Point of view

Rediscovering painting 

Who exactly are they? Who are these characters whose faces we cannot see, of which we perceive only the merest details. While the art of portraiture lies precisely in exposing an identity, in its power or its innocence, by revealing the model’s psychology through their physical features, François Bard goes the other way, choosing to hide them from view. Heads are covered, turned away, or even out of sight altogether. The rare faces we see are immediately thrown back into the shadows, by a visor or an arched eyebrow, as if deprived of any gaze. Therefore, he is not a portrait painter, and yet... The bodies he reveals to us are very much inhabited, the clothes that cover them are embodied. We feel that, under the fabric, this humanity breathes, perspires and seems to be on the lookout. You feel in these backs and shoulders all the burden of a day or a life.

After decades of abstraction and minimalism, the face is back, but it has not emerged unscathed from the missing years when gestures, materiality and colours became the very subject of painting. So, François Bard is reintegrating ‘portraits’ into his work with the brush of abstraction. Abstraction of an identity of which he deprives his characters, abstraction of a story that the title fails to tell. From his first practice of abstract painting, the artist has preserved the gestures of abstraction, expressed in the breadth of his canvases, in the materiality of a painting whose passages, traces and drips can be seen and, finally , in the weight of the colour, the accents, contrasts and shine that he likes to play with.

From photography, he borrows not only his close and truncated cropping but also his subjects, since he collects photos discovered at random, before asking those close to him to strike the same pose as that seen in the photographs. The singularity here consists in recreating the attitude of the model in the photograph and not simply painting it, because the artist needs to carry out this transfer himself, from the third to the second dimension. It is up to him to select the masses that he will translate into surfaces on the flat canvas. It is up to him to set the contours on his own, using a brush. Finally, it is up to him to create his own palette of tones, to accentuate the lighting, to suggest material effects. Going beyond the dated rivalry between the two arts, which consisted in asserting the supremacy of one over the other, it is more about the artist reaffirming the materiality and the singularity of painting, to “rediscover painting [...] the moment when the subject coincides with the way of treating it; painting then becomes its own subject,” in his own words. The symbiosis is then total, merging the two techniques to keep what is specific to each: the snapshot of a pose and the materiality of oil painting.

Here lies the first key to reading the work of François Bard, which is based on temporality. It’s a double temporality, of the technique and the reception of the subject. To the fleetingness of a moment captured by the photographer whose origin and continuity of movement can be guessed, the painter affixes a slow pictorial work where the layers are superimposed, are fixed and freeze their subject to the point of depriving them of any inclination to move. Action is now absent. These characters become sculptural, massive, immutable. They exist for themselves, decontextualised. It seems futile to anchor them in a story. Especially since they evolve against a bare and monochrome background where only sometimes runs the line of a horizon that tries to suggest space. No decor, no detail that would situate the scene, tell a story. His painting is not intended to be narrative but, by its title, invites introspection.

A second key to reading, stricto sensu, the work of François Bard are the titles which bring a hidden meaning to his artwork. Again, a double reading can be made, where the literal sense alone cannot satisfy us, and in which we must seek another, metaphysical, meaning. While L'autre côté (On The Other Side) explicitly invites us into a passage into a dimension other than that of a coloured plane devoid of materiality, Le seul jour (The Only Day) also calls for another solitude other than that of the calendar. Even more equivocal, Ce que tu es (What You Are), depending on whether it is addressed to the model or to ourselves, conveys the notion of a mirror or metaphor for a humanist version of the portrait of Dorian Gray.

This is when colour comes into play, inseparable from light, and conveying emotion. Lively, sometimes even acid, it adds life to the compositions through its brilliance and awakens duller tones. Through its outbursts, it sublimates banal attitudes. Here, it’s a lemon-yellow hood that focuses our attention on a head, further accentuating the invisibility of the face and haloing it with mystery. Playing subtly with complementarities, the artist uses acid yellow to reactivate shades of blue, vivid in the jacket and duller in the background. A subtle colourist, François Bard makes his colours migrate from their primary field. Applied in light vertical brush strokes, the blue modulates the yellow, when the latter spreads in discreet traces on the subject’s back. Elsewhere, it is a vermilion red that proceeds from this same desire to magnify, through colour, what is only a fragment of a body, a simple pair of legs covered with trousers. The bright red which structures the brittle folds responds to a more washed-out red in the background which induces the flatness of a wall. It is washed-out to the point of dripping down the surface in long, bloody streaks, adding a dramatic dimension. We then understand the emotional power of colour for a painter who dares to run from intensity to washed-out. Pure colour takes on a sometimes tragic symbolic value. As such, black fulfils its share of mystery, accentuating the solitude of characters in an obstructed, compact space. Because the colour is sometimes uniform and smooth to cut out a plane in the composition, it inserts a section of timelessness. A blue vertical strip crosses the canvas over its entire height and a green horizontal strip creates a margin of distance. Inherited from the artist’s earlier abstract period, these coloured areas help decontextualise the subject and anchor it in the space of the painting.

