Le 13 avril 2017
19 heures au siège de BORDEAUX-USA, Club franco-américain, Bordeaux
38 Allée d'Orléans, 33000 Bordeaux
Ayant été invité à la suite de mon exposition BORDEAUX-LOS ANGELES à venir présenter ma peinture devant les adhérents du Club, je me propose de revenir sur les courants historiques qui l'ont influencée formellement (la peinture hollandaise du XVII°s et l'hyperréalisme contemporain) et d'en justifier l'objet : la réalité et/ou le rêve américain/s.
L'accès à la conférence est réservé aux seuls membres du Club.
Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles (2016)
Texte de la conférence:
Texte de la conférence:
Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. I’m very happy to meet people with whom I share a common interest: America. And, maybe we have another interest in common, that of painting.
In another life, I was a philosopher, and an art historian. More exactly I taught philosophy and history of art.
In my current life, I have become a painter. But rather than talking about my paintings, I prefer talking about what surrounds my paintings.
Firstly, I will talk about the main influences, therefore about the history of art and more specifically about two periods which are, for me, very important:
Dutch paintings of the 17th century and contemporary hyperrealism.
At first sight, these two schools of art have nothing in common. However, I want to show that they are not so far apart.
Dutch art came back to Earth after centuries and centuries spent painting the Sky (christian or olympian). It's the effect of the iconoclasm of Protestantism and also the effect of a kind of specific way of life which is strictly Dutch.
Contemporary hyperrealism is the child of a new tradition which was born with Duchamp and his ready-mades, which continued with the Combine Paintings of Rauschenberg, the Environments of Kaprow or the objects of Jasper Johns and the Pop Art of Andy Warhol.
A tradition which, like Dutch paintings, makes a return to "reality“. But we need to redefine the word "reality“, because it’s another reality. A return to “reality”, after the long, very abstract and psychological period of Abstract Expressionism.
Secondly, I will talk a little and quite quickly about my vision of America. A vision which comes from the books I have read, the movies I have watched, and the journeys I have made.
This will explain my propensity to paint, not exclusively but predominantly pictures of America.
Please, excuse my English: text and pronunciation.
Well. We will start, despite all that, with Dutch painting.
I. Dutch Art. 17th century.
17th century Holland was marked by the Protestants’ refusal of religious paintings which was the main object of Medieval and Renaissance art.
At that time, the painter was interested in genre painting, portraits, landscapes and still life. It was the end of Historical Painting which, apart from in Holland, was and still the most respected painting genre, within the hierarchy of genres.
1 Genre paintings
Particularly, genre painting praises domestic virtues embodied by the housewife (here labor and patience Vermer The Lacemaker Louvre 1669) and denounces the vices, embodied by men(here intemperance Adriaen Van Ostade, Dutch Cabaret, Bruxelles, Fine Arts Museum 1663).
In this painting by Emmanuel de Witt (Interior with a Woman at the Virginals Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam 1665
), this opposition is depicted with a lot of logic. There is a contradiction between these two domains : that of man and that of woman.
Many of these paintings are still symbolical. This symbolism is no longer religious but moral and it is not visible but hidden. Look at the Woman holding a Balance(Vermer, Washington, National Gallery of Art 1664)
. Is she weighing her pearls? No, she isn’t. On the scales, there is nothing! Look now at the painting hidden at the bottom, it represents the Final Judgment in which our sins, or more exactly our soul should be weighed. So, the woman is weighing the pros and cons in order to make a decision.
What is this woman looking at (Vermeer A Lady Standing at a Virginal National Gallery, London 1672-1673) ? A man. The painting which represents Cupid gives us the answer.
The concern we can see on the woman’s face (Vermeer The Love Letter Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum 1669 1670 ), caused by the letter she is holding in her hand, is denied by the servant’s smile and even more so by the seascape hanging on the wall which conveys a peaceful journey.
