„a view“ - Lucile Risch talking with Orlando Mostyn Owen
'Lucien Freud, l'Atelier', France Culture
SOMMETS, ABÎMES ET PRÉCIPICES - Interview by Elisabeth Couturier, art critic, Paris

Cursif - Le dessin sans dessein



SOMMETS, ABÎMES ET PRÉCIPICES

O Nature, Green Unnatural Mother! Tom Rakewell.

Lʼapproche des peintures dʼOrlando Mostyn Owen ressemble à celle des sommets montagneux que lʼon désire atteindre et qui, à chaque étape du sentier en lacets, les fait percevoir sous un jour différent. Et si lʼon jette, soudain, un coup dʼœil en arrière, du côté de la vallée, ce qui nous était familier devient alors étranger.
Cʼest à ces changements dʼéchelles et de points de vue que nous confrontent les toiles de lʼartiste, dans un précipité tourbillonnant de formes et de couleurs. Un vertige qui met les sens en alerte. Leur condensé explosif mêle, sur une même surface, sommets, abîmes et précipices... à lʼimage de nos destinées.

Elisabeth Couturier: Quʼest-ce qui pousse, aujourdʼhui, un jeune homme doué à se lancer dans la peinture alors que lʼavant-garde ne jure que par les installations et lʼart vidéo ? Au fond, quʼest-ce que la peinture a dʼirréductible à vos yeux et que nʼont pas les autres modes dʼexpression?

Orlando Mostyn Owen : Il nʼy a rien dʼirréductible là-dedans. Simplement, ce moyen est extrêmement ductile et je trouve quʼil traduit la pensée avec une rapidité, une économie de gestes et une plasticité extraordinaire. La peinture à lʼhuile permet toutes sortes de suggestions, de changements et autres repentirs au cours du travail.

E. C. : Vous parlez du plaisir de peindre et surtout de la souplesse du médium, cela signifie-t-il que, pour vous, rien nʼest jamais figé, même une surface peinte ? Vos tableaux semblent le prouver : ils donnent lʼimpression quʼils se font en direct sous nos yeux.

O. M. O. : Le monde nʼest jamais figé, la pensée nʼest jamais figée, les idées viennent et partent vite, il faut quelque chose qui soit rapide et qui suive ce mouvement perpétuel. Cʼest, à mes yeux, lʼaptitude de la peinture.

Cʼest le médium qui traduit le mieux mes intentions. Ça nʼexclut pas le besoin, le désir et le plaisir de continuer à regarder dans dʼautres champs.

E. C. : La peinture nous a habitués à nous confronter au temps et à la pérennité, et vous, vous en parlez comme de la chose la plus mouvante et la plus fluide qui soit. Nʼestce pas paradoxal ?

O. M. O. : Bien sûr, je veux faire quelque chose qui ait une profondeur. Mais il y a un élément de métamorphose perpétuelle dans la peinture. On est vraiment dans une dimension protéiforme : quand on est en train de peindre, on change dʼidée, les intentions se déplacent.

E. C. : Cʼest-à-dire?

O. M. O. : De Chirico raconte le grotesque du monde, avec panache. Et le monde est très grotesque actuellement. Et on a vraiment besoin de panache ! De Chirico a voulu raconter une chose extrêmement dérangeante, une sorte de blague grimaçante. Les surréalistes qui lʼavaient encensé jusque-là ont trouvé cette nouvelle manière intolérablement moche et réactionnaire, car malgré le génie ils menaient un propos utopique. Et, on ne peut pas dire, alors, que de Chirico faisait déjà du « post-modernisme ». Il réalisait un transmodernisme, une trans-temporalité. Il était ailleurs.

E. C. : Votre génération se sent-elle débarrassée de cette obsession autoritaire de progrès qui a longtemps été le moteur des avant-gardes ?

O. M. O. : Oui, tout à fait. Et même de la réponse qui a suivi : la provocation, maintenant trop appréhendée ; la subversion, aujourdʼhui, nʼest pas là.