However, on closer inspection, the artist’s work emerges and reveals his process. Paint becomes texture. Layers are worked using superimposed strata on which he works several times, scraping to remove material, sprinkling to add squirts or brushing thin layers to obtain runs, in an incessant back and forth. Frequent without being systematic, discreet because almost transparent, these drips form a slight vertical grid which counterbalances the more assertive line, of denser layers applied with the brush. It is then that we can discern on some canvases, traced words, almost imperceptible, added at the end. They are contained in a form, in the jacket in Le messager (The Messenger) and in the face of Ce que tu es (What You Are). However, the outline of the writing does not follow its reliefs but unfolds linearly, thereby maintaining the ambiguity of belonging to the surface of the canvas, as a second illegible title, rather than the subject on which it would be inscribed as a motif or a tattoo. Finding the paint also means finding the surface of the canvas.

François Bard’s syncretic work therefore operates as a tour de force, reconciling abstraction and figuration and affirming what makes up the painter’s work: the composition, colours and gestures, while inserting therein the figure of whom he no longer makes a subject, and yet...Of the narration, absent or at a distance, it is up to each of us to construct its meaning. While he no longer draws a portrait of his figures, in the social sense of the term, he does, however, express their essence, in the metaphysical sense. Generic, because they are without identity, but unique through their singularity, François Bard’s characters express a strange feeling of loneliness, isolation and confinement. Even when there are several of them. What are the reasons for this? It has to do with the passive attitudes as if suspended, in monochrome and therefore enveloping backgrounds, but also due to monumental formats which give the subject another dimension. Confronted with the gigantic nature of the work, which eliminates the anecdotal, we can only confront our own individuality. The size of the format corresponds to that of the subject. Facing François Bard’s giants, the viewer must measure his own psyche. Dark without being gloomy, his painting addresses our human condition, the drama of which he expresses. Deprived of eyes, unable to communicate, his characters question us about our ability to embrace the world and reach out to others. Loneliness is above all a mental state, the physical aspect of which François Bard translates into a relentless quest, leading his characters on a long journey where each step further isolates them. Through each of them, he portrays our humanity. Generic, because they are without identity, but unique through their singularity, François Bard’s characters express a strange feeling of loneliness, isolation and confinement. Even when there are several of them. What are the reasons for this? It has to do with the passive attitudes as if suspended, in monochrome and therefore enveloping backgrounds, but also due to monumental formats which give the subject another dimension. Confronted with the gigantic nature of the work, which eliminates the anecdotal, we can only confront our own individuality. The size of the format corresponds to that of the subject. Facing François Bard’s giants, the viewer must measure his own psyche. Dark without being gloomy, his painting addresses our human condition, the drama of which he expresses. Deprived of eyes, unable to communicate, his characters question us about our ability to embrace the world and reach out to others. Loneliness is above all a mental state, the physical aspect of which François Bard translates into a relentless quest, leading his characters on a long journey where each step further isolates them. Through each of them, he portrays our humanity.


Cyrille Gouyette
Art historian
September 2021


Is François Bard a modern artist?

"The artist forges himself in this perpetual back and forth from himself to others, halfway between the beauty which he cannot do without and the community from which he cannot tear himself away.”

Taken from the Stockholm speech given by Albert Camus at the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature, December 1957.

Asking the question of the modernity of François Bard’s work is not only a way of placing it in the continuum of Western art history, but also an invitation to define what exactly the concept refers to in this context. The contours of the term ‘modern’ or ‘modernity’ have varied over time: from Giorgio Vasari, who qualified Leonardo da Vinci’s work as Maniera moderna in the middle of the XNUMXth century (corresponding to his conception of the perfection of the art at that moment), to cubism deconstructing the motif of Picasso and Braque (a solution to reinvent painting), passing through Baudelaire (who defines modernity as an ambiguous balance between the transitory and fugitive, and eternity and the immutable). However, faced with the different colours that these ideas take, the etymology brings us back to a framework. It weaves a common thread and means that we can still use these terms today without being anachronistic or obsolete. It combines the adjective modernus, which means recent or current, and the adverb modo, which means at the moment. To be modern is therefore to be of the time. We still need to find the indicators to measure how a painter belongs to his or her time. Other ideas quickly emerge, those of novelty, progress or rupture, those to which the avant-garde called for with manifestos and radical remarks, such as those of Antonin Artaud, who broke the moorings with the continuum mentioned above when he wrote: “The masterpieces of the past are good for the past; they are not good for us.” It is a posture that could be bad faith or the illusory dream of the tabula rasa or John Ruskin’s ‘innocent eye’, as if we could see things with the naive eye of a child. However, this is not where we find François Bard anchored.

