Interview: Violaine Vieillefond
Luca Curci talks with Violaine Vieillefond during CONSCIOUSNESS, second appointment of the ANIMA MUNDI 2022, at Palazzo Bembo.
Violaine Vieillefond was born near Paris in 1970 in an educated family whose intellectual interests were diversified. Her mother taught Comparative Literature and the History of British Art at the University, and her father was an engineer. She had been trained from her earlier years in different fields, scientific and artistic, and was soon made familiar with a strong taste for travel. From childhood onwards her mother made her follow courses in art studios which she pursued in adolescence and took her to many art exhibitions and museums. She lived close to the Marmottan Museum and thus often visited the Monet exhibition there, in particular The Nympheas. At the age of 17 in California, she discovered American Abstract Expressionism, large-size paintings and colorfields, and a few years later Venice. All were to become major inspirations for her work. She first graduated in science, economics and politics, while continuing to study art and art history, at the City of Paris Fine Art Studios with abstract painter Martin Bissière, grandson of famous Roger Bissière of the great “Ecole de Paris”.
Trained as an engineer and as well as visual artist, she has always been fascinated by images and her experimentations carried out in the course of her studies in sciences: from then on, coloured fluids in movement, micro and macrocosmic worlds have nourished her own universe and influenced her approach as an artist. Thanks to the technique she chooses as much as to the forms in her paintings in which hazard fills a large place, her work brings to light the specificity of water in movement and its aesthetic and emotional potentialities. We feel transported into a universe of forms being metamorphosed, organic and cartographic, and it leads us to question life itself. For more than twenty years, she has exhibited in France and abroad in galleries, art fairs and institutions: European Commission in Brussels, O Art Museum in Tokyo, Fine Arts Museum in Okinawa, New York Art Expo, the Water Pavilion in Paris, the Science and Industry Museum in Paris, Spectrum Miami, the Paris Polytechnic Institute, Flers Castle Museum in Normandy, YIA Art Fair/Paris Contemporary Art Show, Art Elysées Fair in Paris, Venice International Art Fair, Luxembourg Art Fair, Anima Mundi Art Fair- Palazzo Bembo during the 59th Venice Biennale of Art… Her first extensive monography was published in 2020 in French and in English. She currently lives and paints in her Paris studio, as well as in nature (gardens, ocean, mountains) where she finds inspiration and locations for her land art installations, photos and videos.
Luca Curci – Which subject are you working on?
Violaine Vieillefond – For more than 20 years now, my work has been focusing on the water both as a medium and as a subject matter, aesthetical of course, but also scientific, ecological, social, political…I feel this subject itself has no limit …“Water is the principle of all things”, to quote Thales of Miletus (625-547 BC) Coloured fluids, micro and macroscopic worlds have haunted my dreams and my imaginary and pictorial mind for as long as I can remember. Thanks to the technique employed as much as by their form, in which chance plays a large part, my paintings intend to bring to light this moving characteristic of water, it’s great symbolic, aesthetic and emotional potentialities. On the supports lying horizontally on the floor, colours mixed with water will spread out and halt, according to their own will, their own laws. My role then consists in guiding the water and its pictorial matter along their paths so that they may produce forms moving in a precise direction, or to certain connexions or an inner necessity which all appear progressively: a flowing form which becomes the subject in itself, with its wanderings and accidents. “All things that exist are the fruit of hazard and necessity” Democritus (460-370 BC) In this way I experiment with a chance which is of such great importance: it takes us away from the simplest aesthetic forms to the most complex while leading us to reflect about life, evolution and the genesis of forms (with particles, molecules, cellular, organic, vegetal, cartographical… microcosmic, macrocosmic). Between chance and necessity, uncertainty and control intervention. At the origin of all forms of life, closely linked to life and death, water is not only the symbol of the ephemeral, of the passing of time but also that of the subconscious in dreams as well as age-old myths of primaeval chaos and the womb of mother earth… But water is also a destroyer….” The fact of differentiating values has indeed made it possible for the individual to free himself from the crowd and from purely collective impulses, but if this process is carried too far … and if normal instincts are put aside and repressed by the subconscious, the result may be a catastrophic backlash as illustrated in the representation of Floods” (C.G. Jung (187561961). According to the aesthetic suggestions or directions are given, but with water always present as a subject or medium, my work is an attempt at casting an eye on pictorial and vital energies, on the relationship between man and nature, nature is the inexhaustible source of beauty and inspiration.
