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Studio Visit: Bruno Bressolin

By Sher Katz   Thursday April 4, 2019

In a suburb just a stone's throw from Paris lies a town almost as sweet as its name: Joinville-le-Pont. It stretches across both sides of the beautiful Marne river, with its famous bridge (le Pont), which was historically the only way to go from Paris to the eastern provinces of France. Lining the river are proudly kept boats; along the street are beautiful homes, some resembling small chateaus, some are modern marvels made of glass and steel. Turn left at a house a built like a miniature medieval castle, pass a verdant park, and soon you will find nondescript metal gate, the kind you walk by and wonder what is on the other side. This is the address I was given for this studio visit/interview.

There is no buzzer or bell so I rap on the cold metal a few times, producing an almost gong-like tone. Immediately I hear “J’arrive,” I’m coming, and soon the gate swings open and I am greeted by the artist Bruno Bressolin. He welcomes me with a joyous “bienvenue” and the obligatory “bises,” a kiss on each cheek.  (Photo below: Sher Katz)

Once inside the gate I am astounded to find a spacious, light filled courtyard resplendent with giant potted plants and trees just beginning to leaf out.  To the right is a white stucco house, and straight ahead is a glass house that I am anticipating is the studio.I am awe-struck. Being so close to Paris, I wasn’t expecting this much open space.  

Sher Katz: How did you find this place?

Bruno Bressolin: It was a long time ago. I was a single father to my twin daughters and I needed a home where I could work and raise them. I didn't have much money so I settled on this place, which at the time was an abandoned machinist shop. I remember when I brought my mother here for the first time, before we did the work. She cried, actually cried, because she couldn’t imagine it ever being inhabitable. It was a lot of work, but I had friends who helped and in time it became this.

Bressolin offers me a coffee so we go to the kitchen. Passing a menagerie of taxidermized animals and interesting miss-matched antiques, we continue to the living room and begin the interview.

SK: When did you start painting?

BB: When I was 6. My father was in the hospital for many months and I painted a few little canvases to decorate his room. They were fauvism in style, an old man and trees etc. My father encouraged my desire to paint, but back then art school wasn’t an option so I just learned to paint on my own.

SK: You never went to art school?

BB: No, I had to start work very early in life. My parents would buy me paints and canvas when there was a little extra money, and I just found my own style and techniques. (Below: Installation of Sang d' Encre, presented at the Salon Mac 2000 Paris)

SK: How did you become a professional artist?

BB: At the very beginning, just out of school I worked as an illustrator for local newspapers and journals. At the age of 20, I signed with an agent and soon there was plenty of work, print, posters, record covers. 

SK: Do you consider yourself more an artist or an illustrator?

BB. I am a mix of the two. Painting to illustrate or illustrating to paint. My practice is a mix, some drawing, some painting, some xerox play, collage. It’s not only painting. 

SK: So you approach your illustration in an artistic manner, but what about your purely artistic endeavours. 

BB: Ah yes, there I am more free. In the 1980s, in illustration there was more encouragement to be artistic. They paid extra for creativity, but now that is finished, now customers want straight illustration and that's fine. I do my art for exhibition in parallel to the illustration. Here I am less structured, more free, I do what I want. When I want to make something I make it: drawings, paintings, maybe some ceramics.

SK: Your style definitely reflects this freedom. How do you approach starting something new? (left: one of the original drawings forThanakan: Antonin Artaudseries)

BB.  For my paintings I never sketch or plan what I will do. I never use pencil or eraser. When I have an idea I start with one gesture using ink or acrylic, generally on paper and go from there. If the gestures are successful I continue. It’s more exciting this way. I use this process for all my work.

SK: And the unsuccessful gestures?

BB: Those I throw away. Maybe one or two out of ten go to the recycling.

SK: How do you decide that a painting is finished and do you often go back and touch up or change your paintings?

BB: It’s a feeling, almost like the painting is telling me when to continue and when to stop. I never go back and change or modify anything after that moment. It’s either good and I keep it, or it is not good and I throw it away.

SK: When you are making a series, do you work on several pieces at the same time or do you paint one start to finish then start the next?

BB: I will often paint two or three at the same time.

SK: How do you choose your palette?  

BB: I decide at beginning for a palette, a format, a process for the painting and I keep that format for the whole series.  

SK: You have done quite a bit of self-publishing.

BB: Ah yes, you have seen my last newspaper for my new project?  Yes, I have been doing that for many years. My newspapers were the result of the same urgency as my paintings, in the spirit of the rock-fanzine. In the 1980s I created my first paper called “La Gazette a Brutus,” it was a lot of fun but so much work. There were 5 editions, 100 copies each.  That was my only “regular” publication. I still love producing these so I sometimes will put one together for an exhibition, just for fun.

SK: You have had a wide list of clients, from luxury goods to underground theatre posters. What are some of your favorite commissioned projects?

BB: My current professional clients are mostly in the press. For four or five years I have been painting a series of portraits for Le Monde (a popular French newspaper), religious and cultural figures like Primo Levi, Sitting Bull, Nelson Mandela, etc. These I really enjoy doing.  

