My creative process"

 

When Asia University invited me to talk about my artwork in terms of my creative process, at first I didn't think how complicated it'd be to prepare this speech. This matter of “creative process” is indeed a key point but has many levels of investigations, whether at a practical point of view or at a psychological level.

This is indeed a very sensitive subject to any artist. Even if ones artistic process is very calculated, intuition is probably what leads the artist on his path, and makes things hard to conduct a self analysis. But I'm gonna try to do so anyway.

Since I'm a perfect stranger for all of you, I'm gonna talk about my background and general ideas as well as my artistic undertaking. Then more specifically about some of my pieces.

 

The artistic experience

 

To live an artist life first begins with ones relationship to the outer world, what is considered to be reality. My own relationship to reality is certainly paradoxical and contradictory, and that's probably healthy and stimulating:

On one end my intent is to give my pieces, a visual equivalent of human experience. But what I'm trying to catch has no shape, no color, no visible outfit. Figurative elements are only visual tools to convey potential meanings, interpretations. My latest subjects Angels, Spacemen, King Kong, they all have in common to be sorts of archetypes to me, and they are known subjects, anybody knows them. This is probably something of importance, because they are keys for the viewer to enter my work.

 

As Marcel Duchamp said:

The creative act is not formed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.

That's a big deal, and what is just a process in the artist's mind becomes a separate object that reflects more or less the artist intents. And in the end an aesthetics object to be appreciated, discussed, sometimes bought by people.

In the end there's something futile in undertaking any artistic path. The notion art is often tainted with misunderstanding between the artist search, the critics, the collectors and the viewers. One should rather be a businessman, a monk, a politician, an architect, rather than being an artist spendind time in the studio... But for some reason you have to do it anyway, it's the only way to free yourself from what you have in mind.

But how can you reduce human experience into pictures? Life, thoughts, fortune, finiteness can't be reduced to images. But this contradiction makes this aim an interesting journey and the journey become the aim itself. I think Art is all about understanding and awareness. It's not just a mean of expression but a a way to explore and celebrate life.

The artist work basically consist in wrapping an idea, an emotion or a concept, keeping in mind that the packaging is not the goal, but just a mean. This paradox could be spelled out this way:

The shape you give to an artwork is like a veil that covers what you tend to reach BUT reveals it at the same time... In some way one could think the veil is often seductive, and the painting appearance is often like make up: a mean to seduce.

And it's something not to despise because the viewer's experience depends on the surface, even though you expect people to see what's behind that veil.

The surface is the depth, because surface keeps tracks of the painting's process, like layers of sedimented times, different level of reality.

 

My early work: influence of cartoons

 

When I look back in my own story, I was unlikely to become an artist. I'm from a working class family, and I've always been drawings since I was a kid, just like that.

Then as a teenager I got much more involved in it, I read tones of comics, mostly French and Belgium ones, it has been my first access to creation. I drew short stories cartoons, story telling was really important, comics wasn't only about drawing but also about the meaning.

Comics influence is still important on my work now. Not so much at a formal level but rather in the way I work with series, polyptychs, and notion of framing time.

Indeed I quite can't reduce Time and Space to a single image, this doesn't convey the sense of fluidity of time.

 

For example in this early work The tower.

I started this series when I was still in art school in 2000: BEFORE 9/11!!!

The main concept was to use black rectangle, a tower inspired by the philosophical stone of the alchemists, and the opening scene of Stanley Kubrick's 2001 a space odyssey.

The rule I gave to myself was to use a triptych scheme. It was a variation on the theme of transformation by destruction, catastrophe... Using the 4 elements, water, air, fire, earth as natural transformative natural powers.

Technically speaking I used monotype for the first time at the time, painting on glass and applying a thin Japanese paper on it. This was a way to introduce chance in the process as well as keeping the artist hand off the painting's surface. When I see this more than 10 years later, It makes me feel like restart it all over again, in a different way. Creation is such an endless process: you often go back and forth in the process...

 

 

The use of Patterns

 

Then, a bit later came up the idea to create woodblocks prints in order to stamp repetitive elements on my paintings, some sort of patterns.

