work in paste but in a smooth way, not very thick.
Could you come back to the importance given to shadows in your work?
The shadow allows the subject to fully integrate the support, so that as it grows in volume it becomes a new dimension of the work. If you place a gugussee on the wall in front of us by simply surrounding him in black, he will be flat. But if we model it with a shadow, we will have an impression of depth because the character will have a shadow projected. I love to see the relationship to the character and the medium changed by the use of shadow and the creation of a new space.
For the exhibition at the Joël Knafo gallery, I used the work of Gaëlle Labarthe, a friend and photographer. In this work, shadows, like that of electric wires projected on a wall, become the main characters. My character is invisible and you only see his shadow, the starting point of the story told. I liked this idea of absent characters, and one or two works are free of any human presence.
Your work has a lot to do with the material, especially through the use of kraft paper or newsprint.
In my street collages I use a lot of kraft paper, which I leave visible, the smearing little. I draw a lot for these collages, but I do very little with paint, even if my practice is constantly changing.
Your line is characterized by a very sketchy side, and your gugusses never seem completely finished.
As a painter and draftsman, I want people to realize that it is both drawing and painting, not that they think it is a photograph. When I paint, it flows, when I draw, I like to see the pencil lines. I don’t want the result to be a black and white photo, I want to model a character that is as alive as it is, but made of pencil and paint strokes. It touches me very much to bring into the world impossible characters, to tell stories with chalk, sufficiently close to reality, but unambiguously.
Your works in the street often have a dull, almost monochrome appearance.
This may be one of my particularities: my street work is not at all the same as on other media. On canvas it will be very colorful, but in the street you have to stick quickly so I draw and leave a lot of kraft. Also I would not have the same range of colours. I’m not going to have the same range in the street on the collages.
Your characters often seem to be in an unstable balance.
I have learned to build my paintings in a certain way so that there is no visual imbalance in terms of masses, tones, or lines. However, I always put the characters a little out of balance. The sociologist’s little book talks about the theory of the wobbly. We are all, on a daily basis, in situations that are not serious, but that present a permanent imbalance. We’re going to make a mistake without knowing how to catch her. I like to put my characters in difficult but never dangerous situations, which reflect a little of our daily anxieties.
The gaze occupies a large place in your compositions. It is often hidden, hidden in the shadows. Your characters seem not to look at us, or to have a certain shyness in doing so.
I would like this look to be frontal but hidden, that everything be reflected in the shadows. If I had a lot of talent, I would work on the hidden emotions in the shadows, to find the pencil stroke that makes it possible to guess that this gaze that stares at us is hidden, that you have the impression that through the shadows, this character looks you in the eyes. The virtuosos of technique, who paint beautiful eyes, move me little. What touches me most is to be able to get a crazy emotion through a fuzzy form.
This shadow is like a veil, which gives them the posture of a watchman, but next to the world.
They are both with us and elsewhere. There are many people among us who are not there at the same time, like reflections of ourselves. Through dialogue, we realize these dimensions.
Your characters seem lonely.
Sometimes you see far away as if you were facing the sea. It’s an immensity that makes you feel lonely when you look at it. I think we’re always alone in the middle of others. You can get bored with ten people around, it happens to me a lot. However, even if you remain alone no matter what happens, it is important for me to be among the others. Graphically, I like to place my characters in immensity and, more often than not, alone.
Relationship to the street
How do you look at the street, when you started acting in the public space quite late in your journey?
I absolutely did not grow up in this world, so I can say that I am as old in age as I am young in my eyes and in my relationship with the street because I know nothing about it. It was initially a way to show some of my work. I continued when I realized the positive feedback from people and the small scale it was taking. This was used for my studio work, but now it’s something else, and I want to continue painting on the walls because it’s proposing – even imposing – a creation on other people. This other, more direct perspective has become essential. I think it helped me in my workshop work, pushing me to do much simpler things. The wall becomes an extension of the studio, and sometimes the opposite happens and I do things on the walls that push me to do them again in the studio. It is the game between the two that is important. I have done subjects on walls that I have never painted on paper or canvas and vice versa.
Do you prepare your works in advance or do you consider them in relation to a specific space?
It is probably a combination of these two motivations. I can prepare a wall because it tempts me, or do many little things by walking around and scattering my collages as I go along in the streets of the city. I have dozens of pieces in the workshop, which I may never stick.
Your works are very much rooted in the north of Paris.
At first I wanted to stick around all over Paris, but I didn’t know what a job it was. When you put 20 collages around your house you’ve only been 10 blocks away. I limit myself to my neighbourhood, even if it’s a little involuntary. I don’t think I’d be comfortable putting them everywhere. Little by little, maybe I’ll just restrict myself to it. I’m fine there, people are in demand and I feel serene when I stick. I’m not an adventurer, and I’m upset about going somewhere else. I’m fine in Belleville and I wouldn’t mind being there alone.
How do you care about the ephemeral aspect of collage?
I chose to make collage to work in the workshop, because I can’t make a show of myself, and I need to be locked in my house to give a pencil stroke. I miss a lot of times and I don’t want to tell myself that I’m out there missing in front of a lot of people. I’m going to have crazy pressure, when I don’t need this! In the workshop, I can miss and repeat as much as I want. The collages age well, and when they leave we just find the imprint that remains and tell something else.
In the same way as Jean Rustin, you represent humanity in a brutal, almost miserable way.
I think an artist has to have something to say, otherwise he’s a decorator. Jean Rustin has a vision that he owes to his own life, but he never intended it to be interpreted that way. He lost a child, went to psychiatric hospitals. In fact, he has a way of saying things, of painting his vision of humanity, his history.
I think that in some ways I find myself in this instinctive way of proceeding: I need to come up with things – which are much less strong and beautiful than those of Jean Rustin – but I need to say them without analysis. I wonder a lot about everything that is happening and surrounds us. I’m not insensitive, on the contrary I think everything has a connection. When things cannot be said with the verb and are expressed with the drawing, they sometimes emerge harder and more frontal.
I’m not in self-analysis. What interests me is the other person’s view of my work. Why a character is naked or dressed, I don’t know. In my vision at that moment in time, it has to be like that.
Can you comment on these sentences on your website in the short films Murmuring and Crushing Evening?
“You leave me much more than a footprint, more than a trace, an absence.”
It’s a sentence from a book by Véronique Oreldé. I built this story with that sentence. I like it very much, it is melodic and involves a lot of things.
“The workshop, a chair and me on it. I would like to paint in the evening in a city.”
This story is about someone leaving his workshop and going for a walk outside. The text is personal, but it took me a long time to write it. Putting images on a sentence… The artist has difficulty all the time throwing his emotion on the support. I am never happy with what I do, I always want to tell myself that the next paintings will be better. I don’t know if one day I’ll be able to do something I like. I’m in research. That’s what keeps me going.