In order to be plural... Let's be singular
I “exile” myself to my studio in order to understand and express my uniqueness.
I must navigate the turbulence of doubt which lies between my conscious and unconscious states of mind, to assert my difference in a powerful gesture.
The expression of my uniqueness can be shared only if it is in conformity with the authentic affirmation of my difference.
Only on canvas can I give in to fantasy, pleasure, oblivion- insubordination in the
guise of obedience. However, I know so well that canvas only exists through the eye of the others. But I would say, with Vladimir Jankélévitch, that: “too much lucidity dries you out; so that a delicate soul cannot do without a sort of blindness, without the naivety of the heart and the credulity of the spirit.”
Agnès Bourély is a French artist. She lives and works in Houston, Texas USA.
Her drawings, canvases and polyptychs narrate us in large format the journey. In each of her expatriations, she tells us on paper or canvas the poetry of life «Far from their place».
Interview AGNÈS BOURELY, artist – MAYA LINSIG, art historian
“Invention is the progress of an idea which changes along as it takes form. It is a vital process, something like the ripening of an idea.”
Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution (1907)
Right away, a very simple question: do you consider yourself as an abstract artist, or as a non-figurative one?
If one considers that Abstract art consists in the absolute rejection of “imitation, reproduction, or even deformation of forms coming from nature and from the outside”, I do not consider myself as an abstract artist, but rather as a non-figurative one. In my work, paintings lose their figurative aspect in order to become an expression of space. Just like Bazaine or Estève, I tend to “take the side of things, to introduce a living and moving sense of duration in a given space.”
How do you work concretely? Do you use different sorts of technique (dripping, layers of paint, tearing, planes of colors), and if so, to what end? Why did you choose paper rather than another medium?
As with my integration in a foreign country, in my work I start from a new experience to assert what I am, in a given context. From then on, with the accumulated experience in my daily work, I patiently and purposefully seek a plastic history.
My artistic practice is an improvisation. I usually begin without any preliminary idea in mind, sometimes with envies, which are soon deviated. It is a game of chance, through which I seek forms, matter, colors, an arrangement of figures and graphic designs. As a jazzman, I create with grids, which become more subtle and rich as I practice daily. With sprays, drippings, water puddles, ink, watercolors, or acrylic; I find motifs, groups of motifs, which are not frankly figurative but which I can imagine as universes, either watery, airy, monstrous or organic…I currently work a lot on paper, the Yupo hydrofuge (which is a non-absorbent water color paper), or the Fabriano paper (which is very thick and absorbant). Each paper’s reaction feeds my plastic exploration.
Then, I let myself be guided by the way space organizes itself, how it writes, structures and builds itself along the process, thanks to the planes of gouache, to the graphic designs, to the coloring of the felt-tip pen or marker. The orientation of the canvas also matters, and I take it into account in my narration of space. Color sets the tone too, with its nuances, its dissonances, its own singularity. It is a purely pictural dialog between the paper and my ‘vision’. If I try to reproduce a memory (an image, an emotion…), the communication with the paper is broken. Then I fake it and the magic vanishes. It is not a poetic illustration, but an exercice of vision which has its root in a felt emotion.
On paper, there is no possible repentance, no possible self-correction or editing. I like this constraint. You learn of life itself by accepting things rather than obliterating them. I don’t like the eraser … I want to find solutions with what is!
You work with color but how do you take light into account?
Indeed, I could think about it. But light is not one of my questions.
How do you know when a painting is finished?
When I have the feeling that I have found a solution “that works”.
How long does it take you, on average, to make a painting? Considering that you paint several paintings at once, it might be difficult to answer.
Yes indeed, it is difficult to answer. Sometimes solutions come up rather quickly, but then I question them… or the other way around. I usually think the work is too slow. I’m impatient to find the solution and to enjoy the result.
“Painting as a testimony about life”. You seem to see painting in your whole history, all that you have known and seen of extraordinary as well as ordinary… As a life diary in a way.
When I was 12, at the Centre Pompidou (a Modern Art Gallery in Paris), I remember having felt a very strong emotion before Kandinsky’s 1940 painting, Sky Blue, a painting which I liked to look at again in an art magazine.
