Sunday, September 19, 2010

Portrait: Thomas Fougeirol

I recently had the pleasure to visit painter Thomas Rougeirol's studio in Ivry-sur-Seine to talk about some of his new large canvases, his influences and processes.

This studio, one of two the French-born painter maintains (the other is in Bushwick, Brooklyn) is immense by any standard. But there is no sign of anyone else working here. His is a one-person operation, and by a quick calculation, Fougeirol works non-stop, as there are literally thousands of large and medium-sized canvases filling this giant factory space. 

Fougeirol works with positives and negatives, largely in black and white, and manipulates the paint-drenched canvas "brush" to map out the areas he's interested in accenting.  A serious collection of plastic shower curtains allows him to create all-over patterns that are by turn ghostly and photograph.

Thomas paints with his body, that is, he presses oil paint-soaked canvases and other items against his stretched canvases, and traces out a pattern line by line to produce a kind of monotype.  It is hard to produce anything larger than the size of his own body as he works on the floor, but some of his canvases measure 2.5 x 3.5 meters and "just get out the door," he says.

What's key for the 45-year old artist is that he isn't using machines to produce his works, say, in the manner Christopher Wool has recently by creating a mosaic out of an abstract painted pattern, refashioning them in Photoshop and producing a silkscreen. "No, I am the machine," Fougeirol insists.  In a way that Klein used bodies to produce magic works.  Or in a way that skid marks are made on a street: With the application (hard and fast) of the car brakes.  Other works are piled up spiraling custards of black or silver oil paint; several portray chandeliers, but almost all intimate death in an elegant, lush, near monumental fashion.

I mention two great German artists – Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter – and Fougeirol nods, familiar not only with their techniques, mystery and iconography but also with the deeper sense of their investigations – and his:  "The work here focuses on death, its immutability and its evasiveness." Thomas toys with a human skull he uses as a studio prop for paintings.  I look around: There is an enormous energy in these works, a kind of life-affirming activity, and a glowing light emanating from these canvases.

The imagery shifts quickly and easily from giant skulls, beds and armoires to a dark tangle of old branches in black. Some canvases are painted in hot flourescent pink, yellow and silver, and are printed over in a black grid. There is a wild thrill attached to all of these canvases, as if you're looking into the artist's open heart.  

See studio images here.  Gallery website: Praz-Delavallade.

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