There is no “I” that counts in painting, or, if there is, it’s merely a convenience of language.
A volcano does not choose to erupt; above all, it is in no way the author of the lava it spews. This “I” is a tiny cone of sedimentary lava standing on the surface of the earth, obeying deep and powerful forces it does not control. It’s the lava that makes the volcano. When convinced of the opposite, “I” caves in on itself.
At best, “I” is an obstacle to painting.
It’s not easy to find a medium and a subject. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to spend 40 years in preparation, without knowing that I was waiting for the subject of the tree trunk and the medium of painting.
Certain tree trunks are blessings: they are masters that demonstrate how to see. These trunks are no longer trunks but embodied people, open to the light of day. They offer up what they are with the ease of breathing and the brutality of childbirth. This takes place at the scale of the human body, open, unexpected, paradoxical. We don’t know exactly what it is we’re seeing, but it impresses itself upon us with the force of nature, allowing us to perceive the lost image of a unitary world.
It’s a stroke of luck to be influenced by people who open us to ourselves. Thanks to F. Bacon’s interviews with David Sylvester, translated by Michel Leyris, I realized that painting was an impossible game, and therefore worth trying. Long before, when an active imagination and a natural inclination for movement pushed me in vain toward animation and cartooning, the paintings and writings of Chu Ta enchanted me, and the texts of Zhuang Zhou as presented by Jean-François Billetier raised questions for me. This is still true.
It would be difficult for me to speak for what happens after painting, once it’s done, whether or not it lives its lives as painting. The essential occurs before words intervene. When you don’t make literature or poetry, when you make paintings, words are at best “reheated experience.” Neither the staleness of the dish nor lack of experience stands in the way of an attempt to sketch a map of the territories traveled by an aging baby.
A painting is a portal, a point of entry into an experience of all the layers of the body, known and unknown. If the portal is too small, the body is truncated, part of it remains on the outside, the painting becomes a window, the medium of a retinal and cerebral spectacle, depriving the whole body of the experience of entry into its internal theatre. The scale of the human body determines the dimensions of the portal.
Painting calls for its “game.”
The playing field is the canvas within the space necessary for the setting down of the imprint. Colors, palette knives, rags, body and subject are the tools. The game is played by letting the tools interact such that the imprint of this experience is set down on the canvas in a single motion.
The whole challenge is not to construct the effect but to “cause” the painting.
If the imprint doesn’t play something that brings us right back to the experience of its birth, the painting is only a result, an effect: it remains an object. Painting that sends us back to the density of a present, that plays us the Miles Davis Quintet’s Maiden Voyage live, has become the subject, possessing a clean impulsive force that surpasses us.
Painting cannot happen without movement, without dance, without internal music.
“I” paints as “I” falls.
The body on the go attracts imbalance, a static advancement through a blur of waiting, interior roaming, uncertain floating, a sort of unnatural weightlessness—until there is a brief movement induced by a reflex of retrieval.
Painting is created in a sort of collision.
The first line, color, shape, mark, generates a resistance, a braking in which the rest of the image piles up progressively and inevitably.
The central point of the game is quality: the quality of quantity, of matter, of energy, of movement, of space, of shape and time.
Among the most recent paintings, “Tracer” perhaps resonates most with the territories traveled so far.
It has maintained, in community with the early paintings, a space that is short, scenic, theatrical, where friction between the organic and the geometric forces out the vitality of the subject;
The setting down of the imprint on a canvas left entirely raw, the polyphony of the sign, the concentration required to open, the game of opening and closing the image: these are the formal elements for the reception of the imprint common to the newer paintings;
Chromatic concentration on the subject, falsely fixed and solidly fragile construction, exploitation of the force of emptiness, of the ellipsis, of the multiple and the changing, the slowing of the potentialities of the image: these traces of a greater play with the subject’s own impulsion are more present in the latest paintings.
There is no question of showing the paintings to an audience during their creation.
It would be dishonest to imply that one crosses an ocean alone for others or for heroism. One does it to try to reach another coast within oneself. Upon arrival, if there is an audience to see the images of the crossing, so much the better, and that’s another story, one of exhibitions, exchanges, commerce, connections, etc.
It’s exhilarating to see paintings in the places where we don’t expect them. Several residencies—among circusfolk, among poets, and in ancient royal forges in the rural sticks—have given rise to memorable interactions between musicians, dancers, actors, and paintings. And I plan to continue accompanying the paintings toward the unexpected.
By a stroke of luck, I work in one of the rare collective studios open to the public six days a week in the center of Paris. This place, unique for the diversity of the creators working there, the viewers who come in, and the works housed there, makes extraordinary encounters possible.
Working in an “open studio” is not without its constraints. It’s a bit schizophrenic to be at once on the high seas and on the arrival shore of previous crossings, but the situation is beneficial, providing a deep anchor in the here and now. The now of painting is not only conjugated in front of the canvas. Painting is learned as much by sweeping the studio as it is by cooking or riding a bicycle.
Painting is there no matter what.