2. Still life a. Vanities
We can say the same about still life paintings. These paintings are frequently vanities. This still life by Bosschaert (Vase with Flowers in a Window, Haye,Mauritshuis, 1618 ), for example, shows the beauty of flowers, but not only that. You can see a flower which has fallen, and a fly on the window sill. Both symbolize death, so, the vanity of everything including ephemeral beauty. Moreover, some leaves have been eaten by worms.
The most beautiful fruits rot. (Balthazar de Ast Basquet of Fruits Staatliche Museen, Berlin 1632 )
2. Still life b. Allegories
Another kind of still life is allegories. Here (Jacques Linard Five Senses Strasbourg, Musée des Beaux-Arts 1638 )
the allegory of The Five Senses: smell, sight, taste, touch, hearing. We can however note that vanity is also present in this painting, in the corrupted fig (which is also a sexual symbol) and in the mirror next to it, in which things pass and don’t last.
Other paintings work like proverbs and are called “emblems”. These emblems include a title, a picture and a little explanatory text which gives a lesson in morality.
These two paintings (Jan Steen The Drinkers St Petersburg, Hermitage Museum 1660 and Nicolas Maes, The Idle Servant Londres, National Gallery 1655 ) denounce intemperance and laziness exactly as emblems do. Here, in an exceptional way, there are two women concerned by these vices.
3. Emblems a. Praise
There are two kinds of emblems: praise and reprimands. The praise especially concerns domestic responsibilities and virtues.
Food (Gerrit Dou Woman Peeling Carrot Staatliches Museum, Schwerin (uncertain date) ), cleanliness (Pieter Janssens Elinga Room in a Dutch House Hermitage Museum Saint-Petersburg 1660-1670 ), child rearing (Pieter de Hooch Mother Lacing Her Bodice beside a Cradle Berlin, Gemäldegalerie 1661-1663), maintenance (Gerrit Dou Old Woman watering Flowers Kunsthistorisches Musuem, Vienne 1660-1665), education (Pieter Janssens Elinga Reading Woman Alte Pinakothek , Munich (uncertain date)). All these domectic virtues are feminine.
3. Emblems b. Reprimands
Reprimands concern vices and particularly intemperance. Intemperance which seems, logically, to reach women like men.
Dutch genre painting is the beginning of something absolutely new in art: the painting of daily life. The interest lies not in Heaven but on Earth. God, the saints are no longer the heroes of art, but ordinary people and, more particularly, the housewife.
II. The lessons of Dutch Painting. 17th century.
1. First lesson a. A change of benchmarks
What is so fascinating for me as a philosopher and art historian is firstly this change of benchmarks due to the iconoclasm of Protestantism. Art comes back to Earth. Everybody is a hero. That is painting daily life.
There is a sociological dimension to Dutch art. It paints, in the true sense, the Dutch way of life. A journalistical dimension, too. It writes a chronical of this society.
1.First lesson b. Symbolism
Second, symbolism. A painting is a support and not a goal in itself (this was the tradition from the Medieval Period until the 19th century) and we have to interpret it to find its meaning.
Here (Pietro Lorenzetti Birth of the Virgin Sienne, Opera del Duomo 1342 ), people who don’t know Anne’s story, can’t understand Lorenzetti’s painting. And we can read in Bailly’s painting (David Bailly Self-Portrait with Vanitas Symbols Stedelijk Museum, Leyde 1651 )that life is ephemeral but extended by the Painting. The painter is going to die, his portrait will survive.
2. Second lesson: precision a. “Surnatural” precision
But, what fascinates me as a painter is something else: precision. There are two kinds of precision. A supernatural precision, so to speak. That’s the precision in Van Eyck’s paintings, for example.In this painting (Yan Van Eych Madonna of the Chancellor Rolin Louvre 1435 )
, everything is sharp from the first to the last view. Depth of field goes from zero to infinite. For our eyes or photograph objective, it’s not possible.
This is the sign we have to interpret. What is its meaning ? This means that it’s not a humain eye which is looking, but God’s eye. And what is the meaning of this observation ? This means that the Chancellor is not a "donor" represented by the Virgin in a painting he could have commissioned. That the Chancellor, therefore, is dead and has been accepted in Paradise. This place is the City of God and here it's not the human look which is running.