I don't quite remember how it came up to me, as far as I remember it wasn't so much the decorative aspect of patterns that first lead me to use stamps, but rather the possibility to duplicate an image at will. It was an easy way to reproduce images, as Andy Warhol used silkscreen extensively. But unlike him what I liked as well, was the very fact of carving, stamping.

I started to pick woodblocks printing because of its low-tech aspect, It was also a practical and even philosophical position to me: It's a pretty cheap mean to duplicate an image, it's easy to make so I can be independent and even take it with me anywhere.

Besides it was also an aesthetic choice, wood carving requires you to synthesize shapes and work only with basic contrasts in a graphically way.

When I first came to Taiwan a few months ago, I was so amazed to see stamps, seals all over the place: It was like a dream land! Everybody stamps or seals everywhere, to keep tracks, as a souvenir of a place, etc.

Of course in France we use stamps too, but it's nothing like here in Taiwan, it's just for the the post office or seals in companies...

So, once I decided to use these tools I had to find what was important for me to express with it. As I mentioned earlier I have a cartoonist background and I already knew at that time that I had to deal with it, it was part of me.

In some way, my temperament drew me to work with a certain sense of humor inherited from this early experience of cartoons as well as the will to dig deeper into human experiences, which was one of my aspirations. So there it was, I had my subject: Digger and banana skins!

 

Let me explain:

This idea came up when i was observing mechanical diggers in the street in my city. I think I've always been fascinated by those machines.

It's probably some childhood fascination. With my adult eyes I think they are like modern monsters, some new archetypal image of power, a constructive one as well as a destructive one. They dig out hidden things from the ground with their articulated mechanical clumsy arm.

In brief I thought that was a good subject.

In France, they are usually yellow and they have those little brownish dots that pop out when they rust, that makes their surface looking like bananas skins!!!

This way from one subject I made two: I decided to carve stamps depicting mechanical diggers and cut out painted Japanese paper in order to do those banana skins.

I liked the fact that beyond the unrelated aspect of those two motifs there was like an hidden logic to put them together. It was actually the first attempt to combine apparently unmatching patterns and I thought it was a pretty interesting path to follow in the future.

I guess you've noticed that I used geometrical backgrounds: cross, circle, and an arc. Those shapes are actually embossed in the paper, and made thanks to an etching deeply bitten by acid.

I found necessary to use 3 different techniques with each a different visual impact in order to create like 3 levels of space in this work, like several levels of reality.

There was a notion of flow in this piece, like a dance. Somehow I think I've been influenced by Asian scrolls for this work. Indeed in Chinese scrolls, they convey a notion of space with no beginning and no end, I think.

Time and space become one because of the linear structure of the scrolls. They somehow force the viewer to move along the picture in order to follow the continuity of a story, or of a landscape.

I eventually called this work “the dance” because yellow banana skins move along the format, they interact with both stamped diggers and embossed backgrounds.

When I look upon this work 10 years later I measure how much of a founding stone it has been for my artistic reflection.

 

Sense or Non sense

This leads me to talk about my attraction to non sense. I think Tex Avery cartoons were my first aesthetic shock. What stroke me the most was the way he played with codes of tales, absurdity and exaggeration throwing everything upside down.

Another blast was my discovery of the Monty Pythons, those guys were so irreverent and hilarious. I later found out they somehow all came from Dada and Surrealism.

I guess my psychological orientation drew me to this kind of nonsense humor as a reaction to my childhood history who was a pretty a bad time in my life. Somehow the only way to deal with trauma was to make fun of things.

But this sense of absurd and nonsense is balanced in me by a deep sense of the spiritual dimension of life. Actually I would reverse the proposition: my spiritual orientation is balanced by this use of apparent nonsense. It's a healthy and dynamic mental orientation, especially when you see so many people wrapped in their seriousness.

 

Rembrandt Series

 

I've been haunted for years by Rembrandt's self portraits, as an archetypal western painter figure.

A painter whose fame and wealth rose and fell and rose again after his death. I was especially impressed by the self portraits that I saw gathered in an exhibition at the National Gallery in London. I was so impressed by his powerful self-portraits as he's worn out and aging.

So this series was a way for me to work out my relationship with the fatherlike figure of Rembrandt and somehow to dump this too heavy legacy!

