"What's left of kisses? … Wounds, however, leave scars".
The Japanese «wabi-sabi» philosophy celebrates imperfections and simplicity. It is concerned with the passage of time, the way all things grow, age and decay. It suggests that beauty is hidden beneath the surface of what we actually see, even in what we initially perceive as broken.
For over 500 years, ceramics in Japan have been given a new lease of life through the traditional Japanese art form of sealing cracks with lacquer and gold powder. This technique of repair embodies the «wabi-sabi» aesthetic, which embraces the beauty in imperfection.
«Perfection» is simply a concept, hence it is fictional, unreachable and therefore a source of stress and frustration… a lost battle. In our western world, all that is not «perfect» has a negative connotation: «Flawed», «corrupt», «inferior»… when in fact «imperfection» is the true nature of Nature!
André Le Nôtre was the French landscape gardener of Louis the XIV. He designed the magnificent gardens of Versailles which represent the height of the «jardin à la française» concept, based on symmetry and the principle of imposing order on Nature.
Originally, the land chosen to build Versailles mainly consisted of swamps, making it less than ideal for construction. Workers had to drain and level the land, thereby destroying massive swamp life. The Sun King's gardens and palace were based in the destruction of Nature. The «jardin à la Française» is the opposite of what Nature is and epitomizes the dominance of Man over Nature.
The widespread separation of humans from Nature in Western culture started with the rise of Judeo Christian values. Prior to this, paganism dominated and preserved the sacred nature of Nature, and considered humanity being as part of it.
Monotheism placed humankind outside of Nature. God made humans in his own image and gave them dominion over every living thing upon the earth. René Descartes saw humans as superior to Nature. He was hugely influential in shaping what science is today, and he boosted the rise of the Anthropocene, the era of man's domination on Earth.
This morphed into a civilisation exploiting Nature for profit and contributing to the planet’s downfall, driving climate and ecological breakdown. It took a long time for Western mainstream society to perceive its own nemesis and question its belief system: Viewing humankind as detached from Nature becomes ethically problematic and empirically false.
Other cultures, traditional and indigenous groups however, see humankind as part of nature, emphasising the non-existence of an independent self and that all things depend on others.
As a French man I've followed the Western path and I've always been an admirer of science and "harmony" as in les "jardins à la française". But lately, living on a farm for a year, close to Nature, far from the city of Johannesburg (where I have lived for over 30 years), I have had time and space to question myself and my Western belief system.
A belief system that privileges "reason", that has undeniably liberated Man from his fear of forces he did not understand, but also left countless wounds and scars in our planet.
Rural life has given me the opportunity to observe nature, introspect and ground myself. It has allowed me time to observe and embrace my own scars and lick old and more recent wounds.
Scars have the power to remind us that our past is real and far from being perfect. One then comes to see that imperfection is normal and inherent to life.
The Isibazi series is influenced by this confluence of situations and thoughts. Each work could be seen as a skin telling imperfect past stories, infused with an inherent Wabi Sabi aesthetic quality.
We carry our skin as a tapestry that tells our story to those who can read it.
(*) Isibazi = scar (Zulu)
My studio is located in the inner city’ industrial fringes. Downtown Johannesburg is an area that has tentatively been recovered from deterioration. Some of its surroundings are still rusted, stained, faded or disjointed… forming interesting patterns with rich textures, colours and tones in which any attentive observer can find beauty.
A panel of veined wood’s paint pealing off, exposing ancient layers of colours – or the raw weathered wood itself – carries beauty and nostalgia. Old cement floors waxed patiently and unremittingly over the years, rusting industrial equipment abandoned in a forlorn wasteland or walls of old buildings stained and patched with layers of paper board teared off and hanging in the wind, are a source of constant inspiration and instil in me a sense of abandonment and melancholy.
I look for an aesthetic in decay and try to capture it on canvas and on wood panels that I use as support to my work.
The process starts with a layer of black paint. Black is the absence of light and evokes the “Nothingness”, so dear to Martin Heidegger. But black is also one of the first colours used by man in the neolithic so, although “Nothing” is on the canvas at this stage of the process, it carries already the potentiality of “Everything”.
The dark canvas stays in a corner of my studio, maturing. It is the most powerful object, something like a black hole that devours all.
Eventually I cover the canvas with a first layer of colour. The process is then unleashed and entails at times up to fifteen layers of oil paint. It is a long process as it consists of the multi-layering of oil material – concocted in my studio with imported pigments – each layer needing to dry and to be “worked out” before the next one can be applied.
I reproduce the effects of time using tools such as knives and spatulas, but also chemicals and waxes, sandpaper and glue. It is a gruelling and physical exercise, constantly scratching, rubbing and sanding layers off.
It requires patience and the “right” configuration of all elements involved. It is a chaotic process that only terminates when, standing in front of the work, all inner tension is gone.
The work is abstract in essence, each piece being an object that stands by itself. Its resonance is “fuelled” by the black matter underneath, so powerful that sometimes it devours the layers of colour covering it.
Works can be perceived at different scales, something like fractals. One of my favourite ways to look at them, is close to the canvas, exploring the complexity of shapes, textures and colours which play with my emotions and intellect.
“I always have the impression, that I write the same book” says the Nobel price of Literature Patrick Modiano. I could say the same about my work. This repeated process has existential connotations: Is there anything at all under the coloured layers of life that inevitably fade away with time?
Abstract painting is a solitary and sometimes arduous experience enshrined by meaning. One cannot venture into abstraction lightly. Essential questions arise inevitably during the process and answers, if any, are never simple. One must accept this mystery with humility and understand that more than a creative process, abstract painting is a quest in its rawest form.
0il on canvas | 1500 x 1500 | 2020
0il on canvas | 1500 x 1500 | 2020
Entropy 2 | Private Collection *, Johannesburg
Oil on canvas | 1500 x 900 | 2017
| 1200 x 900 | 2013
| 1200 x 900 | 2013
| 1200 x 900 | 2013
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