Interview by Frédéric Caillard – February 2020
How did your black and white paintings originate?
I am glad you are asking this question because I like to remind people that I come from painting. Some people only know my installations, but my work is rooted in painting and it is very important for me. I started to think about “the real character of painting” during my art studies. It was a fascinating topic but it was hard to reach strong conclusions. There is definitely something about the transitions between forms and the expression of the brushstroke… Anyway, I started to make the grid paintings in 1997. On some of the older paintings I worked with oil which gives them a different aspect, I think they are more accessible. I was not actually very much attracted to the grid, but it was an interesting element because I wanted to describe things that were anarchic or disordered. I wished to do it in a very precise way so the grid pattern was very useful, I could show forms that were missing or falling out of a rigid system. I was also interested in dividing the canvas into sequences, into little units. One of the key question I tackled with the grid was how I could drive perception in a democratic, non-hierarchical way. I thought we were guided too much when looking at paintings, we were taught to look at things in a certain way and wanted to react to that…
Why did you choose to work in black and white?
I am interested in relations and forms. You could call it the “geometry of existence”: how people and objects stand in a room and the space between them. From an existential point of view, this space is all we have, it is the perception and the measurement of the closeness or the distance to others. My main interest is to shape those forms, and in the end forms are not so much concerned with colors. Color can get in the way, it is so strong and it does not really speak to relations. I did try to use colors but I lose clarity. I did some paintings in yellow and black, because yellow was my favorite color in my childhood, but it didn’t work out. I also tried different colors on small paintings. It is a very interesting subject but it is not my subject. My deviant anarchic forms are easier to show in black and white, it is fascinating to build them up and make them ambivalent with simple black lines.
The patterns that you use in your paintings are by essence infinite patterns, but the paintings can be grasped all at once by the viewer, which makes them finite pieces. With your architectural and installation work, you cannot see the entire room in one gaze, you need to turn around and a part of the work will always remain out of view at one given time. It gives a better sense of the scale of your work…
Yes, I think that canvas painting in general is limited. It is a great invention but it is not logical that paintings stop at the edges. Our mental images always continue, and it is a bit frustrating to have to end the image when you make a painting. But strangely, sometimes it is easier to “enter” and “wander” in a painting than in an installation, because installations are embedded into reality and it is harder to escape reality: the walls are not fully covered, you have door handles, power outlets…
Are your architectural works a way to get out of the illusionistic nature of painting? Your installation are not only made of painted or taped lines and geometrical patterns (which are by essence illusionistic), but also of concrete three-dimensional extensions that invade the actual space with their physical presence.
Yes, that’s a big difference, the lines become alive in the space. It is hard to compare installations and paintings, they work differently. Paintings are mental fictions and spaces are more haptic. I like it when people see up-close that it is cardboard or tape – a commonplace, banal object – and then when they step two meters away it becomes something else, also a type of fictional space, with a futuristic appearance.
Your work is also evocative of computerized 3D modeling with glitches and imperfections. When you apply your lines and patterns on a wall, it is like if the real space and its modeling were superposed. The message is quite contradictory: it says that everything can be modeled but it also says that things can never be completely