Why I paint

“I’m inclined to believe that painting can be for everyone what it is for me: a way to access our deepest emotions, the quiet center from which we often drift away in the agitation and multitude. It could be that painting is not sacred in itself, but it leads to what, within ourselves, is sacred. By doing so, its practice feels like a vocation: one that consists in taking the time to gaze at the world, to dare being moved by it and try “figuring” it. This means wanting to find the true face of Nature and beings, in a process that is only augmented by our loving consciousness.”

“This urge rarely stays without an answer and, one day, an echo emerges from it: suddenly, this or this painting, has turned upside down the mirror of reflection for a person, and he or she finds in it, through some mysterious complicity, the moving density of suspended time.”

“About self-portraits”, Marie Laurence Gaudrat, Somogy, 2001

The craft

“Sometimes my paintings are done swiftly, under a strong impulse, and it can give very happy results. In those cases, it’s as if a load of what I’ve seen and loved suddenly springs on the canvas like an evidence. And on the contrary, there are some paintings that I work on over and over again. For those latter instances, I dwell time after time in moments of fascinating contemplation, fed with the illusion of wanting to create life. And when I realize by the end of my sessions that I haven’t created life, although I had the impression to be in close contact with it, I go back into my painting a hundred times. (…) In order to paint, I need to have the person in front of me, relatively still and bathed with light, which can be an inexhaustible subject in itself. And since I don’t dare to torment the people who have the benevolence to pose for me, I let them adopt a relatively relaxed position. It’s as simple as that! Of course, I would have loved painting Apollos on their chariots in the rising sun with four horses hasting in every direction, but since the occasion never presented itself…”

Grandes Écoles magazine, June 2002.
Selfportrait - 9x9

Maurice Mazo

“Mazo is this valiant artist whose whole life has been strangely dedicated to produce work that went back in time in a century that seemed in a hurry to abandon the craft, its knowledge and – what goes hand in hand with this knowledge – faith in a splendid and radiant world. His body of work is brimming with health, dazzling with vital forces. Pierre du Colombier noticed, as soon as he got acquainted with Mazo’s work at an exhibition in 1947, the extent to which this body of work had no relationship with what was going on in his environment at the time. From an early age, there was in the work of Mazo an opposition between his abundance, his generosity, his exhilaration of life, and the pauperism, the desire to do dryly, leanly, severely, which was in fashion at the time. Mazo once told me with a certain level of irony: “Our time is like that: it faints to love things of great austerity whereas it is completely depraved! If it had been stern itself, then okay! It could be marvelous. But no, it’s mere compensation!”

Sample of a speech given on Februrary 22, 1995, at the City Hall of the 8th district of Paris.

About a film by Gérard Blain

“From the very first shot of the film Ainsi soit-il, we clearly feel that we’ll be brought to measure ourselves with a certain form of full emotion, one that doesn’t dilute itself in commentaries and reminded me of painting, beautiful meditative painting, almost more than it did of cinema. All those images, almost still with interiority (the leitmotiv of the mother’s kiss, almost like a Visitation or like the embrace of the blessed in the Last Judgment of the Sistine Chapel, the friezes unfolding like a fresco procession of those two young girls who are yet so current), they prolong themselves and come back in our memory long after the end of their account. I love when the most pathetic things, instead of crushing us, purify us.”

Contrelittérature, n°3, summer 2000.

Radio extracts

Extracts from the programme Le Libre Journal de Jean-Gilles Malliarakis, Radio-Courtoisie, February 15, 2002.

“Conversation in Grésivaudan” with Jacques Mougenot – Catalog of the 2011 exhibition in Grenoble

First, why an exhibition? An exhibition, of course, is a way to present my work but it is also a way to gather my paintings and try giving the whole a coherence. This idea guides me in my work of preparation, although my first impulses are very free. The place of the exhibition is also very important as it can often inspire ideas and desires. I liked the Pavilion from the very start and the perspective of showing my painting in this architecture of martial memory, at the center of this new neighborhood, this “eco-friendly” neighborhood, didn’t feel strange at all. I realized that this character was not without any influence since I often used the square format myself for my paintings – this is maybe the only relationship between my painting and the military spirit that ruled over this place!

So yes, why Grenoble? I have many attaches there – by the way I already had an exhibition in the historic center of the city a long time ago. But strangely, I had never painted in the region. When I stopped by on my way back from a painting trip in Switzerland, this exhibition project found its source in multiple evidences crossing each other, which was all the more charming that my stay there had been improvised. I was just going to say hi to some friends who were staying there, when those friends decided to take me to see their hosts, who didn’t expect me but welcomed me warmly anyway. And there, from their garden, I fell in awe under the charm of the immense spreading of the Belledonne mountain range at dusk. When I turned my back on the mountains to face their house, I noticed behind their windows big paintings which I immediately recognized as works done by the painter Flandrin. It was not to people from Grenoble that I was going to do the eulogy of Flandrin but what touched me so deeply was this harmony, very intemporal, between an artist and his region, and the great knowledge of someone who never let himself lectured by fashion and instead fulfilled his destiny with the audacity of being just himself. I had dinner with the best company, slightly elevated by the kind of rapture which can be given by paintings to those who enjoy it. We talked a bit, and a few moments later the desire to come back and paint in this sublime region was on and nothing else felt more just or necessary. From the emotion provoked by those beautiful paintings, mixed with the spectacle of the day setting on Belledonne, I got the enthusiastic desire to answer positively to the generous offer of exhibiting at the Pavilion of Bonne! I’d like to thank warmly the SAGES for their welcome, as well as all the people in charge there – and first and foremost Patrick Le Bihan.