“For Jankélévitch, nothing was ever obvious. To him, the world was came to life every instant. Take music, for instance, I would say that it only passes. A piece of music that you listen to, well, it is there, one moment ; for one moment, it is. And the same is true of say the world, of your own life, which lasts only a moment in eternity, as you know. Well, this piece of music, each note of this piece of music, is only passing. Music only passes through your soul, just like the beauty of a painting – you are dazzled, you know that you might be again some day, dazzled – but what, indeed, you must see, is right there, it is your own presence to art.” Lucien Jerphagnon.
Life has given me the opportunity to settle and to live in different countries of Europe, Asia, South and North America. Each time, I experience these changes first and foremost through my senses, before analyzing them with my reason, and this challenges and reinforces my temperament as well as my work.
“Fortunately, it happens that a migrating bird falls asleep while flying, or misses a turn, and lands with a few of his peers in Namibia when he aimed at his traditional Angola. Yet this mistake is often a blessing in disguise. At last, the poor bird has to settle in a new land, to love or hate it, to have sensations and feelings, surprises, difficulties, marvelous discoveries. Thus proceeded the ancient explorers, the real inventors of the globe. They were tired to remain in the orbit of domestic stars, never to leave the beaten track, and to commute between their farm and their corn field, and so they would lose themselves in the unexpectedness of things.” Gilles Lapouge – L’âne et l’abeille
In order to “lose myself in the unexpectedness of things”, my artistic freedom ventures in claiming new materials, an adventure which gives me great joy, but which also sometimes resists me. Adventure explores the unconscious as much as it implores it. It encourages dreams and imagination, and seeks to produce an experience of creation of the spirit and of the senses, of life indeed.
Are you a Surrealist painter?
In a certain way, I consider my artistic practice to be surrealist, but the lyrical approach of surrealism. I do not try to hide my fascination for Dali.
My subject tells itself and lets itself be read in the crevice, which for me is the essence of drawing and painting. There are similarities with music, in which I indulge since childhood. The musical moment is ephemeral, granted, but what it touches in us is not. Music is not spatial in the way the world of plastic arts is. In my plastic practice, colorful “sounds” are not envisaged in their temporal coincidence, but they are considered as consecutive elements in a homogeneous space. Space is an object I shape with the nuances and the other tempos used in music, I decide of the musical chords, of the dissonances, contrasts, planes and volumes, melodic lines and instrumental colors…
Do you consider the canvas as an arena in which you want to act, rather than as a space where you can reproduce, re-draw, analyze or explore an object or a situation? Would you say that what emerges on you canvas, is an image or an event (as it was the case for the abstract expressionists, according to Harald Rosenberg)? Do you consider your work as instinctive and impulsive or rather as controlled and supervised?
My painting seeks a certain form of aesthetic, a quest which for me is inherent to human creativity. This quest gives a frame through which my impulsive instinct can express itself, and it is by using my own experience that I can indeed understand what I talk about. I consider the paper (that is, the canvas) as a place where I can act; what happens there is a resolution.
Do you want to invite the viewer to a form of meditation or contemplation through your paintings (as Rothko did) ?
I try to convey a pictorial and emotional history, which invites to meditation rather than to contemplation. I try to give a semantic dimension of plastic music. But I would say, with Jankélévitch, that:
“too much lucidity dries you out; so that a delicate soul cannot do without a sort of blindness, without the naivety of the heart and the credulity of the spirit.”
The Restless Forgetfulness of What We Exile - Press release by AÏDA ELTORIE
Agnès Bourély has entered the sphere of visual practice through a life enriched by a family of musicians. Encroaching from her mother and sister, as pianists and her father, a photographer, her eldest daughter is a violinist and sound engineer – she was occupied by the sounds of French impressionist music in neoclassical concert halls both by the generation that preceded and succeeded her. An acrobat of sorts, growing up in a neoimpressionist environment as a guitarist herself, has transformed Bourély’s abilities to diversify her stylistic analyses of familiar forms of nature into a deputy of visual sounds. Boldness starts to appear in the bulk-ability of the work and the contortionist acting out the story becomes the pathologist of solfège.
With the knowledge of sound, a musician has the ability to audiate and mentally listen to the selective scripts prescribed in front of them. Bourély’s journey is infused with every line and every brushstroke, provoking and enforcing the vital signs of movement. Not a single movement, but a shift of collective movements rise out of the two-dimensional sphere like that of sound. Her work is a clarity of obeying and selective abeyances, as she uses and suspends from that ‘contortionists’ direction’. What is performed in a concert hall, is indulged by the intimacy of the musician and their instrument, and then through the movement of sound is what provokes the inspector to their next, most current indulgence.
