airwan isle groove

And pastel flames set fire to the subway

“I think that there are encounters that can only be born of silence, distance and a particular form of attention to specific things.”


How did you become an artist?

By necessity. An initially innocuous, secondary activity, such as writing a diary or drawing on magazine pages, may have been the beginning of a silent quest for freedom. This happened in adolescence. A necessity is created: to translate thought into sentences, drawings, diagrams.

I encountered the works of prehistoric caves, the graffiti photographed by Brassaï, then abstract expressionism; names like Bacon and Basquiat were a real graphic shock. Then, then, then suburban, I discovered Paris through its subway stations.

I have also had the opportunity to travel a lot. This necessarily opens the mind to other forms of language and writing.

on the faces and the choice of the pastel

What is the meaning of repetition in your work, and why do you put it in the street?

It starts with an intuition. The practice of drawing comes later. I aim for a form of self-return through ritual, the invention of a personal language that embraces universal language. A “non-action” is necessary, but it takes time. That’s why I move forward feeling, listening, cautious and concerned to tame my style like the Little Prince and the fox, that is, little by little, day after day.  When an idea comes to me, I do it. Then begins a phase of repetition on paper, bringing a form of assurance through memorization; like a dancer tirelessly repeating his steps to the “by heart”, to find the right rhythm and forget himself in the action.

The street was the way to extend the white space of the paper, to extend this gesture which, from the horizontal table, passes to the vertical plane. On the outside, it is an ejaculatory gesture in the Latin sense of the word ejaculatore, “to get out of”. There is also a willingness to show the finds, to make the attempts visible.

Metropolises offer solitude, anonymity and social density at the same time. From this duality emerge beautiful losers, “good-for-nothing” individuals who touch people (Lomepal), who commit artistic acts whose modus operandi repeats itself, finding in the public space the means to materialize a poetics of the intimate that can only find its form in this place. My work on posters is related to Paris, that’s a fact. The Parisian metro is the only one in Europe where 4×3 metre advertisements are placed directly on the platform. Like bare skin.

Your work is defined by a great simplicity of line. What would the symbolism of these faces, fleeting and very fragile figures, be to you?

There’s something jubilant about the layout. Two simple lines; one for the outline and the other for the gaze, and here is the representation of a human face in profile or a mask. Without falling into idolatry, I think that images are mirrors turned towards oneself. They are not addressed to us, we are the ones who look at them.  There is a meaning in the symbol and sign that gravitates above and below the language. Something elusive. Take the rebus, the scientific scheme, the mind maps or the highway code signs. All this is done in silence. For a long time I thought the “slippery road” sign was a Snoopy.

Simplicity is linked to this work of repetition that follows the mental image. I invoke a sign when I need it to create an arrangement. This sign must be simple at its root. There is nothing like the representation of the sky translated by hieroglyphics. A five-pointed star, an epicenter, a radiance. All this is done in silence.

When you talk about the memory repertoire in which your work is part of, what are you referring to?

3 to 4 times a week, I make a series of about ten drawings. I cut the paper into identical fragments like small plates of light on which interference will appear. Once the plot is completed, I return the fragment to move on to the next one. An order is created – Shuffle. I’ve memorized a hundred signs so far. This memory directory is invoked when I am in front of the subway ads. Once the intervention is done on the poster, I abandon the drawing and go back to the paths. Sometimes other people can take pictures. The photographic shot will then define a new frame and the sign will then enter a new set, a particular collection. These photos, digitized and published on social networks, produce yet another new directory, but this time online.

How did the choice of oil pastel come about?

The oil pastel allows me to manage very strong pigments. Also, the trace produces a material; the pastel deposited on certain support has something violent, a kind of skin scratched.

the advertising poster and the question of format

You often use the advertising poster as a support.

Advertising imagery is suitable for a wide audience. The collective unconscious that is present in the advertisement will stimulate my drawing repertoire and a form of reversal will take place. The poster defines a specific framework whose life span can range from 24 hours to 2 weeks. Its surface is often smooth, the ultra-changing images and some backgrounds of colours – posters as well as illustrations – are incredible invitations. All this helps to maintain and nourish my imagination. The paper advertising on the metro platforms, at this scale, needs to be assembled in fragments, and that is the job of the poster gluer. On the poster there are fold marks, junctions, glue marks and fingerprints. It is a beautiful material, which will soon give way to screens.

The display also involves pasting….

This is where the important character of the poster sticker appears. I went through the subway stations, met these rather fierce men. I created a relationship of trust with one of them, He liked drawings. So he agreed to put some posters aside for me. I had posters that fell off the truck from time to time. Once one of them recognized my drawings and didn’t like my approach at all.

When I was thinking about my graduation diploma, I wondered what I was going to do, knowing that I had spent all my schooling working on abstract drawing processes.  Nothing to do with my work in the city. As a protective instinct, and probably a little immature, I never really brought my poster drawing practice into the school. But the diploma, thanks to the gluer, was like a revenge for this shyness. After assembling a panel to the scale of the advertising space, I asked the poster gluer to come and glue live fragments that I had previously enhanced. A great moment.

