Julia Michiewicz in conversation with Alexandre Lenoir

Words by

Julia Michiewicz

Julia Michiewicz in conversation with Alexandre Lenoir

We meet (virtually) a few weeks before the opening of your latest exhibition with Almine Rech. Can you give us a taster of what to expect and how it relates to your previous show with them that we featured on our website?

My current exhibition is more related to my own narrative. The subjects are directly linked to the past of my family or even the place where I found these old photographs: in my grandmothers house at Trois-Rivières (Guadalupe). These old photographs became the area where I had to live the process of painting. This process is more of a repetitive choreography than a spontaneous gesture. The meditative gesture leads the body to be, instead of doing something technical. In this way, inconsistent energy overflows through the body into the canvas and fixes old memories with our spirit imbued by a past: base of what we are.

You described viewing your last exhibition at Almine Rech Brussels as diving into a pool. Is there a connection between this metaphor of immersing yourself in the art and the splashy, watercolor texture of your paintings?

For sure! Supported by the feeling of going down a pool at Almine Rech space in Brussels, I love the idea of being on the threshold of the painting. The squale as a bridge, we are between our reality and the reality of the painting, between the projection of our mental images and the matière of the painting, and between two spaces. That asks the question of the surface which I play with; paint from the back for example, and the subject of my last exhibition at Almine Rech Paris (Matignon): sous le niveau de la mer.

The photographs you base your artworks on are mainly sourced from your personal archive. What is the significance of using documentations of your life?

My first paintings were self-portraits. Through years the question of "I" took several forms: my personal archive, but also my family one’s, the fact to work with assistants, the opposition of the process and my spontaneous gesture. My best discovery of these experimentations was the consideration of myself as a painter instead of "doing paintings". That gave me the liberty to BE at the studio and that made paintings. Maybe one of my future exhibitions will called "I, is an other", sentence from the French poet Arthur Rimbaud which make sense to my autobiographical work.

Alexandre Lenoir, Fond Vert, 2021, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 204.2 x 145.1 x 3.5 cm 803/8x571/8x13/8in, Photo by Dan Bradica © Alexandre Lenoir and Almine Rech
Your process involves partially projecting photographs onto the canvas. What is the significance of using projections as light stencils for your paintings? And how does that connect with you working in the dark?

I am sensitive with "incarnation" incarnation is to give flesh to an idea; the meeting of words and matière. Far from the idea of figurative or abstract, I believe in the incarnation of an idea, the way of doing, the process, in the flesh of the matière of the painting, through the human body. I don’t need to see what I’m doing when I paint. At the studio, my assistants and I applied mechanical gestures. In a choreography settled of layers, the painting exists slowly, silently, blindly in the dark. Before the reveal.

Since you strike a very fine balance between representation and abstraction in your paintings, the people, landscapes and objects you paint are specific, yet unidentifiable. Can you expand on this? How does this effect relate to your personal memories as well as the collective memory of your audience?

When you don’t recognize, you project images from your memory on the matière of the canvas. These matière are made through the body of the painter and his memories. The painting is between these two interiorities and creates a connecting space led by the flow of a common memory. Here the sentence « I is an other » makes complete sense!

I read somewhere that you work with a team of non-painters. Can you explain your process and the meaning of working as a group?

My paintings need a partially repetitive gesture to exist, so I work with assistants to support me in that task. This gesture, exclusive to my process, doesn’t require knowledge. Anybody could assist me, I choose assistants with profound human qualities: empathy, confidence, and quest of sense. Because you must find personal travel through a mechanical gesture.

Speaking on this subject; what is the role of participation in the creative process for you and how does it relate to authorship in your opinion?

The assistants applied mechanical gestures under my lead. I don’t ask them to create, but to apply a process. For a short moment, we live together at the studio and create the same energy as a family melting in a space.

I heard that since you work in the dark and don’t know what your paintings are going to look like you discard artworks that you are not satisfied with. Can you speak a bit more about this? Do you feel attached to your pieces?

Yes, I mostly work in the dark and blindly, because of the projector I partially use and layers of tape on the canvas. I also work with the reception of an image given by the painting, I become the first spectator of my work. After their apparition, there is no rule, I can throw away the canvas, or accept it like this and do nothing, work directly or I can even put it around and work on it later. I’m not attached to my pieces; they must live their life. And without me it is better. Because the viewer also makes the canvas.

You grew up in the Caribbean, in France, and did a residency in Morocco. How did these places influence you and your art making process?

Places were important for me because I used to work for several months on a singular canvas. I locked the space’s energy into that canvas through a long process. And after, I had to leave this space to give me enough energy to do another canvas. The Caribbean was great for the feeling of a strong nature (stronger when you’re a child!) Represent this feeling by living the matière. In Casablanca, I learned to work with assistants and to find my place/their place in the studio.

I have read somewhere online a description of the layers of your work reminding the author of pixels in a photograph. Does your work correlate with pixilation, compressions, and decompressions, hiding and uncovering, or perhaps even the finite and the infinite?

Thanks, that’s a great presentation of my work! I love oppositions, not to find a balance but to let the contrary exist in the same place. That gives a space to let the viewer live the canvas. Like breath, you need to inhale and exhale to live, a painting needs the same. Let the painter find great oppositions with chemical reactions, which can give birth to the canvas.

Your process involves elements of surprise and reveal, I was wondering if that relates to taking analogue photographs by any chance. Where does the instantaneousness of digital imaging fit into all this?

My work is inspired by analogue photography in the process: paint with three primary colors, project light on a screen (cotton), let the painting dry in baths of oil painting, work on the back of a canvas (negative). We are in a darkroom. The surprise is a melt of all that translative ways of paint but also by the blindly layers process. I need to have fate, to hope, and receive painting like a grace.

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Exhibition views of Trois Rivières , Alexandre Lenoir, Almine Rech New York, 2021/ © Alexandre Lenoir -Courtesy of the Artist and Almine Rech. Photos: Dan Bradica