The Pictorial Gesture

"The aim is to create a conversation that is both
theatrical and intimate; windows open not just onto the world,
but onto painting itself." – Clédia Fourniau

"The aim is to create a conversation that is both theatrical and intimate; windows open not just onto the world, but onto painting itself." – Clédia Fourniau

Ahead of her first solo exhibition with KÖNIG GALERIE, Clédia Fourniau sat down in her studio for an interview to shed insight on her performative painting process and the works of her inaugural show in the Nave of St. Agnes, TEN TURNS. In her art, Fourniau works on the serial and gestural dimension of abstract painting by questioning representation, and the conditions of creation, perception, and reception of a double image. Clédia Fourniau’s approach roams between a formal, controlled, and accidental practice.
KÖNIG GALERIE: In the title of your upcoming exhibition, TEN TURNS, what does the turn refer to? What role does the turn play in these paintings, and is it something new to these works, or has this been present in your previous works as well?

CLÉDIA FOURNIAU: TEN TURNS refers to the way I painted, the way I worked, and the all-consuming and powerful energy that accompanied me throughout the production process. For this specific exhibition, I moved to a larger studio than the one I'd been occupying and was able to arrange all of my blank canvases on the four walls around me. So, with each color I prepared, I marked each painting one after the other with a trace, a dot, or a spot, in a circular movement. It was as if I were baptizing them. Over days, the layers of paint were gradually superimposed, relative to the turns I had been taking in the studio. The question of quantity is also important, this is why I choose a number in the title. I work with stacked layers, sometimes accumulating dozens of them. They pile up and archive the actions performed on the painting. The role of the body's process and action is therefore central to this group of works, and to my work in general: it is at the heart of a daily, ritualized experience of the studio. Moreover, the sphere and the circle have a very strong symbolism and hold an infinite possibility of variation. There is no beginning and no end – the movement is perpetual, like the work of painting – in a constant form of progression and forward movement.

KG: For TEN TURNS, you are not painting on canvas but rather on textiles. What significance does the decision to paint directly on fabric have for these works and the images they produce?

CF: I paint mainly on furniture and clothing fabric, but also on thick, raw cotton canvas for the largest of the formats in the exhibition. I try to use the material qualities of fabric and paint. I'm thinking of Analia Saban or Robert Ryman, who liked to explore and experiment with the possibilities and effects induced by varied supports. I work in a variety of formats, from very small to large (determined by the height of my studio door and the limits of my arm's reach), and with different materials that I combine, observing their reactions with one another (resin, acrylics, oil, mica, solvents, pigments…). Through the use of textiles, I can speak of the body, not in a naturalistic sense present through the painted image, but as a figure embodied in the fabric, through its evocation. Whether fabric is upcycled or bought from a wholesaler, its purpose is to touch the skin, to cover, or protect it. It's also an important object in our consumerist world, as it says a lot about our social behavior. Fabrics are no longer just neutral receptacles for images, but proper actors, fully-fledged materials rather than just mere supports. The colors and hues of the fabrics also play an active role in my painting, becoming like forms that cut away from the background, solid and hollow counter-forms that allow the support and color to merge with one another.

KG: There seems to be a tension in these new paintings between the painted and the pictorial registers. In other words, a kind of internal movement in each work between those marks that you place when you paint and the images that result from your actions. Try as we might, it is almost impossible to reconcile the two. Is this intentional? And if yes, to what end?

CF: Indeed, colors and shapes merge and plunge us into paintings that show their own making. I try to combine the idea of performativity, impulsivity, gestural acts, with a return to the constituent elements painting. In other words, color, material, and form are both the objects of study and the instruments of study. The pictorial gesture, which seems to have imprinted a choreography on the body, blends with the use of geometric elements, frames, and series. I summon the abstract expressionists and different types of abstraction, as well as minimalists and the Support/Surface French group. In the body of work for the TEN TURNS exhibition, I wanted to accentuate the presence of tools, to include more rapid, lively gestures on the fabric, as well as the intuitive movements of the hand and the touch of the brush – its size, direction, intensity. All this appears on the canvas as a marker of my body, as an effect of my own impulses. At the same time, the idea of fixity and movement is also involved. The glossy image is both stable and mobile, and its quality, treated sometimes like a kind of embossing, is as irregular as it is smooth, whose materiality and physicality will inevitably elude the photographic lens. The aim is to create a conversation that is both theatrical and intimate; windows open not just onto the world, but onto painting itself.

KG: Speaking of the pictorial fields and the rich imagery that emerges from looking at your works, could you talk about the frames that adorn these paintings? Their decoration gives the impression that they are never really defined spatially, that they cannot be delimited by their physical support. Is that the case, or is there something else at play?

CF: The frames, bands, or areas of fabric left bare, reinforce a process of divesting paintings of all content, while at the same time containing in themselves an image that is nevertheless painted, enforcing and invoking gestural painting and its history. This makes it possible for a painting within a painting to emerge, thereby questioning its limits and the unity of a composition in the space of a painting, as a fragment of a whole. The image becomes autonomous, detached from the background by its margins, trapping the body within its limits. In choosing to present a series of paintings of the same size for the TEN TURNS exhibition, I envisaged a continuity of space from one painting to the next, with points of rupture crystallized by the smaller formats. For me, seriality is also an opportunity to experiment with a limited formal principle that repeats itself and reinforces the impression of earthly gravity. KG: What about the role that site plays in these paintings? Each of the ten works contains Colombes in their title, a reference to where your studio is located for the time of the exhibition. For predominantly abstract imagery, citing a specific, material place is an interesting choice. How does the formal look of your paintings connect to the context where they were first produced?