As a matter of fact my first choice when I envision this series was to get rid of details in order to avoid pathos and focus on the simple presence of the painter in space.

That was the first time I started to used a bold outline in my work. This gave a cartoon-like aspect to my Rembrandt , he became like a character. This bold outline makes Rembrandt's figure becoming some sort empty cup, that viewer can fill up with his own interiority.

I only used Black and white in this series because it was the most direct way to work space and light altogether. But as you can see Rembrandt's Chiaroscuro wasn't quite my concern in this series, I'd rather say there's tonality and light at work, but it has no effects on the the artist representation.

I use tonality to creates an abstract space. This space has an energy, the one given by the first abstract layers. they give unity but also influences what's to be painting later over it. I really like to work this way, not quite knowing what's gonna be the next step or how I'm gonna manage to make things hold together.

Besides one of the main idea was to work on symmetry and reflexions in mirrors and canvas. It was a way to double the artist image and create a confusion about what is the reflexion, what is the painter. This was a manner for me to give a visual equivalent of the inner and the outer perception of the being.

It's also sometimes a way to create a space within space, like a window or a door, but it opens to the artist reflection.

You certainly wondered why I used these gorillas in the first I just showed you. This is as random as it looks, I actually decided to place King Kong images in the early piece of this series, because at the same time I was working on a King Kong series, but I'll talk about this one a bit later

I thought it was an interesting combination to make. The contrast between the quiet and meditative postures of Rembrandt and the wild gorilla was a mean to suggest the inward animality of the painter.

I eventually dropped this idea when I started to work on larger formats. I thought it was probably too much, Rembrandt and his double was enough.

 

 

Inner Space collages

 

Basically at the same time I was working on Rembrandt figure, almost 1 year and a half ago, I felt the need to change technique, and use a much simple process that painting.

Without thinking too much about the meaning, just combining things, see how to give some striking power to the pictures.

So I started to make collages, it was a very organic process, I've been collecting random visual elements cut out of magazines and book since then.

At first no particular idea led the process but I gave myself a few rules, the first one was not to use pictures of human bodies.

 

This was for several reasons:

The first is that human bodies you find in magazines are mostly stereotypes of bodies, bodies picked to suit current canons of beauty or to sell something.

The second reason was my attempt to catch something of the archetypal level. Not that I quite know what could be considered to be archetypes but I aim to find equivalents or new avatars for deep rooted human experiences.

Don't get me wrong, I sound a bit serious when I say that but it's nothing so serious... I always keep this amused distance with these kind of ideas, as you see most of my collage have a humoristic dimension.

The second rule was to only use collage in order to create a coherent space. Not quite based on perspective but at least to work on this notion of space. There's often discontinuity in the way I work with space, I like this idea because it adds a notion of time in the image. It can be spaces simultaneously displayed but also different times in the same image.

It's like a memory or a dream, different times can come at once in mind. This is a close way to give an image of how our subconscious works, this is why I called this series, “Inner space collages”, for their mental dimension.

Working with your subconscious, as the artists often do, is such a rewarding thing. Because you keep finding out later more and more logic to what you did, everything falls into piece without even thinking of it.

This is what I like the most in the creative process: it's not all about mental decision, there's always unknown parts that jump out of your mind.

Ancients called that “inspiration” I'd rather put things this way: “Inspiration, expiration, perspiration” because thoughts and impressions endlessly pass through you, in and out . Whatever you keep hidden inside, somehow will manage to be blown away, and this doesn't go without some work and tenacity.

I can see the subconscious logic at work more obviously now: themes emerged from this pretty large production I had for the past couple years.

The creative process was often based on visual analogy, in order to match apparently unrelated elements like in my earlier work. Besides a few recurring motifs like: astronauts, hands, armors, and a lot of sexual hints came out of this process...

 

King Kong Series

 

Speaking of sexual hints let's talk about the King Kong series. I started it one year ago, as I was working on Rembrandts and collages. The first time I used King Kong image was in this collage on a envelope. I used to do collage on my correspondence with friends.

Then the combination of King Kong and ladies accessories stroke me like an evidence. I don't remember how but at first for the humoristic connection between that gorilla and a lipstick.