So, I eventually went back to settle in a friend’s place for a while, at the heart of La Grande Chartreuse and I painted on site, in the radiant permanence of an anticyclone which wasn’t pushing more than three clouds through the Dauphiné’s sky.

There is in Dauphiné a great school of landscape painters which illustrates that perfectly. However, we often face a misunderstanding when tackling this topic nowadays, as if this discipline belonged to the past. “Painting on site” is not just planting one’s easel somewhere in nature and paint a “landscape that resembles” (although we could say with Stendhal “to make something resembling: supreme delight of the artist”!), all the modern techniques of image recording could very well replace that definition and do the job. There is something for the painter that photography cannot replace, and which leaves an infinite future to landscape painting! This something, it’s the meeting of a preconceived desire of making a painting and the actual emotion provoked the subject once seen. It’s the alliance between the inner disposition of the painter and the infinite proposed by the landscape. And this requires a time for meditation, absorption, decision and also freedom. It’s mostly from this exercise that the painter finds both his torment and joy! Like any artist, like any man, he needs to be torn away from the prison of his little self all the while aspiring to say intimately what he is, what he feels, what he sees. Yet, we really see when we know that we see, when we dare to choose and to put all of our strengths in putting in order, in understanding. Wrapping this exercise, the softness of the air or its cold, the infinite or the intimate of the subject, move you enough to tear you away from a conventional vision in order to lead you into a state resembling a communion. This work in nature gathers and sums up pretty well the diverse aspects of painting: imagining, remembering, observing, composing, building. And it is this desire that takes the painter outside in the early morning, with all his tools, chasing landscapes!

It’s true that for this stay in Grande Chartreuse I offered myself a restrain of small formats with the idea to be able to peregrinate a lot, because I wanted to meet all these places with charming names: Chamechaude, the Charmant Som, the Clos des Capucins, the Valley of the Grésivaudan, the Deserts of Entremonts and so many others. Those small formats impose their own rhythm of focus, and we try to let in the space and the fugacity of lights, in a continuous mode of study. Dawns and dusks fertilize the work of the next day whereas the mid-day hours, the most stable ones but the least “up in tone”, enable work sessions of four to five hours. We’re already in Eden, if, after a long day, we have some strength left to note the evening absorbing in its incandescence the high figures of mounts that were cobalt the same morning.

For sure, the mail written by landscape painters is almost always desperate… for they write it precisely when they find themselves betrayed by the weather, forcing them to find shelter. Inaction, suffering!

No and yes! It is secondary in the extent that painting eventually prevails on the subject. It’s mostly about filling a small oil lamp so that it can burn after us! To let a lively equivalence occur. In front of a landscape, there is no canvas of course, there’s nature, the immense splendor or the triviality of things. To paint is not to attach oneself to the picturesque, and even less to reproduce – reproduce what? Incidentally, this is why painting has not died out, whatever might be said, with the apparition of photography, and that it will not die out, whichever eclipse it might suffer from. But we’re not going to start over the fake debate which opposes figuration and abstraction.

Fake debate I believe, because any painting is abstract! First for we start from this nothing that is a white canvas – but mostly because, as the dictionary Larousse defines it: “abstraction is an operation of the spirit which isolates from a notion one element while neglecting others”. It is the very definition of painting. We are all abstract painters, but through our choices, we express who we are. Abstraction was not born yesterday, it’s in every painting from any time, infinitely, intelligently, craftily induced by the artists. Abstraction is not the nothing but the relationship between things. For this relationship to be, things must exist first. Beautiful works are always abstract but they are sensitive and talk to us with a human language. The cathedral of Chartres, the frescos of Pompeï, a dancer painted by Degas: abstractions. It is through the appearances that we reach what’s beyond them. For me, not being allowed to represent would feel like not being allowed to stand, to talk, to act… It would be an absolute daze. Whereas when I confront myself to reality, I enter the jubilation of acting and choosing.

Yes, because whichever subject the painter pretends dealing with, the true subject, deep down, is the self – not that it means idolizing one’s little self, I’m talking about the real self: the human being who dares saying “I am, I believe”. The self who speaks of universal, of what maintains us alive. This self in which another self will recognize something within him… It’s about communion once again! It’s this resemblance that interests me and it can only happen through an affirmation. The subject is secondary, perhaps, because of what it represents, but it is primordial as we can attach to it everything that aspires to be expressed within ourselves and which could not be said without this “obstacle”.

Indeed, I tend to come back, almost in spite of myself, to themes such as “Summer” or “The Garden”, which are represented here in several paintings.

Because a man and a woman under a tree has always seemed to me like an inexhaustible subject – I also dream of “Jupiter and Antiope”, of “Nativities” and other novelties! But I find pleasure in painting people who I love, friends who give me their time, and when I don’t have that luck, self-portraits in which I try to forget it’s me I’m painting! In my emotion facing those great paintings by Flandrin, there was also the perception that those intemporal subjects were inhabited by the intimacy of the painter. And also, I must say, this very peculiar tie between the painter and his connoisseurs, and his contemporaries, and the people who chose him by living with his work. I love going to the museum, and I also love the idea of museums, but it has been a very long time that I’m deeply touched by those houses where our paintings inhabit and where we live a bit, by procuration, the happy communion we had been hoping for!

It’s true that this term has been “revisited” as we say, to the extent that it now exclusively designates some artists who belong to a specific esthetic! Does the demanding nature of an artist depend on his allegiance to his time, or on his quest to find his truth? And what’s truth? To dare loving what we love, for example, and to say it a bit naively. We can feel contemporary to any artist that moves us, from any time, as long as their humanity talks to ours. As long as their freedom has inspired ours, for they have integrated fully, during their time, despite their time, their unique and shared truth.

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