Matthew Hassell: Where do you find inspiration for your compositions? Are they organically evolving through your process, or are they sourced from the outside world somewhere?
Claire Chesnier: My compositions proceed from the avoidance of the edges of the paper facing me. The shapes I create result from a physical relation with the support: its dimensions are akin to mine, it embraces me. Thus, the frames that contain the fluid movement of color are like large windows or doors. The point is the tension between the shape of the color and the inside—the expanse of liquid veils, stretched and vaporous. The white area is part of the painting, the form suspended on this luminous ground, asymmetrical but firmly inscribed.
MH: Your work comes across as really photographic in some way. When I first saw a show of yours online, I imagined them to be selectively exposed passages of color photo paper. How did you arrive at using ink in this way?
CC: Your observation is interesting—I build up layers of ink in quite a traditional way, using large brushes and a lot of water. Although not photographic in the literal sense, the process can be linked to a photographic one, the liquid developer slowly revealing shadows on the light-sensitive paper. In fact, the colors change while drying. The more layering, the darker and shinier the surface becomes. It gradually resembles a black mirror, a reflective surface saturated with water. I need to wait for it to be completely dry, and to remove the masks that protect the white part, to see the painting really appear.
MH: Given the compositions you construct, I imagine you get compared to Blinky Palermo quite a bit. Is there a connection there? What artists (if any) do you look to for inspiration?
CC: I have great admiration for Blinky Palermo’s work, of course. My primary intention however does not reside in formal concerns. My work comes out of a stretching of the light, disclosing brightness under veils. The need to construct—to construct liquid—comes as I work; the search for a structuring device for this unlimited space. I do not look for inspiration outside of the components of the painting. Nevertheless, I could refer to the work of James Turrell, Agnes Martin, Joseph Albers, Claude Monet, Shitao, etc.—in addition to Blinky Palermo.
MH: Who would you choose to show beside you in a two-person museum show?
CC: On Kawara, Fra Angelico…
MH: Some of your lighter color choices are openly vibrant and luminous, while your darker forms seem decadently rich, sometimes almost receding away from the eye indefinitely. What is your inspiration or what do you think about when it comes to choosing a certain color for your next work?
CC: In fact, I do not make color choices prior to the painting. I can have a desire for a certain tonality but the color is not given, it arrives. The color and the shape are intricately connected. A dialogue exists between the initial gesture I make and the surface reaction, which I carefully observe in minute detail. It does not allow for repentir and implies definite choices, in openness to the potentialities of the painting. That is the reason I do not limit myself in terms of chromatic range, from dark to light.
MH: Do you see your work as opening up as spatial windows, or is your intent more about compositional decisions suited to a flattened, more analytical representation of space?
CC: My paintings are both an assertion of the surface and a search for a “light depth”. A presentation of a space specific to painting, not a representation. The combination of hard edges and spread colors creates this dual perception of flatness and depth. Depending on their temperature the colors recede or come forward, the whiteness around produces a perceptual oscillation. They can be seen as fragments of extent. As Paul Valery wrote, “Ce qu’il y a de plus profond en l’homme, c’est la peau (what is most profound/deep in man is skin)”
MH: As someone who also works on paper, I enjoy to your decision to hang your work without a frame. Is there something art-historically tired about a frame these days? What is you opinion of frames as a measure to elevate works on paper to a more marketable level as a commodity?
CC: From the beginning, I never wanted to frame my work. Not so much for the art historical concerns you mention but because the question of the frame is at the heart of my preoccupation, in terms of composition. Thus, I do not want to redouble the frame by adding one outside the painting. Furthermore, I wanted to avoid turning the painting into an object. I am aware that this inevitably occurs, but my attempt is to present my work as straightforwardly as possible so that the viewer can enter the materiality, feel the subtle nuances, the presence of the painting itself.
MH: What projects do you have coming up that you are excited to share?
CC: I will have a show in January in the Museum of Contemporary Art of the Val-de-Marne (Mac/Val) where two of my paintings just entered the collection. I am also very pleased to have been awarded two art prices: Foundation François Schneider and Art Collector, which will both result in an exhibition in the Fall 2014, and which will also lead to a catalogue. Until then, I have a project with Galerie du jour agnès b. in Paris and a production residency at the Centre de l’Estampe et du Livre in Lyon.