Work In Progress.
I propose to make a kind of logbook with pictures of the three months of confinement linked to the Covid 19 and its impact on my artistic work, astonishingly fertile. Like everyone else, my daily life and my artistic practice has been turned upside down. All my planned exhibitions have been cancelled or moved. I got used to working in a vacuum, without a public presentation date. All my projects collapsed, I realized it as the weeks went by.
This health crisis, global, follows closely on the heels of another, personal crisis: In November 2018, I was arrested in my function as a painting teacher. Diagnosis: Burn-out.
I'm going to dwell a little on this part of my life, because I would like to point out how what follows is directly related to it.
What is a burn-out? I think anyone who has experienced it (there are many of us) will understand my analysis: it is a crisis of value. This occupational disease is the result of an unbearable friction between the individual and the world of work, the "system". It is not a depression, it is not a soft spot, it is not a midlife crisis. Fortunately, this disease holds the promise of a radical transformation, a rebirth.
Imagine that you are a caterpillar (a big one), and that burn-out is the precise moment when the caterpillar locks itself into its cocoon and dissolves completely.
From this mash, a butterfly comes out. This is completely unimaginable (the finality of this process is called the imago).
This moment of mush is exactly what I felt: a total destruction of the individual.
The process of resilience is as follows: a serious and patient general questioning is put on the table (everything goes on there, criticism of work, family, the couple, criticism of the political system, values, etc.) with the only medicine of free time, a lot of time. A time of unbearable intensity: the impression of living the scene of the weighing of the soul between Anubis and Osiris, permanently.
Je reviens à mon sujet . Covid 19 . Lockdown . Mes enfants n’ont plus été à l’école, il fallait trouver des solutions. La meilleure fut celle de se partager la journée en deux et que chaque parent soit en charge d’une demi-journée. De cette manière j’avais moins de quatre heures par jour pour travailler à mon travail artistique. Mon atelier étant à trois quart d’heure de chez moi, j’ai arrêté d’y aller et j’ai installé un mini-atelier à mon domicile . Je me suis concentré sur des petits formats (En règle général, un petit format pour moi, c’est 120 sur 150 centimètres, en peinture).Tout ce qui se rapproche du dessin me pousse par contre vers des plus petites dimensions. Ce fut un grand changement pour moi, d’essayer de peindre sur des formats très petits.
As a long year of healing from burn-out had spent questioning what was fundamental to me, I set out to also take up the foundations of the pictorial practice. These elements have not been taught in art schools for a very long time, so I took up painting treatises again, and began to experiment with the fundamentals, trying to get a synthesis out of them. The painting treatises are all very interesting, but they are above all very complex, dealing with many aspects, and you get lost in them very quickly.
I am looking for a fundamental pictorial approach that puts an impasse on details, with a view to transmitting this approach to the students I work with. I approached things through the constituent materials of the painting, starting with the trio support/pigment/binder. I have glued wooden plates on canvas so that I can paint with any technique and binder. Then I had the intuition that I had to start with the water techniques, the least dangerous for the ecology and for health, the simplest to set up too.
The gouache imposed itself, in spite of the fact that I was traumatized in my childhood by the small pots I was made to use as a child. These small pots of glass that became dirty right away, I understood nothing of this material that I ended up abandoning with spite. So try to make a copy of a Rubens or a Rembrandt in gouache at fourteen years old, there is something to be discouraged.
However, I had a handling problem: the lockdown had just been promulgated and I no longer had access to my suppliers. I recall one of my decisive elements of this period: the children are no longer at school and I live with them and in their world 24 hours a day. So I borrowed the gouaches I had bought from my children a few years ago.
This crisis situation made me evaluate what is important and what is not, and highlighted the importance of what is close to us, within reach. It is no longer possible to move as before. This change is also mental: what I have around me, what I already have and what I can use differently.
I have a work that includes a founding act: the collection of "image" documents. I have a very extensive library on very different subjects. I classify the images, I cut them out, I move them, I transform them, I draw inspiration from them, I copy them, I juxtapose them, I change their meaning.
I have been working for 5 years with a series of portfolios of architectural documents that are about 100 years old. Found in a jumble in Brussels, these images had dazzled me for the quality of the images close to the drawing, which gave them a form of cold nostalgia, interiors totally depopulated. My image collection routine is an activity that is often disconnected from an ongoing project. I collect for the sake of collecting. An addiction to images. I return to images like the butterfly with the flame.
I had moved these portfolios from my studio to my home, when I assumed there was going to be a restriction of movement imposed. I had already made several series of pictorial interventions on these sources, and I felt in the mood to continue.