E. C. : Vous mʼavez dit lʼautre jour dans votre atelier : « Je suis un peintre lourd ». Quʼest-ce que cela veut dire ? Un peintre qui nʼa pas peur de la matière, comme Eugène Leroy ou comme James Ensor ?

O. M. O. : La sédimentation de la pensée est cette espèce de couche que je passe et repasse, qui ressemble à la trace de la limace et qui, à un certain moment, sʼépaissit. Ce nʼest pas par désir de faire de la patine ou de faire des choses épaisses. Je ne me dis pas : je veux faire un tableau comme Eugène Leroy ou comme Adolphe Monticelli, deux artistes que jʼaime énormément. Leur peinture est épaisse parce quʼelle est le résultat de ce besoin quʼils ont de résoudre le nœud du monde. Il y a beaucoup de peintres qui arrivent à lʼimage très rapidement, donc le tableau est beaucoup plus lisse. Ce sont des peintres chez lesquels il nʼy a pas cette même problématique, cette même agglutination de différentes possibilités. Une peinture épaisse, cʼest une sorte dʼarchéologie de lʼêtre. Mais je disais aussi « lourd » dʼintentions, de bagages... que je le veuille ou non !

E. C. : En regardant vos toiles on remarque deux tendances, certaines toiles sont traversées par une grande mélancolie et dʼautres, au contraire, sont extrêmement flamboyantes. Est-ce deux côtés de votre personnalité qui sʼexpriment ?

O. M. O. : Et certains tableaux contiennent ces deux aspects. En fait, tout tableau qui représente quelque chose est un memento mori. Parce quʼon est en train dʼessayer dʼarrêter cette chose fuyante qui est le monde qui nous entoure et la mort qui sʼapproche au galop. Mais ce memento mori est contrebalancé par le plaisir dʼinventer la forme. Quand on est dans lʼinvention érotomaniaque de la forme, on est dans une grande pulsion de vie. On peint dans une tension continuelle entre cette pulsion de vie et cette pulsion de mort. Entre une pulsion de retenir la chose et une pulsion de débordement.

Propos recueillis par Elisabeth Couturier, critique dʼart, Paris.

PEAKS, ABYSS AND PRECIPICES

Approaching dʼOrlando Mostyn Owenʼs paintings is like climbing toward a mountain peak that looks different at every turn of the road. And if we happen to glance back at the valley, what looked familiar is no longer so. The artistʼs canvasses confront us with changes of scale and perspective, in a bustling precipitation of forms and colours. It is a vertigo that makes our senses alert. Their explosive condensation mingles on the same surface, peaks, abyss and precipices... as an image of our own destiny.

Elisabeth Couturier: What drives a talented young artist into painting today, when the avantgarde swears by video installations and video art? In your opinion, what is so irrevocable about painting that other media donʼt have?

Orlando Mostyn Owen: There is nothing irrevocable to it. This medium is just extremely ductile and I think it can translate our thoughts with extraordinary rapidity, economy of gesture and plasticity. Oil panting allows all sorts of suggestions and changes of mind throughout the work.

E. C.: You mentioned the pleasure of painting, especially the mediumʼs flexibility. Do you mean that nothing is fixed for you, not even a painted surface? Your canvasses seem to prove it: they look as if they were being created “live” before our eyes.

O. M. O.: The world is never fixed, thought is never fixed, ideas come and go fast, so you need something that goes as fast, in order to follow this perpetual movement. In my view, this is what painting is good at. Itʼs the best medium to translate my intentions. Which doesnʼt exclude the need, desire and pleasure to keep looking at other fields.

E. C.: We are used to believe that painting confronts us with time and durability, but you talk about it as if it were the most shifting and fluid medium in the world. Isnʼt this a paradox?