LC – How did you get to your current artistic practice?
VV – Born in Paris to a mother who taught Comparative Literature and History of British Art at the University, and to a father who was an engineer, I have stood since childhood at the crossroads of different influences, scientific and artistic, and have been given a taste for travelling in time and space. In my early childhood, my mother had arranged for me to attend classes in art studios where I was trained until my teenage years and with her, I got used to visiting museums and exhibitions. Since we lived near the Marmottan Museum she often took me there to admire Monet, in particular his waterlilies, and, during our frequent visits to London and Venice she helped me to enter more deeply into Turner’s work…Monet, Turner: two pioneers of abstraction. And water is present. When I was 17, in California, during a family tour of the region, I discovered American Abstract Expressionism, large-size pictures, colour field paintings, as well as photography of rural and urban landscapes which I then began to practise myself in parallel with painting. Painters such as Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, appeared to me as the abstract successors of the great Venetian colourists (Titian, Guardi, Tiepolo) or Delacroix, all of whom I admire so deeply. First trained as an engineer, then with a degree obtained in political sciences, I have always been fascinated by images and by the experiments carried out during my scientific studies: the flow of different colours spreading out or mixing. We used to observe such phenomena in order to study their laws. I think all those influences have determined the choice of my career, and my development as an artist, and led to this central theme of life and death, of nature, and of water especially.
LC – Which is the role the artist plays in society? And contemporary art?
VV – Art is Life… Obviously, there is no art without artists, but also, there is no art without a spectator, without a public, to receive and share that which the artist wishes to convey. It is a bond, as strong as love, between human beings, since beauty is first and foremost the matter in question, as well as the tie which links us to the world and to the other graces offered by beauty. The artist, through the plastic forms corresponding to his sensibility and imagination, seeks in his work, to propose his own vision of the world, inside and outside, so as to make it more comprehensible and/or more acceptable. Art is a vision which is given a shape in order to share it. Here I make mine this quotation of J.L. Borges, the writer: “I write” (…or I paint, the…) “for me and for my friends and to make the passing of time bearable”. As a matter of fact, I don’t think the artist’s place in society is clearly delineated. In reality, what characterizes him is his freedom to think and create- freedom which sometimes costs him much owing to the lack of comprehension of others… which can even cost him his life. But in any case, I think the artist does occupy a distinctive place in society, whatever the place he chooses (isolated, activist or in between like most of them probably). He is at once an actor, like everybody else, but also a CONSCIOUSNESS, to relate directly to the theme of the exhibition…, an acute observer thanks his sensibility; last a transmitter. This role is very important. Contemporary art is this very vague but at any rate, large, era where the creative artist can play this role before his contemporaries as a transmitter. Then afterwards, it belongs to the next generations to judge, approve or condemn. The best definition, it seems to me, though it goes as far back as 1863, the year “Le dejeuner sur l’herbe” was produced by Manet, the first contemporary painter according to modern terminology, was given by Baudelaire in his ” The painter of Modern life “: “Modernity is the fugitive, the transitory, the contingent, half of art, the other half of which is eternal and the immutable”.
LC – Where do you find your inspiration?
VV – Obviously, in nature, and water… The territories we cross are constantly changing, like our lives, our journeys, our encounters, births, bereavements and bonds that are forged and come undone. My work consists in capturing these movements and in finding a way through the language of form to follow those events in space as well as in time: a moving world structured by forms and paths in constant metamorphosis, a balance between chance and control intervention, between necessity and the unexpected. By the means, the technique, the matter, the substance, the subject, the symbolism… of water, I found that way and the possibility of reaching this balance.
