pressure

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11 March 2016

Cedric Rivrain interview

And his Latest Exhibition at Balice Hertling

When Cedric Rivrain meditates on his current exhibition TRANSVAS, he unconsciously swoons into an abiding chimera, satiated with memories ready to reincarnate. Seeing the animate within the inanimate, the French artist urges philosophical ideas that are refreshingly new and emit a sedative aftermath that’s hard to escape. The intention is genuine. Away from selfies and other modern indulgences of materialism, Rivrain prefers to remain amongst things that— even if invisible—chronicle real life. A brief yet intimate dialogue with a man who sees what others don’t.

Instead of asking you a bunch of questions about your background, I’d prefer to hear from you what has been—so far—most formative to the person you are now.

Drawing was the first thing I learned to do, mainly because my mother used to encourage me so much. Unlike the majority of other artists, I never really pursued a formal education in art. I didn’t like to be instructed how to draw or paint. The search for perfectionism was irrelevant. What mattered was to render the sought emotion of whatever particular moment. I experimented with different techniques, and just followed my instinct.

I learned so much by going to museums and galleries and examining the different pieces of work. Hanging around my artist friends—like Paul P. or Will Benedict—has greatly influenced my work, too. Not necessarily in regards to technique, but their spirit and behavior towards their own art. My two gallerists, Daniele Balice and Alexander Hertling—who I've known basically my whole adult life, way before I even started to exhibit—showed me what it meant to be an artist in our society. I know a lot of people in the art world, but have rarely come across such sensitivity and integrity. But I guess, when it comes down to it, life and its inevitable dramas have formed me the most.

Your mother seems to have made a big impact in your life. Why was your mother so eager for you to draw?

Yes, she’s been a major influence and was the person that demanded and pushed me the most. She wasn’t the type of mother that’d be impressed by every drawing or painting. Receiving such honest and mature judgement from someone that’s so close, it’s impossible to not become better. We’d spend a lot of time in museums and, generally, the education of art was taken very seriously in my family. Sometimes I think because of my parents’ serious careers and the inevitable frustration that comes with that, inspired them to push my brother and me to exploit our artistic skills.

Let’s talk about the continual idea of ‘seeing’ implied in your work. Where does it come from?

My parents weren’t very talkative, yet had very expressive clear eyes, through which I'd guess their mood every day. Eyes communicate everything. Reading eyes is like speaking another language; one I practiced from early on and hope to speak well now.

How’s the act of seeing connected to your current show Transvas, which takes place at Daniele Balice’s apartment in Paris?

This particular project actually avoids my usual representation of eyes. Instead, I focused on questioning the perception of the inanimate: seeing life in those objects that’d ordinarily would appear lifeless. The sensitive within the inanimate; the human within the material; eyes within the amaurotic.

I asked Oscar Tuazon—a great artist I admire and a close friend who’s very familiar with my work—to write about this particular project because he isn’t a figurative artist, yet strongly sensitive to figuration. When I showed him the project’s process of evolution, he was immediately inspired to address eyes. And, I guess, they do bear an underlying function that’s crucial.

So in your own words, what’s Transvas about?

The chance to give a second life, human transplantation and emotional recycling. Reminiscing once felt emotions. I’ve always looked at objects as some kind of vessel that quietly records our life. Constantly infused and impregnated by whatever experience.

« Eyes communicate everything. »

What was the creational process like?

I collected images of objects on leboncoin.fr. The search for these images purposefully focused on the region in France where I grew up. I loved the sheer thought that one of these objects had belonged to people who I, or my parents, knew from some moment in the past. People tend to give away things that are no longer useful to them, yet these items might be of great help to someone else; a stranger, for instance.

Eventually my goal was to depict people free from their ego. I was interested in their story without facts, their real persona and modest objects. Away from the superficiality of possessing expensive things. I wanted to portray humans through those fundamental objects they build their real adventure and and memories with.

These objects are ways of holding onto memory. How do you memorize?