Also, recently I was commissioned to create a mural for the Nérévia factory, (above), one of France’s best quality and most humane producers of meat. They gave me 38 meters by 5.5 meters of wall, which I finished in just 7 days. It was a lot of work but it was really satisfying. I was their first muralist, but since then they have commissioned other artists to paint other walls, it’s becoming a very interesting art space.

Another current project is creating album cover art for a very mysterious underground music band in Rome. They call themselves Molto Agitato, in the genre of “musique concrete” (below) I propose multiple designs and they chose a few from time to time.  There is no money involved, this project is just for fun. 

 

SK: Last year I attended your exhibition, Perdu, Abandonné, Volé (Lost, Abandoned, Stolen).  I really was moved by this work. For the readers, can you describe what this was and how it came to be. 

BB: In 2000 I began collecting strange and interesting items I would find on the beach. Some things were very beautiful too. Refrigerator doors, pieces of cars, things lost from boats or swept away by the sea. I collected hundreds of things.  

In the first exhibition I grouped them by color. I made them like little islands on the floor. I called this Les Plastonautes, you know, like Ulysses’ Jason and the Argonauts, all the islands.

The second exhibition I made with them last year, Perdu, Abandonné, Volé I presented many small sculptures made from the objects (below). I arranged them with no glue or bindings, just stacked carefully. Many of them were arranged with African masks and tribal art to represent the people of Africa who take to the sea desperate to find a better life but are sometimes very sadly lost to the sea.

SK: So you used the same flotsam to bring two very important but different crises to light. The first one is environmental, the second, humanitarian.

BB. Exactly.

SK: In your career you have illustrated several books. 

BB: Yes, maybe five, oh, I think more. The first was in 1985 Deux Chapeaux de Paille d’Italie by Curzio Malaparte. Les Petits Contes Nègres Pour Les Enfants des Blancs by Blaise Cendrars. Another was Louis XV - Texte Inédit by Jean Francois Bory, followed by the only the only novel written by Louis Ferdinand Celine, Secrets dans l'île. Recently I did a book of Felix Guattari,  Ritournelle(s) - texte inédit. I have also made a few books to accompany exhibitions, like Sang d’Encre. I began that after the Hurricane Sandy tragedy in 2012. I made one painting every day for a year relating to a news story. 

SK: I want to let the readers know that most of these “books” are actually very impressive, unbound, large format works beautifully printed on heavy paper. And now the latest one, the Antonin Artaud.  How did you come to choose this works by Artaud as your subject.  

BB: Antonin Artaud, he was a very famous actor, poet, writer in France during the 1920s-40s. He was very talented, but suffered from mental problems and drug addiction and was often in the psychiatric hospital. He was brilliant and tragic. 

When I was working on the Celine book with the publishers Gallimard, Danielle Dastugue, the collection director, recommended that I investigate Artaud’s Thanakan text; she found it interesting due to its violent and iconoclastic writing style. This particular piece is almost forgotten and very obscure. I was able to access it in the archives at la Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Normally only scholars would be admitted, but after several requests one librarian allowed me in because I have a few pieces in their archives so he deemed me acceptable.

SK: What's the subject of Artaud’s book?

BB: There really isn’t a subject. It's a digression.  It is considered a poem but it's more like an épopée, an epic.

SK: And this will be another large format book?

BB: Yes, silkscreen, 26 poster-sized pages, boxed, signed and numbered. I think it will be a maximum edition of 50. I am very happy they will be printed by Lézard Graphique in Strasbourg. They do very fine work and I am honored to have this edition printed by them. Let me show you.

We walk to a massive oak flat file, Bressolin opens a drawer and pulls out several sheets of the original work (above left). I wish my French was better so I could grasp the literary content, but the artistic content speaks for itself. The paintings are in shades of black, gray and green. The paintings have an eerie quality, a few I had to have a moment to understand what I was seeing. Love, sex, sadness were a few words that came to mind when looking. I wanted time to gaze, to translate and to ponder each page.

SK: Will there will be a corresponding exhibition of this work?

BB: Yes the exhibition will be at the By Chatel Gallery in Paris, May 16 - 20, 2019. If all goes according to my plan I will return to Paris to have the time to see this Thanakan work better. 

It seemed like the interview had come to a natural conclusion so I asked if I could take some photos. Bressolin happily obliged, pointing out some little things that I had not noticed, like bird skeletons he had found, and two completely rusted WWII hand pistols his friend had dug up in his garden and gifted to him.  While on my second tour of the studio I stopped to admire a set of large charcoal drawings. The second one in the pile stopped my heart, or rather, it actually set my heart to a rapid beat. I feel this from time to time when looking at art, but usually that is in a museum or gallery and the art in question is far out of reach.  This day, the art was right there in my hand. Without thinking I asked the price. Without thinking he answered and the bargain was set. I don’t think it could have ended better than this.

Bruno Bressolin | Thanakan: Antonin Arthaud, May 16-20, 2019, By Chatel Gallery, 58 Rue des Tournelles, Paris Info

Sher Katz is an expat American living in Montpellier, and it must be stated, a friend of the Editor.

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