The question becomes more meaningful if we shed light on his work in the manner of Édouard Manet, a painter held up as an inventor of modernity, introducing “disorder into the pose” in the words of Georges Bataille. The two artists share a taste for stripped down art and tight framing which accentuates the dramatization. The asparagus that Manet poses simply on the edge of a table is a perfect illustration of this. It places a distance with the emotions through the neutrality of the feelings displayed on the faces, a renewed and enigmatic iconography, and plays with the off-screen. Manet places the spectator (each of us) there, interacting with the subject, catching their gaze in a timeless face-toface. Bard, for his part, releases the faces of his fragmented characters, focusing all our attention on the poses, on what the bodies say. Moreover, both are part of a claimed filiation with the great masters - thanks to which they found their artistic freedom - with a particular interest in Diego Velázquez. The discovery of his works by Manet at the Prado in XNUMX was a real shock, to the point of raising the Spaniard to the rank of ‘the greatest painter ever’. François Bard studied his work when he was a boarder at the Casa de Velázquez in Madrid, between XNUMX and XNUMX, fascinated by this economy of means and the ability to touch the essential. And then there is the painting. Both put it at the heart of their practice, which is based on three foundations: light, gesture and material. “To suppress the subject, to destroy it, is indeed the fact of modern painting, but it is not exactly an absence: more or less, each painting keeps a subject, a title, but this subject, this title is insignificant, they are reduced to the pretext of painting,” writes Georges Bataille. If François Bard recognises that he always paints the same picture like a writer writes the same book, with vanity, pride and the powerful as essential themes, once he is in the solitude of the studio, everything is a play between the hand, brush and mind, a constant back and forth between figuration and abstraction. Like a leitmotif, this is what guides his artistic affinities. Whether in this painting of the Spanish Golden Age, in Neo Rauch or in the photographs of NASA, Bard rediscovers “the metaphysical solitude of man in the universe, embodied by this absolute and infinite black that I try to transcribe in my painting,” he confides. It is the same deep blacks so remarkable in Manet’s palette.

And since being modern means being of his time, François Bard creates his own iconography to re-read vanity, a subject that takes root in our Middle Ages. To make it current, it arises where a social phenomenon crystallises: the madness of the images that circulate in a continuous flow on the screen. They water us, without subtitles or orientation and convey the excess, the hybris of the Greeks. The critical sense takes its distance and the strongest image wins. Bard identifies photographs disseminated by the media reflecting postures of power, has them replayed by those close to him, photographs them in turn and paints them in the most traditional way possible in his studio. Like Manet, he remains in the painter’s relationship to his model, which he has posed. But this is also where François Bard’s modernity is to be found: by being part of an accepted tradition, to which cinema, photography and the society of the spectacle come together, and by injecting universal themes in our contemporary world, where billionaires have replaced princes.

We find the same dynamic in the theatre when the staging changes the setting and chronology to update a classic play. This can be a roundabout way of denouncing an oppressive power or a moment in history - as when in XNUMX, Jean Anouilh made Antigone a heroine of the Resistance in front of a Hitlerian Créon - or a solution so the public can project and feel concerned. So, when Ariane Mnouchkine seized on Molière’s Tartuffe in XNUMX, she transposed it among Muslim radicals, which was then more in keeping with current events as the Catholic bigotry of the XNUMXth century was well outdated. Above all, it denounces fundamentalism, intolerance and hypocrisies which are human failings, whatever the community, while providing a key to our time. In XNUMX, Clément Cogitore proposed breathing new life into the Indes galantes, Rameau’s baroque opera, with all the energy of hip-hop dance choreographed by Bintou Dembélé at the Opéra Bastille, Paris. It might have seemed iconoclastic but was, in fact, a dazzling success. These examples remind us that theatre and opera are living arts. They showcase the faults of humanity, passions, wars, destiny, duty, love whether tragic or happy, betrayal, hatred etc. There is an ocean of feelings with which to debate human beings since the dawn of time. Despite the centuries that follow one another, we do not learn anything, we are caught in the same downward slide, we go around in circles. We eternally need to reactivate the tortures of the Sisyphus, Medea, Hamlet etc. The theatre is a kind of catharsis where we simply unload monstrosities and emotions.

