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Q&A between Louma Salamé, director of Fondation Boghossian at Villa Empain in Brussels, and Julien Saudubray, at the occasion of Julien’s first solo exhibition in Belgium. 

Brussels, June 2021

Twenty years ago, you began by developing a figurative painting style, but before long you started to explore a host of other mediums. After installations such as the one you presented at Iselp in 2017, collective performances like the one you made at the Villa Empain in 2018, and large mural paintings, you have finally decided to take up your brush and canvas again and restart your painterly career. Why is that?

After having tried to stretch the medium in all directions in order to avoid dead ends, I arrived at a sort of aporia. I asked myself how I should continue to paint. So I started from scratch. I told myself painting means applying colours to a surface, which I then started doing rather obsessively, observing how the coloured fluids reacted to the paper. I wanted to paint as if I were completely new to it, and at the time this seemed the only genuine way to me.

Can you say where you found the inspiration for these architectural, archaic, universal, simple representations of arcs, totems or eyes in your work on the motif? Do you wish to break away from figuration in favour of the motif? Why do you want to exhaust the motif through repetition?

In 2017, at a residence in Leipzig, I started painting again: a highly formalised way of working on paper, a mechanical gesture of brushing the surface as boring as it is fascinating. I wanted to paint like we go to work, in a way, without any other objective than to apply the next transparent coat. This gesture was a way to literally confront the painter’s ennui that Duchamp talked about. Then, a year ago I started to work on canvas again and these archaic figures appeared. I observed pure colour fracturing with the addition of a splash of turpentine and that brought me to this simple oval gesture, a primal form of figuration, I would call it. I repeat, I have exhausted this form, or have become exhausted with it, and the arc has fallen to become this sort of leaf, canoe or eye.
I do not exclude a possible return to figuration, but at the moment I don’t feel the need. I would like the forms to impose themselves on me, without planning it out. For now, it is impossible to think in terms of the subject, so I repeat a gesture until something comes out of it, until the painting, as it were, begins to paint itself. I think about a quote from Clément Rosset which sums up my position quite well: “I don’t know who I am, I don’t know where I have come from or where I am going, and I am amazed to be so joyous.”

Do you maintain a relationship to architecture, as substructure as well as subject?

I’ve always been fascinated by rough, monolithic forms, particularly Romanesque sculptures, and their naivety and sometimes astonishing awkwardness. This architecture or these rough sculptures accompany me more in a sense of minimal interference with matter than in any desire to reproduce these forms. I detect that same intention in minimal sculptures: there is something like the simplicity of the thing, a sort of obviousness and consistency in these objects. I love the piles of rocks you find on mountain trekking routes. They have a simple function and precarious layout, their form does not have any aesthetic goal a priori, other than equating form with function. They are perfect functional edifices.

By going beyond the frame, especially in your murals and in your sculptures which you describe as “3D images”, you evoke in your “organic” work a permanent confrontation between the materials you use - especially such immiscible materials as oil and woad, in the series of small- and medium-format works in single, diptych or triptych form. What does this particular technique of unnatural amalgamation mean to your practice?

This technique forces me to enter into a relationship of force with the image. It is not possible, and yet I need it to work out. This process of permanent erasure helps me to stay in the right place, to be the actor as well as the observer of the work. It is very much like putting one step forward then two steps back, it lengthens the path but it is in the adventitious interstices that the painting or drawing begins to express itself, or so it seems to me, it is there that a real dialogue is established.

In your explorations of the three primary colours, you also evoke the idea of the infinite gesture, that of brushing the surface of the paper or the wall, layer after layer of colour - like an endless repentir. Is this act which allows forms and colours to appear and disappear a decisive element in your research?

This relationship with colour is a consequence of my determination to erase all my previous knowledge of painting. I wanted to reduce subjectivity to a minimum and this brushing gesture necessarily came together with a restriction of chromatic choices. The gesture, which resembles that of a printing machine, led me to using the three primary colours that form the basis for the infinite field of colour variations. I wanted to function like a machine. I’ve always liked this quote by Beckett: “Fail again. Fail better.” It has been in my head for years now. The disappearance, the failure, or the paradoxical effort to create an image through its disappearance. What interests me the most is this movement, as a form of dialectic thought applied to painting and, more broadly, to the intention of painting. To sufficiently repeat a gesture for it to lose all intentionality. The succession of painting styles that we consider finished reflects only that exploration. We place cursors and say “look, I touched something there”, and then we lose that and start again. I keep this quote by Philip Guston in my head when I plan to observe myself painting: “There is nothing more boring than putting colour on a surface.” I find that pretty much true and I try to keep this touch of cynicism in my head when I work.


Julien Saudubray was born in 1985 in Paris. He currently lives and works in  Brussels, Belgium. Graduated from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts  de Paris in 2012, the artist has since exhibited in France, England, Italy, and Belgium. After having experimented with what he calls the mobility of painting and its multiple applications, Julien Saudubray now synthesizes his experiments in a practice he defines as mechanistic. By reducing subjectivity to a minimum through the methodical application of layers of colour on the wall or paper, he evacuates the subject from the painting to reveal its internal structure. From the reduction of the latter to an arbitrary and repetitive action, sweeping,  sanding, erasing, adding, paintings emerge as catches between two times, almost resembling bad digital prints, and which perpetually replay their possibility of success. With each brushstroke I oscillate between ecstasy and boredom, observing myself  painting like an absurd machine programmed on a Beckettian formula: "To miss more, to miss better."

Julien Saudubray CV - click here

June 30 – July 30, 2021

Dear Tcherenkov

Julien Saudubray

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