I've had several natural flashes of light, suddenly obvious things, which I call "epiphany", since the term met in an episode of "Angel", a spin-off of "Buffy against the Vampires" where the hero completely changes his mode of operation following a supernatural appearance. When I speak of epiphany, it is in fact the result of a long mental rumination. I spend a lot of time revolving around a question, a theme, an object etc. in front of which I feel that there is something to be done. What to do with DIY documentary images, what to do with microscopic images, what to do with scientific diagrams, what to do with flowers, what to do with 17th century paintings, what to do with natural elements related to a practice or an artistic object...the list is long and my book collection proves it, as do my hard drives.
I also call it "Ghost Painting": as in the practice of "Ghost Boxing" which consists for the boxer to train with a mental image, a real virtual and mental incarnation of the opponent, I constantly ask myself equations, mental propositions arrangements on these elements and images with which I want to work.
It then takes a moment of relaxation of the mind (walking works very well to reach this state) so that finally a convincing proposal appears "simply".
Clouds are part of this list, with the complexity of the considerable number of this motif in art, painting in particular. Epiphany thus fulgurating: Bringing together the inside and the outside.
A cloud inside these aristocratic interior scenes.
This generalized partitioning was very present. Staying inside. To cloister oneself. Breathing on the steps still allowed.
I took this situation, this lying horse (which reminds me of a scene from "The Misfits" that I would like to work with in the future), and this emotion, still freshly felt, and incorporated it directly through painting into one of the interior scenes.
The gouache was imposed to work directly on these photographic documents: the paint is opaque and it does not destroy the paper support unlike oil paint. Within a few hours, I was in possession of the first work of another possible series.
From that moment on, everything that caught my eye was likely to fit into one of these interiors. The death of George Floyd, an apple core (a story of confinement of a director of a Brussels museum), birds from instagram screenshots, text (another current rumination), etc
The heterogeneity of the motifs is not problematic, the future arrangement of the paintings will be necessary to find a form of coherence, an autonomy.
(By the way, what is autonomous? Everything is in relation, it is the relations that produce meaning).
Always with this same series of documents, I mix my interest for monochromes and diagrams as well as for colorimetric systems. On these images of architecture that emphasize depth and space, I superimpose color planes, totally flat, opaque, without any depth except that of the color itself. The black and white contrast and the added colors create a singular relationship, as well as another contrast, conceptual this time: by adding color through overlapping, I remove visibility from the image.
This contradiction seems to me to be very fruitful and creates a disturbance in the image that lasts longer than the simple retinal effect.
I feel a great connection between the world of childhood and me.
I observe my children as a father, as a human being but also as an artist.
Children, these machines of play and wonder, are a source of optimism and inspiration.
I try to establish this attitude as a rule in my work as an artist because the gradual professionalization of my artistic practice has lastingly damaged my relationship with the pleasure of working. I try to go beyond a system of functioning where the end justifies the means. I have to find pleasure in all the stages of the work. With my children during the confinement, we drew, painted, sculpted together, on a large table, the pages filled up, we helped each other. The freedom of the children to create, destroy, have fun doing impresses me a lot and I tend to have a similar attitude. They have become metaphors, models representing projections of ideas and emotions. By observing them, I have elaborated objects, sculptures, paintings, bas-reliefs. They posed in front of my lens, either naturally or as real, docile, professional models. Another series in gestation whose bases have been sketched.
Another door opened during the confinement, the sculpture.
I've been watching Instagram accounts of special effects artists for the film industry for some time. My attraction for organic materials is fully conquered by the highly specialized techniques required by these trades. The relationship with reality is exacerbated, everything that has to do with the exaggeration of horror films, for example, has a mixture of disgust, humor, sublime triviality. The level of technicality is exceptional in these artists.
So I commissioned material specific to this sculptural practice, and I took up an old project sketched in Australia in 2009. I had imagined a life-size sculpture of a bronze bust of a gorilla, a representation of ultra-masculinity, the ultra-alpha: he is imposing, threatening and wears a necklace of human testicles. He also wears an incongruous accessory, a headdress of an Amerindian chief. The base should be made in illusion of human skin material, with hairs, in hyper-realistic silicone. A sketch has been made. A bronze edition is on its way.
And to finish on a slightly humorous note, I have also started a series that uses wood cut-out boards found in art hobby stores. I have always appreciated these stores, and the panoply of materials on sale, all the more kitschy one than the other, makes you want to take them over by moving them from their initial use. For a few months now, I had been buying small wooden panels cut out in childish shapes: a prince's castle, a horse, a unicorn, a koala etc. I had bought them for a few months.
In oil and alla prima, I painted an image absolutely contrary to its use. The look ranges from the childlike image of the animal's shape to the crudeness of the sexual motif.
In conclusion, all these new series hold the promise of exciting continuity, but I will probably not have the time to develop them all.
My return to the studio has also brought about a series of very exciting artistic upheavals.
Beautiful years ahead.