A line to unite line and color
Ceci est une introduction : saint oma street art.
“Colors are for me the first thing that appeals to me. They instantly convey emotions, tell stories. I cannot detach color from a work.”
You are taking your first artistic steps in the 9th Concept collective.
My first meeting with Stéphane Carricondo and the collective dates back to 1998/1999 in Charente-Maritime. I’m in my final year of high school, and during the exhibition Sang 9 I discovered a film by Ghislain de Vaulx: they are the ones that made me want to come to Paris. Not knowing what to do the following year, I arrive in the capital at the age of eighteen, secretly dreaming of joining the collective, because I have the impression that this is where my path leads me. They are then older artists than me, experienced, with already affirmed styles. I ask them for help and they authorize me to come to the studio to watch them work, to make my way with and thanks to them. They then become my family, teachers and friends. Inside this collective I feel protected, having all the time to learn and try, even if I don’t have my own style yet. I observe a lot, being very curious, I go to museums and discover a new world through the collections of primitive art. My first works are thus very marked by tribal, masks, with an obvious connection to African Art. The years pass and I try more realistic things with figurative portraits. All this journey is part of a learning process. Around 2008 I really start to write, my goal then being to find my own identity, to be recognizable and to be able to define myself as an artist. This seemed to me a necessity in order to be able to emancipate myself. It took about ten years for me to put aside the figurative and go towards a much more abstract writing that I still develop today, very much influenced by calligraphy, tribal, with a work on the line and the symbol like the number 8, symbol of infinity but also of the Earth.
TWISTING THE LINE: A CALLIGRAPHIC RESONANCE
One can still feel a form of tension in your work between this abstract dimension and a figurative remnant. Your trees thus still retain a form.
This word is very well chosen, because I tend to talk about the tension of the line: my absolute quest is the search for harmony in creation. Finding this balance involves tension, not wanting too much roundness but refusing straight lines, not because I don’t like them but because my abstraction is very much imbued with symbolism. The shortest path between two points is never for me a straight line, which only exists in a schematic way. I think that in life, in order to get somewhere, we always take different roads or paths, and for me that’s what the curve tells me. Moreover, the symbol of the tree almost imposed itself on me: when I left the figurative, I found that there was then something very organic, almost vegetal, in my work, a path that I had to develop. The tree marks the connection with the earth, the rooting and the roots, where one comes from but also where one goes, to allow an emancipation that reaches the sky. My work is very much focused on this idea, as well as on letting go and sensations. Plastically, it is a framework that allows me to experiment with themes and emotions. But there is still a struggle, letting go of the desire to figure something. We are in a world where it is necessary to explain everything and abstraction finally turns out to be quite complex in terms of accessibility and understanding. That’s why I use subterfuges like highways, which will help me to serve my line and my purpose.
A closed pattern such as the tree remains in the order of the pre-imposed frame. However, one sometimes has the impression that these lines try to escape: they give a dynamic to the painting while sometimes becoming an element of composition.
The tree is completely closed, it is a drawing. However, what I try to paint does not have a predefined form, it is a fluid, an energy. For a moment, I wondered if my work was not rather an abstract cartography of connections. Indeed, a connection can be an electric cable that transmits current, a root or a road. There is one between the two of us that is impalpable but does exist. What interests me is all that we can’t see, what we can’t explain, to try to materialize it. Is this necessary? I have the feeling that human beings are all connected to each other, that we all belong to the same species. But we forget this invisible link, because we all have our lives to live. Isn’t it paradoxical to want to connect to the other when the most important thing is our own development? We are part of a whole connected to the Earth. That is where we come from and that is where we will return. For my part, I want to tell this in a very abstract way. My work thus revolves more around questioning than assertion. I think that the artist has an important role in society, that of a sponge that captures everything to bring it out in its own way. He must have distance, being there to observe, having both one foot in the world and one foot out. So his work bears witness, whether in 2020 or in 1950, with very different sensibilities and stories to tell.
Through the notion of calligraphy, the question of repetition is also raised, of the capacity to evolve always starting from the same place.
It is a real approach in itself: Chinese or Japanese calligraphy shows a gesture that is made from a very young age. The repetition of a movement, a drawing or a motif leads to detach the spirit from the action. By dint of redoing, we no longer think about what we are doing, we just do it. This leads to a greater purity of gesture, a line in harmony with who you are and where you are. Painting on the ground is thus for me a strong experience, with both feet anchored in the ground. It is a practice similar to calligraphy, even if it is not plastically or visually comparable. The result is a very personal, almost naive gesture.
Do you consider yourself to be looking for the perfect gesture?
