Meeting with François Réau
#PARIS It was at Art Paris that we met François Réau. A multidisciplinary artist, his work is mainly based on drawing and installation. His work raises the principle of the appearance and disappearance of the figure and motifs, at the very heart of the materials, while pushing the limits of drawing by projecting it into space. On the occasion of Art Paris, we met this natural artist who disrupts the practice of drawing and transcends the space of the landscape.
Patrice Huchet: Even if the drawing does not immediately reveal itself at first sight, it is nature that appears in your work, to what extent is it an important subject for you?
François Réau: It is indeed nature but it is not really this subject in itself that interests me. It is not the only element I am working on, landscape or nature are only a pretext to talk about things bigger than us, like the cosmos, the cycles of time and space. It is also these themes that have allowed me to develop a drawing practice as a temporal experience. Also, many of the proposals I have made echo this idea of the infinite work and give the drawing the possibility of being a space and time of experience of visual thought. This is also the reason why I do not necessarily speak of landscape but rather of landscape space insofar as when one is in front of one of my devices I do not think that one is facing this one, but rather inside as for a landscape, with the idea that one is part of a whole. Immersion is fundamental in my approach, with my installations or large drawings I try to engage the viewer’s body beyond the simple gaze.
Patrice Huchet: Is that why you need to get out of the box?
François Réau: This point is interesting because in my practice there is a questioning around the movements of time and space as I could say before but also around a contemporary practice of drawing. In a way, I’m trying to push the limits of the medium of drawing. This involves different modes of expression that will engage the viewer’s body but also our way of looking. The first being to propose drawings of large dimensions and the second being more related to the prospective aspect of the drawing and in which I will draw in space with different materials such as rope, thread, plants or light. A whole device that will take the drawing out of its two-dimensionality or its frame in order to penetrate the spectator’s exhibition space and mental space. It also means creating a hybrid design/installation form in which you can have different points of view to force the viewer to change points of view. The drawing is thus revealed in a mobile, unfrozen way in order to encourage the spectator’s engagement. It’s also the question of how to leave room for the undecidable. The undecidable is also precisely the experience of not wanting to freeze things and I think that the image still has a great capacity today to open up the imagination and a thought of what will come, to open up possibilities in short. When a device or a drawing gives everything it has to think, that is, when we see it we are in the recognition of a landscape or its subject, the image empties of its ability to produce thought.
Patrice Huchet: In this notion of engagement of the body that you provoke in the spectator, I noticed that lines and features, especially on large formats, also require a physical engagement on your part. Maybe a performative part?
François Réau: Certainly but it also comes from my practice because I draw standing up, my body actually immerses itself in the device I design. The limits I seek to push in the drawing of large dimensions engage the whole body. Since the formats are often larger than me, there may be this idea of confrontation that could be closer to performance, a line of work that I no longer exclude and that also interests me a lot insofar as it is also about space and time in performance drawing.
Patrice Huchet: In your practice, who guides the other, the drawing or the installation? Is there some kind of preconscious or just memory traces of your peregrinations? Is it a preconceived scheme or is it the work that decides the way forward? How is this practice implemented?
François Réau: It is all this at the same time, a synthesis or dream, reality and fiction are mixed. Some pieces were produced without a precise purpose and the revelation was made a posteriori. Sometimes it is by discussing with others that the keys to reading the work come. A little like Pierre Soulage notes, “It’s what I do that teaches me what I’m looking for.” Also the devices I build are played between the effects of memory, the resonances of space and landscape and the thread of a story that I conceived. And then there is also the classic idea that a plastic device could be first the mystery or the questioning of a presence. From the moment I make a device the vector of a sensation, it is no longer its presence that counts, but its ability to interact with the visitor or a place. Basically, it is a question of replacing the tradition of the monologue of the work with the possibility of dialogue in the situation.
Patrice Huchet: Drawing is not immediately discovered, we need to tame it or it is it that tame us. There is often a game of appearance/disappearance. And I have noted other boundaries: between abstraction and figuration, between decay and rebirth… what can you say about it?