The efficacy of the message depends on how you address the viewer, whether on stage or in front of a work of art. Identification will be reinforced by the contemporaneity of the situation, by the artist’s ability to revive codes that resonate with our society. This is exactly what François Bard does with his metaphorical images. As Jürgen Habermas has pointed out, modernity is an unfinished project.

Stéphanie Pioda
Art historian, journalist
September 2021


The unbearable certainty…

He is struggling.
He, it’s François. The « unbearable certainty », it is François Bard.
A frenetic agitation, from canvas to canvas. Paintings with dark backgrounds are unabatedly done and undone. He is relentlessly fighting time that passes. He continuously paints, hoping that all the layers of paint will be like bandages of mummies and protect him forever. But Bard is doubting, struggling, he does not believe, he knows, desperately, sadly… « The old world is dying, the new world takes time to arise and monsters suddenly appear in the chiaroscuro », as Antonio Gramsci put it.
He resists, trying to build a pyramid out of stretcher bars, endlessly turning the cog of his easel in the pale light of the translucent glass roof, there, in the glimmer of the North. He is retouching, refining, detailing the texture of his "Chien au pansement" (Dog with a band aid).
As he is assured not to be spared, he uses a meticulous precision to paint what he hides. Painter of the anxiety, of the untranquility. "Trop tard" (Too late, 2016).
Permanent attempts to stand up straight in order not to collapse, be it "Sur la Route" (On the Road, 2012) or on "Les Sentiers de la Gloire" (The Paths of Glory, 2017). Vanity.
His frantic hand paints "Les Ombres" (The Shadows). His characters are often beheaded. Red hoodies sometimes hide faces. But many models, slumped, lying, dead, lifeless are accurate self-portraits.
Romans had an expression: Taedium vitae.
Look at « Séraphin », this archangel with grey-toned wings, this man with black tattoos, undershirt, body of a brute. The head looking down to the ground, to the earth. It shows infinite despondency towards the Earth … and the Sky. An immense sadness which Seneca the Young defined to describe the imperceptible sentiment of the end of an era or of a civilisation.
Taedium vitae, the vertiginous feeling when one knows about a definitive obviousness : the end of a world.
Bard’s œuvre is inhabited by such blinding lucidity and rational despair. A world is falling apart but, a portrait after another, he clearly identifies this inner crisis.
His "Dog with the bandage" watches us: he knows.
François knows and as we admire his paintings we, also, are given the chance to know.

Romain Goupil, movie director
Paris, 2017



Of beauty and banality

François Bard’s oeuvre is often described as “epic” or “monumental.” Yet he paints the most ordinary of subjects, transforming them into powerful metaphors of human emotion. Hard to define, he is a conceptual experimentalist disguised as a traditionalist. His paintings invariably elicit more questions than answers. Elusive and multi-layered, images of everyday people and places suggest meaning, and hint at the emotional content just beyond our grasp.

Focusing on concepts of social engagement veiled in enigmatic gestures, Bard’s powerful reoccurring motifs and provocative images reference everything from family and friends to Hollywood cinema to trophies of contemporary consumerism.

Living in both the city of Paris and the countryside of Burgundy and the South of France, landscape has informed much of Bard’s work. He initially painted outside using nature as a model. The flat, horizontal landscape of Burgundy with its rolling hills continues to influence the artist’s vision of pictorial space. The world is literally cut in two by the horizon: into sky and land. That duality is present in all aspects of life: day and night, light and shadow, life and death.

Landscape, portraiture, self-portraits, and the human figure are amongst the oldest subjects in art, and yet Bard continues to find new ways to show us what is so familiar. He makes painting look easy. The tactile quality of his surfaces is activated by layers of oil paint built up from dark expanses to light touches, tool marks, painterly handling, scumbling, scraping, surface imperfections, drips, splatters, and veils of thin brown bituminous glazes, staining his images like the accumulation of accidental splashes and spills. Additionally, he revels in the facile depiction of visual textures effortlessly capturing the translucency and texture of skin, the roughness and weight of fabric, and the hard, cold sheen of metal.

Like a reflection of the cycle of life, Bard’s subjects transition from a world of safety and predictability into a world of uncertain tomorrows. Even when Bard is inspired by a work of literature or film, the resultant painting invariably entreats the viewer to question appearances. What motivates us to make choices, to fight for power and glory, to choose good over evil, to leave a legacy, to retreat inside? The abstract themes of right and wrong, black and white, night and day, life and death form the template for Bard’s examination of the male psyche, its fears and its insecurities.

