French artist Marie-Cecile Aptel talks about the process and her thoughts behind her wonderful large scale paintings…
Bonjour, Marie-Cecile. I love colour. It has the biggest impact on me over shape and form so it is not surprising that I so love your work! You have such a fantastic sensibility of placing colours next to each other and making something strong and beautiful. And that’s no easy task. Is this ability purely intuitive or do you plan and perhaps make colour studies?
Hi Cand, firstly thank you for looking at my work and your interest in my painting. As for my use and thoughts on colour… no, I have no plans or theory in advance! I know the theory of colours and in my mind’s eye I have a vision of paintings, photos and images that I’ve seen and all this knowledge is present when I begin a canvas, but it is always in the background. When I paint I confront concrete problems. I decide to use certain colours and they might work or they might not. The rest of the painting follows. Sometimes the end canvas has nothing in common with its beginning!
You often use text in your work which I find intriguing. I like to imagine it’s your private secret story, most of which you then obliterate, teasing us with just a few legible words. We then make up our own story. But I might be quite wrong!
No, you’re right. I need a frame, something personal to start a painting. Sometimes I’ll start with sketchpads that list many words and names of colours and if I’m using a pen, topographic references, tracing of graffiti etc. I then integrate these words on to the canvas. Or sometimes I will write something from my private life, just to get started and to get the canvas dirty. I don’t need or want it to be legible, or too personal as this isn’t interesting to others. Sometimes the words are not correct and sometimes funny. But they are simply a pretext, just graphic signs. However, more recently I have started to use them differently, making the words more important.
Sorry, but what do you mean when you say sometimes the words are not correct?
I mean sometimes it’s slang, or I’m angry and the words are violent; many things make me angry, but I think it’s Latin character…
Two of your recent paintings that I particularly love are DATE LIMITEE and FLUO MAIS PAS TROP…
Those two large red paintings are the result of big failures underneath! It wasn’t my original idea to put red all over them; it was a solution for me to get through. Not the only solution, but the best at the time. But they are good examples of when the writing is important; not only as writing but also as contrasting colours. I placed the words at the end because I needed them to finish the painting. Without it, the red areas looked empty.
Above: DATE LIMITEE
Above: FLUO MAI PAS TROP
It’s interesting for me as a fairly newcomer to your work, to look at two earlier red paintings that you made in 1999. I wonder, do you look back at your old work often or are you solely inspired by what’s happening now?
Above: one of the early red paintings LIT DE MUNCH 1999
Above: one of the early red paintings LIT DE MUNCH 1999
I made the LIT DE MUNCH series of work after seeing Edvard Munch’s painting ‘BETWEEN THE CLOCK AND THE BED’ in an exhibition (below). I was extremely interested in the black, white and red bed cover. It was both in perspective and flattened, this bed really fascinated me. I recently saw the painting again in Paris and was not disappointed. My admiration for it was just the same. It’s the only time I’ve done this, used the canvas of another painter as a beginning for one of my own.
As I said earlier, I need a personal departure point. Most of the time it is from words or sketches, but sometimes it can be an old canvas, with the desire to carry something on from it and take it further. However, what really matters is that I just begin, never mind how. With the large red canvases I was no longer thinking of Munch’s painting, but the link jumps out at you. Not just because of the colour. I often look for plainness in my paintings. It’s like a rest after an overdose of graphic detail!
As for LES LITS, I think I’d had enough of reproducing patterns/motifs. For the most recent canvases, as I’ve said (and as you can so transparently see!), I have often wanted to radically get out of this style. Mistakes and accidents are a pleasure because of it. It forces me to find solutions. I always try to keep an open mind so that I can go off in a different direction if the canvas requires it. This doesn’t mean doing any old thing, I always know what I am doing. But of course, it doesn’t work all the time.
Huge congratulations on your recent exhibition in China. Lots of exciting artists are emerging from China. THE REVOLUTION CONTINUES: NEW CHINESE ART at The Saatchi Gallery in London in 2008 was amazing and visibly stays with me all these years on. I’m also a huge supporter of Ai Weiwei…
Above: Marie-Cecile’s China Exhibition April 2015
Yes, I like Ai Wei-Wei’s work and I like his political engagement and his artistic way of being. But I don’t really know the Chinese art scene. I used to like Pei-Ming when I saw some beautiful paintings years ago in Paris and I’ve seen works by other Chinese artists but I often struggle to appreciate them aesthetically. The really important link between art and politics grabs my attention and interests me, but for reasons other than purely artistic. If I’m lucky enough to go to China one day (I hope to), I will have much more to say on the topic!
I see that Pierre Frey has used one of your pieces as a print for their fabric!
Yes, Pierre Frey’s company produced a linen fabric based on one of my canvases. It wasn’t a particular project I made a painting for. They chose an existing canvas and then narrowed it down to a detail of this canvas. They did all the work really, adapting the image, dealing with the problems of colour matching, all these very technical aspects were entirely carried out by Pierre Frey’s team. The end result I think is beautiful and a very high quality.
Above: SAMPLE OF PIERRE FREY FABRIC
You mentioned working from sketches. It would be lovely to see some.
Marie-Cecile, your work is mainly large scale so I assume you have a pretty big studio?
I really love making large canvases, I feel at ease with them, like I am diving into the painting. What else can I say? Painting big makes me feel good! My workshop is attached to the house, has good light and is a pleasure to work in. It is quite large (60m2) so allows me to work on a large scale, but the problems of storing my huge canvasses do hold me back a bit! I spend a lot of time there and I’m happy there. It’s a good work tool.
Yes, the workspace is so important. And you’re very lucky to have such a beautiful setting for it in your garden. Lots of us Brits dream of moving to France! But before we leave you there happily painting perhaps you could talk us through an average day in the life of Marie-Cecile Aptel?
Well, it’s not a thriller! I don’t think you’ll find my artist’s life very interesting… I live in Rouen, in Normandy and work in my studio in the afternoon because I like the daylight then. It’s a great pleasure for me to paint, and even if it’s not going well every day, you know what, I’m happy to do that. Also Paris is just one hour away by train so I can get to see exhibitions, visit the gallery that represents me Galerie Pascaline Mulliez, see friends and so on…
And can you please leave us with some music of your choice?
Marie-Cecile, thank you so much for joining us!
words: CAND JUSKUS and MARIE-CECILE APTEL
images: MARIE-CECILEAPTEL and JEAN-PIERRE BOURQUIN