I am not looking for the perfection of gesture, line or stroke, but for harmony. These are two different but ultimately very close things, which raise the question of what perfection is. I realize that harmony tells more and offers more depth. Where perfection leads to a value judgment, it leads to a feeling. For me, a line must be fluid and smooth, but it sometimes happens that there are drips, or other parasitic elements that I don’t want, but this is not serious because after having repeated this gesture hundreds of times it is as it should be: this is why I think that harmony is the most important.
This could also be compared to music or dance, arts in which repetition allows to reach an extra dimension.
Through repetition the mind comes out of the body envelope. It takes years of practice to succeed in being a little free in what we do. This search for freedom of movement, and through it freedom of creation, is a personal quest. The conflict between figuration and abstraction may also be at play here: the more I manage to let go, the more I tend towards abstraction and lines that have neither beginning nor end, if not the only support.
THE VIBRATION OF COLORS
Your colors have a special relationship with the line that opposes them while segmenting them, almost carrying in it the idea of the color chart.
The line is all the more compartmentalized because I often paint it in black with Indian ink. This choice of black imposed itself on me because within the 9th Concept there is a whole work on the surrounded, which can have influences in comics, but also in the Figuration libre with artists like Robert Combas who have greatly influenced my peers. It is also a color that is for many civilizations a symbol of the Earth and that’s why I kept it. When I work the color in relation to the line, the question of delimitation does indeed arise, because if the line poses a desire to connect two points to each other, drawing it also establishes a boundary. This paradox of the line that connects and divides fascinates me and I have not finished exploring it. Today, this black line takes up less space in my work, but that doesn’t mean that I put it aside: I simply question other things, such as transparency and movement.
Your work involves constant research on how to make colors vibrate with each other.
Colors are for me the first thing that appeals to me. They instantly convey emotions, tell stories. I cannot detach the color from a work. Some are very spontaneous, natural, like black or blue that always comes back, even if I try to detach myself from it. These choices are cyclical: I began by working ochres, connected to the earth, and blue was then born of a desire to question light. It can evoke very different things: light blue, or pastel, leads to escape, well-being and softness, while dark blue is sometimes harder than black. The idea of monochrome is also important because when I choose a color I have to explore it to the end: red I wear it to pink, the blue of the oceans to the sky. There is an exploration for each one of them in order to find the note that will enhance it. Then I go looking for the complementary color, which may not always be the same, which allows this monochrome to not be monochrome. This vibration is essential to appreciate the starting hue. Color is for me something innate, without any ulterior motive: it depends on the moment, my mood, the state of society. I consider myself more of a colorist than a drawer or painter. During the confinement I did not feel well at all. I had a studio next door and everything I needed to paint, but I couldn’t do it. That’s how I realized that society and the times we live in inspire me much more than I think. At the end of this period I managed to paint again, starting with color palettes that I had never explored before: solar canvases expressing a need for light and vitality.
Is this research on repetition and color in dialogue or does it evolve in parallel?
I think the word dialogue is the right one. My work is a whole composed of multiple things that dialogue with each other: reflecting on the monochrome will be used behind to work the color, in the same way that making a building facade can help to paint a small canvas. Then there are desires for color, lines, black and white, but I think that the more strings an artist has to his bow the more he can question different areas. I don’t think I have a very wide range of techniques, but it suits me very well because I can concentrate on what I’m aiming for.
The movement now occupies a central place, the line and the color mixing.
I now work with color using superimpositions and transparency that redraw new lines, always finding them again. Without wanting to give up one style to tend towards another, I think it’s a logical continuation, because the human being is always in movement. We all have our anxieties, mine is to be at a standstill, that things are frozen. From this feeling comes this work on line, fluidity and connections, with other dimensions like time in the background. I have approached series in which I question the passage of time, working on rust to try to freeze the oxidation process. But this is not possible, time cannot be stopped. My work on different supports tries to capture these lines, to block them and put them in a painting. This attempt to pause, to freeze things, still raises the question of what is in motion and what is not.
THE SETTING OF THE STREET
In what way is the street for you a special creative space? Is it part of a collective process?
Working in the street was part of my learning phase, since by joining the collective I joined a school that allows itself to do just about anything. There is no framework, no fashion, no things to do or not to do. This discovery was made gradually, through the actions of the 9th Concept, whether it is about collage or sticking. Later, the discovery of the mural fresco was a liberation, because changing dimension gave me the feeling of changing support and therefore technique. I then had the impression that my line was reserved for the canvas and this passage to the street freed it, as if it was hitherto in a cage. In the studio I was very much focused on arm and hand movement, but when you work on a wall the gestures are much more ample, the body enters the scene through displacement.
