Christophe Boursault
2016, Angéla Freres

Angéla Freres, 2016

In a rough, raw moment

Translated from french by Delia Morris

CHRISTOPHE BOURSAULT: The title of this picture is genouillères trime (kneepads hard graft).

ANGELA FRERES: Yes, there’s an image.

It’s true for that one, it looks obsessional about a certain kind of figuration, a certain figure even who appears and then the whole work goes off into abstraction. And it’s also true to say that on these most recent canvases what I’ve deliberately tried to do is return to the idea of drawing, i.e. something lighter, more furtive (in contrast to some of my earlier canvases that were more dense, less open-ended, I’d say more earthy), where painting and drawing happened together naturally, without any previous plan. I also really wanted to do what I’d done early on in Art School, when I used to paint on paper, i.e. on a white background so I never did any other backgrounds and the white made for a floating effect in some cases ; what I wanted to do here was mix my techniques without going into much story-telling, so that’s the story behind kneepads, and who cares ? – but in fact, it’s not that we don’t care… yes, I like this kneepad bit, because when you think of a kneepad, you think of a knee protector or an artificial kneepad providing protection, so there’s fear and flight involved… What’s more, it’s like the title of the Paris expo, La fuite des égos, (Égos in flight) … I like this playful aspect, it’s not pathetic, it’s said in a more humorous spirit, an attempt to get rid of one’s ego that’s bound to fail.

And will that one be on show ?

It could well be, it dates from 2012. After that, you have go forward somewhere, you’ve not to shut yourself in or seal yourself up, and it’s true that I did do another series of paintings…With more second thoughts, a background that comes in, I try mixing the two, it’s tricky, like gymnastics.

When you begin a painting, do you have an idea for it beforehand ?

No, I’ve no idea in advance, but I have a sort of feeling, a sometimes rather vague desire. But it’s not necessary to begin by having a real desire to go somewhere, what’s important is to find desire on the way, and then from a formal point of view, I wonder whether to go into a sort of totally abstract frenzy, without any sense whatsoever, or do I … from time to time, so as to get myself hooked again… not being in a wide variety of possibilities, well after a while, it’s… you can always turn round, go everywhere…

It makes me a bit dizzy to think about it…

Yes, that’s just it, it makes one dizzy! So the figure, the body, the foot, the whatnot… I mean the figure, sketched out in some way so that I’m getting nearer to it… is just starting to be represented, and with my totally contradictory twofold intention, I want it to appear and I want to destroy it… so what’s left in the end, does it appear finally? Is it this particular image, is the word for it hard graft, that’s what written there, “hard graft” . So it’s possible that I worked really hard on this picture and maybe had a moment…mmm
And so sometimes I arrive in front of the canvas in total freedom, like in that other painting vite (quick) ; I mean I take a big splurge of red, throw it at the canvas and afterwards, I watch what happens, what comes out of this, after I’ve drawn a line… but what I like in this painting is the liberated spirit it shows, but careful now, liberated spirit can turn into a bad painting too ! So one has to tread warily. And that one is not completely finished.

Why not, what’s missing? 

Light, to start with, it’s good to see it ; and another thing, I like the graphic style on the right hand side.

It’s funny because with a grey background, things move into the domain of graffiti, but as soon as you’re up against a light background, as there, it recalls figurative painting more than anything, in fact, the whole history of painting, whereas there what you actually have is a way of not being centred… and what’s more, it could be a set of graffiti grouped in the street, whereas here the whole picture is a real composition, very centred, with a certain struggle in the image – it’s different.

Yes, that’s true, it’s two worlds, first of all by the time spent on a canvas: fifteen hours for that one, an hour and a quarter for this one. Then there’s the way you attack or approach the canvas… you’re right, in that canvas with the white background, there’s the wish for drawing, even delicacy but in fact, what remains is almost nothing: some lines, some bits of black chalk…But I have actually kept some of that first moment I sketched out. Drawing first, then move on to painting, then at a certain point, mix the two techniques. Whereas this one has already been made in a subconscious state, I was in a rough, raw moment then, even if I wanted to add something, it’s possible I won’t manage it because I’m going to be confronting this canvas the following day in a different state of mind.

Do you feel the need to go back to that state of mind to start painting again? 

The problem is that in some paintings, you’ve got a state of freedom, but it’s controlled, in other words, you feel you’ve got the right gestures, you’re a few steps ahead, you’re insightful, you see what’s going on, you’re free-wheeling but it’s not a chaotic free-wheel…

It’s like improvisation in music…

Precisely. Afterwards you can re-attack this canvas, try and regain that first thrust of energy, or the contrary can happen, you can get past that stage and contradict the first version, but it’s often very hard work.

Do you remember each canvas?

Yes, just about all of them.

I’m less sensitive to the kind of figurative representation that comes from Velickovic

It’s funny you mention that because I don’t like Velickovic much, he’s obsessed with the anatomy of each gesture, with being exactly right, and there are times when I find real pathos in his work.

You’ve got that too!

Yes, there’s that, except that me – well, what I try out, careful, with all these masks and bodies I paint, I find my own work closer to the grotesque side of Ensor or the painting of Macréau, Bazelitz, Basquiat, Twombly (and Bacon if I had to go further into figurative work), who are less controlled artists, they transcend their feelings much more subtly than Velickovic in my opinion.

There’s de Kooning too.

Yes! And Helen Frankenthaler, it’s magnificent work.