François Réau: That is absolutely correct and I do not think these elements are in opposition. They would even be rather complementary. We can understand this very well with the Asian culture where the full and the empty are important and are part of a whole, in a balance of the world. I find it very interesting to work on these notions and my work also expresses this between two, between dream and reality. Things are not very precise, it’s a combination of chance, real events and personal events. I do not necessarily like things to be defined and fixed, I also try to make all this happen in order to propose different interpretations and to put each of us in a position to receive the work according to our own history and experience. With the landscape space I often speak of projection space. There is a direct reference to space insofar as the landscape is the projection of the inner dream. Many of my works weave links between dream and reality and the landscape can also become the instrument of a poetic metaphor that will offer the eye a reenchanting potential. So I also build images that are calls for projection from everyone who looks at them. An image works on several levels, i.e. it is the whole range of image construction that allows us to open up to our own stories, it is also the construction of this link between an image that does not want to give too much information and that can appear as you point out between abstraction and figuration or between decay and rebirth.
Patrice Huchet: Earlier, you were referring to Soulage, which leads me to a question about black. You work with graphite, lead mine, coal… what is your relationship with this color?
François Réau: In fact, there are several elements of attraction. The first can be related to my personal history; my grandfather was a bully, I have a fairly natural connection to coal and this color. Black attracts me, but not only for aesthetic reasons, especially because it can leave a space for interpretation with very strong symbolic implications. How the latter will be transformed into a perception and how his presence will be able to dialogue with the visitor. In my drawings and with these shades of grey I think there is a much stronger power of evocation sometimes than with colour. It is this freedom of interpretation that I also want to have with black. In some of my rooms we don’t really know if it’s water or fire, we’re really in between again.
Patrice Huchet: I don’t know if this is a recurrence or exceptional, it’s the use of mirrors in some of your installations: the Drawing Machine during a residency in Australia and on the current installation at the Espace d’Art Absolument. What does it represent?
François Réau: The mirror for me represents absence, it is in a way the zero degree of painting or the zero degree of drawing. I also find this interesting for the visual and perceptual possibilities it can provoke in the viewer. For example, during the project in Australia, I had this cube in my back, a Drawing Machine that was drawing at the same time as I was walking. It was my movement that put the pencils in action, if I stop, the drawing doesn’t happen anymore. At the same time, the walls of the box are externally covered with mirrors. It was also the idea of abstracting from oneself to blend into the landscape and environment in which I found myself, as if to better reveal or understand it. In this context, there remains only the cosmos, the elements, nature and this landscape that comes to life as I walk. This cube then becomes a projection space with these mirrors that reflect the elements that surround me.
In the case of the installation in the Absolutely Art Space, these mirrors accompany a drawing in which the landscape is a chaos, perhaps a primitive forest with an eclipse in the sky. In front of this large drawing, there is a device that presents an assemblage of wild clematis and mirrors, the number and arrangement of which take up part of the suite of Fibonacci, an Italian mathematician, whose work has notably made it possible to understand the golden number. What interested me here is the idea that even in chaos or in nature, there is an order, an invisible mathematical order of the elements outside the intervention of man and whose fragile balance of the cosmos resonates with us. The circular shape of the mirrors refers directly to the eclipse represented in the sky. Here too, we are in another interpretation of the cosmos and its cycles. One subject contains others and there is a reference to Lewis Carroll’s literature, with an invitation to go behind the mirror as one may sometimes want to go beyond the landscape. What’s behind that mirror? From a poetic point of view there is this idea that we would like to know what is beyond. What is the promise of this horizon line?
Patrice Huchet: In any case, you are very present at the moment, at H Gallery, at the Espace Art Absolument. We saw your work at DDessin, what are your next projects?
François Réau: There are enough of them, I am currently in residence at the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud near Saumur, to prepare an exhibition that will open on June 21. I have been entrusted with the heart of the abbey church, a space of almost 300 m2 in which I will present a large device that will combine drawing and installation. A little before, I will have a solo exhibition at the Saint Roch Museum in Issoudun which will open on May 18 and continue until December. This exhibition is part of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Renaissance in the Loire Valley. Year chosen because it corresponds to the anniversary date of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, the birth of Catherine de Médicis and the laying of the foundation stone of the Château de Chambord. Finally in September I will be in Aix en Provence for a project for which the general commissioning is provided by the Frac PACA. A busy year ahead.
Bio François Réau
Finalist of the “Contemporary Talents” Prize of the François Schneider Foundation in 2015 and 2016, he has been the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions in France and abroad in London, Brussels, Turin and Beijing. His works and installations have been exhibited at Lille3000, Mons 2015 European Capital of Culture, at the Guoyi Art Museum in Beijing but also at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris 2016. He has just completed a long research and creative residency with the French Embassy in Australia and presented his latest work in April 2018 at the Eildon Gallery in Melbourne. He is represented by the H Gallery in Paris.
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