Interview by Frédéric Caillard, September 2017
Could you tell us about the history of your signature pieces, which I would describe as paint skins that are not rigid, very fragile and that can take different shapes?
The idea was to develop a painting without any support. Being an artist is sometimes only about keeping your eyes, your mind and your soul open and be receptive to what is emerging out of your work. I actually discovered that technique by accident. I was using a plastic box palette while painting on a classical canvas. I blended my colors on the palette and then I realized that I could peel it off. I held the peeled-off paint in my hand and it was weird, it was supportless, it had somewhat taken the shape of the palette and I liked it a lot. It had some volume, it had something of an engraving but also of a painting. I thought it was very interesting and I decided to continue in this direction. It has now been more or less 10 years that I am working on this type of paintings.
How did you develop this initial idea?
I begun with small pieces and then increased their sizes. I am mostly interested in how they work with the space around them, so I developed different types of pieces, following different paths.
One of the interesting aspect of these paintings is that the two sides of the painting have a similar role, they can either be the front side or the back side, even both at the same time if the piece is folded
I do not say that there are two sides, I just say that there are no beginning and no end in my paintings. It is linked to the way I see life: we were never really born and we will never really die, life is just a passage. There is no front nor back to the painting, there is no before and no after, there is just the painting.
But the two sides of your paintings typically look different.
The public sees them as different, but they are really about continuity. One side is just the continuation of the other side, the two sides are connected, they have the same shape and the meanings of the images painted on each side are related. It is like geology: we can see the different layers of paint, but the different stratas make one global work of art.
“Artworks are a balance between the materiality of the painting and the artist’s intent”
How do you like to display your paintings?
I like to present them in a casual, simple way. As they are not rigid, the paintings can be supported by an object or they can lie on the floor. I call them peintures installées (“installed paintings”) when they are on display. I like it when the support provides a point of entry into the work that is accessible to everybody. For example I have a piece that I have shown on brooms. I do not want to live in my Ivory Tower, I do not want the public to have the feeling to be in front of a big wall. I like to provide a familiar door, from the everyday life, and once you enter that door you can access the main course of the artwork.
Is it for the same reason that you sometimes show your peintures sans support (“supportless paintings”) on pieces of wood?
Yes, but there is more to it than just the idea of the access door. The pieces of found wood refer to the idea of primitive gesture. In my practice, I am trying to go back in time to the origins of the act of painting, to the origins of the painting gesture. I do this in the way I paint and also in the way I show my work, I try to be archaic, hence the pieces of found wood.
Do you recognize yourself in the definition of Art Brut?
I don’t think so, but what is true is that I really try to avoid to show my personality in my work, and when I say personality, it is in an anecdotic sense. I do not want my personality to impact a painting when it is emerging, I want to let the painting develop on its own.
Some of your paintings look like trompe-l’oeil paintings, like torchon (“dishcloth”) or empreinte (“imprint”), which looks like a bottle of water.
Torchon is an important piece for me, it has a touch of humor, and it was one of my first piece too. Torchon means “dishcloth” in French, and the word can be used to qualify a work that was made with no care, that is messy. So there is some self-mockery involved, I am criticizing what I am doing, but I also make fun of art in general, of painters, of the art market.
For empreinte, it is different, I wanted to work towards volume, to make a painting in volume. For the public figuration is often easier than abstraction, so the bottles were a good entry point into my work.
You recently started to introduce texts in your art.
Yes I started around January 2017. It actually started because of an episode I went through with an art gallery. It was an established gallery in a big provincial French town, I went there to show my work. I do not like to send submissions the way everybody does, with books and statements and resumes. So I just go there with two paintings under my arms. The lady was quite pretentious and disdainful. When I went back to my studio I was upset and I started to write some phrases, quite insulting and violent for this art gallery, and I turned them into the pieces that I eventually showed in my Substratum exhibition. I was very happy because I was able to turn a negative moment into something constructive and positive, a new direction in my art. It is a little bit like in the dishcloth piece. If now an art gallery wants to show these pieces they will need to have a big sense of humor! I would love this!
And you are continuing to develop the use of words in your art
Now I make methawords. I mix different words and create new words. I also create some oxymora, for example, a piece is named silence explosif (“explosive silence”) with contradictory meanings in the same phrase. Visually, you have the phrase written on one side and an image of the expression on the other side, so when you install it, you either lose the image or its meaning, I find this very interesting. The initial idea yields to the materiality of the painting that is growing in importance and in freedom in the eyes of the beholder. Artworks are a balance between the materiality of the painting and the artist’s intent.
Is it also why in the series that you call autocensure (“autocensorship”) you paint over some words so they cannot be read?