Though several of Bard’s subjects entreat us to consider the dangers of this world, the artist’s work more often portrays a contemplative state of quiet observation-a sort of meditation on the attributes of life inexorability interwoven with death. The Paths of Glory is more than just a romantic image of success and adulation. One can see the grandeur of Diego Velázquez’s portraits of Philip IV, now in Madrid’s Prado. We see the fragile beauty of roses reminiscent of Edouard Manet’s flower studies. We first read the image as celebration of achievement, the attainment of recognition, fame, nobility, beauty and wealth. Are we basking in the success of a glorious life, or are we tossing the last rose onto the path of glory that inevitably leads to the grave? Perhaps we might think of this as Bard’s most honest and disturbing self-portrait. And if The Paths of Glory is indeed Bard’s metaphoric self-portrait, it is his vanitas reminding the viewer of life’s transience, man’s foibles, vanities, and the inevitability of death.

Through the disciplined act of painting, Bard memorializes significant experiences, personal thoughts, feelings, emotions, and self-assurances. And since each painting springs from its maker’s thoughts and memories, they become a metaphoric diary of his life.

Interpretation is open-ended in his works. Perhaps it is best to just pretend you’re seated in a dark cinema and allow Bard’s images to wash over you. As they do, you will probably discover some vague connection to real life-to your life-that is as surreal as the paintings themselves. Bard’s brilliant realism begins to morph and merge into familiar faces. But in the end, François Bard’s paintings reflect his own personal exploration of human identity.

Bard’s characters keep their distance-they avert their eyes or hide behind dark glasses. They turn away. We are left to contemplate the back of the subject’s head, or heads are cropped out wholly. With layers of reality and blurred perceptions both surreal and literal taking center stage in a Bard composition, a symbolic gesture suggests a story. Hands, legs, shoes, and clothes-they make the man. They are the protagonists. And the artist has little interest in scientific specificity. Instead, he is inclined to simplify and abstract. By simplifying, his reductive images express an ethereal, poetic evocation of his subject.

Bard’s realism represents a modern contemporary aesthetic. A magnetic succession of hyper-close portraits asks us to consider the depths of the human face through subjects as diverse as blue-collar workers, businessmen, children and wizened old men. The artist studies his subject. His challenge lies in the attempt to capture the subtle moment that flickers between expressions, recording his subject unrehearsed, and capturing something unplanned.

It is as though François Bard is trying to achieve the prophecies of French theorist Jean Baudrillard (XNUMX-XNUMX) announcing that soon real and imagined would be confused: we would be going through a cinematic reality. Bard has stated, “The role of the contemporary artist should be to incite people to see differently.”XNUMX His work does exactly that. Bard’s dynamic canvases depict an impressive array of content, from people, dogs and flowers to cars and urban landscapes. In each one, he puts an unusual and provocative spin on ordinary subjects. He often presents everyday objects, such as a worn shoe or tensed hand, as enlarged and unexpectedly cropped. This effect creates extremely realistic, powerful close-ups that resemble stills from a film.

Many images depict common everyday people in moments of quietude, with cinematic clarity and eerie dark lighting effects. With their dual focus on the obscure and the known, these Bard paintings function like poems, inviting us to discover the universal in the specific. Addressing themes of remembrance and temporality, Bard often enshrouds his subject in a dark melancholy atmosphere, conveying a rarified solitude and serenity.

The majority of François Bard's works represent single characters. He approaches them in simple compositions, progressing slowly from the abstract to the figurative; the subject, the place and the context interact freely like the words of a poem which answer each other.

Great art has always been contemporary and, in essence, a subject of controversy. Much of the world today is ugly. But Bard remains true to the notion of beauty. In their beauty as much as their banality, his works reveal the concerns of the artist and confuse de facto any distinction between conceptual art and contemporary figuration.

In Simulacra and simulation, Jean Baudrillard asserts that modern societies have been "organized around the production and consumption of basic products", while postmodern societies are "organized around simulation and the play of images and signs3". Thus, “in our postmodern media and consumer society, everything becomes image, sign, spectacle. "In this way, art interferes in" all spheres of existence "4. And so we can deduce that the choice of François Bard's subjects confirms that "society has established a generalized aestheticization: all forms of culture - and anti-culture - models of representation and anti-representation are now taken into account ».

The majority of François Bard paintings are single images. Bard constructs these works as simple compositions working them slowly from the abstract to the specific, wherein the subject and the spaces and intervals surrounding the subject interact with each other the way words in a poem talk to each other.

Wherever Bard goes, he is in a state of perceptive awareness. Like an anthropologist conducting field research, Bard records each gesture and each expression with objectivity. Nevertheless, his images are loaded with suggestions of the interconnectedness of humanity, while evoking the psychological and ethical dilemmas of our contemporary world.

