France (b. 1962)
This is the first of a series of posts I’m dedicating to writing about art and artists. This is an endeavour to not only research and discover new work, but also an attempt to practice the art of writing about the practice of art, and in doing so crystallize my own ideas around my work.
Lately I’ve been exploring “line”, looking at how this very elemental mark can be approached and thought about differently, how even very subtle changes in material and how the mark is made can change its qualities dramatically. The first artist I’m going to feature is a master in the very truest sense when it comes to making lines.
I first came to know about Abstract Expressionist Fabienne Verdier when I saw a photograph online of her poised over an incredible apparatus – an enormous paint brush made from 35 horse tails. It is a striking image. Take a look. See her figure there, wielding this huge paint-covered beast with such dignity and a special kind of stately grace, despite her sturdy brown shoes, rubber gloves and the brutal, industrial almost clinical nature of her studio, and the completely whack scene she is the centre of. All of those things. And the sense that here was this old school, modernist master who really just does not give a f*ck about anything except lines.
Verdier’s painting practice and process is built around line. A huge element of this is the construction of brushes, from all kinds of animal hairs and fibres, and in all manner of shapes and sizes, many of which require complicated structures, levers and pendulums, architecturally designed studio spaces and all kinds of resourcefulness and ingenuity to enable Verdier’s dance with line. The art-making machine that is her process, – I think very much a twentieth century thing, the idea of a machine – punches out painting after painting. This mechanised output is then committed to a rigorous analysis whereby those not making the cut are burned ceremoniously on her property.
Fabienne Verdier studio, 2016. Photo John Short.
Verdier’s oeuvre is a classic example of modern Abstract Expressionism. It consists of only the most vital elements of line, brush canvas and paint so that only the purest expression remains – her movements, energy, the forces of gravity, physics, and the strength and pulse of her body, the materiality of paint as it makes contact with all that she has constructed, and ultimately how all these things bare down on the canvas.
Verdier lived in China for ten years learning the ancient art of brushes and now sees herself as a kind of intermediary between her philosophies, the world around her and the canvas. The result is a distillation of what she learnt from Chinese calligraphy masters – and all that western-focused modernist art embodies. The brew is complex, despite the ingredients being a boiled down process of body, brush and line. Her work mixes beauty and brutality and the confluence of these two things makes her paintings so powerful.
What occurs to me is that I was fascinated with the idea of Verdier as an artist long before I appreciated her work. Her attitude to work, the approach and commitment to building a shrine around the paintbrushes she has constructed, her immersion in her practice and dedication to line so complete and unwavering.
Credits: Below a little video, Fabienne Verdier, moving with the world, produced by Mark Kidel. The featured image comes from the cover of a publication produced by Doris Van Drathen.