O. M. O.: Of course, I want to produce something that has a certain depth. But painting presents an element of permanent metamorphosis. It really has a protean dimension: as you paint, you change your mind, intentions shift. You can either refuse this chaos or integrate it. In the latter case, the painting represents the sedimentation of this stream of thought. I distinguish between thoughts and ideas. At the end of the day, everyone has the same idea at the sametime. Ideas lend themselves to copyright and its sideeffects. What is singular in people, on the other hand, is the process of their thought.

E. C.: In your paintings, there is a proliferation of elements that arenʼt necessarily visible at first glance. Figures and landscapes intertwine. The virgin forest is also very present... does it correspond to something?

O. M. O.: Indeed, there are these figures emerging from the forest... Guercino painted his own version of “Et Ego In Arcadia”, in which two shepherds literally emerge from a wall of foliage. It is totally out of scale, and thus it expresses powerfully, comically, the idea of“emerging”. My canvasses certainly echo that painting. The setting is very green, although the forest is not quite virgin. Itʼs a forest closer to the the Bois de Boulogne than to the Arcadian forest.

E. C.: How important is the subject in your work?

O. M. O.: Leonardo says “la pittura è cosa mentale”, of course, but I would also say that thinking is a physical process. Orlando Innamorato does not see the world in the same way as Orlando Furioso does, “corpore” oblige. Our perception is a kaleidoscope, reconfiguring tiny fragments of broken glass. Itʼs a prism of desires, of pleasures, of intentions and memories. Those are the criteria I ʻsubjectʼ my paintings to! This morning, a painter friend of mine was telling me about a dream he had and said: “If you could see my sensations”. And as he spoke, I was looking at the paintings heʼd just made andI could, precisely, see his sensations !”.

E. C.: There is a lot of distance and irony in your paintings. They are permeated by a strong disenchantment, yet they remain colourful and flamboyant. Another paradox...

O. M. O.: Yes, of course, but no cynicism: I am not jaded nor idle or bored by what surrounds me... My paintings are ironic because the world imposes the necessity of a distance, we are constantly confronted to huge lies which we need to macerate well if we ever want to digest them.

E. C.: The mineral element is as present as vegetation in your paintings. Are you trying to reconcile man with nature?

O. M. O.: I called one of my diptychs “Too Bad, J-J”, which is a sympathetic dedication to Rousseau. Our idea of the Garden of Eden, of a primeval order is a fable, a masochistic fiction that re-emerges everywhere: it designates man as the polluter since the apple and the sap. The Fall is, after all, a story of contamination... But contamination is precisely what drives Nature. We act according to the same logic: our destructive actions originate from our natural impulses. There is no gap between us and the “natural” world, we are weave in the weft.Werner Herzog says it well. Paradoxically, it is our notion of a virgin nature that is a human cultural artifice. When I paint a canvas such as this one, my characters express “bucolic” longings. But their “bucolic” longings are twisted: they meet in the undergrowth, in places that could be a virgin forest or a Club Méd. They indulge in all sorts of games at the time of the siesta; they play mean savages.But this is not an image that I start on the canvas, itʼs the painting that brings me there, i.e. the form of the thought that occupies the entire surface of the canvas suggests to me its own content.

E.C.: What sparks off your wish to make a painting? Is it a dream you made the night before? A passing vision recorded during the day? A situation you experienced?

O. M. O.: Itʼs all of that. You load up and you need to unload. Perhaps by looking at someone elseʼs paintings, or by desire, by irritation... At the end of the day, you need to paint as you brush your teeth, you wake up in the morning and youʼve just got to paint, whether you are in a good mood, in a bad mood, tired, not tired, youʼve got to paint no matter your state. Itʼs a search engine that is not there to multiply useless information, but to try to define the ambiguity that surrounds us. Itʼs a tool of knowledge to investigate, continue, catalyse.

E. C.: And how do you work? Do you start several canvasses at once?

O. M. O.: I like to run several horses at once, i.e. to work simultaneously on more than one painting. Itʼs a matter of energy and focus, but also of rhythm. When you get stuck in one painting, itʼs very useful to be able to shift to another. The writer Philip Roth works on two manuscripts simultaneously. They are competing visions of the same novel, different emerging intentions, and so on.