What I like in this canvas tends towards those attempts ; in fact, I get the feeling it’s a fragment of one great big whole, a vast mess that you’ve cut a piece out of. Whereas facing it, it’s a more composed work, these are more about the passage from the figurative to the abstract but for me, they all go together, all the more so nowadays and all the more so because you use language. After that it becomes a value judgement…
Personally, I can say to myself that you do punk painting and with a punk comes what it gives rise to, things such as the way he moves, his attitude and the moment when he stands in front of his mirror to do his hair again…

I’ve never said “I’m this” or “I think that” or “I believe that”, so I’m not punk. I did once do a drawing called je ne suis pas peintre (I’m not a painter) or pas pire peintre (not a worse painter). On the other hand it’s true that where commitment is concerned I’ve got a primitive aspect in me… and I’ve got the will to do it, the motivation is quite strong. But I don’t just bawl and bellow, there’s gentleness there, humour too ; but the way I express myself is indeed full of vitality.

In the end, the complicated part when someone wants to talk about your painting is that it can’t be taken outside the rest of your work, or at least that’s how I see it. Since in the rest of your work, the position of the artist, the painter you are, is often called into question, so the fact that you do paintings is part of all that.

Hence the confusion.

I’m not so sure about that… I know that showing things separately is not a problem for you, whereas from my point of view it’s as if you were taking part of a diptych away.

I think my pictures don’t need me, they have the right to silence. When I’m doing them, I’m poles away from the bloke – Tim Lagardere – who bawls away in his performances, he talks, rants and raves, has a ball, pulls himself out of it all (though he also gives us lots of moments where we lose faith, in spite of his exposure in the media !). My way of painting is at the opposite end of the scale, opposite in silence and most of all, in the modernist logic of picture / studio / silence. I might well copy the painter in certain videos, his success, his ego, expressionist art… but when I’m doing my own work, I’m not in any of these third or fourth degree elements, I might be in the first or second degree of the act for a short while, but generally speaking, if there’s too much play-acting, then there’s no more painting.

And when you’re painting, does that sometimes give rise to a video?

Now and then. Often those are the moments when my painting disgusts me, or just the opposite, it goes through euphoric moments that encourage me to move from one medium to another savouring it all to the full, my head’s overflowing with words. It’s good fun to go from the status of painter to that of spectator – acquirer – on the business side of things – the gallery owner – just an ordinary man, oneself in fact.
I have lots of fun with the titles, I’ve done lots of paintings with some off-beat titles where the prefix is common to several, and I often use the names of trademarks (a hangover from my BTS diploma in Business Action days) : PRO ; LA PROCURE ; PRO PAS JE PROPOS FENT ; JUST PRO ; TRUE PRO ; FRA FRAM FRAGANCE FAR FRAME FRAC ; TI ; TEMPS TIRE ; THIERRY. The same goes for exhibition titles : PATTERN PAINTER ; PEINTRE PATENT PARÉ ; PAR PART PATHOS… Recently I did a picture called ONET because this firm that employs security guards and cleaners has a name ( “honest” ) that is very poetically correct…
The explanation for all this? It’s not explanations we need, they’re choices I’ve made amidst the turbulence and disorder of life, just as we all make choices in the chaos of our obsessions.

Words are a little like a face, it’s a starting point for a whole portrait.

Yes, maybe. You gather them together, you mix them up, you twist them and squeeze them, you say something that’s not very definite… That’s why – to go back to what you were saying – my most successful pictures are perhaps those that are not very definite, there’ve been various directions, a certain freedom…

Bram Van Velde used to say, “Do anything at all” but it’s not possible for everyone to do that. In this canvas there’s a story of struggle, it’s maybe a little more “pre-prepared”.

Yes, there’s a sense of urgency scattered throughout that one.

Precisely! The necessity of that sense of urgency in your work; even so, painting does what it can to find a place in spite of everything.
In your work, every new upsurge has a place; it’s all a permanent struggle really and in the end, I get the feeling that in certain pictures, you consider yourself more as a painter and it’s when you believe that less, that that happens, in any case, there’s something there I can look at.

Yes, we come back to my drawing PAS PEINTRE (NOT A PAINTER) . I think in my case I have to forget myself, not play too much at being a painter with a career as such, so as not to be “PÉRIMÉ” (OUT OF DATE)!
It’s basically a contradiction; “ce n’est pas moi (“this is not me”), “moi, c’est ça” (“that’s me”), I work on the waltz of changing identities (“possible identités”, 2008)

Of course it’s at the spot where the contradiction is, at least in terms of History, that could only happen there where it does happen in the sense that after having the whole gamut of combinations and positions to defend for a hundred years (figurative, abstract, you’d have thought one was better than the other), we’re getting the heritage of a moment when it was understood that today’s artists could no longer negotiate on that terrain… and so now, they’re trying to work in the tension that contradiction creates and the way it creates reels of threads that get completely tangled up with each other. Your work in particular is to be found at that point, for by choosing to be a commentator of painting as well as someone who does painting, you’re inside that tension all the time. So when you say “it’s one thing” but then “it’s also the opposite of that”, in fact your position is to change position all the time, and everything is according to the spot where you place yourself.
And then it’s also a way of showing your sense of humour since throughout History, Painting has not taken too deep a look at the question of what a schoolboy joke could be doing in a painting…

Yes, without going so far as making bad pictures – though I did make one called coté croute (listed daub) in 2008, that I myself really like. I go towards the delicate or the so-called dirty, like rappers are doing when they speak of conscious rap as a pose to dirty rap.

Yes, there's an aspect of raking the muck.

True… but above all, in the hope of extracting some real gems…