The solo contortions grow through the stroke of an instrument and it’s next movement is built from fragments of symphonies. A rise of sound, eventually has a fall, but depending on Bourély’s rise and fall, might an incarnation appear. Whether in the form of a cycle, or a turning point of engagement as the work rotates from one movement to another, Bourély’s work has created a sense of selective exile.
Bourély has moved to 7 countries in 12 years. Her commitments to her home and family has also been the director of her interchangeable social environments. A constant adjustment, and re-adjustment with dependents and dependees calls for, once again, a diversiﬁed rule of engagements. Her role as a mother, wife, and self-embodiment welcomes the malleability of her identity to take on the solfège in a dictation of pitches and selective movements in degrees. High and low, deep and wide, major and minor scales of engagement rule the concept of domesticity and liberté.
Bourély personalizes the grasp of the materials being used for the work of art in the making, only to revisit and for the contortionist to return. The crayons that draw out deﬁnitive lines, and the brushstrokes that also derive the negative and positive spaces as they fall in and out of their respective environments, tends to carry a grounding and a sky-like derivation of space. Everything that occurs in between is what we are left with to use as a playground of unlimited possibilities.
Both beautifully pure, and beautifully evolved in the movement of an artist who ﬁnds herself in Houston, has re-deﬁned and renewed her approach to her work. Bourély’s picturesque honesty remains the most constant and heightened sensibility and this is a unique glimpse to what Houston derived in her.
Bourély received her BA in painting; Diplôme d’Art Plastique, Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Angers, France in 1986. She received a Silver Medal from The Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in Denver, Colorado 1988. Her solo exhibitions include the French Consulate State Anzoátegui, Venezuela Gallery “Colette Dubois,” 420 Rue Saint Honoré Paris, France in 2015; The Ministry of Finance Bercy in Paris, France Gibert Joseph Library, Boulevard Saint Michel in Paris, France; Gallérie Colette Dubois, 420 Rue Saint Honoré Paris, France in 2014 and Esprit d’Atelie Gallérie in Versailles, France Le Vis-à-Vis Gallérie in Paris, France in 2013.
The restless forgetfulness of what we exile by MARY LAMBRAKOS
Agnès Bourély creates an intuitive map of subjectivity in the explosion and layering of color, form and material. She manipulates the abstract to convey and elicit emotion and meaning to counter the formalist narrative of abstraction that pursued and prioritized the crystallization and perfection of content-as-form in iterated and patterned geometry. Her canvas is a synesthetic delight, using the visual to portal into realms where you can hear the rhythm, the pulse of the artist’s hand in the crossing of gouache and the twisted sharpening of colored pencil shavings that coagulate on the surface. It is a topography and cartography of her soul.
She articulates her vision via the mediums of the canvas, drawing paper and Yupo paper. She uses these different backdrops, allowing the medium to influence how she works her materials to reveal her content. She differentiates medium and material based on its potential for change in her artistic distillation. Acrylic adheres to the canvas creating a solid field of color that coats the surface. Drawing paper creates an inherent limit to revision, the transparency and porosity of watercolor and colored pencil reveal the underlying paper’s texture and color. Yupo paper’s polished surface reorients her process as she works on the floor to capture the slide of watercolor, gouache and ink.
When I was with her at the Museum of Modern Art, Paris, we attended Zao Wou-ki’s exhibition L’espace est silence. She sifted through the galleries and came to sit on a bench to enjoy a panoramic piece, an extended medley and consolidation of earth tones. She volunteered the first mark is the most important and most difficult. I asked her why. Because the first mark is the initiation; the first mark comes with something. It is akin to Fontana’s slice per say, the punctuated act of mark-making that in essence is the beginning and the end. The ontology and teleology of the creative act. And as such it must be discerned, anticipated and then built upon.