LC – What is the most challenging part about creating your artworks?
VV – While I paint, I imagine myself as being both the (human) character and its reflection, both the observer (of nature) and the player, altogether the creator, Narcissus… but also as Ophelia who drowns or rather dilutes herself into the elements, into the water, into Nature. I have to feel ephemeral, the fugitive (to quote Baudelaire), the very temporary substance of life, to aim at touching somehow the eternal and immutable necessity of art and beauty, which keeps up alive… As I said, to me, the artist is the medium who can put into form the intense feelings of this fragility of life. To make it more bearable… I think my process is firstly instinctive because it relates to a deep and inexplicable connection to nature and needs to give meaning to our life here on Earth. Like a vision, to use a religious analogy. But then is it also reasoned, that because the creative process is a very long one, it needs hard work, overcoming persistent self-doubt. And it is a very solitary task …The balance of taking into account all of this is the most difficult and challenging…
LC – Do you agree with our vision of art and what do you think about the theme of the exhibition?
VV – I truly share your vision of art: liquidity, or fluidity, expresses the very essence of life … Let me first quote extracts of your vision: «LIQUID (lik’-wid): 1. a state of matter with a definite volume but no definite shape, composed of molecules which move freely among themselves but do not tend to separate like those of gases. 2. a state of matter, between gaseous and solid, that flows and takes the shape of its container. 3. liquid architecture … makes liquid cities, cities that change at the shift of a value… it is a symphony of space… that never repeats and continues to develop… an identity is only revealed fully during the course of its lifetime ». This essence of impermanence, transformation, and fragility, is precisely what I try to express in my art, through the symbolism of the element water. At a crossroads between art, science, and philosophy. I would also like to quote three major inspiring thoughts in connexion with our shared visions of art and life: « Painting expresses the great rule of the metamorphoses of the world, the essential beauty of mountains and rivers, and sings its gleesome into my heart » (monk painter Shitao, 17th c.) In nature, « Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed » (chemist and philosopher Antoine Lavoisier, 18th c.) As a consequence, it is very important to me that you work with charity initiatives aimed to support some no-profit organizations involved in the environmental protection around climate change and pollution, which of course has a heavy meaning here in Venice…. and which leads us to the theme of the exhibition, ANIMA MUNDI, the essence of which is how « everything is related to the living entities of the planet: it is the moving engine that drives all Earth’s ecosystems in a way that they find their perfect equilibrium ». My reading of the theme, ANIMA MUNDI – CONSCIOUSNESS (especially), is indeed that of the unique means to feel and express the possibility to reconnect to essential elements of «anima»: the air we are sharing and breathing with other humans, animals, plants….and most importantly water, water because it is the origin of all life, water which connects us all, water which flows inside our bodies, water which connects our territories and continents, water which links us to the past, to the very beginning, to our ancestors, and to the future… And most of all water here in the very city of Venice, this unique city not only surrounded by water, but also whose very inner veins and arteries ARE water, and upon which its life but also its death (acqua alta…until final drown…) relies on. Amidst its canals and laguna, waters and lights, colors and memories, we feel intimately the mystery and magic of life… Venice is a most secret and intimate place… whoever gets lost in its dark streets during the night, feels this very awkward and unique condition of being a stage character in this world, losing one’s groundings, diluting into its waters and in one’s own reflections and thoughts…the consciousness of one’s “anima” and of ANIMA MUNDI.
LC – In which way the artwork presented in our exhibition is connected with the exhibition’s theme?
