Awakening dynamic imagination
FABIENNE VERDIER is a French painter who creates unique and fascinating work. Having received international recognition, her work is exhibited in large public and private museum collections. At the age of 22 she flew to Sichuan, China, a remote region close to Tibet where she met the old Chinese masters and learnt calligraphy, the millenarian art of scholars. And now, with a single brushstroke, she has created a new universal pictorial language. Here she is interviewed by the passionate art historian and consultant, DÉBORAH FEST KINDLER.
Q: Can you present your work for us in a few words?
FV: The living is at the heart of my work. I seek to explore all forms of life that surround us. Their dynamism and their energies interest me, and I try to transcribe them into painting.
Q: Why did you become an artist?
FV: From a very young age I felt the need to make an effort to reach out to others and have a mutual exchange. It is this vital expression that we each have within us that we can perhaps share. I thought painting would be a possible way. What is more beautiful than to discuss forms and ideas? But for that, it was necessary to work on myself, to explore the history of art, to study the forms and feelings which have already been explored, and to try in turn to touch the heart of people.
I have always been stunned by the idea that we can transmit an inner experience of great intensity within a small humble wooden frame.
Q: Also, from an early age, art has been an inner necessity and an escape for you.
FV: As a child, I was very sensitive and receptive to all forms of vibration, all that awakened a dynamic in my imagination. In my painting I try to retransmit this experience of the living. This sharing of feelings is for me almost a necessity. As a young teenager, I was very struck by violence, conflict and war. And my complex family situation echoed all that television transmitted. I remember a time when I did not really want to live. So I had a need to plant my little secret garden to be able just to live.
And a very strict requirement developed – I felt the need for a kind of integrity, authenticity and truthfulness. And I wondered: how is it possible to bring something to the world of painting after all the great masters I love so much? After Matisse, who was totally connected to the nature and spirit of the living; after Monet, who spent his life in front of his water lilies so that he could capture the effusions, the variations and the refractions of light; and after the American abstract painters who I admire so much. I was very lucky because while quite young I frequented the museums and galleries in the city of Paris, especially the Museum of Modern Art. Soon I wanted to live in that world.
Q: Nourished by Western art, you went to study at the École des Beaux-Arts in Toulouse. Yet, while you were a brilliant student, this step was quite painful because you did not agree with the way the teaching was offered. And once you had graduated, you decided to leave everything and go to the other side of the world.
FV: Yes it’s true, at that time I did not agree with what the school taught me. I searched and searched and found what I was looking for outside school. And it was the big departure, my initiatory journey; we all go through it. Direction China. It was the 1980s.
I have always been interested in movement, and at the time it seemed that there was a problem in the way we were supposed to represent our emotions: we were supposed to fix them, but then we are stagnant. And as soon as there is no movement, it’s a kind of death for me. I was looking for something like the flight of the bird that fascinates me so much… the flutter of life. So I found myself at odds with my teachers. They agreed that they could not transmit to me what I was looking for, that it was not in France in an École des Beaux-Arts, but that I would find it in Asia perhaps, through the ancient art of painting and scholars. I was already closer to the musician in the desire for spontaneous interpretation, sound and vibratory play.
Q: I bounce back to this issue of spontaneity …
FV: Bounce back: you have chosen the right word. Living is simply that, bouncing back. It’s an elasticity, and I try to convey that in painting. It is dynamic, vibratory energy.
It was thanks to the act of painting vertically and to my encounter with Chinese art that I realized I could perhaps contribute something.
Q: Your journey is impressive. From the beginning you were searching, in search of freedom and spontaneity in painting. You chose to study in China, with a demanding, disciplined and very strict training, and you came out even more free and spontaneous.
FV: Yes, after 40 years of work! In these millennial traditions, for example in Japan, when you are an apprentice, it is difficult to also be original and innovative. It’s the same in music: you can be an excellent performer of Bach or Fauré but you are not necessarily a creator. First I became a good interpreter of the great masters, but the step between being an interpreter, between having understood the state of mind of the masters, and creating something original is very difficult. Because you have to dare transformation, dare synthesis, dare to break from tradition.
You have to go beyond mastery, because it can
lock you into a tradition and dictate a path.
The acceptance of letting go of mastery
allows you to be more receptive.
Not to stay on track requires a constant and
challenging work on oneself.
Q: Is that creativity?
FV: Yes exactly. In fact, my work was very critically received by some sinologists, because I dared to invent and I dared to transform in order to fly.
Q: How was your work received in France?
FV: Initially it was very difficult for me, as my work was sometimes received very critically in France. The art world had difficulty understanding what literate culture could bring to abstract painting, and quickly put a label on my work. Being a pioneer and being accepted and recognized in this form of cultural synthesis takes a very long time!
Q: Today your work is well recognized. It has been the subject of much attention and many publications, so it is now better understood and more obvious to people, bringing tremendous freedom and public ownership.
FV: I work for that, so that the abstraction can set in motion the imagination of anyone who looks at it. I work so that those who find themselves in the painting become a little more alive, by awakening in them, for example, the forms stored in their memory, experiences of their contact with the wind, the clouds, the minerals, the mountains, sounds, and reactivating all that. Yes, I’m just trying to wake up those people who take the time to connect to the tableau, to the living within them, through the art.
Q: Are you between mastery and letting go?
FV: Yes, you have to go beyond mastery, because it can lock you into a tradition and dictate a path. The acceptance of letting go of mastery allows you to be more receptive. Not to stay on track requires a constant and challenging work on oneself.
If we stay in control we become aesthetic. But I feel that there is such diversity, such variation in the world around us, that we have to listen, to be receptive to the inner transformation of things, play with the mind and transmit. For example, one day you may be moved by the shadows that awaken things in you, or by the water that evokes a memory.
Q: It is a profound work of contemplation and also practice of the eye.
FV: It is a constant work of sharpening observation. Recently I was at the edge of a river, and it was amazing. I saw the brushstrokes in the water! Everything was there, I was stunned. I find the same lines when I work on wind, currents of air or plate tectonics.
Q: You work in a very particular way, having created tools and brushes that resonate with your body and your research. And standing in pictorial space, you seem to be performing a choreography guided by your own inner process. Can you tell us about this?
FV: In Europe and the West we have always worked on easels. By the force of gravity and earthly attraction, the material falls from the brush and we keep reapplying paint to the brush. The artist must work with a stickiest material possible so that it adheres to the canvas.
What interested me in the work of the Chinese masters was the act of painting with the canvas flat on the ground. At first I took a long time to understand that this way of painting plays with the natural forces at work, that of gravity in particular. Then, when I understood that all aspects of the universe are shaped by this physical law, I realized that in the act of painting from above, what flows from my brush may have more of a chance to be in harmony with the forms of nature that are born under the same forces.
And so I wanted to use larger brushes, but the weight was too heavy for me. So when I returned to France, I worked on brushes, using a mechanism that allowed me more freedom in space. My father first suggested to me to use elastic cables. Then, using my experience and research, and aided by discussions with scientists, I was able to develop new tools. So I created a new brush with the handlebar of a bicycle, and a kind of third dimension appeared in the paint stroke. I realized that every time I make even the tiniest change in my tools, I create a different trait. These explorations fascinate me.
To be continued
Interviewed by DÉBORAH FEST KINDLER
June 30, 2019
May 31, 2019
April 28, 2019