“The practice of painting is serious enough to become risible.”
Julien Saudubray was born in 1985 in Paris. He currently lives and works in Brussels, Belgium. Graduated from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts de Paris in 2012, the artist has since exhibited in France, England, Italy and Belgium.
After having experimented with what he calls the mobility of painting and its multiple applications, Julien Saudubray now synthesizes his experiments in a practice he defines as mechanistic.
By reducing subjectivity to a minimum through the methodical application of layers of colour on the wall or paper, he evacuates the subject from the painting to reveal its internal structure.
From the reduction of the latter to an arbitrary and repetitive action, sweeping, sanding, erasing, adding, paintings emerge as catches between two times, almost resembling bad digital prints, and which perpetually replay their possibility of success.
With each brushstroke I oscillate between ecstasy and boredom, observing myself painting like an absurd machine programmed on a Beckettian formula: "To miss more, to miss better."
You qualify your painting technique as mechanist, what does it concretely mean for your paintings?
The applied process of the translucent colour is punctuated by the same sweeping movement of the paint brush. It is a way of being detached from subjectivity and create physical accidents that depends only from this simple but repetitive movement like a minimal choreography. It also helps to create failure in my work which can be the starting point of the painting. I am considering this mechanist gesture to be like an external factor, a ternary ratio between my subjectivity, the painting as an object and this objective and formal.
You mention having studying from artists such as Wade Guyton, what would you say you have learnt from him that you may somewhat use or get influenced by in your work?
Since 2017, I have worked with the idea of starting from scratch in terms of my work by trying to stay simple in my practice and using three primary colours: cyan, magenta and yellow which we can find in the ink jet printing and in serigraphy. I wanted to desacralize the gesture of painting, working like a printer based on a very simple automatic function. The work of Wade Guyton nourished me on the question on the nature of the pictural by a systematic work and the manipulation surrounding the printed image and the dissociation between the nature of the image and the results of it.
Would you say you are more focused on the process and mastering your own technique rather than the paintings and its aesthetic results?
Until very recently, I was concentrated on the systematic application of the colour by its transparency. This work was an end in itself, a way to confront myself to the boredom of the practice of painting. To see until where I could go with it to provoke this boredom so intense that I had to find an exit plan that will impose itself upon me. Actually, I would say that this process has become a tool, in the work that goes beyond its simple conceptual realisation. A painting is obviously an aesthetic experience for the viewer and equally to its creator, but I believe the quality of an artworks is much more profound than this in a sense that it brings a certain temporality, fragility and a path to arrive at its outcome. We can never escape from the first aesthetic impression, but we can then exceed and goes above and beyond it.
Can you please explain further why you refer to Becket’s quote: “fail again, fail better” to define your work?
This quote for me means the idea of a repeated failure which somehow helps you to move forward. In reality, we get stuck more often than we succeed. The failure is the skeleton of the artwork, in comparation to the success that is very ephemeral and does not help questioning ourselves and our creations. Jean-Luc Godard took those words to talk about his movies and the idea of a good picture is a failed one. We always need a certain wobbliness in a good painting. The heterogeneous element that structures the rest as an opposition effect.
The mechanism of your process of adding layers after layers of the paint diluted with turpentine somewhat end up like a blurry image – when do you know to stop? is it instinctive or have you got a result you are interested in achieving?
It is obviously a mix of both. In your previous question, if painting is too obvious or too aesthetic, I usually destroy this image by adding partially for example. This irreversible gesture brings me back to fail and to start again from scratch. I often stop when I believe the problems and their solutions have started a dialogue.
You like accompanying your pictures with narrative, words and stories. What do you think it adds to the photography?
Perspective. Moments don’t just happen. Sure, sometimes you get a great shot from a chance encounter, but more often than not you wait for the right light, you spend hours with someone to capture a portrait, and watch wildlife closely to be at the right place at the right time. Behind a photo is a story of effort and perseverance.
Despite the fact that you concentrate on the technique, would you still say that the end result is equally as important than someone that would concentrate on doing “a picture perfect” and the result itself as really if the result pleases to the eye somewhat you would have succeeded in developing your technique?
As I mentioned previously, the aesthetic and the gaze and ultimately the eye are the first step to access the painting. It is a way of entering a conversation, catching the eye and then starting the dialogue to go deeper and beyond the physical aspect of the painting. There is no “, picture perfect” in my mind, it is only the viewer’s mind and sensorial subjectivity that counts but this is out of my hands. I believe that painting is one mean amongst others to talk about something else, a pretext of a new dialogue.