VV – As a matter of fact, the artwork presented is very deeply connected not only to the theme of the exhibition but also to the location, in the centre of Venice, as long as I can remember the dearest city for my inspiration, in the « Red Palazzo Bembo » overlooking the shades of blue waters of the Canal Grande… I had already participated in 2021 in exhibitions with ItsLiquid Group, among which Venice International Art Fair, presenting works from my « Acqua Alta » series, at the Room Contemporary Art Space facing San Marco Basilica, sadly very recently wounded again by the latest and highest acqua alta, and then Borders Art Fair/ Contemporary Venice – the Secret Garden, with works from my « Arizona Dream » series (2017-2018) in this most “secret” and intimate district – Cannaregio-, a very significative location, Misericordia Archives: who wouldn’t wish some kind of misericordia in those difficult and painful times…? So for this new theme ANIMA MUNDI – CONSCIOUSNESS, during the 59th Biennale Arte, on the Grand Canal in this beautiful and fire-red Palazzo Bembo, I chose to show, in continuity with those previous works presented last year, a triptych from my «Water Canvases» cycle (consisting in 25 large-scale acrylic paintings on free-standing canvases): «Water Canvases. Blue, XII », 2018-2019, 3m50 x 2m20 «Water Canvases.
Blue, IX », 2018-2019, 3m50 x 2m20 «Water Canvases. Blue, VII », 2018-2019, 3m50 x 2m20. This whole cycle is a homage to Claude Monet who, like so many artists who inspire my painting, was a lover of Venice, of its elusive canals, reflections, colors, skies, and lights…Monet, who, again, is one my greatest inspirers, merely stayed three months in Venice, in 1908, a suspended moment just in the middle of his 20 years of painting his famous waterlilies in Giverny in Normandy: he intended to return – one always wants to return to Venice… but he never did: carpe diem. His Venice painting of glittering and colorful reflections of the Palazzo Ducale, of San Giorgio Maggiore, the Palazzo da Mula, Contarini, Dario on the Grand Canal…. and the « Red House », on Rio di San Vio in Dorsoduro… (amazing coincidences…or are they really coincidences… ?!), are among his most beautiful and unique masterpieces, giving his revolutionary research, consisting (as for all his impressionist friends also), in attempting to catch the fluidity and ephemeral character of air, water, vegetation… of the very impermanent substance of life – ANIMA – of nature and beings – MUNDI- another turn. Also inspired by Abstract Expressionist painters – themselves inspired by the late Monet’s immersive, colour-field and all over « Waterlilies »-, one would rather say, following Elaine De Kooning, « Abstract Impressionist » painters, those very large canvases I am happy to present here, are meant to feel the immersion into the element water, and its blue color and ephemeral substance, as opposed to, or rather in dialogue with, its red and solid stones and walls and roofs… (« Venise la rouge… », « Red Venice … », to quote French poet Alfred de Musset).
The question is: how can we translate into forms, water and the colourful reflections on its surface? Water is the surface, the natural medium which catches the viewer’s eye as something unified. This recalls Maurice Denis’ definition (1890): a picture, “prior to being a battle horse, a naked woman or any anecdote is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled according to a certain order”. The support here is the canvas, a flat surface covered first of all with blue or different tints of blue, those of water when agitated and in turmoil, then gradually calming down, recovering its original simplicity, its natural flow, as if freed from the inessential. The canvases are a free-standing surface, vertically and fluidly connecting the sky (the air, Venice ceilings) to the floating ground (the water surface of the canal), and even to the mysterious underground (deep into the water beneath the surface where the hidden stilts on which the city is built): in blue…As for earth and fire, the splendid “reds” of the Palazzo facade and the Murano chandelier’s glass lights inside, offer a perfect match, or rather dialogue: dialectics. Water, air, earth, fire: elements of the installation of those works in this Palazzo. Alchemy of the elements: between water and fire, stability of stone, fragility and metamorphoses of glass (transforming solid – silicium – into fluid, and then in solid again – but so fragile), and the ephemeral and impermanence of water…Blue. “Verticality… does this mean going up to Heaven? Or could not this waterfall rather suggest a catastrophe, symbolize a descent into hell? a shower of hailstones, a deluge about to submerge everything? First, blue would be a poor representation of a deluge about to submerge everything? Second, blue would be a poor representation of disaster. It would be paradoxical for blue is the symbol of both sky and heaven. Instead of plunging us into some kind of cold Gehenna, blue becomes cleaner and more intense and recovers its pristine purity. Here blue is its own master, it has recovered the noble and reassuring aspect that it had at the Renaissance, the blue of the Virgin’s mantle, the blue we see in sacred precincts such as la Scuola di San Rocco in Venice and in Tintoretto’s pictures or, closer to us, in Rothko’s blue! (here comes Abstract Expressionism again… Not to mention Yves Klein!). Now blue is pure, unaltered, enhanced by a darker shade of blue coming sometimes close to black. It becomes purer and purer, simpler and simpler as its journey comes to an end … in the same way as a pious person after performing ablutions, being purified, enters a sacred place.
