Žilda’s work is mostly built off the beaten track. Indeed, her installations, whether they are nestled in the middle of the forest, on the hull of a boat waiting for the tide to rise or in the ruins of a Neapolitan palace, are not always visible to the viewer. For the viewer, painting only lives in relation to a place, and it doesn’t matter if it is not in crowded arteries or in the middle of the passage. In these places, the artist brings back to life by small touches the works of those forgotten in the history of Art, those that are not necessarily highlighted in museums. As he himself says: “There is no such thing as the Art History of those who are remembered and those who rot in the cellars of the Louvre.”
Thus, Žilda’s work is not only based on meticulous preparation. It is also the work of a researcher and historian, as when he decided to embark on an iconographic quest around the figure of the Breton Saints. Contrary to the ephemeral nature of street art, this one reveals itself in time. Each figure is unique, a bearer of history for those who have the chance to look at it.
TRAINING AND WAY OF WORKING
How did you become an artist?
I always drew in the back of the class and after my studies I perfected my painting. It was out of the question to go to a school to get someone to hold my brush, so I learned by myself by working from master canvases. After two years locked up reproducing works by Van Gogh, Rembrandt or Murillo, I had the technique in my pocket and I said to myself that maybe it was time to find my own modus operandi and go out for a bit of fresh air?
Why work in cycles?
I’ve always liked working in cycles, grasping a theme and studying it for a long time, living a subject thoroughly in order to paint it. But after a certain time, rather than getting stuck comfortably in what I already mastered, I prefer to look for a new breath on a blank page, to build other stories by opening new chapters.
What are the stages of the realization of the work?
The work begins at the foot of a wall that inspires me: I then think about a work that could fit into it. I freely interpret this work, taking care however never to cancel the spirit and the touch of the original. I first make a drawing proof: its framework will serve as architecture for the painting to come. The whole gives a result that is difficult to discern and people often wonder what they are facing. Indeed, I work with brush, oil and acrylic, with a different tool each time: eyeliner, TIPex, toothbrush, gold leaf, etc., so that I never use exactly the same method. Painting is a fabulous art, you should never be disgusted with it but always see it as a playful dimension to which you add new elements.
Choice of frame
How do you choose where to install your paintings?
It all starts by finding inspiring places that express intense things. These are often remote places, not very accessible, which require climbing a fence or getting lost in the forest… We find ourselves in places where time has stopped, with great peculiarities of language and atmosphere.
How do you associate the atmosphere of this place with a painting?
Each wall that attracts my attention refers to an emotion: a melancholy, a pain, a spleen. I sit down, light a cigarette and try to connect with the paintings I am storing. Sometimes the triggering happens, sometimes it doesn’t. At other times I find an incredible place, but don’t find the inspiration to write something in it. I always have to find the adequacy, which can also be a contradiction, between the place and the work.
Acting in isolated places makes the work less accessible to the public.
I’m not a big fan of the positioning of street art, which seeks readability at all costs. My approach goes completely against that. My thing is above all to please myself and tell stories in places that speak to me.
In addition to not being very accessible to the public, my painting is ephemeral and disappears over time. In fact, I consider that the finality of my work is photographic and stops with the shooting. The wait for this image can be long, sometimes whole days, during which there is not the right light. The result is sometimes unexpected: in Naples, where I have the impression that everything is possible, I found myself locked up in an abandoned palace after setting up a stage on the roof. We were between dog and wolf and, after waiting a long time, the full moon appeared, illuminating the scene with a mystical ray. Working in these conditions was incredible! Then I spent three hours with a lighter trying to get out. It’s often the price to pay to capture a beautiful moment.
So, do you consider photography to be the result of your work? How do you see it?
My photographs express my view of the scene through the choice of framing and the angle is always frontal so as not to alter the perspective.
This composition is often anticipated because I take pleasure in thinking ahead of time about the elements that will activate the scene. For example, in Lorient, I worked on a series of paintings specially installed on a high tide day. The idea was to create scenes in which my characters would have their feet in the water and end up completely swallowed by the sea. It was a totally unproductive process because I spent months working on it and finally literally killed my images as soon as they were pasted. Phrosine and Melidore had such a short life span that they were not visible to the public. My satisfaction then really came from the making of this scene.