What does it offer that the workshop does not have?
The street allowed me to work on complex supports, difficult to walk on. The walls are not white sheets like those of the workshop. The urban space offers an interaction with people who pass by and discuss, exchanges that nourish reflection by questioning it. At first you don’t know what to answer, but after a while you end up questioning yourself. The street has helped me to build myself, to understand and make my work understood, like a mirror. It has thus proved to be complementary to the workshop: the latter is in fact a bubble that one builds oneself. For me it is a temple, a place where I feel very alone, where I share few moments of intimacy. Conversely, one exposes oneself in the street, one shows oneself to others, one puts oneself in danger, even if I don’t do vandalism there. Unlike artists who act in this way, I need comfort, to have the time to work against illegality which would be a brake. Nevertheless, one takes a risk by showing one’s work to people who have not asked for it, by making a donation to a neighborhood, to inhabitants, to a city. I thus consider that an action in the street is a testimony, a trace that an artist leaves and that no longer belongs to him, whereas the canvas is a new object created.
How did you go from collage to direct painting outdoors?
It was done gradually: I glued paintings made in the studio because it was quick, easy and efficient, even if I ended up doing little compared to many other urban artists. I didn’t have this desire to cover Paris with trees. It was a series, a passage towards mural painting. But I’ll probably come back to it, because it’s a stage I haven’t finished questioning.
The street also transforms the artist’s relationship to time by making the piece ephemeral.
The important thing is that the energy, the mentality, the state of mind in which we are is the same. Painting a painting, making an installation or an urban collage is for me part of the same process. I was very quickly influenced by artists for whom collaborating with a brand, preparing an exhibition or making an outdoor collage was the same. I then understood that the important thing was to go where I wanted to go. It doesn’t matter if it’s ephemeral or not. Even if this notion is very present in the street, everything is actually ephemeral: my canvas will be just as ephemeral, only the time scale changes.
INTERVENTIONS URBAINES ET DIALOGUE ARTISTIQUE
Through the 9th Concept, you got used to a form of artistic dialogue. However, in the urban space, the nature of this dialogue is changing, because the relationship with other artists is no longer chosen and goes through a cohabitation in space.
Before it is with other artists, a dialogue is already taking place between my work and the street, the building, or the wall, between lines, colors and an architectural element conceived and thought out in relation to its environment. When I prepare an urban project, I always try to go and see the place in advance to compose my color palette accordingly. But I also try to go to places that don’t have too many works, because it’s more interesting to be in places where you’re not expected. Besides, I participate in many festivals in which the walls are side by side and automatic cohabitation. If pieces are already installed, I will try to create a dialogue with them by discussing with the other artists and watching them work. It’s also because of the way I learned to create with the collective. The patchwork you find in the street today tells a story, but I don’t think it’s very aesthetic. I understand the need for artists to exist, but it could also be translated into other mediums such as stickers.
Do you feel like you are part of an artistic movement?
A lot of people ask me if I consider myself a street artist. Whether I like it or not it’s a fact, Urban Art is obviously a movement. I tend to connect it to contemporary art, of which it would be a component. If we take a step back, we can consider that this movement is not so young anymore, that it has evolved a lot to be rich of practices as diverse as Graffiti, Stencil or Street art. It’s great to be an actor of this evolution, to take part in the debates on its (in)existence. It is a direct descendant of Pop art and for me we are all children of Keith Haring, who broke a multitude of codes by going to paint in the street because he wanted to. Today there is a profusion of images and artists, in constant dialogue with a public that responds present and open to exchange: it is a popular movement. Without liking caps, I am an artist who evolves in the field of Urban Art. But my work is not limited to that or to painting walls: it consists in experimenting and discovering the world in a continuous process over a lifetime.
In my opinion, the 9th Concept is almost closer to the gathering than to the collective: the personal journeys of the member artists continue in parallel with the evolution of the group.
I have developed through this collective, I have emancipated myself from it, perhaps even left it at some point, but it has always represented my artistic family. He grew up on his side and I evolved in parallel, but while observing us, so I always felt supported. As an artist one often seeks solitude, which reflects a need to exist, but belonging to an entity makes you even stronger. Beyond that, when the collective is put forward it is also about us. We all have things to tell individually but we can also do it together. In this solitary world, belonging to an artistic family is an opportunity. Within the 9th Concept, we have this common history: it is an example that reflects a particularity of Urban Art, namely the need to come together which demystifies the myth of the necessarily unhappy creator. Artists are accessible, show the creative process through performance, establishing a proximity to the world specific to this current.
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