Interview: Violaine Vieillefond
Luca Curci talks with Violaine Vieillefond during VENICE INTERNATIONAL ART FAIR 2021 at THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space.
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 the Anglo-Saxon world and had 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 painting and colour-field. 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 Historic “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, colored 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 (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, galleries in Paris, Flers Castle Museum in Normandy (France), YIA Art Fair/ Paris Contemporary Art Show, Art Elysées Fair in Paris, Venice International Art Fair, Luxembourg Art Fair… Her first extensive monography was published in 2020 in French and in English. She currently lives and works in Paris.
Luca Curci – What is art for you?
Violaine Vieillefond – 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 that which links us to the world and to the other graces of this 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 that is given a shape in order to share it. Here I make mine two sentences I really like of two exceptional artists: Borges, the writer: “I write” (or I paint) “for me and for my friends and to make the passing of time bearable”; Matisse, the painter who answered someone who was astonished by the speed (a few seconds) with which he drew a leaf: “it took me 80 years…” he said, a lifetime.
LC – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
VV – Born in Paris to a mother who taught Comparative Literature et history of British Art at the University, and from 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 traveling 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 water-lilies, 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, color-field paintings, as well as photography of rural and urban landscapes which I then began to practice 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 colorists (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, as an artist, always been fascinated by images and by the experiments carried out during my scientific studies: the flow of different colors 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.
LC – Where do you find your inspiration?
VV – Obviously, in nature! 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 a controlled 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 possibility.
LC – Are your artworks focused on a specific theme?
VV – “Water is the principle of all things”, to quote Thales of Miletus (625-547 BC). Colored 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, my paintings intend to bring to light this moving characteristic of water, its great symbolic, aesthetic and emotional potentialities. Being particularly attracted to fluid mechanics, I mainly choose water as a medium in my work. On the supports lying horizontally on the floor, colors 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 from the simplest aesthetic forms to the most complex while leading us to reflect on life, evolution and the genesis of forms (with particles, molecules, cellular, organic, vegetal, cartographical…microcosmic, macrocosmic). Between chance and necessity, between uncertainty and controlled intervention. According to the aesthetic suggestions or directions given, but with water always present as a subject or medium, my work is an attempt to cast an eye on pictorial and vital energies, on the relationship between man and nature, on nature being the inexhaustible source of beauty and inspiration. Some of my recent works mix painting and photography, by “submersion”; either starting from “Water Games” on printing ink, or by scattering colored drops on photomontages superimposing urban views and natural landscapes, as if nature had recovered its rights: an exterior visible from behind water pearls trickling down a windowpane one could observe at home, in a closed space (something like the present lockdown); or from paint poured directly on plexiglass superimposed on photographs taken some time before and which now surge up, come to the surface again: monuments, ancient ruins, blurred landscapes, and lastly, Venice (see Venice, always Venice, live there….and die there perhaps?), Venice and its “aqua alta”, a future Atlantis, as it is bound to become.
LC – Which is the role the artist plays in society? And contemporary art?
VV – In 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 that 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 artists do 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 and acute observer thanks to his sensibility; last a transmitter. This role is very important. Contemporary art (if this signifies something, considering the multifarious realities it applies to, such as artistic superstars, fashionable living artists producing what the public wants at a certain time in certain circles, a kind of art reserved to an elite or accessible to everyone), is nevertheless, according to me, precisely the place or the rather vague, but at any rate large era where the creative artist can play his role before his contemporaries as a transmitter. Then afterward, 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 that “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 contingency, half of art, the other half of which is eternal and immutable”.
LC – Can you explain something about the artworks you have in our exhibition?
VV – The two works presented at the Venice International Art Fair come from the “Acqua Alta series” (2020). I started the “Acqua Alta” paintings in the wake of the historical high tide of November 2019 in Venice (which more or less reached the no less historical height of that of 1966), with a long series of small-scale works on paper, entitled “Vedute”. It consisted of spreading water on photographs I had taken in Venice during my numerous journeys there, printed on drawing paper, and assembled around various themes such as The Grand Canal, canals, night sceneries, the Laguna, etc.). This left the water to dilute the printing ink and submerge the urban landscape to the point of engulfing it completely. After the 2020 Spring lockdown, I was able to repair to my studio to enhance the scale of this work, from enlarged developments of photographs on brushed Alu-Dibond this time, whose brightness (obtained through the reflections of light) could contrast with the watery pictorial matter derived from the submersion in acrylic: an aquatic twilight, the last rays of a declining light interacting with the darkness of water… In a way, the water city accomplished its tragic destiny (fate). Beyond this reference to the water town, my aim was to develop the duality between life and death, so strong in this city, itself the (imaginary) symbol of other submerged cities or at least, to quote Paul Valery, the fatal destiny of all civilizations (“We, civilizations, 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 – In which way the artwork presented in our exhibition is connected with the festival’s theme?
VV – Venice International Art Fair… dream words to me. Obviously, for my first group show in Venice, I wanted to present works related to Venice itself, as it is so intimate to me and to every one of us; consequently, and this also is so magic and special about Venice, this intimacy is so universal… international. I might also say a few words on how the works relate to “How will we live together” which is the theme of this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. As I said before, “Acqua Alta” calls our attention precisely to the way nature reminds us that our unresponsive lifestyles (overpopulation, mass tourism, overconsumption and excess of waste, too much of everything), cannot last forever and that we are on the verge of a catastrophe and 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.
LC – Do you think ITSLIQUID GROUP can represent an opportunity for artists?
VV – Indeed! I got to know ITSLIQUID Group through Instagram, 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 of San Marco. ITSLIQUID offers thematical art fairs in Venice, including during the Biennale, which makes it particularly attractive, and also in dynamic cities such as London or Barcelona.
LC – Did you enjoy cooperating with us?
VV – Yes very much!!! Beyond the obvious quality of the exhibition spaces, I am very impressed and thankful for the outstanding professionalism of the team and the whole project: administration, artistic advice, logistics, communication, social media visibility, kindness. It is a real pleasure. I can only hope to come for the next show in Venice I am very happy to participate in, “Borders / Future Landscapes Art Fair”, in September, and then again hopefully on a regular basis every year.
LC – What do you think about ITSLIQUID Platform?
VV – It is very clear, detailed information, and beautiful pictures from archive exhibitions! Bravo!