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Interview by Anne Thirriot,
March 2018
Translation from the French by Emily Seftel

Agnès Lévy
Exhibition from March 31 to May 12, 2018
Reid Hall and Tschann Libraire

Tell me about your next exhibition. What works will be you showing?
I decided to unite several periods. The alleys of palm trees, which is the most recent work, was started in 2016, and is finished for the moment: the same landscape in different seasons, created in situ. I matched them with monotypes, embodying the logs that come from the trees of this landscape. And also using the Leporello sketchbooks, concertina sketchbooks, on which I worked in oil for several years beginning in 2010, on plants from the cactus family, Pachypodiums, and other succulents.

Does this represent an evolution in your work, beginning in 2010 ?
When I stopped working on the body proper (with a life model, in the atelier), I moved on to sketchbooks. And although my attention was drawn to the cactus –types of rocks, as it were—I treated them in a very corporeal way, like the interior of a body. Thus we can see organs, a human heart… Very colorful, in any case. This is a work dealing with color. What interested me is the sculptural character of these cacti, vigorous, knotted, especially the pachyderms. I thus began a serial work, in these concertina sketchbooks, a little like Eadweard Muybridge, the cactus in all its phases, all its forms, the interior, the exterior, the profile, three-quarters… like movements, large series on large panels. In this way, I did about 30 of these books, using the Leporello books of every size, between 2010 and 2014. Then I came to the tree trunks, the close-ups of these trunks. It’s a botanical body. I did a whole series like this. And after focusing so closely on the flowers and the trunks, I said to myself that my vision need to be larger.

But when you worked on the trunks, did you use a different material?
Yes. I learned a new technique in an etching workshop, the monotype, while working with the same motif in front of me, different logs, different essences. I was interested in exploring another materials. I love « multiples », engravings. I had already done lithographs, as well as silkscreen prints. The monotype is pretty great because it’s immediate; you work with a sense of urgency, and at the same time it’s very pictorial. I thus made the most of the motif via this technique. And each time that you discover a technique, you explore it, it brings you to other things.

And between the logs and the landscapes ?
I did a series of dahlias. First in the sketchbooks, in India ink, Japanese watercolor, and then a series of monotypes. Curiously these dahlias are called « cactus dahlia. » It’s this form in particular that interested me, this vigorous, lively, dancing aspect. And through my work on trees, in this very inspiring place that I love wholeheartedly, Marcillé –a splendid park, at once very constructed and very creative—I said to myself « Why is it that I am doing these close-ups of hydrangeas, dahlias, trunks ? I need to expand my vision. » In the ten years that I’ve been going to Marcillé, this question has worked at me: « How to approach the landscape? » or a part of the landscape. Because the question of landscape is very interesting—like the question of the body, it is immense. Through frequenting this place, through working there, you become Marcillé, like you become a dahlia, a trunk… And I chose an alley of palm trees.

What interested you about that particular landscape ?
The palm tree, which again is not unrelated to these botanical forms that I love. It is green all year, even if it has seasons (of fruits, or flowers), it has a structure that resists bad weather. And that alignment, the way that the palm trees were implanted in the soil, an astounding soil that I could delve into in depth. An earthy soil, but covered in leaves, with living matter, dead leaves, branches, chestnut hulls… Colorful, and lively ! What struck me when I began to work in the summer of 2016 was that the landscape was very well-defined. To the left, this alley of 10 palm trees, and to the right, the beginning of the chestnut trees… And behind them, the hydrangeas, which also changed according to the season. The sun struck the palms, casting strong traces along the ground. It was extraordinary, this landscape of contrasts.

So as a result, light was a huge factor.
Absolutely. That’s why I noted the times, the months, and the seasons. Light is very important in my work, because it provides the color. At first, it is the shadows cast on the ground that attract me. These contrasts, with the verticality of the palm trees. At the beginning, I was only interested in the trunks of the palm trees, the stipes. Then I grew attached to the alignment, the verticality of the trunks, and the vibrancy of the sun on the earth. And little by little, your gaze expands, you look at the sky, the hydrangeas behind the palm trees, the bisection of the palm leaves, the branches... And then you find a style, and the field expands, permits you to move further, to find things that you didn’t suspect.

Do you always work in the same location?
Yes, more or less. In winter, I might be inside the greenhouse a little more, with the doors open onto the landscape; in summer, completely on the alley but with the space necessary to see the ten palm trees, or sometimes nearer, for a close-up view. But always the same point of view. What interests me are the seasons, the time, the weather. You don’t work at all the same way in the winter as compared to the summer. The light isn’t the same, so the colors aren’t the same, nor the style, and the material itself changes. And the more you work, the more your style, your touch, changes, your vision grows more complex, grows richer. In a series, the work is never the same thing, contrary to what one might think.

What is striking in your work is the importance of color.
The color comes to me immediately, it is not fixed. It is something untamed! It is a part of me. The mixing of colors is automatic; I don’t even think about it. I used dry pastels to begin, for a very long time, for large formats, and oil pastels and oil sticks as well, then I introduced the brush. It’s more sophisticated, because you have an intermediary between your fingers and the medium. It’s less savage, a little more... civilized. There is also a gentleness that comes with the brush. The last works are Japanese watercolors. It’s a very intense watercolor, more transparent than gouache but with a more concealing aspect, and a very intense pigment, very strong in color... and very suited to the light that changes constantly, in a particular moment outside. The small pots allow you to work with a sense of urgency. You’re outside, and off you go! Quickly, hurry up! The light changes quickly from one minute to the next, the shadows and sun disappear... and the darkness, these black traces on the earth, if you stop, five minutes later there is nothing left. You are hopeless...

And when you worked in Marcillé, did you spend hours on one subject ?
I work standing, very concentrated, I try to seize all that I love, all that touches me, and I go quickly! Because it passes quickly. When you stop in the movement, in the middle of working on the same drawing, sometimes it’s beneficial. But also sometimes you can’t go back to where you were, the same energy, the same mindset. And that, that is hard. Finally, there is perhaps temporality in these sketchbooks that unfolds in a longer fashion. I worked on several books at a time on a table, and there is a calm in this work that in general I don’t have.

And then, you worked intensively at certain times of the year, and other times there were long hiatuses. How did you manage these interruptions, these constraints ?
Sometimes well, sometimes badly. A hiatus can also be interesting. It prevents you from repeating yourself, perhaps. When you go back to your work, you have a different feeling. I think it can be beneficial. You have as well this frustration that allows you to reflect.

And regarding your influences, the resonances with your work. When you work on these landscapes in situ, do you feel linked to any particular artists?
In fact, it changes all the time, according to the periods and the subjects. I have looked at so many painters, and paintings! Even if the style is not at all the same – and I think of him because there was just a large retrospective and because I’m on the subject of landscapes—I can feel a connection to David Hockney.

First, the color, the style, and the spirit of searching. What I adore about David Hockney is the way in which he paints the everyday, recounts life, his voyages, a still-life at his home, his friends, the portraits of his friends, the bodies that he likes... Life, you know. It’s so vibrant, and so accurate! It’s this kind of painting that interests me. And then his searching, his constant change of mediums, claiming a medium and finding things with it... I love his iPad landscapes. iPad or no iPad, it doesn’t matter, it’s his vision of color and of landscapes, the outline of the landscapes, the outline and the connected colors... it’s intense!