Fabienne Verdier’s paintings are painstakingly prepared - wooden canvasses are flooded with dense, sublime colour and then layered with vivid lines through tools she has crafted herself. In her walking paintings, she plots a route over the work and allows the paint to fall in the line it chooses to take, capturing the essence of energy that is always there - but it isn't until she makes these tangible that we see them, and feel them.
These lines record of the act of painting and are the result of it; tapping into the spontaneous moment of paint meeting canvas and also representing the ancient and monumental. Her work is full of such contrast - it is contemporary but primordial, meditative but seething with huge energy, simple but complex, inviting the viewer to get utterly lost in the details of the off-piste paint splashes and wiry filaments that spread out from the line like electrical pulses.
Verdier trained for ten years in China, exploring calligraphy and natural forms through an eastern aesthetic, and recently collaborated with the Juilliard School of Music to explore the link between harmony and rhythm in aural and visual art. Her Walking Paintings and Juilliard experimental paintings Rhythm and Reflections are on show at the Waddington Custot gallery in London until February 2017.
A film by Ghislain Baizeau © Fabienne Verdier Studio
You were determined to become a painter from a young age. What led you to know this about yourself, and how did you develop into an abstract artist?
My parents divorced and my father lived near the Musee Rodin - every two weeks he took us to all the museums and I discovered what art is. I had been so sad, but the art universe helped me and let me escape through my imagination. I think it is a necessity for me to be in that kind of universe. My father was my first teacher and I tried to learn with him the figurative way. When I was eight, he wanted to introduce to me the perspective rules, the point of view, how to build the world that way, but I often refused that. He was very angry because that is the first thing you have to know to build reality but for me it isn’t. I had to follow my intuition though he said I was crazy.
So what is your way?
I have another approach to reality because the figurative way is like death for me. My interest is in life, constant movement, and in the mastery of spontaneity. My teachers at art school said that it seemed I was bored in the class, which I was, and suggested I go to Asia because maybe that culture was a better fit for me.
I stayed in China for ten years, which was a huge and difficult training for me, and then I returned to France. The genesis of my work and the maturation of that body of work appears with the two cultures combined together. I rediscovered European culture, Rembrant, Turner, Victor Hugo, and then I began to destroy, to deconstruct all the things people had taught me.
How do eastern practices continue to influence your work?
I decided to devote my life to the vertical art of painting in Asia where they play with fundamental natural forces and gravity. I thought that if I did some research around it maybe I would invent a new abstract language - not De Kooning’s or Pollock’s but my own. I invented new tools - I cut the wood off the brush and I put my bicycle handle on there and discovered a brushstroke with the possibility of much more velocity in space. Recently I dematerialised the brush, creating a funnel that replicates the inner part of the brushstroke. When I walk across my canvas, every painting is a new experience using all my body, all my senses. It is a new language of expression and energy.
You were recently invited by the Juilliard School of Music to experiment with their musicians. What happened?
They invited me to create a kind of laboratory - I was the first visual artist to be there and while it wasn't easy, it was fantastic. I worked with important musicians and they invited me to play with them. The first months were awful because it is so difficult to forget the way we practice and have been taught, but eventually I was in total concomitance with them, observing and hearing each other in a spontaneous way. For 30 years I have had a certain idea of what is an harmonic line, and on my own I build my own aesthetic forms and structure. But when I met them, I closed my eyes and I heard something and I got a totally new vision of what sound is. A new structure appeared in my brain: I discovered a new form, a new dynamism which was a real revolution in my painting.
The musicians invited me into the rhythm of the sound, using my breath and multiple brushstrokes and suddenly something crazy happened. A lot of things from reality appeared - I definitely didn't want to plan that kind of thing - a river, rocks; but I forgot myself and through the rhythm the reality appeared.
The musicians had a transformative experience too?
Yes! We exchanged many things in silence. I was a very solitary painter and suddenly they caught some hidden thing in the human experience that I have in me, that I didn't know I had. It opened some door, some memories for me, and it opened a new kind of dynamism for them. The musicians struggle with opening their minds and daring to put themselves into danger, to invent a new language. When they looked at the experience of the danger, the dynamic brushstroke, it helped them explore unknown territory.
It was incredibly collaborative and we worked with our whole bodies, our whole senses. I want to talk to a neuroscientist because we can't explain what happened - we exchanged such a deep profound thing. We understood each other without any word. It changed me and it changed them.
What is the next phase for you? How will you push yourself further?
I want to return to New York because they have an open mind that we haven't got in France. I want to open a studio and continue exploring with the musicians and using it. I want to educate my senses - to learn to listen to an opera voice, baritone, jazz, jazz improvisation, baroque. I want to give a shock connection to my viewer - like with the zen master, suddenly you understand something. Even though my work is abstract - I never want to force people to import something, but only to suggest the life spirit and they either get it or they don’t. I try to catch the hidden things. I really want to express that we should not be afraid of instability because it is the essence of life.
Fabienne Verdier: Rhythms and Reflections is on view at Waddington Custot until Feb 4.