A cut into her work reveals a spatial dimension in her process and development over time. As a viewer, it is wondrous to see this intimacy take form and transcend the seemingly inscrutable; that within her work, within the gesture, within the embodiment, is an outward motion towards the viewer’s eye and cognition in dynamism and narrative. Quand j’eté dans la ventre de la mere c’etait bien. In the womb, we are suspended in the aquatics of transformation. Her works spill out from a center, assuming a c-like shape, where a deep mass spins to the edges of the canvas, and inversely the edges and the margins, funnel towards a dense center. As she scrolled through one timeline of a painting, the significant changes over time were revelatory. I’ve seen her toil with her paintings in her studio, rotating the canvas, questioning form, balance and color. Some details remained, others, colored over, re-worked to concentrate and manifest artistic choice in the development of the piece.
While each individual work expresses a boundless energy, an architectural and structural grid underpin the format and arrangement of her pieces. The arrangement of these groupings impacts the perception of the intrinsic relationship of part to whole. She composes combinations of work as narrative, her triptychs read left to right, and her content elides the frames’ structure. Other times, the stacked composition, elicits a scopic zoom of in and out as a background detail in one is magnified to the foreground.
Her paintings are bound by her presence and differentiate Houston, Paris, Venezuela as her art is a product of where she creates. Agnès work transgresses objectivity, as her work creates a web of interstices, points, positions, landscapes, portals, spaces, ponds, rivers, that unify a topography that she associates with the specificity of her location. In the refined and edited context of the gallery, the art is the focal piece; in her studio, her walls are strewn with all the pieces of her process, remnants of paint and text demonstrate and play with the poetics of remembrance and time. “La coulure est le chemin du désespoir qui cherche le chemin du souvenir »( the dript is the path of despair that seeks the path of remembrance). Each piece, every gesture, carries the expression of Agnès Bourély’s lived experience, and thus traces her life.
Silver Medal, The Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design Denver, Colorado USA.
D.E.U.G History of art , Université Paris-1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris France.
Graduated (Diplôme National d’Arts Plastiques) from Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Angers, France
Selected Solo Exhibitions
-L’Oubli Agité de ce qui nous exile – The Restless Forgetfulness of What We Exile, Gallery Barbara Davis, Houston TX USA
-Indociles Ariettes – wayward ariettas, Forum 6, Houston TX, USA Curator Eduardo Portillo
-Joyeuses Imperfections – Happily Imperfect, Gallery Zoya Tomy, Houston Tx, USA
-Consulat français, State Anzoátegui, Venezuela
-Galerie Colette Dubois, 420 rue Saint Honoré Paris, France
-Exhibition Ministry of Finance Bercy, Paris, France
-Gilbert Joseph Library, Boulevard Saint Michel Paris, France
-Galerie Colette Dubois, 420 Rue Saint Honoré Paris, France
-Galerie Esprit d’Atelie Versailles, France
-Galerie Le Vis-à-Vis Paris, France
Selected Group Exhibitions
-Prologue, Barbara Davis Gallery ,Houston, Texas, USA
-The annual Glassell School of Art Benefit, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston TX, USA
-At the End of the Tunnel, Sawyer Yards, Spring Street Studios, Houston TX, USA
-Discovering Repeating Patterns , Sawyer Yards, Spring Street Studios, Houston TX, USA
-La Bienal , Spring Street Studios, Houston TX, USA Curator: Eduardo Portillo
-Landscapes Observed and Interpreted , Spring Street Studios, Houston TX, USA Curator: Ananda deMello, Art Habit, Miami, FL
-Remix of Dreams, Gallery Barbara Davis, Houston TXn USA
-Neighbors, Spring Street Studios, Houston TX, Curator: Dennis Nance, Galveston Arts Center, Galveston TX
-The Big Show, selected and awarded, Curated by Evelyn C. Hankins John M. O’Quinn and Gracie R Cavnar Galleries Lawndale Art Center Houston TX, USA
-Caliente, Spring Street Studios,Houston, TX, Curator: Arthur Turner, Glassell School of Art Houston
-Entre deux tranches de baguette, avec le photographe Gary Watson & l’Alliance Française de Houston TX, USA
-Dans l’œil du spectateur- In the Eye of the Beholder, the Silos Gallery, Houston TX, USA
-At the Speed of Light, Spring Street Studios Houston TX, USA
-Colorshow, Spring Street Studios, Houston TX, Curator: Heidi Vaughan Fine Art USA
-Ateliers des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, France
-Arts Décoratifs (Ateliers du Carrousel) Paris, France
Publications I Press