In most paintings, the figures are not engaged in any particular activity: They’re in an almost contemplative state – contemplating the beauty in their surroundings. They’re almost hedonistic, getting away from the craziness of the outside world and creating their own aesthetic.
Everything starts with a pattern, a combination of colours. Inspiration can come from a film, a video, another painting, paint on a wall somewhere…. But it comes also from the model. There has to be something that captivates me in the person, something I find so beautiful I have to paint it. My portraits are like tableaux vivants. They’re not everyday life, not the real world, but the world inspires them. My works are landscapes of the mood I’m in when I paint them.
A figure is often a starting point, telling me in what world it lives. The patterns and oppositions of colours appear almost organically, or I have something already in mind and it happens that it fits. For instance, in “Au-devant le rideau chinois,” I wanted to capture the figure’s flesh, his gaze, his style, and then the red shades and the pattern became obvious to me.
The models’ faces and their gaze are crucial. Most often they look out: They know they are being looked at and they stare back. In a way, they are presenting themselves to the viewer. “Portrait of J” is a good example: It has a bit of symbolism – my symbolism, – a few clues I leave here and there that hold parts of the piece’s meaning.
Very often, the meanings of my paintings pertain to my own life, to what was going on in my life then. But this happens subconsciously: I realize it long after I’ve finished a piece. Often, the models are in fact me. It’s a dream-like, stylized version of my life and the feelings that it entails.
In the case of “Toile de Jouy Dream,” the painting started with Samuel. He had posed for another painting and had told me that he had this suit made with a toile de Jouy pattern. I knew I had to do a painting of him wearing it. Then almost two years passed, and I had this dream – I often have these weird dreams of these strange landscapes and places in crazy Technicolor, or great big old houses filled with objects. In this dream, I saw a prairie with a row of odd-looking houses, with huge storks made of green tiles in front. And then I thought of putting Samuel in that place, and using the greens and blues to give it this unreal night-time feel and add depth to the surroundings.
An overt case of my approach is “Adrian Odalisque,” which is also a takeoff on art history, namely the female nudes from the 17th to the 19th century. The figure seems to be offering himself to the gaze of the viewer, but he’s not, really. Even though my paintings often have male nudes or nude portraits, my art is not really erotica. My figures’ faces often display melancholy; they’re not full of desire. They speak more about revealing the self, being vulnerable or taking a risk. There is quite a bit of irony in my paintings: a romanticism that does not take itself seriously and a subtle surrealism.