King Kong story has an archetypal dimension and it's a modern tale that convey a deep symbolism. As I kept on thinking about this, everything became clearer:

in the movie King Kong is that wild and powerful beast actually seduced by fragility and beauty. But rather than using the blond girl image I preferred simply using seduction accessories. I found the idea much more evocative and humoristic this way.

The first accessory I carved was a lipstick, its shape I found quite equivocal: its phallic shape made me think either of a miniature Empire State Building or a bullet. Both are related to the tragic end of that tale. As the last words of the movie says:

Oh no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was beauty who killed the beast.”

Accessories could either be worrisome apparitions or mental images but my intent is rather to create this humoristic connection between King Kong figure and these patterns.

Beside that I deliberately used a very reduced palette : White, Red and Black, those colors create a very strong visual impact and obviously refer to love and passion. The pictorial space is based on superimposition as in my earlier works.

The first abstract lay out gives the initial energy, I used large brushstrokes to structures space. I like to think this part as the telluric dimension of the work.

To give birth to King Kong's image I used stencils and spray paint, as a matter of efficiency. Once again it's a very simple and low tech way to reproduce pictures with it.

Besides I also liked the way it defines images from the outside. King Kong's power, is on display over the first layers and his strongly shaped body and his posture has something of calm and distant.

The use of stencils had the advantage to keep wide blank surface that leaves the first layers visible conveys the idea of a «beyond the surface» image, a mental space, you can see through, like X-ray pictures.

Actually most of the time I stamped female accessories patterns before spraying King Kong, each layer is like a given data for the next step, space progressively organized piling one thing over the other.

But the all point is to let each layer live it's own life, and also the viewer's attention can drift from one to another. The look keeps moving over the surface with no such thing as a focus point.

 

 

Angels and Banana skins

 

Last summer as I was having a show in Pennsylvania in the U.S. in a friend's gallery, I was reconsidering what I had done so far. And I started to reconsider using banana skins, but this time in order to emphasize another aspect of my oldest motif.

In pop culture, banana skins have a humoristic dimension: they are used in the archetypal comic strip gag: We all know the gag of the guy walking in the street while reading his paper, not paying attention to his surrounding and sliding on a random banana skin.

I like this idea that banana skins are here to remind us of our human condition... misfortune, can happen through the most trivial incident. The routine of our lives are always “en suspend” between two crisis.

To Balance this aspect I wanted to use an archetypal figure of western culture: Angels. Those guardians that supposedly keep an eye on us and guide us. But there's a bit of irony in my way of using Angels because they play an equivocal part in this series:

They either take off those banana skins or deposit them, it's not quite clear... I thought it was an interesting ambiguity, because when you look at things, it's often unexpected incidents in your life that gives a meaning to it.

Formally I wanted the first Yellow layer to jump out the painting, in an irruptive way. So I kept this first layer visible and actually painted banana skins from the outside of their shape. Some how the background becomes the foreground. Once again it all comes from behind, this is the vital energy of the painting.

It was obvious to me that it'd affect the visibility of the image. I mean that image and painting are somehow in conflict, there's a tension between the powerful background and the blue outlined Angels. That was a way for me to give life to the work and as well as to play with the viewer's perceptions.

Anyway, the humoristic relationship between those two motifs, thepossible meanings they convey and the visual intensity of the painting was the main concern of this series.

 

 

Conclusion

Well, in guise of conclusion I'd like to reaffirm how reluctant I am to confine my search into words. Even though they have their part to play, they probably inhibit the creativity and intelligence of the viewer.

Decoding a work of art is part or the enjoyment of art contemplation to me. I agree that words can help us to see better. I could say the figurative aspect of my work has this function: to give keys to enter my mental world.

But I often consider this dimension to be superficial. Meanings are for a large part beyond the painted image, the surface itself is the meaning sometimes.

On the viewer's end, to really appreciate a painting, it takes something of an archaeologist who would mentally peal the picture's surface in order to walk back to the source of the artistic process...

 

I hope haven't bored you, this is such long speech, I can't even believe I found so much to tell you. So please, if I haven't been clear enough, I'd be glad to answer your questions.