Is François Bard a modern artist?
“The artist forges himself in this perpetual back and forth from himself to others, halfway between the beauty which he cannot do without and the community from which he cannot tear himself away.”
Taken from the Stockholm speech given by Albert Camus at the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature, December 10, 1957.
Asking the question of the modernity of François Bard’s work is not only a way of placing it in the continuum of Western art history, but also an invitation to define what exactly the concept refers to in this context. The contours of the term ‘modern’ or ‘modernity’ have varied over time: from Giorgio Vasari, who qualified Leonardo da Vinci’s work as Maniera moderna in the middle of the 16th century (corresponding to his conception of the perfection of the art at that moment), to cubism deconstructing the motif of Picasso and Braque (a solution to reinvent painting), passing through Baudelaire (who defines modernity as an ambiguous balance between the transitory and fugitive, and eternity and the immutable). However, faced with the different colours that these ideas take, the etymology brings us back to a framework. It weaves a common thread and means that we can still use these terms today without being anachronistic or obsolete. It combines the adjective modernus, which means recent or current, and the adverb modo, which means at the moment. To be modern is therefore to be of the time. We still need to find the indicators to measure how a painter belongs to his or her time. Other ideas quickly emerge, those of novelty, progress or rupture, those to which the avant-garde called for with manifestos and radical remarks, such as those of Antonin Artaud, who broke the moorings with the continuum mentioned above when he wrote: “The masterpieces of the past are good for the past; they are not good for us.” It is a posture that could be bad faith or the illusory dream of the tabula rasa or John Ruskin’s ‘innocent eye’, as if we could see things with the naive eye of a child. However, this is not where we find François Bard anchored. The question becomes more meaningful if we shed light on his work in the manner of Édouard Manet, a painter held up as an inventor of modernity, introducing “disorder into the pose” in the words of Georges Bataille. The two artists share a taste for stripped down art and tight framing which accentuates the dramatization. The asparagus that Manet poses simply on the edge of a table is a perfect illustration of this. It places a distance with the emotions through the neutrality of the feelings displayed on the faces, a renewed and enigmatic iconography, and plays with the off-screen. Manet places the spectator (each of us) there, interacting with the subject, catching their gaze in a timeless face-toface. Bard, for his part, releases the faces of his fragmented characters, focusing all our attention on the poses, on what the bodies say. Moreover, both are part of a claimed filiation with the great masters – thanks to which they found their artistic freedom – with a particular interest in Diego Velázquez. The discovery of his works by Manet at the Prado in 1865 was a real shock, to the point of raising the Spaniard to the rank of ‘the greatest painter ever’. François Bard studied his work when he was a boarder at the Casa de Velázquez in Madrid, between 1988 and 1990, fascinated by this economy of means and the ability to touch the essential. And then there is the painting. Both put it at the heart of their practice, which is based on three foundations: light, gesture and material. “To suppress the subject, to destroy it, is indeed the fact of modern painting, but it is not exactly an absence: more or less, each painting keeps a subject, a title, but this subject, this title
is insignificant, they are reduced to the pretext of painting,” writes Georges Bataille. If François Bard recognises that he always paints the same picture like a writer writes the same book, with vanity, pride and the powerful as essential themes, once he is in the solitude of the studio, everything is a play between the hand, brush and mind, a constant back and forth between figuration and abstraction. Like a leitmotif, this is what guides his artistic affinities. Whether in this painting of the Spanish Golden Age, in Neo Rauch or in the photographs of NASA, Bard rediscovers “the metaphysical solitude of man in the universe, embodied by this absolute and infinite black that I try to transcribe in my painting,” he confides. It is the same deep blacks so remarkable in Manet’s palette. And since being modern means being of his time, François Bard creates his own iconography to re-read vanity, a subject that takes root in our Middle Ages. To make it current, it arises where a social phenomenon crystallises: the madness of the images that circulate in a continuous flow on the screen. They water us, without subtitles or orientation and convey the excess, the hybris of the Greeks. The critical sense takes its distance and the strongest image wins. Bard identifies photographs disseminated by the media reflecting postures of power, has them replayed by those close to him, photographs them in turn and paints them in the most traditional way possible in his studio. Like Manet, he remains in the painter’s relationship to his model, which he has posed. But this is also where François Bard’s modernity is to be found: by being part of an accepted tradition, to which cinema, photography and the society of the spectacle come together, and by injecting universal themes in our contemporary world, where billionaires have replaced princes. We find the same dynamic in the theatre when the staging changes the setting and chronology to update a classic play. This can