Fabienne Verdier is known for her fusion of Western and Eastern artistic values in her painting. Her practice is laced with theoretical concepts, as well as with the bodily physicality involved in creating such large-scale paintings. Fabienne, however, decided that she needed a new challenge to propel her work forward. Bruce Kovner, Chairman of the Juilliard School, and a long-time collector of Fabienne’s work, helped to organise the first visual artist-in-residence at Juilliard.
This was an opportunity for Fabienne to explore new territories of musical rhythms and vibrations. Candid Magazine sat down with Fabienne to discuss how the time that she spent at the Juilliard School has helped to develop her work, resulting in the series of paintings now on display in her impressive first London solo show, Rhythms and Reflections, at Waddington Custot.
Candid Magazine: Can you explain to me your painting practice before your time at the Juilliard School?
Fabienne Verdier: In the European way, you paint on the easel. I decided on the Asiatic way, to put my canvas on the floor, to walk with a suspended brush, to paint with gravity. I discovered a new form like that, in harmony with the natural form, because all the forms in our little earth are designed by gravity. So in my painting you will see a kind of fractal, a manifestation in the relief of the material, and you will remember some memory of the forms that you see during your life in the landscape and the natural environment. For me this is a very poetic experience. Then recently I destroyed the brush. I totally dematerialised the brush for the Walking Paintings. I invented a kind of funnel and when I crossed my canvas, with paint pouring across the floor, it created a landscape, a line of abstract landscape.
CM: The Rhythm Paintings series was created following your time at Juilliard. How do they differ from your previous works?
FV: I often tried to capture the energy of natural form. What is life? Life is constant movement. I wanted to create an abstract language around constant movement, around the energy of life. Before my encounter with musicians, I think that maybe I had too much aesthetic thought. I thought that in one energy line, one brushstroke, I could express, in its own transformation, the form of the sensory world. But when the musicians invited me as a painter to play with them, I had to put myself in danger. There I discovered a new kind of breathing, a new rhythm: inhale, exhale. I painted one energy line, and another one, and another one, and suddenly there was a big transformation, a big shock to me. I realised that on the canvas between two energy lines, between two rhythms, the reality of form appeared by itself.
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CM: You have quoted Romantic poets and composer, such as Hölderlin and Schumann, in reference to your recent works and in relation to your time spent at Juilliard. Were you always interested in the values of Romanticism, or has this developed from your time at Juilliard?
FV: Romanticism has always been a subject of interest to me because of the very specific contemplative position and attitude of the human being, within and in front of the universe. Two very important paintings to me are Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818), and Gustave Courbet, Le Bord de mer à Palavas (1854).
Musicians and painters of the Romantic period, for me, have tried to seize and depict a sort of abstract vibration of our little world. In my research laboratory at the Juilliard School, I have tried to further this endeavour. I was also inspired by the American composer Elliott Carter, who expressed the sudden spontaneous events of the real. It is a new language to perceive a nature of vibration. So, there is not so much distance between Romanticism and contemporary poetic approach.
CM: Which values do you empathise with in Romanticism, for example, intuition, passion, spontaneity?
FV: All my research is based on intuition and spontaneity. What I am presenting in this show is a result of my most recent explorations. There is a materialisation of reason and reflection that I perceive as constant flickering of energies in movement. The more I explored the notion of energies, the more I realised that the phenomena of reflection, refraction, diffraction, and propagation are at the core of almost all values around us. It is a sort of perpetual undulation that interests me.
In my research at the Juilliard School, the confrontation with the sounds and the space of musicians and composers totally revolutionised my previous thinking about forms. Through immersion in musical composition, its rhythms, sound structures, counterpoint lines, harmony, and by playing with musicians, new pictorial and sound waves appeared: liberated from my brush by kind of immediate improvisations. In painting rhythms in incessant transformation, I understood that by composing structures made by waving movements and counter-movements, variations of energies emerged on the canvas, suggesting a reflection of reality.
CM: When you painted the Rhythm Paintings in your studio in France, did you repeat the same practices as at Juilliard? Do you listen to music as you paint?
FV: No because when you deal with such a profound immersion in sound, all the structures of the sounds that you hear, and you meditate, and you contemplate, they are still in your brain and they nourish you for a long time. They are helping you to invent. Suddenly a new structure appears: a new vision, a new abstract. They nourish me to find a new structure in that unknown territory.
CM: Do you feel more receptive to collaboration since your time at Juilliard?
FV: I never thought that collaboration was very important because the painter is usually solitary. But I realised that if I pushed myself to encounter another kind of knowledge, with the young people at Juilliard, something happened, we grew together. I helped them to discover an unknown part of themselves. They helped me to open some hidden part of my unknown territory. I had never had such deep conversations, without any words, just sound and the pictorial dynamic of my brushstroke. You have no idea how important it was for me.
CM: Is there a reason for the monochromatic use of colours in this series of works?
FV: I use monochrome, and sometimes a shock of colour, such as in Mutation. But it is not really monochrome when you look closer at Black Night I & II and White Propagation II. During my painting sessions, I will often want to paint the essence of life in its own movement and I realised that if I push the forces in my brushstroke, the natural forms appear. I have the studio and my little house in the countryside near Paris, and I have to cross the garden to get to the studio.
One night when I finished my painting session, I looked at the profound deepness of the infinite sky, and I said: “Oh my God it would be fantastic for the London show to express the infinite deepness of the universe in the Black Night paintings.” In White Propagation II, it is water. In the background of this water, there is a reflection of the deepness of the celestial sky, with the same colour, the dark blue of the night sky. There is some relationship in my contemplative life between the sky and the deepness of the water and the propagation of life.
CM: In this series, your work confronts the paradox of instantaneity and duration in both music and painting. The viewer sees the work once the instantaneous creative act is complete, so how does this paradox extend to the experience of the viewer?
FV: I love the idea of sharing this unique experience of suspended time, where instantaneity and duration are combined through a kind of constant becoming. In the new language that I tried to invent in my Walking Paintings, I discovered new energy in constant becoming, there is no beginning, there is no end, and it catches the viewer in the essence of life energy. It should not be a paradox for me, but the essence of the being, the essence of every living organism.
CM: What is the inspiration behind the Ressac (tides) paintings?
FV: I have a little cabin along the St Laurent river in Canada. It is a very solitary place, like this painting by Courbet, Le Bord de mer à Palavas. It is so silent and contemplative. Every day I am here on the rocks, and the whales and the beluga visit me and say hello to me, and I contemplate the huge beauty of the natural environment, and I understand something in common with the musicians, about the breath of the world. In this place, I saw the tides and I tried to paint that.
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CM: How do you imagine a viewer responding to your works? Is it an emotional response or an intellectual response?
FV: I’m trying to paint a world in constant transformation. My duty as a painter is to propose shapes and forms to help the viewer to perceive the hidden energy of the incessant movement of reality. So, it’s an emotion that leads to a sudden perception of the energy of life.
I think that there is a new Romanticism that is appearing. We need to reconnect with natural forces, to reconnect with essential being. We suffer stress from society, in being fragmented. We need to reconnect with natural forces and to be one with the outside.