CF: In fact, I named the paintings after the town in which I worked on this specific group of paintings. It is not so much to talk about my memories and emotions that I had during the production time as about the process of making the paintings. I'm thinking of Brice Marden and his “Hydra” series (1972), or Ellsworth Kelly, who named each of the prints in the “Roman” series after a French medieval church he had visited in 1949, without referring to the specificity of one church or another. It's more about the frozen moment of an intense and pleasurable process of research and experimentation, about life in the studio, about the elaboration of an impulsive, spontaneous painting that is at the same time reflective and formal.

All images © Courtesy of the artist and König Galerie (Berlin, Seoul), 2023

KG: In seeing these works, I found myself retracing your gestures visually, as markers of both presence and absence, because you made these things and yet you are no longer there within the finished painting. What is your own relationship to the completed work? Is there a longing on your part for the process of painting to continue, or do you take solace in the anticipation of new audiences for your work?

CF: There's definitely a deconstruction of the elements of painting – working with solids, monochrome, and simple gestures – that attempts to distance the presence of the body, and at the same time the idea of a gestural painting where spaces are treated through rhythm, both in all-over and by the center. Through this more painted imagery than in my previous exhibitions, there is both this fixed image-object, which doesn't seek to take us elsewhere, which is to be grasped outright as an immediate presence, and at the same time this multiple possibility of visual variations that gives the impression of penetrating the skin of the painting and accessing its core. Whether present or absent, the body is essential in my work. I speak of it through the reflection of the viewer, who sees his or her image more or less right away depending on how glossy the painting is. Although they don't "figure" anything, my paintings are on the same level as the real world that everyone can experience. I find my forms from chance as well as from the urban environment, using re-reading and reuse to make them emerge from my own work. Knowing when a painting is finished is a big question. But honestly, with this group, my relationship to the work and the dynamic of surrender/abandon has changed. The finished work and the achievement of the painting are less important, and therefore so is the question of its completion.

KG: On the topic of viewers, are you thinking about audiences when you paint? What, if any, role does the imagined reception of your work play in how you create a given work?

CF: Reception is important, but what interests me most is what will happen between the viewer and the painting, the bond that will be created. I have envisaged the TEN TURNS exhibition as the presentation of a coherent grouping of precise but not definitive stages in my creation. The paintings are not alike, each one imposing its own singularity and path: notions of evolution, chronology, newness, and progress are essential in my work. In fact, I question the principle of absolute homogeneity by working on paintings that are often different from one another, with a variety of colorful stylistic motifs, saturated or not. Matisse's lesson is that each shape and color, in its specific dimensions, carries its own meaning and effect, which cannot be transposed. The choice of working on "false monochromes" and, above all, color and its radiation, has an important role to play, as it covers different symbolism and projections depending on the space and the way in which the works are seen, but also with respect to societies and periods of history. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, for example, blue was considered a warm color in the West, whereas today it leaves a completely different impression. In this way, colored images and their possible interpretations change and shift from one painting to the next, from one individual to the next.

KG: Given their allusion to a particular site – Colombes – how do you envision the migration of your works to a new context in Berlin? Does a new site ultimately change something fundamental about these paintings? Is it important for the paintings to retain something of their original identity? What is it that the works must ultimately relinquish of this original context (the studio) in order to be seen elsewhere?

CF: That's a good question. In the end, there is little left of the context in which the paintings were produced other than the imprint of how they were produced. They are the testimony of a layered space that has recorded the process of painting and the presence of the studio, whose traces, sometimes covered by layers of passing matter, are no longer necessarily visible. But what was decisive for me in creating this exhibition was the precise context of the gallery in which the work would be seen. The former nave of St. Agnes has a very strong presence in its dimensions and appearance. I wanted to play with the theatrical proportions of the nave and consider the grey of the wall and floor as an abstract form in and of itself, against which the colored images would crystallize, and this falsely monochromatic scene would stand out, like on a theater stage. The largest painting in the exhibition, cut into small colored zones, anticipates this fragmentary relationship, plunging the viewer into a shared, opaquer panoramic screen. The aim was to create an immediate yet ambivalent sense of a painting whose frame is fragmented and limits the painted image, while at the same time forming part of a larger whole, the nave: an image within an image within the space of this spectacular central vessel.




Clédia Fourniau (b. 1992 in Paris, France) lives and works in Paris. She received a BA from Ensaama Olivier de Serres School of Art & Design and a BA and MFA from the Beaux-Arts de Paris.

Her paintings are created using acrylic paint, mica, and resin on primed canvas or textile that forms a mirror-glossy surface producing an introspective dialogue between the reflected image and reality. The act of painting is fundamentally dependent on material and process, rooted in a practice of body in action that is built up in her studio day by day and layer after layer, in an extended and unpredictable temporality. She works on the serial ...
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