be a roundabout way of denouncing an oppressive power or a moment in history – as when in 1944, Jean Anouilh made Antigone a heroine of the Resistance in front of a Hitlerian Créon – or a solution so the public can project and feel concerned. So, when Ariane Mnouchkine seized on Molière’s Tartuffe in 1995, she transposed it among Muslim radicals, which was then more in keeping with current events as the Catholic bigotry of the 17th century was well outdated. Above all, it denounces fundamentalism, intolerance and hypocrisies which are human failings, whatever the community, while providing a key to our time. In 2019, Clément Cogitore proposed breathing new life into the Indes galantes, Rameau’s baroque opera, with all the energy of hip-hop dance choreographed by Bintou Dembélé at the Opéra Bastille, Paris. It might have seemed iconoclastic but was, in fact, a dazzling success. These examples remind us that theatre and opera are living arts. They showcase the faults of humanity, passions, wars, destiny, duty, love whether tragic or happy, betrayal, hatred etc. There is an ocean of feelings with which to debate human beings since the dawn of time. Despite the centuries that follow one another, we do not learn anything, we are caught in the same downward slide, we go around in circles. We eternally need to reactivate the tortures of the Sisyphus, Medea, Hamlet etc. The theatre is a kind of catharsis where we simply unload monstrosities and emotions. The efficacy of the message depends on how you address the viewer, whether on stage or in front of a work of art. Identification will be reinforced by the contemporaneity of the situation, by the artist’s ability to revive codes that resonate with our society. This is exactly what François Bard does with his metaphorical images. As Jürgen Habermas has pointed out, modernity is an unfinished project.
Journalist and Art historian, September 2021
Who exactly are they? Who are these characters whose faces we cannot see, of which we perceive only the merest details. While the art of portraiture lies precisely in exposing an identity, in its power or its innocence, by revealing the model’s psychology through their physical features, François Bard goes the other way, choosing to hide them from view. Heads are covered, turned away, or even out of sight altogether. The rare faces we see are immediately thrown back into the shadows, by a visor or an arched eyebrow, as if deprived of any gaze. Therefore, he is not a portrait painter, and yet… The bodies he reveals to us are very much inhabited, the clothes that cover them are embodied. We feel that, under the fabric, this humanity breathes, perspires and seems to be on the lookout. You feel in these backs and shoulders all the burden of a day or a life. After decades of abstraction and minimalism, the face is back, but it has not emerged unscathed from the missing years when gestures, materiality and colours became the very subject of painting. So, François Bard is reintegrating ‘portraits’ into his work with the brush of abstraction. Abstraction of an identity of which he deprives his characters, abstraction of a story that the title fails to tell. From his first practice of abstract painting, the artist has preserved the gestures of abstraction, expressed in the breadth of his canvases, in the materiality of a painting whose passages, traces and drips can be seen and, finally , in the weight of the colour, the accents, contrasts and shine that he likes to play with. So, François Bard’s painting focuses on the human body, portraying it like a face. A clothed body whose anatomy is flush with the fabric.
From photography, he borrows not only his close and truncated cropping but also his subjects, since he collects photos discovered at random, before asking those close to him to strike the same pose as that seen in the photographs. The singularity here consists in recreating the attitude of the model in the photograph and not simply painting it, because the artist needs to carry out this transfer himself, from the third to the second dimension. It is up to him to select the masses that he will translate into surfaces on the flat canvas. It is up to him to set the contours on his own, using a brush. Finally, it is up to him to create his own palette of tones, to accentuate the lighting, to suggest material effects. Going beyond the dated rivalry between the two arts, which consisted in asserting the supremacy of one over the other, it is more about the artist reaffirming the materiality and the singularity of painting, to “rediscover painting […] the moment when the subject coincides with the way of treating it; painting then becomes its own subject,” in his own words. The symbiosis is then total, merging the two techniques to keep what is specific to each: the snapshot of a pose and the materiality of oil painting. Here lies the first key to reading the work of François Bard, which is based on temporality. It’s a double temporality, of the technique and the reception of the subject. To the fleetingness of a moment captured by the photographer whose origin and continuity of movement can be guessed, the painter affixes a slow pictorial work where the layers are superimposed, are fixed and freeze their subject to the point of depriving them of any inclination to move. Action is now absent. These characters become sculptural, massive, immutable. They exist for themselves, decontextualised. It seems futile to anchor them in a story. Especially since they evolve against a bare and monochrome background where only sometimes runs the line of a horizon that tries to suggest space. No decor, no detail that would situate the scene, tell a story. His painting is not intended to be narrative but, by its title, invites introspection.
