De fil blancMay 21 - June 25, 2022
De fil blancMay 21 - June 25, 2022
What is this mysterious ‘painting object’ which is neither really an object nor entirely painting ? Which play tricks on the painter who plays with it. On which the know-how has no grip. Which undermines good and bad taste ? Some hints in the following interview. Interview by Clara Guislain
Clara Guislain: During your studies at the Arts-Déco at the end of the 1950s, was the question of painting already settled for you?
Patrick Saytour: I hadn’t made up my mind. There was also theatre and the possibility of doing theatre decoration. I chose this option. It allowed me to be both in painting – and at the time I didn’t realize that it was not enough – and in theatre.
C.G.: The crease in your work refers to the tearing to pieces of the composition and at the same time to the line of the horizon. Historically, wasn’t the intention that of rejecting flat painting?
P.S.: My early work in the 1950s and 1960s used the geography of the composition and the planned depiction of pieces of space or pieces of sea or land, to reject both the depiction that had been torn to pieces and to engage in a different way of looking at it. I found myself in a situation in which one seems to be squinting at and over the painting, which perhaps makes for an interesting grimace.
I might say that what was folded or creased is that dimension. In formal terms, the fold does not depict, but reminds one of the position of the line of the horizon. I wanted to try and reshape the line of the horizon. That work on cords, knots, threads, ties up with this. Even though some people pilloried us, considering us to be so many eccentrics with our knotted cords, it seems to me that this was really the place where we had to be since knotted cords can be measured.
C.G.: But measure what: the gaps between the points on a surface?
P.S.: I would say it was more the intervals between the waves, in the sea. Indeed, what is the interval between two waves? And the image seems wonderful to me, measuring the space between two crests and having a tool to do so. In any case, between the possible and the impossible, there is only action.
C.G.: In your case, there is all this logic of gesture, of the different types of ‘interventions’ as you call them: the burning, the tying, the folding. These gestures seem to be perfectly premeditated, programmatic, and yet they always involve a recovery, an overflow.
P.S.: I worked for a very long time on these alternative procedures. The brushstroke replaced by the gunshot, the burning, the scissors, the cutter, etc. With folding, I remained very close to the time it takes to paint: a brushstroke equivalent to a cut that I saw once it was unfolded.
C.G.: But isn’t the fold also a retrieved gesture, an anthropological gesture like the gesture of tying, tucking, stacking, stretching?
P.S.: Speaking of the tea towel peeping out of the picnic basket, for me the earliest connection with folding concerns the sheets in my grandmother’s wardrobe. The sheets were folded and stacked. Much later I saw a piece by Barry Flanagan, a stack of folded blankets that he made at the same time as I was working on my folds. Afterwards, many stories can be told about what that wardrobe was, that fold, that canvas which is usually thick canvas, the very importance of the wardrobe which was placed in the space at the entrance to the flat, was the same width as the door, and made you slide right or left to gain access to the rooms, dividing the flow like a figurehead.
C.G.: Going past the sides of the wardrobe to enter the space, like taking a painting by the ends, by the sides. I heard a lecture by Yve-Alain Bois on the use of bamboo sticks by Matisse, an artist who forms a ‘bridge’ or ‘arch’ with your work. Bois insists on a type of distancing imposed by the stick but which at the same time requires a close involvement, a great tension of the body. Knowing that Matisse was rather corpulent at that time, it must have been quite athletic for him. Was this notion of distancing by getting as close as possible to the painting through imbalance a way of slowing down the know-how, a way also of rejecting the pathos of a face-to-face contact?
P.S.: Yes, we had to renew this distance because it was worn out. Not because it was bad, just worn out to the core. This story of Matisse’s stick made me think of a short circuit. In an electric circuit, if you take out a part of it, the whole circuit goes out. When the artist puts the fuses back in, he says to himself, that’s great, I’ve just invented electricity! And that’s an artist with a stick. His stick, in fact, was a cane. He had recreated an element in the chain that took him away from something that had existed for a very long time, the skilled hand. It was the cane versus the hand, and that’s something I share completely. Speed, the famous ‘coup de main’; it was in this chain that Matisse wanted to introduce distance, in the suddenly obliterated facility of drawing. You want speed, but you have to use the cane. Like a sportsman who says yes, but I’m old. For an artist like Matisse, with the cane you can do something you couldn’t do without it, which is no longer a matter of skill, a social way of managing your work. In the end, it was a means in which there was tension, but also repulsion, so the stick served a double function. The know-how that was rejected was still there; the know-how as an end.
C.G.: For you, the folded or unfolded canvas is equivalent. The fold simultaneously contains the unfolding and the refolding of the surface, always destabilising the frame where the work could fix itself.
P.S.: The space turns over. It is not limited and fixed, it is unlimited and upside down. The fold is like a figure eight. The outside is folded inwards, the right to the left, the top to the bottom. What can you do with it? You can’t do the same thing as with a canvas laid on a stretcher, so you can see that there is a huge difference in intent. The challenge is to know what this difference reflects.
C.G.: These are questions that concerned many American artists, pointing out the inadequacy of painting in that it really has four sides, but that it can only be approached frontally. Did this whole game of turning the painting sideways, of sliding towards the ground – in Jackson Pollock – or of the shifting of the border of the frame – in Barnett Newman – influence you?
