Ernest Breleur’s drawings as a visual metaphor questioning the corporeal.
An interview by Dominique Brebion.
Traduction Suzanne Lampla
Several recent drawings by Ernest Breleur have been published in issue 81 of Rue Descartes, a quarterly French review of Philosophy, from the International College of Philosophy that is edited by the PUF – Presses Universitaires de France- until 2010. It has been available online since free of charge.
Seloua Luste Boulbina, an associated researcher (HDR) at the CSPRP University Denis Diderot Paris 7, The International College of Philosophy, has supervised the conception of this 81th issue. She also has presented on June 13th in Palais de Tokyo the exhibition of Ernest Breleur’s drawings.
From the rich and dense experience of Ernest Breleur, we can mention his 1989 exhibition, Mythology of the Moon, his participations in the Sao Paolo Biennial in 1994 and 1998; in 1999 the Dakar Biennial; in 2003 the Cuba Biennial. Also two retrospective shows in Fondation Clément in 2007 and 2008, an exhibition in Les Filles du Calvaire in Paris in 2010, and in 2012 an exhibition in Paris in Maelle Galerie…
D.B.: You have always drawn, and some of your drawings were shown in the private collection Les Foudres Edouard Glissant (the 1989 -1994 paintings) in 2013 in Habitation Saint-Etienne. How did they fit in? Were they preparatory sketches for future paintings?(https://aica-sc.net/2013/04/01/peintures-dernest-breleur-a-lhabitation-saint-etienne/)
E.B.: The drawings you mention are preparatory work for the paintings of the series Mythology of the Moon and the series about floating bodies. This period was an intense breaking off phase in my visual work. It was like going from the very structured and geometrical paintings I did when working with Fwomajé (*) to a completely new project hence a new relationship with the body and space. These sketches were essential for a scenography of bodies floating in space.
In Martinique, there is not a pronounced culture of drawing as in Cuba and the Dominican Republic whose artistic histories are more established and more academic from the start. Drawing is a subject of excellence, an abode of truth for the artist, and I have drawn a lot since I started studying. First here in Ecole d’Arts appliqués in Martinique, where we worked not with living models, but from plaster models. When I arrived in Paris, at the Ecole d’Arts Appliqués in industry, my first attempts at drawing living models were somewhat too rigid. After months and dozens of sketch books ceaselessly used, in the classes, in the street, in the public parks, finally, one day the teacher passing by stopped and I heard this appreciative murmur… just this mmmmm without any other word.
Today, after years of exploration of one material seldom exploited by visual artists, these X-rays that you cut up and sculpt and integrate into installations adding photos and various trinkets and staples and rope lights, you have been back to practicing drawing, no doubt with a new approach working on large size creations (150 x 150 cms)…
Am I back to painting again? Yes, this does anticipate it. As far as I am concerned drawing is a whole subject, a demanding one, and I explore it in its in-between aspects. I am looking for the limits of drawing, the point where drawing becomes painting. My quest is the emergence of a graphic matter in my drawing. This is produced by the crossing of lines and colours in limited number, blue, black and red.
I went back to drawing one weekend in Ilet –Long where every visiting guest, whether artist or writer or architect is to leave a drawing. I made four drawings and then I never stopped. Going back to drawing had haunted and obsessed me for some time.
The current series is about the origin of the world, questioning the living body, sexuality and the eroticism already present in the anterior creations.
The enigma around the living body and the origin of the world in a country where history and colonization have imposed a religion keeps puzzling me. As I am very far from religious ideology I had to find a problematic to explore the origin of the world.
Feminine silhouettes can be seen apparently floating in different postures, as they appear in the 1990 drawings… At this time you were already working on the relation between body and space…
Sometimes the silhouettes lose their ‘humanity’ and seem less precise?