A second key to reading, stricto sensu, the work of François Bard are the titles which bring a hidden meaning to his artwork. Again, a double reading can be made, where the literal sense alone cannot satisfy us, and in which we must seek another,metaphysical, meaning. While L’autre côté (On The Other Side) explicitly invites us into a passage into a dimension other than that of a coloured plane devoid of materiality, Le seul jour (The Only Day) also calls for another solitude other than that of the calendar. Even more equivocal, Ce que tu es (What You Are), depending on whether it is addressed to the model or to ourselves, conveys the notion of a mirror or metaphor for a humanist version of the portrait of Dorian Gray.
This is when colour comes into play, inseparable from light, and conveying emotion. Lively, sometimes even acid, it adds life to the compositions through its brilliance and awakens duller tones. Through its outbursts, it sublimates banal attitudes. Here, it’s a lemon-yellow hood that focuses our attention on a head, further accentuating the invisibility of the face and haloing it with mystery. Playing subtly with complementarities, the artist uses acid yellow to reactivate shades of blue, vivid in the jacket and duller in the background. A subtle colourist, François Bard makes his colours migrate from their primary field. Applied in light vertical brush strokes, the blue modulates the yellow, when the latter spreads in discreet traces on the subject’s back. Elsewhere, it is a vermilion red that proceeds from this same desire to magnify, through colour, what is only a fragment of a body, a simple pair of legs covered with trousers. The bright red which structures the brittle folds responds to a more washed-out red in the background which induces the flatness of a wall. It is washed-out to the point of dripping down the surface in long, bloody streaks, adding a dramatic dimension. We then understand the emotional power of colour for a painter who dares to run from intensity to washed-out. Pure colour takes on a sometimes tragic symbolic value. As such, black fulfils its share of mystery, accentuating the solitude of characters in an obstructed, compact space. Because the colour is sometimes uniform and smooth to cut out a plane in the composition, it inserts a section of timelessness. A blue vertical strip crosses the canvas over its entire height and a green horizontal strip creates a margin of distance. Inherited from the artist’s earlier abstract period, these coloured areas help decontextualise the subject and anchor it in the space of the painting.
Nevertheless, François Bard’s painting opens up when we approach it, allowing us to appreciate all the subtleties of the technique, the roughness of the material and its pictoriality. Monumental in its formats, the work nevertheless invites us to step back in order to understand it in its totality. From a distance, it then presents itself with a certain realism, brilliantly responding to the mimetic temptation of figurative painting. Proportions arerespected, with the volumes constructed according to the rules of perspective. Colours are modulated according to the lighting. Finally, the carefully evoked materials give the illusion of reality. So fabrics are rendered with extreme dexterity when they break into voluptuous folds on a shoe, crease at the lowering of a head or at the bend of a knee, or even undulate accompanying the movement of the bodies.
However, on closer inspection, the artist’s work emerges and reveals his process. Paint becomes texture. Layers are worked using superimposed strata on which he works several times, scraping to remove material, sprinkling to add squirts or brushing thin layers to obtain runs, in an incessant back and forth. Frequent without being systematic, discreet because almost transparent, these drips form a slight vertical grid which counterbalances the more assertive line, of denser layers applied with the brush. It is then that we can discern on some canvases, traced words, almost imperceptible, added at the end. They are contained in a form, in the jacket in Le messager (The Messenger) and in the face of Ce que tu es (What You Are). However, the outline of the writing does not follow its reliefs but unfolds linearly, thereby maintaining the ambiguity of belonging to the surface of the canvas, as a second illegible title, rather than the subject on which it would be inscribed as a motif or a tattoo. Finding the paint also means finding the surface of the canvas. François Bard’s syncretic work therefore operates as a tour de force, reconciling abstraction and figuration and affirming what makes up the painter’s work: the composition, colours and gestures, while inserting therein the figure of whom he no longer makes a subject, and yet…Of the narration, absent or at a distance, it is up to each of us to construct its meaning. While he no longer draws a portrait of his figures, in the social sense of the term, he does, however, express their essence, in the metaphysical sense.