Memory is extremely important in order to understand what has or hasn’t shaped you. When I collected these images that my paintings are based on, I didn’t pursue the reasonable process of editing, which usually entails a selection based on aesthetics and certain characteristics. Instead I waited a few days to find out what images were still haunting me. Through your conscious selection of memories, you’re able to understand what makes you the person that you are. I’m not really into keeping material things. I don’t have many things that belonged to my parents, because I don’t want to open a drawer every time and feel sad. I prefer seeing them in my dreams—and whenever I do, I wake up happy. I still remember every detail of their faces.

How do you approach drawing and painting?

When I paint photos or actual subjects, I trace them with my mind. Instead of constantly re-observing each detail, it’s about the memory of the subject. What matters most is how they’re printed in my head—the things I recall the most and what they suggest.

In terms of Transvas—I ended up painting internal mechanical parts of vehicles, quite unconsciously. The vehicles (eventually composed of thousand little parts) are regarded as companions of people’s adventures and lives. Perhaps it’s unusual, but nothing feels inanimate to me. I feel the human presence in all things: animate or inanimate. I wanted to paint people through organs of their lives, far away from portraits and daily selfies that nurture this current epidemic of egomania.

Sometimes when I looked at something long enough it stops making sense. Ever happened to you?

It’s not so much that it stops making sense, it just turns into something else. While I worked on the paintings for Transvas, the objects and their stories were growing into something else, gradually turning into avatars of my own story. A new meaning was suddenly conceived.

Discovering the human in things can be a challenge. How do you capture emotionality within your paintings and drawings?

By instinct. I think that humanness can only be captured if you stop thinking too much and be open to the approach. When I paint, the subject moves me because of its stories. That story reflects in the painting through its light, lines, and the way the brush is used. The emotion somehow translates in the drawing or the painting, eventually delivering the human onto canvas.

« I think that humanness can only be captured if you stop thinking too much and be open to the approach. »

Do you observe more (or differently) than others?

I think people linked to the art world do see things others might not be able to. We embrace weirdness and feel beauty where others don’t. But everybody reacts differently to things, which makes all of us unique. That’s why I wanted my friend and artist Will Benedict to collaborate on a few pieces for Transvas. He came to my studio, listened to the story, and saw the evolution of the project. He then proposed to "frame" some of the paintings. It was necessary for me to have his personal touch. I needed his receptive angle on things.

What’s more powerful: Language of the eyes or words?

Eyes, definitely. I love their mystery. Nothing is more accurate and truthful to feelings than what eyes express. Words are scary. They can be very clumsy and hurtful. Eyes just keep it essential.

I was 20 when I lost my mother and we donated her organs. They retrieved her eyes and I got obsessed with crossing someone that had her clear eyes. But then my father explained to me that only the cornea was retrieved. Three other organs were also donated. She saved three lives in total.

Have you ever had some type of contact with the people your mother saved? Considering your impulse to collect images of objects on leboncoin.

These objects received a spiritual parallel life. It was important for me that they’d get a useful second life. I was never in contact with the sellers. Same way I haven’t been in contact with the receivers of my mother's organs. They remain anonymous and it’s actually forbidden to obtain any sort of information. But even if I could have had the chance to get in touch with them, I wouldn’t want to. They were her organs but not her. While I had to go through the process of mourning, these organs had to go on and live a new happy life!

Her death helping three people live was a huge consolation. Since my father was a doctor, we knew about the importance of donating. When we lost our father, who passed away in North Africa, his body couldn’t be repatriated to France fast enough, so his organs weren’t able to be removed and transplanted. It felt like a terrible waste.

Do you sometimes find yourself still looking for your mother’s eyes?

Not consciously, I had to let them go. But perhaps searching for that glance that embraces the same comforting intensity and beauty will always be a part of me. When it comes down to it, I just miss her way of seeing things. Which is why I try to find anything or anyone that resembles having an alike sensitivity. Her eyes will probably haunt me forever, but that's alright.

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