Yes maybe. In any case the most important aspect of this series and of my work in general is the shape that the initial idea (here the words) are giving to the pieces, and how the pieces can change over time. I like this series because of the rhythm created by the voids between the words, which are actually holes in the paintings. Those pieces are very musical, they look like those punch cards for the street organs.
It looks like the morse language too….
Yes and I really like this. Creating a new language by negating another one (which is what I do when I paint over some words) is awesome! It confers some mystery, it can become a secret language… I am realizing all of this as we speak, I love it!
These pieces look like a musical score, too. I have the feeling that rhythm is becoming a key visual aspect of your work, whereas before it was more about continuity…
I disagree with this. I find my first abstract works very structured, they were composed a little bit like a musical piece. I also think that all abstract paintings require some rhythm. An abstract painting with no rhythm falls down. I think I have rhythm in my other supportless paintings too. I have always tried to paint figurative paintings like abstraction and abstract pieces like figuration, and in the end the key is to have rhythm.
Another series you did with holes and voids is called réseaux (“networks”). It is composed of painting dots and painting strips attached together in a soft 3D fashion.
With this series I am mostly trying to spatialize the paintings. It has a very different form than a flat plane painting. I really enjoy the shapes these paintings can take. I also wanted to pay an homage to Daniel Dezeuze, one of the founder of the French art movement Supports/Surfaces. In the 1970s, he made some very radical pieces, he made frames without canvases, or flat scales made of wood, rolled out on the wall, the ground or the ceiling. The bottom line was to make painting without canvas. To go back to the networks, they are also an obvious reference to the internet, the pieces are called réseau extra-net and réseau hyper-net, they are about our connection with things bigger than us, like time, space. They are like star maps, where the dots are the stars.
You have another series that is reminiscent of stars, this time on regular canvas, with colored sticker dots over what looks like an impressionist background. Very geometrical in essence.
The goal here was not to reference impressionism or any other art movement. I just wanted to go back to the roots of painting, to create a primitive and archetypal tension, an archetypal space where that tension can exist. The dots are very repetitive, with no variation, they all have the same color, the same size, the same shape. I wanted to confront them to a more elaborate background […]. The dots can also be seen as the decomposition of the movement of an object in the air. I also wanted to reference rock painting, with parts that have been erased or that were never finished. The dots also play the role of the everyday objects that are here to open the door to the public, so they can enter into the artwork.
Did you attempt to decompose the image…
…It is not a decomposition of the image, it is a pre-composition of the image. I want to be at the beginning of the image, not at its end. It is very important, I am working around the moment where the image is emerging. My work is about the incarnation of the image, about the moment where the matter transitions into a living being.
“I am an artist, not a chef”
The last works I wanted to discuss today are the pieces done using scotch tape. You have made some accumulations of crinkled scotch tapes that have been peeled off painted papers. You also have diptychs with on one side the image that has been torn off and on the other side the tape strips with paint traces. It shows the two sides of the story: what is left and wat has been taken off.
It is about the creation/destruction concept, the animal that dies to feed another one. Art is also the result of that conflict. The same tool, the scotch tape, serves to destroy and one moment after it is used to create.
Is it the same idea behind the scratches that you often make on your paintings?
Yes, it is quite the same. And it is why I present them together. My work is like an ecosystem. All the pieces are in relationship with one another.
I would like to finish this interview by something that I find very unusual in your practice. Unlike other artists, you typically only produce very few pieces in each series, like two or three pieces and then you move on.
When I feel that what I am doing is becoming a recipe, I just stop it. Recipes are what I hate the most. I think that cooking is not art.
Aren’t you afraid that it will limit the diffusion of your work?
I think it is dangerous for my art if I become a cook. I could lose the holy fire. I am an artist, not a chef.
Main illustration picture: #0 David Sibieude, Installation view of substratum, 2017: autocensure pensée 26, 2017. Text illustrations, from top to bottom: #1 David Sibieude, Installation view of substratum, 2017: sans titre, 2017. #2 David Sibieude, Installation view of substratum, 2017: peugeot 106, 2017. #3 David Sibieude, empreinte, 2015. #4 David Sibieude, torchon, 2015. #5 David Sibieude, les galeries d'art de merde avec pignon sur rue sont des parasites à éliminer, 2017. #6 David Sibieude, Installation view of substratum, 2017: autocensure pensée 27, 2017. #7 David Sibieude, Installation view of substratum, 2017: réseau extra-net, 2017. #8 David Sibieude, Installation view of retour aux sources, 2016: sans titre, 2016. #9 David Sibieude, sans titre, 2016. All pictures courtesy of the artist. Picture #3 by Frédéric Caillard.