Generic, because they are without identity, but unique through their singularity, François Bard’s characters express a strange feeling of loneliness, isolation and confinement. Even when there are several of them. What are the reasons for this? It has to do with the passive attitudes as if suspended, in monochrome and therefore enveloping backgrounds, but also due to monumental formats which give the subject another dimension. Confronted with the gigantic nature of the work, which eliminates the anecdotal, we can only confront our own individuality. The size of the format corresponds to that of the subject. Facing François Bard’s giants, the viewer must measure his own psyche. Dark without being gloomy, his painting addresses our human condition, the drama of which he expresses. Deprived of eyes, unable to communicate, his characters question us about our ability to embrace the world and reach out to others. Loneliness is above all a mental state, the physical aspect of which François Bard translates into a relentless quest, leading his characters on a long journey where each step further isolates them. Through each of them, he portrays our humanity.
Art historian, September 2021
He is Francois. This “unbelievable certainty” is Francois Bard.
Frenetic agitation, canvas. Pictures with dark backgrounds are made and rebuilt without respite. He is fighting against the time that passes inexorably. He paints incessantly, hoping that all layers of cracked paints will make mummy strips and protect him for eternity. But Bard doubts, struggles, he does not believe, he knows, in a desperate, melancholy way … “The old world is dying, the new world is slow in appearing and in this chiaroscuro arise the monsters” Antonio Gramsci.
He resists, trying to build a pyramid of chassis in chassis, perpetually turning the rack of his easel, in the pale light of the glass roof with translucent tiles, standing in the glow of the North. It refines, refines, details the texture of the “Dog with the bandage”.
As he is certain not to be spared, he applies with a manic precision to paint what he hides. Painter of worry, of intranquility “too late” 2016.
Permanent attempts to recover from collapse whether “on the road” or “on the paths of glory” whether in 2012 or 2017. Vanity.
His feverish hand brushes “Shadows”. Often he decapitates his characters. Sometimes red hoods hide the faces. But many models, slumped, extended, dead, dying or lying are precise self-portraits.
The Romans had an expression: Taedium vitae.
Look at “Seraphin” this archangel with wings of grisaille, this man with black tattoos, knit body, brute body. Head down to the ground, to the ground. He signs a boundless discouragement towards the Earth and … Heaven. An immense sadness that Seneca the younger specified to characterize the perceptible feeling of the end of an era and a Civilization.
Taedium vitae, it is this vertiginous feeling to be aware of an obviousness without any solution: the end of a World.
It is this blinding lucidity, this reasoned despair that inhabits Bard’s work. A world collapses but from portrait to portrait he identifies this inner crisis.
His “Dog with the bandage” stares at us: he knows.
Francois knows, and, admiring his paintings, we can know too.
Filmmaker, Paris, 2016
François Bard’s work is often described as “epic” or “monumental”. However, he paints the most innocuous subjects, and transforms them into powerful metaphors of human emotion. Difficult to define, he is like a conceptual experimenter disguised as a traditionalist. His paintings invariably prompt more questions than answers. Elliptical and textured, if his representations of ordinary people and places suggest meaning, they nonetheless place some of the emotions contained beyond our reach.
From his family and friends to Hollywood cinema and icons of contemporary consumerism, the subjects developed by François Bard are part of a social symbolic context but sometimes hidden behind an enigmatic veil.
Divided between Paris, the countryside in Burgundy and the nature of the south of France, the landscape inspires a large part of his work. He first painted outdoors, taking nature as a model. The flat and horizontal landscape of Burgundy and its hills continues to influence his vision of pictorial space. At home, the world is clearly cut in two by the horizon line: the sky on one side, the earth on the other. This duality is present in all aspects of life: day and night, shadow and light, life and death.
Landscape, portraiture, self-portraiture and the human figure are among the oldest subjects in art, but Bard is constantly exploring new ways to paint the familiar. With him, painting seems simple. Its material is built layer after layer, from dark backgrounds to bright keys, marked by tools, brushstrokes, smears, scratches, surface imperfections, drippings and bitumin-like glazes which stain the image as so many accidental splashes. Bard delights in the precise and flamboyant painting of the translucency and texture of a skin, the roughness of a heavy fabric, and the cold glare of a metal.
Like a reflection of the cycle of life, Bard’s subjects pass easily from a reassuring and predictable world to a world of uncertain tomorrow. Even when inspired by a book or film, the resulting painting invariably invites the viewer to question appearances. What drives us to make choices, to fight for power and glory, to prefer good to evil, to leave a mark, to isolate ourselves? Abstract notions of good and evil, black and white, night and day, life and death form a prism through which Bard explores the male psyche, its fears and insecurities.
