The first retrospective in France of the work of Fabienne Verdier (born in Paris in 1962) took place at the Musée Granet from June to October 2019. It includes her early paintings, based on the lessons learned from Chinese masters, and her most recent works, created in front of Mount Sainte-Victoire, inspired by the study of early Flemish paintings or the structure of sound waves. The exhibition also retraces Verdier’s exchanges with scholars and thinkers, creators and scientists. It captures the artist’s dialogue with nature, art history, and the circulation of ideas.
MusÃ©e Granet /
<a class="switch">Interview by</a><br>
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exhibitions and Collections Director
<span class="alinea"></span><i>Please tell us a few words about your series Manifestations, which the Pinault Collection loaned to the Musée Granet. What is its position in the development of your work as a painter?</i> <br/>
<u>Fabienne Verdier </u> This series is very important to me. It is a key component of my exploration of the deconstruction of the sign, which I undertook for fifteen years, from 1992 to 2007. At the time, I was trying to transpose the complexity I had learned in China, where I studied ideograms, into a study of simple forms observed in nature and in Western painting. I wanted to preserve in my practice the energy contained in the concepts studied in Asia. Manifestations is one of the last series I produced that are rooted in the study of three ideograms: the first painting is based on the ideogram “KONG,” which captures simultaneously the idea of emptiness and freedom; the second on “CHANG” (constant principle); and the third on “SI” (thought). Formally, these are the first paintings I did in which the brush extends beyond the edge of the canvas, thus inviting the viewer to first perceive the movement that crosses the canvas, the energy that I was trying to conserve, rather than the motif itself inside the frame. Manifestations is, in my journey, a manifesto. It represents the desire to express a constantly moving thought and the fluidity of reality.
<span class="alinea"></span><i>What have you retained to this day from your early training in painting in China, where you studied with the masters of calligraphy? How does this education, which you have surpassed, survive in your work? What did it generate?</i> <br/>
<u>FV </u> I left China more than twenty-five years ago, in 1992, but I’ve retained from this apprenticeship the principle of a vertical painting, which vibrates with the flow of matter. The forces of gravity shape all organisms and physical phenomena on Earth and in our galaxy. I paint in dialogue with those forces, so that the forms that emerge on my canvases operate a dialogue with the space that surrounds us, and the beings on this planet.
<span class="alinea"></span><i>And from the history of Western art? What major trends in painting have you drawn from? What kind of companionship are you pursuing today?</i> <br/>
<u>FV </u> After my return to France, I spent a lot of time looking at Flemish painting from the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. I wanted to understand how those Old Masters, whose paintings seem so still at first, managed to capture a vibratory energy in their work, both in the shapes they used and in their spiritual content. I studied their glazing technique in depth. I have also tried to update the underlying architecture that orchestrates the characters’ figures, a true abstract theater. At the same time, I also got very interested in American Abstract Expressionists, thanks to a commission to create five large paintings for the Hubert Looser Foundation in Zurich. These paintings were intended to engage in a dialogue with five works from the Foundation’s collection, by Donald Judd, Cy Twombly, Ellsworth Kelly, John Chamberlain, and Willem de Kooning. The “Manifestations” series allowed me to get out of a labyrinth. With these two series of paintings, in dialogue with Flemish masters and Abstract Expressionists, I felt as though I’d found my way as a painter, even if, paradoxically, this also led to the emergence of a labyrinthine thought. Together with the art historian Alexandre Vanautgaerden, we have given much thought to presenting, in the book accompanying my three exhibitions in Aix, the key works that establish the links between the different periods of my career.
<span class="alinea"></span><i>You’re interested in observing the rhythms of nature and scientific investigations. You’ve spoken of the influence of satellite images and that of wave propagation… How do these new sources of inspiration feed your work?</i> <br/>
<u>FV </u> In parallel with my painting sessions in the studio, I spend a lot of time in a small barn that I have converted into a library. I draw and make collages in which I compile all kinds of images, quotations, or thoughts that inspire my painting. It is a kind of <i>Zibaldone</i> in which I proceed by analogy among scientific images, works by painters and sculptors who preceded us, forms gathered from nature, excerpts from readings, and exchanges with the scientists with whom I have had the chance to collaborate in recent years.
<span class="alinea"></span><i>Recently, you have also imagined immersive installations: what do they allow you to accomplish that painting cannot?</i> <br/>
<u>FV </u> The installation presented this summer in Aix, and which will be shown in Paris next year, is the result of several years of work around the relationship between the painted line and the sound wave. I can express this idea of the emergence of forms that I work with in my painting in a new way by using film. I am interested less in a form than in its future. Film allows me to share with the spectator the ways in which musicians with their bows and myself with my paintbrush actually work in the same way, with a form that is constantly changing. Together they capture a perception of time that I can’t communicate in a finished painting. With the whole team that assisted me with this research, we wanted to place the spectator at the center of a cinematographic device. The film’s presentation, on four screens, is designed to offer the viewer a multiplicity of points of view. I have so far been able to make four films of different lengths, from 9 to 26 minutes, from string quartets by Haydn, Dutilleux, Kurtág, and Adámek. They read each other, look at each other, listen to one another, in a back-and-forth among different levels of consciousness that expand our perception of time and space.
<span class="alinea"></span><i>For the past two years, you’ve been experimenting with a nomadic workshop in the vicinity of Mount Sainte‑Victoire. Tell us about this experience—facing a monument to nature as well as the monumental Paul Cézanne?</i> <br/>
<u>FV </u> As part of the exhibition project at the Musée Granet, Bruno ély, its director, asked me to come and work on Cézanne’s turf. After hesitating a bit, having chosen five locations, and so five points of view on the mountain, I established a kind of nomadic workshop that allowed me to move my big brush and my stretched canvases around the mountain. We spent several weeks with a small team figuring out how to move more than 250 kg of equipment, in often difficult weather conditions. This experience opened up new perspectives for me, as I had to learn to deal not only with the forces of gravity, but also with those of wind, rain, and hail. I approached the poetic structure of the mountain through its geomorphology. Paul Cézanne contemplatively said, at the end of his life, “Everything is dense and fluid at the same time.”