Saying What You See, Knowing What You See: An Interview with Marianne Paul-Boncour
Paris, Oct. 2013: On the eve of FIAC I managed to catch Marianne Paul-Boncour for a chat in what was probably the loudest workers cafe in eastern Paris. We struggled to be heard over the radio, the rattling of cups and glasses and the shrillest of barmaids, while simultaneously squinting into a setting sun. Despite these challenges we managed to talk about painting, New York City, France and FIAC.
James Loks: Can you describe your work in brief?
Marianne Paul-Boncour: I always come at things from two directions, but I'm working on a series of little paintings, square canvases, aligned in lozenge. It's a work that comes with a question of perception, and maybe it's painting to see light, and the wall and this object, and the three are given equal importance.
JL: Why the shift in your work to the present series?
MPB: It wasn't really a direct motivation, it's not like I finished or ended something, like I've explained something. It's more continuous than this, maybe it's the same if I ask myself why I like to see the light on one day or another, it's just... I don't know, it's like I was making the question more precise. I was working with strong colour and contrast, and one kind of optic, and I realised, perhaps after I made one strong, that if I use very little or light contrast, then it's more about seeing the object, it makes you really look at the object.
JL: How does your creative process work? Can you comment on this? Is it a mystery, or do you understand it?
MPB: No it's not a mystery: I understand some things, and some things I don't; some questions I understand but I don't have answers. I know why they [the questions] come but I don't have answers, and why I use painting I don't know. The process is a long discussion; it's like you have worlds and your work and some question [orbit] around and return, and they're different. The situation changes; at one point you're twenty and at another you're thirty, so the question moves, and finally you become more precise, but you move with that as well. This series is about the variation of perception, and the variation of variation and the perception of perception, how you see something. It's a long process, it's not like one day I understand.
JL: How do you assess the situation in France for artists at the moment?
MPB: It's a big question. And difficult to speak about it because I'm inside it. The thing is that everything changes very quickly. One thing I think is that at present it's a little stagnant, a little homogenous; the passage from school to gallery to institution is a little linear. I don't know. It's kind of closed. What I want to say is that there isn't enough variation; no one has a strong individual vision, and things are still a little stuck in the past. Another thing is that perhaps the artist is a little hermetic, you know; there isn't a discussion between different fields and people working in different areas, and there isn't a space for people to touch each other. It lacks bridges.
JL: What can you say about the FIAC?
MPB: It's what I can say about any art fair? I don't know, in a sense I don't know who goes to the FIAC, but sure it's a commercial moment you know? For the public I think it's impossible to see something, and I think that if they go they just wander around and it doesn't surprise me that they'd come out of it confused you know, not understanding anything; it's just too much and too many people and galleries are very busy. It doesn't surprise me that people don't understand contemporary art. For me I just go to see works that interest me; it's like flicking through a book and I just take what I see, you know. I don't go to learn something; its a bit like looking at the internet.
JL: Having worked in both cities, how would you describe the difference between New York and Paris?
MPB: When I was a student I studied at Hunter College for seven months and then I thought the big difference was that people spoke a lot about what they see. Just that, they explain and describe what they see, while in France people want to know what they see. They need the language to see what is in front of them, like they don't trust what they see and don't want to say what they see; it's perhaps too subjective for them. But I feel now the big difference is that when you're in New York and you walk everybody kind of feels everybody else; they are aware that you're there and walk in a straight line, and when you're in Paris people are conscious of the other but it's not a big thing to walk into people. Like in New York there is a true limit between the interior and the exterior, between the people on the street; it's kind of politeness, and they respect that. Here in Paris at certain point the interior kind of escapes into the exterior; people will shout at you on the street – they'll let you know how they feel. The first day I come back I'm often shocked.
JL: If you were to interview yourself, what question would you ask?
MPB: Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
JL: Whose work do you admire, among French artists? (Kind of a dumb question, but easier than the previous one.)
MPB: Hmm, it's maybe that I take something from everyone, in contrast, to say yes or no, to like one part or the other, but maybe... I really like Martin Barré.
ArtSlant would like to thank Marianne Paul-Boncour for her assistance in making this interview possible.
(All images: Marianne Paul-Boncour, untitled, 2013, acrylic, canvas; courtesy of the artist.)