While many of Bard’s subjects engage us to see the dangers of our world, his work more often portrays a contemplative state, as a meditation on the singularity of life, inexorably intertwined with death. The Paths of Glory (2016) is much more than a romantic image dealing with success and adoration. The grandeur of the portraits of Philip IV by Velásquez exhibited at the Prado Museum in Madrid is reflected in it. The fragile beauty of roses is reminiscent of Manet’s flower studies. At first glance, the work celebrates success, self-fulfillment, recognition, glory, nobility, beauty and wealth. Do we prefer to bask in the success of a glorious life, in the sense of power that comes from a vain life, or will we throw to the last rose on those paths of glory that inevitably lead to the grave? Perhaps we should rethink it as Bard’s most honest and disturbing self-portrait. And if, The Paths of Glory is actually his metaphorical self-portrait, these vanities remind the viewer of the ephemeral nature of life, the weaknesses of man and death, inevitable.
Through the methodical act of painting, Bard commemorates life-changing experiences, inner thoughts, feelings, emotions and self-esteem. And since each painting is born from the thoughts and memories of its author, it nourishes the metaphorical journal of his life.
Interpretation is limitless in the works of Bard. Maybe it’s better to pretend you’re sitting in a dark cinema and letting the images of Bard wash over you. In doing so, you will probably feel a vague connection to real life, with your life, as unreal as the paintings themselves. Bard’s flamboyant realism then begins to transform and blend into familiar faces: ultimately, his paintings simply reflect his personal exploration of human identity.
Bard’s characters keep their distance, they look away or hide behind dark glasses. They move away. We just have to contemplate the back of a head which, sometimes, will have been partially cropped. Mixing reality and vague, imaginary or real perceptions, a symbolic gesture suggests a story. Man’s hands, legs, shoes and clothes form. They are the protagonists. And Bard has little interest in scientific precision. On the contrary, he prefers to simplify and abstract. In other words, Bard’s minimalist images express a poetic and ethereal evocation of his subject.
Bard’s realism serves a modern and contemporary aesthetic. A magnetic succession of close-up portraits invites one to examine the depths of the human face through subjects as diverse as workers, businessmen, children and wise old men. Bard studies his subject. His personal challenge is to capture the subtle moment that vibrates at the heart of an expression, as spontaneous as it is unforeseen.
It is as if François Bard was trying to fulfill Baudrillard’s prophecies when he said that, soon, the real and the imaginary would merge and that we would be heading towards a cinematographic reality. Bard argues that “the role of the contemporary artist is to encourage people to look differently”. And this is precisely the effect produced by his painting. She develops a vast array of characters, dogs, flowers, cars and cityscapes. In his paintings, the artist will be interested in the most ordinary objects, which he makes provocative if not surprising: a worn shoe or a clenched hand that he will enlarge and then, against all expectations, crop. This produces extremely realistic and powerful close-ups, such as movie shots.
Many works show ordinary characters in quiet moments, bathed in cinematographic clarity and eerie twilight effects. Between the visible and the mysterious, these paintings are like poems, which invite us to discover the universal in the singular. Remembrance or present time: Bard plunges his subjects into a dark, even melancholy atmosphere, which sometimes suggests loneliness and sometimes serenity.
The majority of François Bard’s works represent single characters. He approaches them in simple compositions, progressing slowly from the abstract to the figurative; the subject, the place and the context interact freely like the words of a poem which answer each other.
Great art has always been contemporary and, in essence, a subject of controversy. Much of the world today is ugly. But Bard remains true to the notion of beauty. In their beauty as much as their banality, his works reveal the concerns of the artist and confuse de facto any distinction between conceptual art and contemporary figuration.
In Simulacra and simulation, Jean Baudrillard asserts that modern societies have been “organized around the production and consumption of basic products”, while postmodern societies are “organized around simulation and the play of images and signs”. Thus, “in our postmodern media and consumer society, everything becomes image, sign, spectacle. “In this way, art interferes in” all spheres of existence “4. And so we can deduce that the choice of François Bard’s subjects confirms that “society has established a generalized aestheticization: all forms of culture – and anti-culture – models of representation and anti-representation are now taken into account » .
Bard’s works become reflections on the cycles that mark our lives (birth and death), which animate our actions (power and family) and define our reality more every day.
Wherever he goes, François Bard observes. Like an anthropologist conducting research, he meticulously notes each gesture and each expression. However, his works evoke relentlessly a humanity closely interconnected, under the prism of the ethical and psychological dilemmas of our contemporary world.
Bard is an artist dedicated to the contemporary, but deeply attached to the tradition that dates back to the great Baroque masterpieces of portraiture and still life. Some might even deem it true to say that Bard redefined these traditional subjects. The still lifes of the 16th and 17th French century have cleverly documented changes in social attitudes and ideas.
