French artist Boris Garanger was shortlisted for this year’s Jackson’s Painting Prize with his work, Gleaming. In the painting, a crowd of disembodied, hooded, yellow raincoats of different sizes strike various shapes against a grey backdrop. The work investigates the human figure, focussing on the protective outer layers we wear, often in moments of urgency. Here, Boris talks about his sculptural approach to painting with oil, how the context of his work has shifted with social distancing and the way lockdown provided space for contemplation in his practice.
Above image: Fluid, 2019, Boris Garanger, Oil on linen canvas, 98 x 130 cm
Clare: Can you tell us about your artistic background/education?
Boris: I started my art studies at the age of 19 after spending a year in England in Bournemouth. I familiarised myself with artistic creation at the school of fine art in Lorient in Morbihan. I then approached the subject in a contemporary way at the School of Fine Art in Rennes. I focused on the concept through volume work. The confrontation of different materials allowed me a formal game where one sublimated the other. The place of the artist was at the centre of my concerns. I finished my studies at La Cambre, an art and audiovisual school in Brussels. Sculpture in its contemporary notions animated my reflections. A training in metal allowed me to acquire techniques useful in the development of steel sculpture. Painting, I learned on my own. My masters, I find at museums and galleries.
Clare: Where does a painting begin for you? Can you take us through your process?
Boris: Situated in a figurative vein, the form is thought out before attacking the canvas. The idea and the message will determine the form. I build an image by collage or digital collage which allows me to work on composition. When I attack the canvas, I use a big brushstroke that is fairly large with the paint diluted in turpentine. That moment is crucial because it will be the energy, the light and the madness of the end result. Then I work more specifically on the colours and their relationships; solids, touches and gradients according to the desired rendering.
Clare: How does your training as a metalworker and artistic ironworker inform your work?
Boris: Woodworking resembles watercolour; metalworking resembles oil paint. Wood and watercolour leave no place for error. In metal and oil, you can overlap ad infinitum. We can remove or add material. It’s enjoyable because you could be wrong. There is something sculptural about oil painting, modelling. Moreover, I am currently working on a canvas where welders are the main subject.
Clare: It’s interesting to look at your paintings in the current climate, where social distancing has become the norm and in your paintings all these figures appear in such close proximity to each other. There’s almost a sense of urgency about them. Do you feel the context of your work has changed? What can you tell us about these figures?
Boris: Crowd mechanics is a topic I broached independently of the current situation. Human movements (large population flows, migration and demonstration, but also the intimate everyday movements of gesture) are at the heart of my concerns. These activities invite the viewer to question the behaviours within a group; as well as on the uniqueness of beings through the expressiveness of bodies. Clothing is an intermediary, a protection. Clothing as a psychic and physical shield. The bodies are sucked into each other, the need for human contact, for solidarity. There is a paradox. Social distancing and current avoidance brings a certain nostalgia to my paintings. Certainly today’s context brings a different meaning to my paintings and I keep an eye on the news which will more or less subconsciously influence my future creations.
Clare: Do you work from reference photos from your travels or do you have a practice of sketching? Or both? What can you tell us about your source imagery?
Boris: I am multiplying the sources. I draw from books, magazines and the internet. My travels have allowed me to build up a beautiful library of photos. My twin brother is a photographer and he allows me to access his large collection of pictures taken while traveling the globe.
Clare: What can you tell us about your colour palette and the kinds of mediums you use?
Boris: The colours I use the most are yellow and red ochre, cerulean blue, dark cinnabar green. I recently purchased several tubes of extra fine oil paint. I really enjoy the Prussian blue which is very bright. I also have about fifty different colours. I really like coloured grays, so I take the time to prepare my mixes before tackling the canvas. These days, I use Winsor & Newton Liquin to mix with my colours. It gives me a quick drying time and I like its texture.
Clare: What are your most important artist’s tools? Do you have any favourites?
Boris: I like big brushes. My palette is large and portable. The formats of my paintings are getting bigger and bigger. The bigger it is, the more I relax.
Clare: How has the lockdown of the last few months affected your practice?
Boris: I was very productive during the lockdown. I was working on several canvases at the same time. I worked on canvases that were quite different from what I am used to painting. These are spaces, places where human presence would only be suggested by its absence. A more intimate, more introverted gaze engages us in contemplation. I build compositions that take place in the space of the canvas, concentrating my effort on, points, lines, surfaces, colours; the relationship between them and the resulting tensions. Make a vacuum to make room for the hidden meanings of things; a mystical experience. They are images, impulses to the disruption of consciousness. Because we become aware of the void, the subconscious can flow freely.
Clare: What are your art influences? Who are your favourite contemporary or historical artists and why?
Boris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Richter, Euan Uglow; but also Jenny Saville, Alex Kanevsky, Benjamin Bjorklund, Denis Sarazhin, François Bart, Johan Barrios, Sebastian Schrader are the painters who today fascinate me with their genius at representing the body.
Clare: What makes a good day in the studio for you?
Boris: When everything is simple, everything is fluid. When you look at your canvas at night and say to yourself: Did I do that, me? And that you want to spend time contemplating it.
Clare: Where can we see more of your work online or in the flesh?
Boris: My website is borisgaranger.fr. You can also go to my instagram account: @borisgaranger.
I will be exhibiting 5 canvases in Fontenay sous Bois for the Artcité Fair from September 19, 2020 for a month. I have been selected to participate in the group exhibition Arte Laguna Prize at the Arsenal of Venice from March 13 to April 5, 2021. You can also come and see me at my workshop in Laval, France.