The work of GUILLAUME BRESSON uses the very old technique of grisaille, the classical repertoire of the expression of passions and is also inspired by the compositions of Poussin to design contemporary history paintings dealing with urban violence. Every attitude, every move and expression is planned down to the smallest detail. The artist has actors posing with clothing and accessories chosen by him; the photographs are then assembled to set the composition of the picture first as painted studies and then the final painting.
This process gives a theatrical mood to his paintings, with a Jeff Wallish idea of exaggerated poses, a distance is created from reality and forces you to reconsider the situation, not as news but as history in the making. When TV and mass media show only meaningless violence, painting might help us to see – and therefore to understand less poorly – what the rioters could consider as epic actions that looked foolish and scandalous as seen from afar.
Where did you study?
At the ENSBA, the national art-academy in Paris.
Which gallery represents you?
Bourouina Gallery, Berlin.
Do you only do figurative painting?
Yes. First I give form to the idea in a summary sketch. Then follow several photo shoots in which I stage people, mostly friends and relatives. I adjust the lighting and clothing according to the situation. Each character gets its own role. I then multiply the pictures and study the individual gestures and expressions. Afterwards I connect them through computer graphics to the whole scene, which I sometimes complete with further objects. If the interaction between the formal composition and the semantic association seems accurate to me, I begin to paint.
The realism I adopt is an idealised kind of realism. I paint things with their according volumes and in a certain light, in order to create a fictional space. But I in no way do I search for the realistic detail, except when it shows a narrative interest. When I say that I idealise, I actually mean that I arrange objects. I, for instance, choose the clothes for my models according to the draping quality, that the particular textiles create.
In doing so I refer to impulses that I obtained in this area: draperies of Leonardo da Vinci or those of old Dutch masters like Hugo Van der Goes. I even influence the morphology of the figures or the shape of a tree.
What are your sources of inspiration?
I started painting by studying American and British artists like Hopper, Fischl or Freud. I believe I was attracted by the realism of this kind of painting. This caused me to look further and to develop an interest for the paintings of Pousin or Tintoretto, where I found an idealised realism. At the same time I developed an interest for the compositional aspects of abstract and modern painting. Since then I do not see realism as an end in itself, but as a rhetorical means serving a story. This led me on to narration-composition and to Alberti, the art theoretician of the renaissance. In his book „De pictura“ presenting his „Historia“-concept, he exemplifies the relation between the different elements of a figurative painting. I’m interested in historical painting, because I think it is here that figurative painting is at its most rich, instead of limiting itself to impressive painterly effects.
Does historical painting still have meaning nowadays?
For me it does because through it I represent the energy of my era. My work of the last three years deals with the riots in the Banlieues. This is a topic, which I often came into contact with, and whose representation media was irritating to me. This work enables me to constitute my own interpretation. By composing these scenes as mythological battles. I hope to introduce a more diverse perspective, with a little more distance. My models are friends with which I have spent my youth. In this way I dignify them.
Which projects are next?
An exhibition in the Bourouina Gallery in Berlin from October 29th, followed by an exhibition in the Espace Croix-Baragnon in Toulouse in February 2009.