2. Second lesson: precision b. Natural precision
A natural precision. That’s the precision you can see in Dutch painting more than in Renaissance painting or in Classic or Rococo or Romantic paintings of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
It’s because Dutch painters, as we have already said, paint daily life but even more than simple daily life: they paint intimacy. Look at Vermeer’s Lacemaker. We can see what the woman sees: the thread. It is perfectly sharp. It is the only really sharp thing in the painting. This is because the painter, like the lace-maker, is haunted by precision which is the only one way capable of showing what is essential in daily life.
3. The abandonment of precision
Today, precision is not the objective of painting. Since the Impressionist era, the stroke of the brush has been shown on the canvas. The aim is not to paint nature, a woman or a man, an action or whatever you want ; the aim is to show the paint in action. This culminated with the dripping of Jackson Pollok. A painting is no longer a window open to the world but “colors and shapes arranged on a canvas”, said Maurice Denis, the leader of Nabis.
Even the Realists who like to paint details don’t have the precision of Dutch painters.
It’s that degree of precision in Dutch painting, close to that of photography, which impressed me. It’s that precision I seek to regain. Without pretending to equal it, of course.
II. Hyperrealism. 20th century
1. From Renaissance to Impressionism.
During the Medieval period, paintings and sculptures are only pretexts to present God’s word which is written in the Bible. They teach the holy word. That’s all. Is there anything more wordly than nuts? However, nuts are not nuts. The envelope means Christ’s humanity or the World. The hard shell means the wood of the cross or sin (The Saint Victor Nuts). The fruit is the hidden divinity of Christ or God's Thought. Each object in the world is a word of God's language.
During the Renaissance period, art changes meaning. Paintings and statues are pretexts to present the world. Not a world as an expression of divine words (the Creation) but the world of science and ordinary perception. According to Alberti, “a painting is a window opened onto the world”.
I know! I have already said, when talking about Dutch art, that Renaissance painting was located in Heaven, not on Earth. It's necessary to be more specific: the aim of painting is still religious. But formally, painters come back to the world. With perspective, the objects and characters exist in relation to each other, following the laws of our world.
There is the Object: An Annunciation and, in that Annunciation, a column. That is Christ immediately embodied when Mary said "yes". And there is the Form: The construction is in line with the laws of perspective, therefore, of our world.
Everything is said by the word “Incarnation”: Heaven falls to Earth, the divine spirit (the dove) falls into a material body. Old Testament falls into New Testament. The divine world falls into the commun world.
Like Jesus, the painting has fallen into the world.
The direct result of that vision is this: the painting should disappear in favour of what is shown.
No traces of brush on the canvas. Only reality. This painting is more than figurative: it’s representative.
When faced with a painting, we must not see the paint but what the painting represents.
In 1863 Manet creates a revolution with Olympia (Musée d’Orsay 1863). Painting becomes a real painting and not what it was before: a picture.
Although the woman in Olympia falls into the classical tradition of Venus (like Venus of Urbino by Titian), she’s not Venus.
So what? It’s a painting. Nothing more. The flat tint* replaces the “modelled” style* present in Renaissance paintings; the black outline replaces the attenuation innovated by Leonardo da Vinci. This painting is almost abstract. What is pictured is not important. What is important is the painting process.
2. From Impressionnism to Hyperrealism
In the following painting (expressionism, abstract painting and others), the subject, therefore, is not important. We said that the only important thing is to put colours and shapes on a canvas. Painting has withdrawn from the world
3. Hyperrealism. Origin.
Hyperrealism is not realism. The subject is not, for Hyperrealism, a return to what is real. Its object is not what is real, but the photograph of that reality. More specifically, we are in a period where reality is apprehended through photography. So we believe that what is in the photograph is real. Hyperrealism is not realism. It retains from what is real only what it is on the surface: a picture. But that picture is the new reality of our consumer society.