Bard is an artist committed to the contemporary, but deeply tied to tradition, going back to the great Baroque masterpieces of portraiture and still life. One might conclude that Bard has redefined the traditional portrait or still life of objects. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century French still life painting cleverly documented the shifting social attitudes and ideas of their time.

Bard captures both the objective and subjective, the exterior and interior. He sees mystery and dramatic irony in the world in which we live - from the poetry of his observations to the conceptual rigor of his work.

The act of painting is the process employed by a mind attempting to see itself in its own light. Perhaps no such vision is possible. Can the eye ever see itself, save in a reflection? We say of the mind, also, that it reflects, and often it reflects on itself. Artists work in the hope of creating an image of mind, or consciousness or imagination, of themselves.

Many years ago, François Bard painted abstractly to create the image he had in his mind. But for the past two decades, he has painted representationally. Yet even when he refers to the world directly, his images are elusive. Just as his shadows do not confine themselves to the usual function of indicating darkness, so his representational forms are not satisfied with merely representing his subjects. Bard’s realism is detached and theoretical, activated only by the desire to better assist memory. Functioning like a diary, his paintings record his ideas and experiences, preserving his personal visual concepts.

To say that François Bard’s style is distinctive is to acknowledge that he always eludes us in an immediately recognizable way. He is suited perfectly to his life as an artist, a limner, a recorder of memories, a diarist-as one whose existence hovers somewhere between the act of living and a lifetime spent recording that life. Returning daily to the two-dimensional flatness of canvas or paper, he transforms it into pages of his life.

Bard’s paintings bring us face-to-face with the artist’s records of his experiences, actual or fantasy. It is the artist who has faced these subjects, not the viewer. Reading a diary, one does not live that life. One examines evidence that someone else has done so. Looking at the work of this artist, the viewer does not look through Bard’s eyes, nor see what Bard sees. One sees, instead, the record of Bard’s looking. One sees how he has interpreted certain experiences or tried to record the nature of that experience.

François Bard’s art is both difficult and hopeful-it offers the possibility of personal triumph but not its certainty, and suggests that the true path to glory comes not from heroism, power, beauty, or wealth, but from the will and courage to engage in it.

Wendy M. Blazier
Miami, 2017

Wendy M. Blazier is an art historian, writer and independent curator, working for over 30 years in Florida as a curator, institutional administrator and lecturer. Born in Detroit, Michigan, she was Executive Director and Curator at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood (Florida) from 1979 to 1995 and Chief Curator at the Boca Raton Museum of Art from 2001 to 2012.



François Bard

"The studio is a place of renouncement to recreate the world"
Interview by Stéphanie Pioda

What do you express through your paintings?

I always tell my own story but I also talk about the human being as he is, with his imperfections – that is why I use general terms such as Sans titre (Untitled), The Kilt, Dealer, Les Sentiers de la Gloire (The Paths of Glory)… I work from and around vanity, which is one the most common subjects in art history: representations of princes, kings, power, Medicis, won battles… There is also the religious vanity, with its saints meditating in front of skulls and questionning the hereafter, the true vanities in the end.

You explore this subject, which belongs to classical art, but giving it a terribly strong contemporary form?

Yes, it is still a subject of today and I deal with it in a classical approach : painting. I like finding inspiration from iconic photographies which I recreate by adding my personal touch, asking close friends and relatives to pose for me. Those photograhies which I find in the press or in magazines, are modern vanities to me, such as Kennedy smoking a cigar - a beautiful photography of him, so contemplative… All those poses come from the society, the world and medias. They are easily accessible but no one really looks at them. That is why I create spectacular images, to invite people to look.

Is everything just an illusion?

Like Andy Warhol, I am inspired by the medias. People pose in front of cameras and hope for one minute of recognition. Nothing has changed in the end : in olden times, princes would pose for posterity…

I relentlessly aim to explore this common denominator.

Do you have a cynical vision of our world? (ou : are you cynical about our world)

I do indeed, it belongs to the human nature it seems and I am totally part of it! The artist’s vanity is immense! Willing to a give a meaning to one’s art and one’s day by painting! Refusing to waste time is thinking that your time is precious - that is vain!

Is that why you are posing in some paintings?

Yes, that is all about the artist’s vanity : recreating daily scenes, with quite an heroic attitude, just like Woody Allen did in Zelig, in which he plays a chameleon-man pretending to be Hitler when he stands beside him, and so on.

In my selfportraits I try to be someone else and play a role. It is the same as when we were children : we play to be a gangster, an Indian, a trapper… It is a bridge to imaginary adventures.

Does it mean that the artist more able to see things from a perspective?

To me, being my own subject is more comfortable, even if I enjoy making people pose and taking pictures of them. In any case, it is important for me to know these people well.

Does your technique relate to the great classical painting?