P.S.: American painting is a field that I only came to know later. At the beginning, it was taken as an imposed culture, strong, deeply rooted in a social and financial situation. There was something immoderate in American painting that held me back. I was looking for the flaws in this type of work, ideologically, not from the point of view of the pictorial question. At the time, there were very few images, so we fantasised about the images. For example, concerning the ‘all over’, there was a credulity that lasted for a long time. We realised long afterwards that the drips of paint didn’t leave the frame of the painting, that they remained inside it.
C.G.: Today in art, there are more and more measures and fewer and fewer formats.
P.S.: Excess was very important at the time. Although not all works obeyed these rules. When I made works that were 10, 20, sometimes 40 meters long, it was really a way for me to escape the question of the end. I used to say that the format was the whole of a suite, and not just one element. It freed me from a calculation that one might seek to be precise concerning a single canvas. Each element was what it was. And the format was the whole of this moment of reflection. It could be time: ‘It took me six months’. The format was above all time, linked to this ‘no-date’ and ‘no-title’ idea.
C.G.: We come to this idea of a device that is central to your work and to your implementation of deconstruction. Deconstruction ‘produces’ a certain number of actions. You are a painter of action mixed with a painter of devices; the two do not go without each other.
P.S.: A certain number of actions may or may not perpetuate the device. The painting must not be confused with the device. The device raises doubts about the device itself, by which I mean that one can make a mistake and not be mistaken.
C.G.: Is the device ‘a machine that makes the art’ according to the formulation of Sol LeWitt, who, like you, owes part of his creative process to Duchamp?
P.S.: It’s very important to make a minimal movement, a very small movement from one piece to another. It’s almost the same, but not quite the same. This piece which is almost the same can actually be very different, and this can only be played out in experimentation. You can’t know it beforehand, and that’s good. We could say: so much the worse, so much the better. In this, we are always very close to childish positions: we try to frighten ourselves, to please ourselves, to get caught. And if there is none of that: the painter gets bored, and I think the person looking gets bored as well.
C.G.: The method of deconstruction thus implies a kind of self-generation which is simultaneously a permanent self-criticism, and which, in return, constitutes both the context and the content of the painting. All this brings us back to the singular way in which you destabilise the place and time of the painting by constantly undermining the place where it could fold in on itself.
P.S.: The idea was to make an attempt to separate the monstration. Because first you have to do something that you see. Produce a shape and ensure that the shape be seen, even if it is a mental vision, not an ocular one. What is important is also what carries the decision, at least as we perceive it, how we try to analyse it. What is important is this violence which is often blamed on youth, which is said to lose its force over time. These are reflections that I often had when I was thirty years old. I projected myself into a more or less distant future by positioning myself as being able to stop working before this violence disappeared. I haven’t changed my mind that much. I’m well served by painting because painting, even without me, slips away. Every time I have to go and catch up with it, and that’s my job. It’s not knowing it. It’s knowing how to catch up with the thread of painting, which may seem ridiculous, but which, taken in a strong sense, can be an extremely provocative manifesto in terms of deconstruction. It is neither developing nor repeating. How not to develop and not to repeat is a way of understanding creative action for me, although it is not an unequivocal way of looking at it.
C.G.: A part of your practice is based on the continuous collection of these ‘tiny' objects and of these fabrics, blankets, tablecloths, curtains. One might think that the act of choosing would, as in the ready-made, have a productive dimension before the painting begins. So how do you choose them? You just find them interesting, blindly, without selection?
P.S.: Yes, somehow, but I can’t say why. I gladly, even by preference, use models that are around me, around us, rather than having a position that would be justified in terms of discovery. I reuse these objects as banal forms, so discovery is not such an important driving force. And perhaps banality isn’t so important either. I use things in a contradictory way, and I also try to corrupt them. The problem of taste intervenes in support of this, but it is not an attraction in itself, decorative or laudatory, and nor pejorative. I am interested in the multiplicity of apprehensions of objects and forms, and not only in ‘formal’ forms. I almost always react to that, one thing and its opposite, at least in the first instance.
When I started working with ‘bad’ tapestries in the 1980s – those carpets sold at Barbès – the challenge for me was to make it ‘possible’, to make it possible to put it in front of you. Given our culture, even that was a challenge, even if I don’t think the challenge is enough. When she saw these carpets arriving, my gallery owner’s concierge, who was used to seeing incredible things with regard to ‘contemporary art’, was absolutely delighted! Finally someone who had something to say and show, because they were the same ‘tapestries’ she had on the wall above her bed.
C.G.: Even in your patterned fabrics, you seem to neutralise any anecdotal possibilities, as if they can no longer be seen as social signs.
P.S.: The anecdote, which is always ready to emerge, must be sufficiently loaded, and with it the heaviness of the consensus, of the content. All these animals, this bestiary on the ‘tapestries’ and fabrics … we say to ourselves ‘what does this story mean?’. And it is so incomprehensible or senseless that one ends up giving up. Overloading is a way to show and to neutralise. It’s a way of delaying the start of a scene, an anecdote, which I’ve always tried to avoid.
C.G.: So overloading and extraction are two procedures equivalent to neutralisation in your work?
P.S.: Yes, like when I paint the fold of the canvas, either by capillary action or with the cutter. I’ve made canvases that I worked on by opening them. I would start by making a mark on the folded canvas, open it in two and make a second mark, and again in two, and put four new marks, and so on. The canvas was finished by the time it was fully unfolded.
Artist : Patrick Saytour
Ceysson & Bénétière
23 rue du Renard
Tuesday - Saturday
11am - 7pm
T: + 33 1 42 77 08 22