the grand project

The grand project  (started in 2011)



The idea of painting something more than one work after another, without much of a continuity between them in the narrative, was hanging in my mind since some years without I ever could formalize a satisfying method for the narrative to grow naturally as in a written story. The written story offers an abundance of images succeeding one another and one single image detached from the story loses much of its narrative power. The written narrative grows indeed out of the succession of images. It's something like that I was searching to attain in painting. Not exactly as the 12 stages of the crucifixion illustrated in the works hanging in Christian churches (the Christian narrative is illustrated in 12 pictures hanging on the perimeter of the church). What I was really after is a succession of pictures that by itself grows a narrative.

 My grand project started to take shape in my mind while I was day dreaming putting the finishing touches to the following work.

This work is quite intricate in its details and involved much time (over 120 hours. Size 60 x 90 cm or 24" x 36"). I felt it contained like "split seconds narratives" or short dreams interrupted by awakenings but I was puzzled by the possibilities that lay open on its four sides. That's how I decided to explore them and this exploration resulted in the following.

The 8 panels surrounding the central and initial work are terminated compositionally and colour scheme wise but still need to be finished in their detailed renderings. The total size reaches 180 on 270 cm (72" x 108") and as for now involved over 500 hours labor.

A bigger story is emerging here but I still feel a lot more possibilities are hanging from the sides and I want to pluck those possibilities.


What follows is the addition of two layers of panels on the bottom of the 9 units here just above and the addition of 4 columns on the right.

 The 6 bottom panels still need a lot of work. But this image, I hope, gives a good presentation of my working process.

While working on these panels I slowly became convinced that:
  1. I had reached the limits of one chapter in my grand story the same as if it was the chapter in a book. Remains now to balance the composition, the  color harmony, and finally the detailed rendering (at the same level as in panel n#1 that started this series).
  2. each panel is a painting in its own right that means that it needs the same coherence as the total assembling in terms of compositional balance, color harmony and detail in the execution.

Total height now reaches 3 m or 120". To simplify my future work, that means avoid scaffolding and very large space, I will limit my further exploration to the lateral sides. This is the moment when I got like a conscious flash into the possibility to integrate time in the narrative. The right side being the past, the present 3 columns being the present and the left side being the future. Past and future are potentially holding more than one chapter each.  And thus emerged the idea of a life work around a grand narrative.

What kind of shocked me, after disassembling the 15 panels of the 3 first columns and randomly reassembling them in a one panel horizontal stream, is the sheer diversity in those works. Check it out for yourself by clicking on the thumbnails here under.



I terminated the first 4 columns with each 5 paintings (if one can say that a painting is ever terminated). Here is the full view. The paintings are stitched together in the Gimp (open source version of photoshop) and not taken in one shot because my present painting place is not big enough to position all the panels together while leaving me the distance to shoot the whole damn thing. This explains the dark-light differences between panels. The whole thing has a better flow that on this picture but that was the price to pay to share this work with my readers. What I hope to share is the dynamic that runs between thinking, painting and writing.

As the picture, given here above on 2014/08/22, shows the work is already well engaged on the right side... I'm transitioning to a second chapter of the narrative. The transition starts in panel 4 and 5 of the 4th column on the right and will fully occupy columns 5 and 6. Starting with column 7 I'll initiate the 2nd chapter which will take 5 or 6 or more columns depending on what I discover on my path.

As you can see from the individual panels each stands on its own as an individual painting. It takes an awful lot of time to balance forms, lines, and colors because all these elements have to be applied in 2 different "contexts":
  • one is the inserting of each panel in the whole "mural" to try to get some coherence out of the chaos of the initial automatic painting
  • then each panel itself is teated as an individual painting with its own color balancing necessities.
I paint without plan in the tradition of automatism and I have thus no clue about what is coming my way. In other words I'm discovering the unfolding of the narrative while trying to make sense out of the paint material, the forms, and the lines that end up on the canvas as by accident and it's as if my subconscious mind was constantly searching for order out of the chaos created by automatism and directing my hand as if it was a child's hand. This trial and error process is time consuming but my mind feels that achieving order, or harmony, in the lines, forms and color combinations is somehow necessary... if for nothing else than as a token of respect for the viewer. Achieving order and harmony is what imposes on me the 2 different contexts I spoke about here above.

These 2 contexts create like a process of "going to the whole" and then "coming back to the individual" and this process has to be repeated a number of times... till you feel satisfied with the whole. But I doubt I'll ever really be fully satisfied because I regularly feel the urge to retouch some elements in order for them to fit in the growing whole. What I mean to say here is that adding new columns on the sides can't be balanced simply by painting the new works while keeping in mind what is already there. You indeed always feel the need to balance the whole and that's what brings me back retouching the paintings I thought I finished earlier... That's what is adding up the hours! By a rough count I spent on average approximately 100 hours on each panel of these 4 first columns which, as of today, makes some 2000 hours for the whole mural of 4 columns but this total, as I just tried to show, is destined to grow further... 

The whole process is akin to meditation and it is where many of the subjects of my writing come from. So in this sense, in my experience painting, thinking, and writing form one way of living that can't easily be reconciled with today's artworld and its market flashes.

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