I like the pattern of classical painting. There I find the possibility to represent space and subjects… From a conceptual point of view, it is like re-creating a world where abstraction and figuration would mean anything else. In a way, this is an infinite freedom with the rule !

How do you take on a new work? As you said, is the starting point a photography?

It is. I start from a quite simple vision of the image, I vaguely draw something and it is as I work on it that the painting takes shape. I do not recreate an image, I try, through it, to find the painting.

What do you mean by "finding the painting back"?

Finding adventure within the space of the canvas, purely pictorial moments, color interactions, elements which appear, accidents which I choose to accept or reject …

Finding the painting back : this is when the subject coincides with the way you paint it. Painting becomes its own subject. This is a moment of fusion.

Do you work on large canvases?

That’s the iconic side! I feel oppressed working on small formats which do not allow me to express the breadth of my gesture. I prefer working on formats which fit my size, so that I may physically express myself. I am comfortable with at least 160 x 130 cm…

Do you draw many sketches?

Sometimes, but not systematically. A sketch may be enough and not require to be transposed in a big format.

What is important to you in your studio?

Here, I am surrounded by outstanding views, they are almost too beautiful. There are zenithal windows in my studio, and I sometimes like to close the curtains, in order not to be distracted, disturbed. If my artistic practice implies isolation, my studio is where I aim to recreate the world.

Can you describe it?

It doesn't have to be very tall as I do easel painting. On the other hand, there are a lot of brushes: I have hundreds of them and I throw them out regularly. Since I have several workshops, I have the same painting table everywhere with a palette and my brushes. I put my hits in a specific order: from warm colors to cool colors on large consoles. On the wall, various photographs are hung (these are my sources of inspiration) and I very often work in music, it helps me to concentrate.

Have you ever tried other media?

I tried acrylic painting, but I think there is neither the smoothness nor the sensuality of oil paintings which, moreover, as it dries, looses several color tones. Hence, in order to paint in a figurative way as I do, acrylic is too far from what I wish to render.

What about photography?

It does interest me in a certain way. Coming back to my own experience, I started with figuration – in a classical way if we can say, with live models, before switching to abstract painting. At the age of forty, I went back to figuration thanks to photography and those digital cameras which allow you to have an immediate perspective of what you have just seen.

It is rather surprising to see that the interest in your work was revived through figuration, at a time when, at least in France, and unlike other countries like Germany or the United States, abstract and conceptual art diktat were dominating!

It is indeed, and it also coincide with the change of millenium ! The XNUMXth century was marked by abstraction and complete deconstruction. From the XNUMXst century and third millenium, there was a new deal. Abstraction was not that pertinent anymore as it had all already been deeply explored. We could say the same thing about figuration, but the practice of painting can be renewed with digital cameras and other technologies.

In fine, no matter the medium, one has to find « his own little music ». The idea of modernity is somehow outdated. The revolution is a notion of the XNUMXth century and not an issue anymore.

You still build bridges between abtraction and figuration with your own touch, which takes us into abstraction as we come closer..

When I was young, I used to pain abstract. I was attracted by the duality between white and black, between life and death, shadow and light. I painted large dark areas onto clear backgrounds.

One day, Fabienne, my wife, brought a youn reminded g jack russel home, Paulette, whose robe reminded me my abstraction, surprisingly though. Things suddenly fell into place and I came back to representation. As I painted her, I explored the same form of abstraction you can find in classical painting : composition, use of the surface, light.

One thing though : in fuguration, the strength of the and here and far beyond us.

What do you mean?

I see my paintings as icons, as propaganda images. I create strong images to catch people’s attention. The icon is a form of glorification. I like associating the words "icon" and "propaganda" together because I believe that religious painting has always been a form of propaganda: icons were the divine propaganda created by men! And outside religion, art was used to show the power of princes, and then of the bourgeois. It is still an act of vanity, like the act of painting or writing.

In the end, you often start from motives you know well and then you transpose them into a more universal dimension.

Yes, I aim to transcend them and put myself at the crossroad of great human questionnings. They are not as many as we might think: where do we come from? Where are we going to?

Your painting intrigues, especially your composition: you use close-ups to crop heads or legs. We often can only see parts of the subject. It has become a signature element.

It is important for me to keep some mystery. These composition frames remind me of cropped images in medias and newspapers. There is also the idea of giving the spectator the possibility to seize a face, and make it something else. I like keeping space for the imagination, for what is not painted. The importance not to reveal everything has, to me, the same subtlety and difference as between pornography and erotism.

Your work is also very cinematographic.

It is, I watch lots of movies. The cinema has always been important to me, I loved those privileged moments which were always followed by nice chats with friends. We took the time to deeply enjoy them.

