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Personnal essay published in Le monde nu [The Naked World], 2021 translation: Laurie Hurwitz

The Naked World [Monde un, monde nu]

Clouds enter my horizon. They come not from elsewhere, from the valley, but emanate from the very mountainside. The water from which they are made had been inside the earth. They are the mountains, as much as the rocks, but different words have long kept them separate in my mind.

By staying connected to these phenomena, my painting almost unintentionally conserves their traces. The image reveals itself on the paper as if to a photographer seeing something emerge in the darkroom, something that had escaped his attention while taking the picture. For a long time, clouds disturbed me, hiding my subject, sometimes for days on end. I did not see them but still they were there, irrefutable, leaving me no choice but to accept them. Physics, or Nature, imposes its laws. The movement of the clouds and mist, coupled with the stability of the rocky masses, now constitutes for me an elemental contrast, a matrix.

Incessant changes in the organization of black and white masses. I enter the rhythm of the mists forming, shifting, evaporating. At times, I accept the fact that I can no longer see anything, or that the drawing no longer corresponds to what I have before me. I need to call into question the shapes sketched onto the damp paper. A white cloud swallows the peak in front of me, and once again I transform dark rock into a strip of light. The elements are so intimately intertwined with the topography that the strata to which they are usually confined—air above, earth below—must be undone, knitted into a unified pattern, one in which lithosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere are interlaced. Returning to the loom, weaving together that which words have torn apart, have isolated the threads. A world of oneness.

The mists that conceal and reveal the motif make what will disappear more palpable to me, as does the coming darkness. When night engulfs the shapes that surround me, I feel an increasing sense of urgency to seize the last colored chords, the power of the black masses. To draw them out of the mystery into which they are dissolving. I can still see a tiny nuance: to give it substance, I have to push my perception into unknown horizons, drive the vacillating threshold of perception from nothing to something, touch the indescribable matter with my gaze, fumble around for its elusive contours. This contact is sensual, going beyond mere sight.

Night darkens the valley but also lights it up with a luminous obviousness that had thus far eluded me. Everything becomes simpler. Space becomes vibrant, tactile. In front of me, a solid gray or black, almost uniform, yet I know the world is throbbing within it.

I cannot foresee a mountain or cloud. Foreseeing means already knowing what lies ahead, but how could I know those millions of rocks, that chaos, those complex folds? How could I know the audacity of this long, narrow cloud, a streak of purple in the night? Shapes and colors foreign to my memory—unknown—with which I must make contact.

I make large paintings in black gouache, lying flat in the rain, sometimes in the snow. Water pounds the paper, permeating its fibers, flooding the entire surface. When it snows, the paper is covered in a white mantle. Sometimes the sheet becomes distorted and my image changes: pigments spread out and become diffused, wind loosens a corner of the paper, threatening to sweep it away. A battle erupts on several fronts, and from amongst them I am forced to choose. I must make choices swiftly: here, protect the white paper from a drip that will remove its luster, or there, erase the pitting produced by the impact of the raindrops. In the meantime, weather continues marking, washing away the entire painting; the cloud has already changed shape. In the air, on the paper: a world of water in motion.

Meteors are precipitated onto the painting—rain, snow, hail—alter the image, pulling it away from external shapes. Yet I am indeed painting outdoors, hoping to capture something of it. But still the visible escapes me; it will elude me. My actions intensify, I rush towards it, forgetting myself in the process. This momentum is what matters.

While I remain focused most of the time on what is cloud and what is rock, conveying the basic structure on the paper, fighting to keep light in one place and to darken another, I am also forced to accept that certain details get away from me. An experience of limits of which the mountain is the guardian. My process ensures that I will not master everything.

These random artifacts that I must contend with replace some of my gestures. The elements mark the painting with their own being. Although they are in no way animated by a concern for figuration, the painting is dotted with an infinity of traces that nourish matter, that assert, better than I could have, the texture of this nervous rock, the very thickness of the air, the tight rhythm of this sloping forest. When water freezes inside the fibers of the paper, the gouache splits into tiny particles, like the silver salts used in photographic processes; freezing on the surface, crystallizing into organic arabesques. Nature depicts itself without knowing, putting a blind hand on the sheet I offer up to it. Sometimes I think I have become nature’s assistant, like a photographer who exposes film to light in order for it to leave its imprint. Nature is both what paints and what I paint: painter and subject, means and end.

Between the outer world and the inner world lies a simple sheet of white paper onto which both are projected. On both sides, the sky can draw itself out. On the one hand, in the simplest, meteorological sense; on the other, in the more metaphorical sense of the Tao: giving myself over to intuition rather than reason. Following my natural inclinations, which seem to correspond to these dark hillsides and the luminous mist in the hollows of the valley. I precipitate myself towards the visible when the path is steep, and slowly let it condense when the slope becomes gentler.

*    *

I do not leave to paint elsewhere. If I flee cities to paint the world, it is because they have already fled the world—while at the same time remaining on its surface. The mountain is a first “here.” I observe the primordial system, a system whose laws weigh on me as they do on all earthly things: inert or alive, tiny or gigantic. I observe the mineral world from which we come to feel its subtle machinery, like a prerequisite to understanding the more complex machinery that governs us. Thrusts, erosions, breaths, currents, condensations, evaporations—our cities and our moods are made of these. The flow of meaning begins upstream.

No second thoughts, no hidden agenda, no irony. For a time ridding the mind of these weapons, which are heavy to bear. They defend against nothing here: this cloud is not laughable, this wind is not grotesque, this stone is not puffed up with pride, this stream has done no wrong.

I discover the naked world, free of affects, of faces, of words, of cities, of roads. Naked yet still veiled in mist, or in the weightiness of the night. An ancestral body, a savage body, a strange body that must be tamed—unless I myself am becoming wild.

more essays in ︎︎︎ french language