Bard captures both the objective and the subjective, the exterior and the interior. He finds a mystery and a dramatic irony in the world we live in – from the poetry of his observations to the conceptual rigor of his work.
The act of painting is the process by which a mind attempts to look at itself in its own light. Perhaps such a vision is impossible. Can the eye see itself except in a reflection? It is also said of the spirit that it reflects and, often, it reflects on itself. Artists work in the hope of creating a picture of their own mind, consciousness and imagination, ultimately of themselves.
Several years ago, François Bard painted in an abstract way, to produce the vision he had in mind. But for the past two decades, he has turned to the figurative. Even when he refers directly to the world, his images remain elusive. Just as her shadows aren’t limited to indicating an area of darkness, her shapes don’t simply represent her subjects. Bard’s realism is detached and theoretical, solicited only by the desire to better activate memory. Functioning like a diary, his paintings retrace his ideas and experiences, while preserving his own formal concepts.
To say that François Bard’s style stands out from the rest is to recognize that it always escapes us in a way that is personal to it. He is made to lead his life as an artist, illuminator, archivist of memories, diary writer, like someone whose existence hangs somewhere between the act of living and an entire past life. to register itself. By returning every day to the flat surfaces of his canvas or his paper, he transcends them into pages of his life.
Bard’s paintings push us towards a face-to-face encounter with memories of his experiences, real or imagined. Because it is him who has confronted these subjects, not the spectator. Reading someone’s diary is not living one’s life. One only examines the evidence while the other brings it together. To watch Bard’s work is not to look through his eyes, nor to see what he sees. We will only see how he interpreted certain experiments or tried to keep track of them.
François Bard’s art is both difficult and hopeful; it offers the possibility of individual triumph but not its certainty, and suggests that the true path to glory does not come from heroism, from power, from beauty or from wealth, but from will and courage to face it.
Wendy M. Blazier
Art historian, writer and independent curator, working for over 30 years in Florida as a curator, institutional administrator and lecturer. Born in Detroit, Michigan, she was Executive Director and Curator at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood (Florida) from 1979 to 1995 and Chief Curator at the Boca Raton Museum of Art from 2001 to 2012.
What do you tell over your paintings?
I always tell my story, but also the human being as he is, with his imperfections – that’s why I take generic terms like Untitled, The Kilt, Dealer, The Paths of Glory… I work around the theme of vanity which is one of the common places in the history of art: the representation of princes, kings, power, the Medici, battles won… There is also religious vanity with all these saints who meditate in front of skulls and question the afterlife, the real vanities after all.
You question this theme belonging to classical painting, but don’t you give it a terribly contemporary form?
Yes, it remains current and I treat it in a classic form that is painting. I like to be inspired by iconic photographs that I recreate in my own way by posing people close to me. These photographs, which I spot in the press or in magazines, are for me contemporary vanities, like Kennedy smoking the cigar, this very beautiful picture where he is collected … These are all poses of society, of the world and the media. The images are easy to access but no one really looks at them, that’s why I want to make spectacular images for people to watch.
So is everything just a game of illusion?
Like Andy Warhol, I am inspired by the media; people pose in front of the objectives for a minute of recognition. Nothing has changed fundamentally: formerly the princes posed for posterity …
It is this common denominator that interests me and which I explore.
Do you have a cynical view of this company?
Yes, it is human nature and I am part of it! The vanity of the artist is enormous! Want to give meaning to your painting and your day by painting! Not wasting your time is thinking that your time is precious, it is vain!
Is that why you pose on certain paintings?
Yes, it is the expression of the vanity of the artist, that is to say, to want, in a somewhat heroic attitude, to replay certain games of society as Woody Allen did in Zeligwhere he plays a chameleon-man who thinks he’s Hitler when he’s next to him, and so on.
In my self-portraits, I try to take on characters and interpret roles. It’s a bit like childhood: we play by taking ourselves for a gangster, an Indian, a trapper… It is a link to an imaginary adventure.
Does that mean that the artist is the most able to take this step back?
For me, it’s more comfortable to be my own subject, even if I like to pose others and photograph them. Whatever happens, it is important that they are close relatives, people I know well.
Technically, do you relate to the tradition of great painting?
I like the setting of classical painting. I find the possibility to represent a space, a subject … Conceptually, it is a re-creation of the world in which abstraction and figuration do not want to say anything anymore. In a way, it’s infinite freedom in the rule!
How do you approach a new work? As you expressed it, your starting point is a photograph?