In an interview, concerning the advertising space, you talk about a “table to be increased”. So your drawing would come as a graffiti complementing a pre-existing work in a process of superposition?

Increased table refers to the large formats that can be seen at the Louvre or in other national museums. Many of the works on display are as large as the metro’s advertising posters. From this idea, I wanted to remake paintings, a word very well known in Art History, by composing an image with fragments extracted from current advertisements enhanced in the studio. That’s why I talk about a painting, because there is a freshness and an investigation in the choice of fragments, if not in the overall composition. This can be understood as a painter’s gesture, with a chosen colorimetry, or recurrences in the choice of shapes. The background and the cuts that the advertisement offers me are very important for this choice.

a nameless trace

If your work is a record, how do you keep it?

By photographing a third party. The photographic vestige extends the temporality of the trace and gives it a new existence. It also allows me to step back from what I do and produce images with the help of others that ultimately no longer belong to me.


So the photograph of your work would be an archival photograph?

Absolutely, even if it is very rare that I can take a picture of my outdoor work. Before, during and after the drawing, my heart beats so fast that I quickly leave the place, without even taking a last look at the fresh drawing. The drawing continues to exist. It happens that some people take pictures and make an archiving, this is the case of Guillaume Brachon, with whom a friendship has been created, and whose pictures are visible on social networks. The original having disappeared, this photographic relic will become the final trace.

Why anonymity?

I think that there are encounters that can only be born of silence, distance and a particular form of attention to specific things. I am very shy at first, so it protects me. I work on it, I give time time to time. Also anonymity, with a certain irony, allows me to escape the temptation to hold the subject position alone.

Improvisation and abandonment

“Emotion usually flows through me when I am in a favourable mood to receive it. The window in my heart must be open for the breath to pass.” Does this link the creative process to a form of improvisation?

Improvisation was born from a repetition of scales. I remember a friend, Julien Aubert, also a student at the Beaux-Arts, who explained to the teacher, when he showed his painting, that he was doing his scales. This made me realize that technical repetition allows improvisation. Oriental calligraphy also helped me understand this. Being permeable to the outside without disturbing the inside; it is a meditative practice. I often think of the scale that allows the jazzman to enter into a trance. He couldn’t do it if he had to deal with technique. I’m not going to say that I’m going into a trance in situ, but my heart is beating fast, it’s obvious.

Jacques Coursil speaks to define improvisation as “a premeditated act of non-premeditation” and considers that “by improvisation, one must invent an event, i. e. the advent of a present.”

It’s very interesting. I’m not there yet, because I need a pattern and an external support to give shape. However, my abstract work involves a large part of improvisation that is not the result of premeditation or repetition. With ink or charcoal, there are many more unforeseen events and accidents. While with repertory work, there is repetition, a search for a particular form to become a sign.  But it is not unthinkable that these two forms could one day complement each other.

My work under the name of Airwan Isle Groove is at the border between drawing and writing, while with abstraction there is nothing more to say, only silence can welcome the image. And then the image becomes music. As Miles Davis said, “she’s just passing through”. I became aware of this when I discovered Cy Twombly’s work. Here, there is a form of struggle between a very primitive aspect of figuration and a form of frenetic handwriting.

Links with henri michaux

You wrote a thesis on Henri Michaux, which opens with this strong sentence: “Exile is none other than the solution to an impossibility of survival in a context where being cannot take root”. Can’t we find your fugitive figures in it that can’t be sustained over time?

The figures of my crowds are unable to look back. Some faces, worried, look for the North Star, others are serene, quiet, like the slight shrieking of the water.

There are men and women in this world who live in peace, and do not ask themselves the question of good and evil. Even if I forgot their faces, I met happy people, flooding the space with their serenity. To want to explain the bright light in their eyes would be to remove a necessary missing part, that missing part that language cannot easily touch and that gives the drawing its musicality.  Not all exile is linked to land and physical borders. There is the exile of thought. Henri Michaux was this exile of the heart. His search for a “possible place of thought” led him to attempt multiple graphic experiments. This work on this great multifaceted artist has nourished me a lot.

You can find Airwan Isle Groove on Facebook, Instagram, and on his website.

You can find Guillaume Brachon on Instagram.

Pictures: Guillaume Brachon

Interview recorded and worked between september 2017 and september 2018.

you will also like

gerard zlotykamien

Meeting with the author of Ephémères, mysterious shadows that evoke Hiroshima and the human dramas of the 20th century since the 1960s.


jean faucheur

Meeting with one of the key figures of French Urban Art, whose artistic practice - from drawing to Conceptual Art - is in perpetual evolution.


Meeting with an artist whose chalk creations alert us with benevolence to social issues and the state of the planet.

Shopping Cart