The sense of the evolution of painting, since the impressionist revolution, is that : firstly, we saw that painting has withdrawn itself from the world, and now, the painter withdraw himself from the painting. This is the meaning, for example, of the Combines Paintings by Rauschenberg, of Jasper Johns' paintings, of Franck Stella's abstractions, in which the shape of the canvas (and not the will of the painter) imposes the shape of the painting. The meaning, too, of Pop Art itself.
Campbell's Soup Can, for example, is a consumer product. What this? It’s not the object you buy or you have; it’s not a utilitarian object; it’s not a material object; it’s a picture. That we name a brand. That is precisely the aim of Hyperrealism. Between our vision and the reality, consumer society has put a screen (cinema screen, tv screen, photography screen, computer screen or smartphone screen) on which or through which we see a distorted realité. A young schoolboy doesn't want shoes but Nikes, doesn't want a phone but an iPhone. For him, reality is not the material object but the brand that this object wears. We are all young schoolboys. And Hyperrealism is the depiction of our new reality, that of the brands. All is brand : clothes, foods, cars, holidays, politics, sexual or marital partner ... Even the death.
Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp and many other, Dodge City, Deadwood, Tombstone, people and cities which are real in the new meaning : they are brands.
4. Hyperrealism. Method.
The method is always the same: beginning with a photograph on which you have drawn a grid pattern, you replicate, square by square what you see, without any consideration of the whole. Morlay produced that painting (SS Rotterdam, in front of Rotterdam (Private Collection) 1966) from a post card enlarged fifteen times.
The translation of the photograph onto canvas is not simply mechanic. The enlarged photograph is not sharp. Painting is perfectly sharp. In other words, the photograph is not reproduced. The picture is totally rebuilt.
In the shop windows of Richard Estes or Don Eddy (Silver Shoes 1974 Collection R. & M. Segal) which are already reflections of our desires), what is real (the cars in the street) is not an object to paint, except through its reflexion on the glass of the shop window. And, because what is painted is not the object but its reflexion, the painting clearly says that painting is not reality but a picture (in accordance with the Impressionnist revolution), and even more : it is a picture of picture in which we can lose up to the meaning of reality. In other words, Hyperrealism remains an abtract painting.
Is that painting (Richard Estes Broad Street 2003)a representation of a car ? No, it isn't. The car is nothing more than Don Eddy's shop window : a reflecting surface. Nor does it care about the buildings, the only thing wich is important is the reflexion
However, we can observe some variations in the technique. For example, Chuck Close (Lucas I Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY 1986-87) starts with a little passport photograph and he considerably enlarges the picture (here, fifty six times), but with large strokes like an impressionist.
5. Hyperrealism. Painting of superficiality
Concerning sculpture, hyperrealism doesn't start from a "model" (a real human). It starts from a mould; which is a shape, not a material reality.
Plato blamed art because it only reproduces the sensitive shape and not the intellIgible shape of things. The bed, reproduced by the painter, can't support a body for the night. It's not a bed! From the bed, the picture has retained only the sensitive, the visible shape. This art is made to mislead. Quite the contrary, an artisan copies the intelligible shape (the idea) of a bed and produces a real bed on which I can rest without any danger.
This is what is summarized by Joseph Kosuth, a conceptual artist, when he shows his three chairs (One and three Chairs 1965). One is real (built of wood), another is a picture (a photograph) and the last is a concept (a definition)
Here (John De Andrea Linda 1983
), a nude. But not a Venus, not a female bather, not a sleeping nymph. No, only a sleeping woman. More exactly the shape of a sleeping woman. The opposite, exactly, of an allegory. An allegory is an idea translated in a picture. Here, you have a picture without any idea.
It's not even a desired object, like a body observed by a voyeur through a keyhole. Because this body not only doesn't see me, but, moreover it can't see me. As a result there is no mystery. It's empty. It's dead.
It's like a mannequin on a poster. He can't see me. That body is not a "nude" but a consumer object.