In these drawings three types of silhouettes interfere:
First you can see anthropomorphic bodies, zoomorphic bodies floating into space, devoid of identity evoking the silhouettes of Mythology of the Moon, The black and white series, and more precisely the floating bodies. How obvious is the relation with The Faceless Portraits which refer to some absence as Samia Kassab writes in her recent article ‘Creating to Save one’s Dignity’, Ernest Breleur and the ‘Soleil Cou Coupé’ faces published in Balises, an art review. This absence that I keep questioning is a very different approach from what is explored in the Caribbean field of art.
From a formal point of view, around the anthropomorphic silhouettes filling part of the space in what constitutes my recent drawings are what will become zoomorphic beings that I define as ‘undetermined’; these are shapes that do not illustrate some existence, but first of all their function is to titillate the spectator’s imagination, they are puzzling and they are enigmatic.
These anthropomorphic and zoomorphic beings evoke the heralding and evolution of species, of considerably small beings yet to come whose shape is constantly shifting.
Presently these silhouettes are united in a circle, often with a midpoint … which evokes sometimes a headless body and in other places a shell? Is this a reference to Courbet’s Origin of the World? Is it relevant here to refer to mention the monumental shell sculptured by Marc Quinn, The origin of the World, this bronze shell three meters high, represented in a realistic manner and exhibited in the 2012 FIAC(*) and whose title refers to the emblematic painting the Origin of the World by Gustave Courbet (1866)? Or else the recent performance by Deborah de Robertis in front of Courbet’s painting on Thursday May 29th? The series’ title is Origin, isn’t it?
The rectangular format of the first drawings has shifted gradually. I don’t think that the world comes from a physical world, like heavens for example. It is rather a force, a movement from which all these beings descend.
I don’t intend to mimic or find some explanation to the being’s delivery into the world, but to point at the poetics of a populating world, to create a metaphor of the genesis.
It is pleasant to imagine the possible fields open by these aspirations and attempts at living of these anonymous cells, and their yearning to be transformed into species, into different species. I also imagine the struggle for these infinitely small beings to shift as they must take shape without any precise destiny, every cell desiring to become a being in the world and to invent itself. I would rather mention the projection of Miguel Chevalier’s Origin of the world on the front wall of Grand Palais in 2014 during Paris Art Fair… In fact Miguel Chevalier takes his inspiration from biology and micro-organisms and cellular automatons. Cells multiply, split off or merge, proliferating rapidly or slowly at times. Unstable mega pixels in a black and white painting slip progressively towards brightly coloured and saturated spirals that spin and perform veritable choreographies to the sound of Michel Redolfi’s music. Then, how not to mention Courbet’s; the violent eroticism of his painting scandalous for the period induces some eroticism in my drawings. I discovered Deborah Robertis’s performance on the net a few days ago. It undoubtedly refers to my current work as it evokes Courbet, but at the same time it relates specifically to all the Renaissance artists who also explored this issue. Miguel Chevalier and Deborah Robertis like many others question the same things as me, which proves that the origin of the world still remains an enigma.
Do you have a global view of what you want before starting drawing, or is it more like automatic writing?
Right, this could remind you of Masson. When I start drawing I don’t really know where it leads me… A drawing will progress according to the difficulties, the obstacles that will arise. So the work will be achieved when difficulties and problems are solved… If you look closely at the drawings you will find four or five different positions of the silhouettes into space, four or five signs. The difference from one drawing to another comes from serial composition, so we can deduce that there is some form of automatism.
How do the very large series influence your creations?
Producing series is recurrent in my work as it widens the field of exploration. Every creation is one opening in all the range of possibilities. A series will allow you microscopic variations to express as precisely as possible a visual reality. It will allow you to improve your technique, how you master your skill. It shows how the artist persists in his exploration. In the series I want to reach the possibility to fall into the unthinkable. Then, I search for the little opening that will appear progressively.
Today, I have produced more than a hundred drawings and it is not time to show them yet. I still have a lot of work. Already there appear some clusters, some passages, which probably means possible evolutions.