Yes. I leave on a rather simple vision of the image, I realize a vague drawing and it is while working that the painting is constructed. I do not do the execution of an image, but I try, through the image, to find the painting.
What does “rediscover the paint” mean to you?
It’s about finding adventure in the space of the canvas with purely pictorial passages, colorful relationships, things that appear, accidents that I accept or refuse …
To find the painting is the moment when the subject coincides with the way of treating it. The painting then becomes his own subject. It’s a fusional moment.
As for the formats, do you work on large canvases?
This is the iconic side! I feel locked in as soon as I am on small formats that do not allow me to express the extent of the gestures. I like to take my formats in relation to my wingspan, my size, so that the gesture can be expressed. I am comfortable from 160 x 130 centimeters …
Do you do a lot of preparatory drawings?
Sometimes, but it’s not systematic. Sometimes the study is sufficient and does not require to be transposed in large format.
For you, what is important in your workshop?
Here, I am surrounded by very beautiful views, and it is almost too beautiful. I have windows zenithales and I like to close the curtains not to be disturbed, disturbed. If painting is a way of giving up the world, I see the workshop as a place of recoil to better recreate the world.
Could you describe it?
It doesn’t have to be very tall as I do easel painting. On the other hand, there are a lot of brushes: I have hundreds of them and I throw them out regularly. Since I have several workshops, I have the same painting table everywhere with a palette and my brushes. I put my hits in a specific order: from warm colors to cool colors on large consoles. On the wall, various photographs are hung (these are my sources of inspiration) and I very often work in music, it helps me to concentrate.
In addition to this, you will need to know more about it.
I tried the acrylic, but I find that there is neither smoothness nor the sensuality that gives oil painting which, moreover, drying, dark of several values. Therefore, to paint figuratively as I do, acrylic is too far from what I want to render.
What about photography?
Yes, she interests me in a way. To return to my background, I began to be figurative – in a classic way, we could say, with live models – and then tackle the abstract painting. It is at forty that I returned to figuration thanks to photography and these small digital devices that allow to have an immediate decline on what we have just seized.
It is amazing to see that it is through figuration that the interest in your work has been revived, at a time when, in France, and unlike other countries like Germany or the United States, we have long time suffered on diktat abstraction and conceptual art!
Yes, it is also concomitant with the change of millennium. The xxe century was that of abstraction and total deconstruction. With the entry into the xxie century and the IIIe millennium, there has been a redistribution of the cards. Abstraction no longer made sense because the adventure had already been widely lived. Perhaps the same can be said for figuration, but the practice of painting can be renewed with digital devices or other technologies.
Ultimatelyno matter the medium, you have to find “his own little music”. The idea of modernity seems obsolete. The challenge is no longer in the revolution, eminently unique to the twentieth century.
You bridge the gap between abstraction and figuration through your touch, which takes us into abstraction when we get closer.
Young, I practiced abstraction. I was already attracted by this duality of white and black, between life and death, shadow and light. I painted large dark spots on clear backgrounds.
One day, Fabienne, my wife, brought home a little jack russel, Paulette, whose dress reminded me strangely my abstraction. It was for me the trigger of a return to figuration. When I painted it, I explored the same form of abstraction found in classical painting: composition, surface relation, light.
The fact remains that in figuration, there is the force of the subject which itself exceeds us.
That is to say ?
I see my paintings as icons, as propaganda images. I make strong images to capture attention. The icon is a form of glorification. I like the association of the words “icon” and “propaganda” because I believe that religious painting has always been a form of propaganda: icons were divine propaganda created by men! And when one leaves the religious register, art serves to show the power of the princes, then of the bourgeoisie. It is always an act of vanity, like the act of painting or writing.
In the end, you often start with motifs that are close to you and translate them into a more universal dimension.
Yes, I sublimate them and place myself at the intersection of the great human questions which are not that numerous: where do we come from? Where are we going ?
Your painting is particularly intriguing with your framing: you zoom in enough to remove the heads here, there the legs. We often only see part of the subject. It becomes part of your signature.
Yes, it is important for me to keep some mystery. With these frames, I find truncated images circulating in the media and newspapers, but there is also the idea of leaving the viewer the opportunity to appropriate a face, to imagine. I like that there is a place for the imagination for what is not painted. The importance of not revealing everything is for me the same subtlety and difference as between pornography and eroticism.
Your work is also verys cinematographic.
Yes, I watch a lot of movies. Cinema has always been important to me, I loved those special moments that were always followed by discussions with friends. We took the time to appreciate deeply.
