When asked how he became an artist, Renard looked at us, slightly puzzled, before answering: “This is a difficult question. I don’t really know how we become artists”. After a short pause, he finally added: “All I know is that at some point in my life and studies, I studied in Beaux-Arts. Once there, I think that I have seen some workspaces, some thoughts where I realize that I belonged there. At least I think I meant to belong there. So it came progressively by my studies and my relationship to the world, to life.”
The French Painter pushes away the idea of vocation, and rather put forward the access and his sensibility to books on Arts and Culture at an early age, helping him to develop a curiosity and an interest, which would put him on the path of Beaux-Arts. As for his relationship to the world, Renard points out that being an artist is “a philosophy of life and a relationship to the world that is not random”. He elaborates: “Behind the word “artist”, we include a lot of people. In Advertising, for example, we say “my butcher is an artist”, so I guess that an artist is the one who is a bit different from others. I do think I am like others though, except for the fact that I have probably made more decisive, precise and, maybe, engaged choices than other people. Being an artist, I think that it is a commitment. A complete commitment.”
This commitment takes the form of a visual language deeply rooted in gestures, forms and patterns that Renard developed naturally within his artworks, where memories, readings, and an awareness about modernity come to life and keep on nurturing it.
“I have put in place knowledge and assets for over 20 or 25 years, that became a sort of language, a pictorial vocabulary as I paint. I keep on harping it, to challenge it, to contextualize over and over again to put it into shape. It likes a multitude of words and with this multitude of words, I can make different sentences that might be meaning the same thing, but that are visually different”.
It is no coincidence that the French painter has been constantly rethinking, re-adapting, and extending this visual language. To him, art goes beyond a way to express himself. It is a self-developmental work that takes its source into the idea that inspiration is nothing more than a romantic belief, and construction is sovereign to all types of work:
“I don’t believe in inspiration. I believe in construction. I believe in thought and in construction. I think that we build ourselves and what we build will give birth to shapes. Inspiration is rather like looking in the sky, waiting that it falls on you. It has a very romantic flair. I don’t believe in inspiration. I believe art is meant to build.”
Such perspectives provide Renard a frame where passivity, inefficiency, boredom, failures, and, even criticisms, are not only necessary at times, but also beneficial to one who wants to pursue this self-development through construction. From the moment where one takes the appropriate time to look, analyse and conceptualize, before getting back at it.
“What’s interesting in art is that, at some point, to think about failure and to remain on the same point is in any case a step further. So from this point, there are not any principles to work. Everything is possible […] What I mean is that if a paint is missed or that the conditions are not optimal to work on it, it is not a big deal. It is up to us to draw conclusions and understand it […] [Also] you can leave things floating and get back to it later when you might be more efficient and more available in your mind or timely.”
In such settings, it is critical to find the balance between “intellectual” and “functional” as the artist puts it to be able to make progress, and ensuring that one does not get stuck in the infinite world of thoughts. Such intellectual work is fueled by uncertainty and doubt, and it contributes to his constant motivation to keep on developing and building on this visual language.
“Uncertainty, doubt… It’s delightful. The worst is certainty and solution. Not to have any doubts is awfully boring. We need to doubt. We need to be uncertain. That is what makes us push it 2 millimeters farther or one millimeter closer, to realise that it is not the right place […] At the end of the day, time changes, our perception changes, light changes, our relationship to it changes. It never stops. The worst is to be decisive. Vive l’incertitude. Doubt is our research driver”
Having such a philosophy and approach to his work enables Renard to take a step back, and to frame the whole notion of work around self-development. Whether he paints or he teaches at school, there is always a notion of continuous learning and knowledge exchange. If the translation to define such a frame seems almost out of reach in the business environment, where immediate results are expected, and uncertainty is avoided in the aim to minimize risks, Renard advances that “work can be something else: encounters, and intellectual self-development”.
The complete Interview with Jöel Renard in French language
Text by Thomas Castéran.
Edited by Stephanie Barnes.
The interview was conducted by Julia Kierdorf & Thomas Castéran on 10/02/2016.
Image source: Joel Renard.