When I was young, I loved Antonioni’s films, with very strong picture frames and compositions. I am also fond of Wim Wenders and sense of image frame and oneirism, such as in Paris Texas or Wings of desire. I like Quentin Tarantino too, whose popular movies is haunted by metaphysical questions. And I certainly not forget to mention Eisenstein : both expressionist and grandiloquent. Sublime !

In front of the paintings, one is quickly caught by your style. We end up taking a long time looking and being immersed in it. But we also enjoy wandering through the artwork.

Yes, there is also this idea of « time to make» which you can find in any craftsmanship. I like being alone in my studio, I can concentrate on the relationship between time and lonelyness. You can understand my work like a diary of my life, full of people who are really close to me.

You always put your models in a lonely situation, like wandering souls. We can also feel a metaphysical dimension in your paintings: the horizon is flat, the subjects emerge out of the night… I would not say they go towards death, but something close to that. Which old masters are fundamental to you?

I love looking at paintings by watching Velásquez, Zurbarán, Ribera… The classical Spanish painting from the XNUMXth and XNUMXth century. There is also the Italian baroque painting with Caravaggio of course, but this is slightly too loquacious to me. Among contemporary artists, I admire Néo Rauch, Luc Tuymans, Michael Borremans or William Kentridge.

Otherwise, I also love photography. I own photographs from the NASA which have been very inspiring to me. They express the solitude inside the universe, with this absolute and infinite black which I try to render in my paintings.

My backgrounds are mainmy black. I dream about giving up this color, but I just cannot ! It is of infinite depth, it unbalances reality, creates ambiguity and get us into the cosmos. The black background is the new gold background of icons, pushing us out of time and space.

What is the most important for you? The shape or the color?

The most important thing is the match between form and light: it has to be right. I am less a colourist and more a valorist. My lights are quite strong, which is related to vanity. I like things that shine, it's my “magie” side!…

Only in your paintings or also in life?

No, only in my painting: it has to shine, to glisten, the light has to be bright, a bit metaphysical. In life however, it is the opposite!

Once the painting is done, how easi is it for you to take some distance?

You have to know that I struggle a lot to finish a painting. I love living with it and see things maturing. I feel really bad when they leave the studio, but when they are hung on the wall of the gallery, I lose interest: they don’t belong to me anymore, it is none of my business anymore. When a painting comes back to the studio, then I can see if there is anything wrong and I can correct it. In the studio, the painting is never over…

So the studio is really the place of experimentation…

It is first a place of reflection and meditation. Everythng is possible when the painting is in the studio! It can always be retouched. This is where intimate thinking is possible and nothing is definitive. As opposed to Picasso, I prefer seearching over finding.

What is your approach on art market? Is it putting any pressure on you?

It is hard to talk about it. I step back and do what I have to do. The pressure is there, obviously. The art market is so abstract to me. We tend to look at the stars, especially in France, the CAC 40 stockmarket index of art in short! What interests me is painting, I love the life I have.

How long have you been working with Olivier Waltman?

Since 2011. I like working with him ; he really understands my work and speaks well about it. He is very respectful and offers me a large scope of action.

In your exhibition of October 2017 at Galerie Olivier Waltman in Paris, you deal with a disturbing atmosphere of woods in which kids live experiences. Why?

When I thought about "While the wolf is not here" as a title, I visualized woods of course, but what mainly interests me is the moment when the wolf is absent: then, we can do whatever we want, alhtough rushed by the feeling of danger all around. There is a risk and everything can turn bad. That is indeed the very human condition!

To me, the woods are the metaphor of the soul, the memory, the thought. It gathers our fears and anxiety. We can also see the psychoanalytical side of course, because thisis where children’s stories often take place.

This is a labyrinthine maze where the child can explore ancient fears and joys of the imagination all together. He creates a world which he aims to control but fears at the same time, hence its magic.

I lived near the woods in Burgundy and now, in the South [of France], and each time I am there, the woods, which remind me of my own childhood, revitalize me. As a matter of fact, I always start my day with a walk in the woods with my dog. Only then, I can start painting.

In this new body of work, there is a recurrent motive: hoods. Could you tell us more about it?

I can see wandering souls behind these hoods, but also a direct reference to Zurbaràn and his portraits of monks giving up their own persons: under their hoods we cannot recognize them anymore and they fall in some sort of anonymity. This is a way to avoid vanity.

I like the idea that the human figure can provoke some emotion with the spectators, but without imposing anything. This is why I rarely paint eyes, my characters tend to turn away from you - I prefer suggestion over description.

From the ordinary, I look for myths. It is almost like a propaganda of my daily life.

Paris, 2017