Like numerous females in Hopper's paintings, that woman we can see (Hopper Hotel Room Hirschorn Museum Washington 1926), doesn't see us. What is she looking at ? It's what you can't see. The result: that woman is mysterious. Everybody is mysterious for everybody. Albertine, in The Captive, by Marcel Proust, get out of control when she is sleeping. What are her dreams ? She can see her jailer, if she wakes up ; he can't see what she dreams.
The difference with De Anrea's nude is that Hopper's woman can see us. She has an interiority. Her body is not an enveloppe. She is alive. You know she is looking at something. Something we can't see. But she is looking at it. This is the mystery.
Chardin's character (The House of Cards Washington, National Gallery of Art 1737) is absorbed by his activity. You say that he is concentrated. De Andrea's woman (DeAndrea Pensive Figure 1990) is not concentrated. However, she is absorbed. Yes, but absorbed in her shape, like water in a sponge. Everything is in surface. She is not anything but a pose. And therefore, like the mannequin, a pure consumer object.
There is something embarrassing in those sculptural works. They are too "true" and at the same time too "artificial". Exactly the same embarrassment we feel when faced with the android of science fiction. Remember Blade Runner! What is the meaning of this embarrassment ? The android, the statue seem perfectly human bodies, but we know that this humanity is only on the surface, not in depth. Inside there is nothing human. What is embarrassing is excatly this : the feeling that we can delude ourselves.
6. The lessons of hyperrealism. a. The object
In short : Impressionism refuses reality and invents the painting.
Hyperrealism doesn't return to the reality of realism, it shows (after Pop Art) that reality is in our consumer society : only a picture.
This is, for me, the first lesson of Hyperrealism. This, from the point of view of the object of that painting.
The meaning of this is, for me, when I paint, the necessity to touch not the reality of the subject (portrait, genre scene, landscape) but the picture we have of that subject. Not, for example, Route 66, but the fantasy of Route 66. Objectively, we don't see the difference ... because Route 66 is a fantasy.
This place is not real, even though Google has photographied it. It's a mythical place. Route 66 is "The Road". The "Mother Road". The "main street of the USA", that of the pioneers going West, of the golden prospectors. The Harley Davidson's road, that of Easy Rider.
Sunset Boulevard is not only a big avenue of Los Angeles, like Wilshire Boulevard or Hollywood Boulevard. Borded by countless advertising panels, Sunset Boulevard is a mythical place immortalized, amongst others, by Billy Wilder as Mulholland Drive, by David Lynch.
That is the real Sunset Boulevard. But it’s not realy Sunset Boulevard ! And this is (Sunset Boulevard 2011) the mythic Sunstet Boulevard
6. The lessons of Hyperrealism. b. Form
To paint reality, precision is not absolutely necessary. We have already seen that realist painters go into detail but not into precision.
However, to paint a picture of reality, precision is necessary. Because a picture is an elaboration of our mind. Just as a logical construction, which is elaborated by the mind, can't accept a lack in the chain of reasoning, a picture made by our mind can't accept that somethig is missing.
Look at the difference between detail and precision (Courbet A Young Woman ReadingNational Gallery of Art Washington 1866-1868 and Van der Weyden Announciation Louvre (around 1434))
I'm not Van der Weyden or Richard Estes.
Precision is for me an aim, because I want to paint pictures (mythical pictures, memories of places or events) and not reality. Especially pictures of America.
You will note that in reality we are in Cuba, but the picture really is American (Sniffing 2016).
III. What is America?
What is America? America for a French man who has read American novels, watched American movies and travelled in America? What picture of America, therefore, is mine? And I insist, now you know why
, on the word "picture".
It seems that the natural direction in the US goes from East to West. The pioneers of the Conquest of the West; the railway, the gold hunters, the migrants of the crisis of the 30s, all of those who run after the glory of the seventh art. California is the end. In two ways : the end, in the meaning of "aim" and the end ... of the world represented by the Pacific Ocean.
1. Los Angeles
So, in spite of the fact that America started on the East Coast, America became, through the American Dream, the mythical El Dorado, a western country.