E. C.: Are you a great museum-goer?

O. M. O.: Paintings are not my only interest! Who would think of going to the Maisons-Alfortʼs Museum of the Veterinary School? Not many, and they would be wrong, according to W.G.Sebaldʼs description. The energy, the stimulus, everything comes to you by anamorphosis. So I donʼt necessarily need to see a painting in order to want to paint. I love train stations, public city spaces, distant places... there is a metaphysics of anonymous places in which you can exist in a different way.

E. C.: In your own Pantheon, what are you main references in the history of art?

O. M. O.: I always liked early Mannerism. The art of Rosso Fiorentino or Domenico Beccafumi constitutes a curious elision between the Middle-Ages and the postRenaissance. Their thought is very distilled. They remind me of that sentence by Flaubert which so inspired Yourcenar [“With the gods gone, and Christ not yet come, there was a unique moment, from Cicero to Marcus Aurelius, when man stood alone.”] Before the talibanesque Sack of Rome and the Counter- Reformation, there was again that kind of spirit in Rome before 1527. I am also a big fan of American underground graphic fiction: Crumb of course, but also Spain, Wilson, Kurtzmann, a world that meets Zappa, Terry Gilliam. Their satire is febrile and fertile, a kind of “Rabelais in L.A.”. They anticipate todayʼs fusion between animation, painting and comic strips. The painter Giorgio de Chirico has something to do with this: the irony, the disarticulation of a classical vocabulary to subvert the viewer. I am especially thinking of the De Chirico from the 1930s- 1940s, the one that everybody hates, dangerously funny with his anthropomorphic gladiators fighting to death in a gemütlich, petits-bourgeois living room. We could place him alongside George Condo, there is something very modern to it... We are there.

E. C.: What do you mean?

O. M. O.: De Chrico tells us about the grotesque of the world,with panache. And the world is very grotesque nowadays. We really need some panache! De Chirico wanted to tell a very disturbing thing, a kind of twisted joke. And the Surrealists, who until then had praised him to the skies, suddenly found his new paintings intolerably ugly and reactionary, because geniusaside their agenda was ultimately utopian. One canʼt say that de Chirico was already a “postmodernist”. He was trans-modernist, trans-temporal. He was elsewhere.

E. C.: Is your generation free from the authoritarian obsession of progress that drove the avantgardes?

O. M. O.: Absolutely. And also from the response that followed: a form of provocation, which is too integrated today; the subversive is elsewhere.

E. C.: You told me the other day in your studio: “I am a heavy painter”. What did you mean? A painter who is not afraid of pictorial matter, like Eugène Leroy or James Ensor?

O. M. O.: The sedimentation of paint, as that of thought, is like a layering of deposits again and again, like the trail of a snail, gathering thickness. It is not the intention to give the surface a patina or make it thick. I donʼt say to myself: I want to make a painting like Eugène Leroy or Adolphe Monticelli, whom I both like enormously. Their painting is thick because it originates from their need to solve the knot of the world. Many painters arrive to the image very quickly, and their painting is therefore much smoother. These painters donʼt present the same problem, the same agglutination of different possibilities. A thick painting is like an archeology of being. But I also meant “heavy” with intentions, with my own past... whether I like it or not!

E. C.: One can identify two tendencies in your canvasses: some are heavily melancholic and others, to the contrary, are very flamboyant. Do they express two sides of your personality?

O. M. O.: And some of my paintings express both. As a matter of fact, every painting that represents something is a memento mori. Because one is trying to stop a fleeting entity, i.e. the world that surrounds us and the approaching death. But this memento mori is counterbalanced by the pleasure of inventing the form. When you are into the erotomaniac invention of form, you are driven by life. Painting is based on a permanent tension between these drives of death and life. Between the impulse to retain something and the impulse to overflow

Interview by Elisabeth Couturier, art critic, Paris