It’s a real photographer’s work in the composition of the image.
The challenge is to always go further, especially on the plastic aspect. Marat’s assassination was the result of a desire to work with furniture, in collaboration with Rö. It was pure plastic delirium, the junction between the pictorial part and the installation.
In Naples, I sometimes created rubbish dumps at the feet of my characters to break the overly romantic side of the image. Three drunken sailors watched me throw chairs and tires, bursting out laughing like eternal kids. They had understood the process and went to look for all the rubbish they could find to help me.
Do you ever take the opposite approach?
I don’t walk around with a painting under my arm looking for a place where it could fit in. I’m always working on a specific location. It takes me so much preparation time that I’ve sometimes gone back to the site of wastelands that no longer exist. I then find myself with paintings that were never installed or thrown away because it is out of the question for me to recycle them on another wall.
I once worked on a Pietà that I had installed in Paris. I went out for a coffee while the glue was drying, but when I came back the painting had disappeared and I couldn’t take a picture of it. I didn’t do it a second time because it’s a unique experience each time and I have too many things to do to be able to ramble.
What’s your connection to the city of Naples?
The first time I went there, I found it a grueling city. But I was lucky enough to come back with people who knew it and I rediscovered it until I tamed it. It’s incredible to see what you can accumulate in terms of sensations in a very short time in Naples, where different atmospheres coexist at every street corner. What stimulates me is to work on emotion and when you find yourself in such a breeding ground, it becomes volcanic! As a result, I’ve been caught up in a frenzy of work on the spot, at no time have I ever produced so intensely. The stories in Naples never stop and my relationship with this city is very intense. A very strong bond has also been forged with the Neapolitans, which is unique.
Is there a greater echo of painting in everyday life?
Talking about this is like talking about the gaze, and it is always interesting to see how an image is received. In France, if you work on allegories or things that don’t provide an immediate explanation, we will reason and therefore lock the work into reading grids. In Naples, we take the image for what it is and it goes straight into the bloodstream! Neapolitans live in a city full of jewels, where you can see a Caravaggio painting on Sundays when you go to church. This surely explains their special relationship with the works: they don’t just live with them, they absorb them.
Art Tracker and Breton Saints
Your work is particularly interested in those who have been neglected in the history of art.
I have often been told that I am only interested in the losers of Art History. People generally can’t pronounce the names of the German or Romanian painters that I reinterpret. However, this is not a sub-category of Art for me. There is not on the one hand the history of Art of those who are remembered and on the other hand the history of those who rot in the cellars of the Louvre. I let myself be guided by emotion and if a painter touches me when he has left nothing to posterity I don’t care. This no doubt explains why I am often led to leave a repertoire of belittled works.
How did you find out about them?
It’s a bulimic curiosity. An illustrator like Sascha Schneider fascinates me, he has done incredible things, although there is no museum dedicated to him. I discovered two of his drawings and wanted to know everything about him. This can go quite far: if I find out, for example, that a collector or a private individual owns a lithograph, I’ll put on my first-class suit and go to see him pretending to be a PhD student. This is my method of going to discover and photograph nuggets, absent from the Internet and libraries, that people hold in their homes.
You then become an art tracker and bring to light forgotten counterparts of our collective memory.
I always refer these painters to honour them and perpetuate their work. But it also happens that I don’t rely on a pre-existing work to be in pure creation. This is the case of my current project, which deals with subjects that have not or hardly been treated in painting: the Breton saints.
Apart from a few naïve sculptures of churches or fountains, I do not work according to any realistic iconography. Thus, the tools are transformed when I treat these subjects. This gives me the freedom to slip in less obvious influences. To represent a saint, I use the sum of my technical knowledge, grafting in things I have seen with my own eyes, such as the expression of a woman in the subway. I try to memorize the fragility of a moment, a little air of melancholy on a face and I scribble it down at night. All this remains referenced even if the database is less obvious. No creation comes out of nowhere! An artist is above all an observer who tinkers with everything he absorbs. As Stupeflip says, it’s “taking little bits of stuff and putting them together and listening to the result in peace, in my room”.