I know, there is New York, the financial capital, Washington the capital of the USA, Boston, one of the most famous scientific capitals and many other very important cities. But in our European mind, frequently, the most important towns are Los Angeles and San Francisco, two cities on the West Coast.
Numerous movies and novels take place either in New York or in Los Angeles. This makes those two towns the most famous American cities. Better, the most known of the American cities, at least visually. But the fame of L.A. (sea, sex and sun) appears "cooler" than New York’s reputation.
For me, L.A. is the American city by excellence. Why?
Naturally, if you read Ellroy, Michael Connelly and others depicting the Watts riots, the racism of the LAPD, drug circulation and trafficking in the poor neighborhoods like South Central or the corruption within the city’s government, when you read Breat Easton Ellis depicting the L.A. youth drugged, desperate, killing themselves with alcohol, drugs and sex, when T.C. Boyle shows, in his novel America, the impossible understanding between different communities or when James Frey depicts, in L.A. Story, the Angels' city like a place of lost illusions, the picture we have of that town is not gratifying.
Nevertheless, life sounds easy in L.A. There is sun all the year, beaches not far from the center (whether we can speak of a center in L.A.): Santa Monica, Venice beach, Long Beach. A lot of movie stars have their house in Beverly Hills, Bel Air or on Mulholland Drive. The movie industry gives a nice idea of the city of Angels. Finally, in L.A. a multitude of communities stemming from all the regions of the world live nonetheless together. Furthermore, with San Francisco, the town is a part of the mythical West.
L.A., at least for the tourist, is a wonderful city. Everywhere (except, obviously, in the poor neighborhoods) pretty houses with nice gardens along the canyons. Or endless avenues (Hollywood Blvd, Sunset Blvd, Wilshire Blvd) edged by all the signs of the Goggie style. Unlike San Francisco which is based on another cultural principle, more scientific or intellectual, Los Angeles seems to rely on the shows and money, on the appearance. Here, in Venice, Muscle Beach (look at my body!), there, the cars (look at my standard of living!).
Los Angeles is still the theater of numerous movies, even the main character of many: Chinatown (Polanski), Mulholland Drive (David Lynch), The Bling Ring or Somewhere (Sophia Coppola) and others. Those movies sometime show the illusions of Hollywood (The Day of the Locust, John Schlesinger), the distress of lost glory (Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder), the corruption and the hard life in the streets of poor neighbourhoods (Dark Blue, Ron Shelton, according James Ellroy's novel). Whereas some comedies show the lighter side of the stars' way of living. Recently La la Land.
2. What do I paint?
What do I paint? Some events which could take place anywhere but which take on a particular meaning when they take place in the city of cinema. For example this shooting session on the Venice Front Walk.
A scene which translates the importance of body image in the mentality of Los Angeles. Here at Muscle Beach on the Venice Front Walk
The great avenues edged by numerous advertising panels which, in France, would be considered as visual pollution but which, in L.A., are part of the pictorial beauty of the town.
These same great avenues congested by cars which, in France, would be seen as a major inconvenience but which, in L.A., are normal because more than the people, cars are the real inhabitants of the town.
The cinematographic dimension of Los Angeles is still to be painted. Here the squale of Jaws in Universal Studio.
Los Angeles is also characterised by a particular light. It's that light we can capture better in Venice, along the canals.
And, as is so often the case, we meet the affirmation of full membership in the Country. I also have to paint that dimension, for example, with this very american house.
And, because L.A. is the end of Route 66 ...
Nothing remains except to thank you for your attention and the interest you have given to that presentation.
It has been a pleasure for me to talk to you about art history, about a country we all love, about the paintings that this country has inspired to me.
However, this year 2017, I want to pay tribute to the most famous city of the East Coast and to dedicate numerous paintings to that city : New York. This is the first example of that new production (NY#1 W 35th Street (oil on canvas 130x85,5) 2017 ).
And this is the second (NY#2 5th Avenue (oil on canvas 130x85,5) 2017).
Thank you very much, Bordeaux-USA. And thank you Helen Boulac for your precious assistance.
Bordeaux, 13 avril 2017