When I was young, I loved Antonioni’s films with his extremely strong shots and compositions. I also appreciate very much Wim Wenders for his sense of framing and his fantasy, as in Paris Texas ou The wings of desire. And also QuentinTarantino for his popular cinema haunted by metaphysical questions. And I do not forget the films of Eisenstein, between expressionism and grandiloquence. Sublime!
Faced with paintings, we are quickly caught in your world and we find ourselves taking the time to watch and be impregnated. It is also a real pleasure to circulate in the web.
Yes, there is also this idea of ”time to do” that we find in the work of any craftsman. I like being alone in my studio, which allows this relationship to time and solitude to be nourished. You can understand my work as the travel journal of my life with people who are very close to me.
You always place your models in a situation of loneliness, likemy wanderers. We also perceive a metaphysical dimension in your paintings: the horizon is flat, the subjects emerge from the night… I would not say that they are heading towards death, but the idea would be close. Which Old Masters are fundamental to you?
I like to watch Velásquez, Zurbarán, Ribera … All this classic Spanish painting of the seventeenth centurye and xviiie centuries. There is also Italian Baroque painting with Caravaggio of course, but it is more talkative. In contemporary painting, I’m interested in painters like
Neo Rauch, Luc Tuymans, Michael Borremans or William Kentridge.
In another register, I like photography. I have some snapshots of NASA that really inspired me. I find there the metaphysical solitude of the man in the universe, incarnated by this absolute and infinite black that I try to transcribe in my painting.
My funds are predominantly black. My dream is to get out of this “color”, but in vain!
It is of infinite depth, which offsets the reality of things, creates an ambiguity and embarks us into the cosmos. The black background becomes the gold background of the icons: it inscribes us out of time and space.
What is more important to you? The shape or the color?
The most important thing is the match between form and light: it has to be right. I am less a colourist and more a valorist. My lights are quite strong, which is related to vanity. I like things that shine, it’s my “magpie” side!…
Only in your painting or is this also the case in your life?
No, only in my painting: it has to shine, that it shines, that the light be strong, a little metaphysical. In life, on the other hand, it’s the opposite!
Once the painting is completed, how easily do you manage to take some distance?
You should know that I have a lot of trouble finishing a painting. I like to live with it and let things mature. I am very ill when they leave, but when they are hung on the walls of the gallery, I lose interest: they no longer belong to me, it is no longer my story. When a painting returns to the studio, I can then see if there is something that is not suitable for me and take it back. In the workshop, it is never finished …
The workshop is really the theater of the experimentation …
It is primarily a space of reflection or meditation. Everything is possible when the painting is in the workshop! It can always be resumed. It is the place of an interior discussion where nothing is definitive; Unlike Picasso, I prefer to search than find.
What is your relationship with the art market? Is it a pressure?
It’s hard to talk about it. I stand back and do what I have to do. The pressure is there, of course. The art market is so abstract to me. We tend to look, especially in France, at the stars, the CAC 40 of art in short! What interests me is painting, and I have the life that I love.
How long have you worked with Olivier Waltman?
Since 2011. I like working with him; he understands my work well and builds an interesting speech around it. He is very respectful and gives me a lot of freedom.
In your exhibition ofOctober 2017 at the Olivier Waltman gallery in Paris, you deal with this disturbing universe of the forest in which children live. Why ?
If I thought of the title “While the wolf is not there”, I imagined the forest of course, but what interests me above all is this moment when the wolf is absent: we do then what we want, pressed by this feeling of danger lurking around. There is a risk and it can become dramatic. It’s the human condition after all!
For me, the forest is the metaphor for soul, memory, thought. It focuses our fears and anxieties and we can of course do a psychoanalytic reading since we often place children’s stories.
It is a labyrinthine labyrinth in which the child meets the ancestral fears and the joys of the imagination. He creates a world he wants to control but he also fears; which makes it interesting.
I lived near the forest, in Burgundy, and now, in the South, and each time, this environment in which I find my childhood resource. Besides, I always start my day with a walk in the forest with my dog. Only then do I paint.
In this new series, we find a motif that is recurrent in your work: the hoods. Could you tell us about it?
I see wandering souls behind these hoods, but also a direct reference to Zurbaràn and his portraits of monks renouncing their person: we no longer recognize them under their hoods and they then fall into a form of anonymity. This is a way to deflect vanity.
I like that the human figure triggers something in the viewer, but without imposing too much, hence the fact that I often avoid representing the eyes, that the subjects are back and I suggest more than I do not describe.
The banal, I try to find the myths. It’s almost a propaganda of my daily life.