An initiatory as much as a pictorial path… Here we find the same effect of transparency, a mirror through which one can guess the swarming of underwater life (without animal presence), of nature at its simplest. Is it only a homage to Monet? Is it not once again the proof of a spiritual quest towards unity, of a search for a possibility of fusion between the soul and the world where we are?” Annie Dubernard Laurent, Art Historian, in “Water Canvases, Violaine Vieillefond”, 2020 The paintings presented are also a tribute to the beauty, importance, and fragility of the “element water”, which can also be a danger to life on Earth, and to Venice in particular. Acqua Alta calls our attention precisely to the way nature reminds us that our unresponsive lifestyles cannot last forever, and that we are on the verge of a catastrophe if we do nothing about it, or so little… We must act TOGETHER if we want to find solutions to protect our cultural, architectural and natural heritage….Beyond this reference to the aquatic city of Venice, my aim, in deep connexion with the ANIMA MUNDI – CONSCIOUSNESS, is to enhance the duality between life and death, so strong here in this city, itself the (imaginary) symbol of other submerged cities or at least, to quote the French writer Paul Valery just after WWI, the fatal destiny of all civilisations (” We, civilisations, know that we are mortal”). But we are prone to forget that we are! Episodes such as Acqua Alta, but many others, much further away, distant from us or at least, appealing less to our sensibility, are there nevertheless to call to our minds the imminent consequences of climate change, the damage created by mass tourism and the overexploitation of natural resources.
LC – What do you think about the organization of our event?
VV – Amazing, and I am very deeply grateful, once again… I was sadly unable to join the opening itself, but your lively presentation videos of the exhibition and of its artists, the beautiful performances organized in the main rooms, actively visible through social networks, make your event, located in beautiful and central venues, with wonderfully nice and qualified staff, a true collateral moment in acute harmony with the major artistic event which is, of course, the Venice Biennale of Art.
LC – Would you suggest a collaboration with us?
VV – Yes very much! Beyond the obvious exceptional quality of the exhibition spaces and calendar synchronicity with other main art events (Venice Biennale…), I am very impressed and thankful for the outstanding professionalism of the team and the whole project: administration, artistic advice, logistics (including transports), communication, social media visibility, kindness. It is a real pleasure. Your services are perfect, and it is a relief, when living abroad, to be able to show your work by relying on a very nice team and organization, even when we cannot join physically. I got to know ItsLiquid Group through Instagram in 2020/2021, as I was looking for good conditions to show my work in Venice where I intend to stay longer in the following years. This is a long-time project which has been delayed due to the pandemic. Eventually, I sent a portfolio of some works which were accepted, and I am now exhibiting at the Room Contemporary Art Space, facing the Basilica San Marco. ItsLiquid offers thematical Art Fairs in Venice, and around the world; it is really a great opportunity for artists.
LC – What are your suggestions about our services? Is there something more we can provide to artists?
VV – It is perfect: don’t change anything or anyone!