Are you considering doing a job as a historian then?
70% of my current work consists of research in libraries, closed doors that I break down to access rare documents, but also testimonies that I will collect from the elders before all their knowledge disappears. The rest of the time I travel the four corners of Brittany to visit vestiges that bear witness to old popular beliefs: chapels, fountains, ruined castles? I am interested in legends that are dying out little by little and that have to be reconstructed from fragments, ellipses, contradictory historical elements. It’s a bit like a giant jigsaw puzzle that you have to put together: there are many pieces missing but this lack of support is the best incentive there is! So I spend much more time immersing myself in grimoires, Breton hymns, gwerz or tales than I do painting… In the end, my paintings must find a resonance in legendary places, often in remote places. For example, to find the place where to install Sainte-Noyale, I had to survey all its Pontivyan territory to the depths of the forest before finding this majestic fountain dedicated to it. Apart from birds and a few deer, almost no one will encounter this work. What really counts is the meaning that this saint comes to find in the spirit of the place: she reappears in the precise place where she came to find her burial, about fifteen hundred years ago.
Why did you choose to undertake this work?
I am a great believer in the language of the unconscious that grabs us for weeks or months without knowing why, and then we forget for a while before it reappears years later. It would be a shame to fix a reasoning on it. This thing, even done accidentally, can develop an echo in your life, as if this concern was already inscribed in you and was just waiting for an opportunity to jump in your face. This is the case when you talk about religion or mythology, which often refer to personal situations. Painting is a language, which contains real premonitions.
Gluing and ephemeral
Why did you choose to do collage?
To an indelible proposal I prefer what the paper tells, like a page that punctuates the life of a wall for a season. I like the fact that it is derisory: I put my heart into my work, I believe in it thoroughly, knowing that it is not meant to last. It’s crazy to put up windows to protect the works! It’s like being afraid of direct contact between the work and people. Yet it is their right to say they disagree. It’s indecent to be in the position of an urban settler with a piece that remains for years, protected by the municipality. On the other hand, a work that withers, that is rarer, punctual and discreet can only be more beautiful, can’t it?
The ephemeral aspect of the work is very important in your work.
It’s not really my thing to express a lasting point of view in the open air. Everything changes, even your life, even your city. At the moment, Rennes looks like a vast construction site, the urban landscape is undergoing a metamorphosis, so why try to go back in time?
I think it’s more interesting to go and see if such a collage still exists without being certain. Through the indelibility of a proposal, one imposes a point of view knowing that it is a lasting mark. Do you realize how many looks it bounces in and imprints itself? It’s the same strategy used by advertisers to get their products in the brains! Alas, the turn that street art is taking is this one. There will be fewer and fewer little guys doing things on a human scale in a disinterested way, for an ever greater and ever more visible appeal. From a quiet start we’ve moved on to the goal to be achieved.
How important is it for you to resist this temptation?
Every day is made up of micro-concessions released to one’s initial ideas: while taking care to keep the essence of what one has been, one must check the right moves. I have always refused to enter a gallery to avoid speculation on my painting, which remains made up of dreams and sweat. The street artist is above all a fantasy for the bourgeoisie: for fifteen years now, I’ve been making my own way far from them and the traditional commercial circuit. I won’t change course. But if you can decide to live completely excluded from this system, you learn that people don’t care much about it. Most artists are on Facebook to spread to the world things made meaningless by followers who look like freaks. Do I deserve a medal for refusing that? No. Do people care? No. It’s something you keep to yourself, like a kind of integrity. But it’s hard to live in a communication system without obeying those lines.
How do you perceive the artists who seek above all to be successful?
Celine used to say that creation is putting your bones and your skin on the table, giving something of yourself that comes from very far away and I quite agree with that. But for these financiers of Art, what does the act of creation really mean? Why did these works come into the world and what do they really bring to humanity? It is delirious and violent to see how far we have moved away from the original meaning of the word “create”. And it is now terribly banal to see that Art is no longer a consumer product like any other.