Interview with Philippe Piguet

Maude Maris: fragment, colour, mass
Saint-Ange residency, Seyssins, 2016
Translation: John Doherty



Maude Maris is a painter – absolutely – but she also uses other media to bring her painting into being. Whether through drawing, sculpture or photography, her approach involves the spatialisation of elements that have been recovered and transformed by a poetics that goes from landscape to architecture, both referential and mental. Here, she shares her experience as the first nominee of the Résidence Saint-Ange, and the impact this has had on her work.

You’d already been an artist in residence elsewhere. What was different about Saint-Ange?

To begin with, there’s the fact that I was on my own. The two artists who take up residencies there each year come along in turn for three months. Then there’s the fact that the work space and the living space are in the same building. This means that there’s a fusion of the thinking processes and the work itself. There’s also the fact that you’re outside the city [Grenoble], and that the studio, designed by Odile Decq, though it’s large, has little connection with its surroundings. The private part gives a magnificent view over the landscape, but the setting induces a sort of inner retreat. It’s a very specific kind of space, and it had an effect on the way I lived and worked there.

Did you have a particular project in mind, to begin with?

It wasn’t an obligation; but at the same time you don’t take on something like that without having an idea about what you want to do. Personally, I had a rough plan for a sculptural work, along with a few concepts that had begun to germinate…

You’d already been to see the place before the start of the residency. Did that in any sense shape, or reinforce, your orientation? Or did the constraints in question lead to the development of other projects?

It’s hard to say, because there may be influences that you’re not immediately aware of. For example, the fact that I arrived with a certain amount of material meant I could begin work right away. But I had to look around for the kinds of small objects I needed; and at the local Emmaüs charity shop I found a book that had an impact on the entire residency.

What sort of book was it?

It was called Vie et mort d’un pharaon, Toutankhamon [« Life and death of a Pharaoh, Tutankhamen »], published in the 1970s. It was of no great documentary interest, but it contained reproductions that fascinated me, in two ways: firstly, there were the interconnections of the spaces inside the tomb, giving views of the architectural schema; and then there were photographs of furniture with animal heads that suggested chess pieces, which themselves have an Egyptian genealogy. The book reawakened childhood memories of the kind we all have, about ancient Egypt and the origins of our culture.

Were there other contextual influences?

Well, I visited the Palais du Facteur Cheval [« Postman Cheval’s Ideal Palace »], which is just an hour away from Grenoble. There I found similar kinds of views incorporated into the architectural forms, along with echoes of ancient civilisations. And then, also during the residency, I went to Paris for two days to visit the newly-renovated Musée Rodin, where I bought two books, one of which featured Rodin’s collection of antiques. And it struck a chord. It resonated with my work on fragments of objects. I was taken by Rodin’s irreverent way of treating the pieces, and how he brought them into dialogue with his sculptures. He was a precursor in the way he duplicated mouldings, or « members », then assembled them as he pleased. What interested him in his fragmented antiques was the discovery of a certain abstraction. And this is also central to my own artistic research.

From fragmentation to abstraction in search of quintessence, in a sense?

When I mould an object I’ve collected, I change certain details, figurative indices and proportions. This constitutes a movement towards a sort of abstraction, so as to arrive at the essence of the object. It becomes open to interpretation by the viewer.

Did the different phases of the creative protocol change, over the course of the residency?

No, they didn’t, but certain events had unforeseen consequences, particularly in relation to the question of reflections. And as I was the first person to work in the studio, there were no signs of previous occupation. The only thing I particularly noticed was a sheet of glass. But I often use residues, or discarded things I just happen to come across, so I placed the mouldings on the glass to photograph them. They made up half of the resulting works, the other half being their reflections on the glass surface. This gave the compositions a certain frontality, with disconcerting symmetries.

Looking at the works you produced there, it also appears that the colours changed. They became deeper. How do you account for that?

It’s true that during the residency I particularly worked on the colours of the mouldings. This was a result of the numerous experiments I carried out in the studio. I hadn’t brought along all my materials, and while stocking up on pigments I came across a type of ink I wasn’t familiar with, which in fact diffused much better than the diluted acrylics I’d been using up to then. So I began colouring plaster by capillarity.

Then there are the forms, which seem more massive than before. And so colour and mass are two parameters that apparently took on greater importance during the residency.

Right from the start, I wanted to put on an exhibition with both weighty spaces and floating spaces. It materialised as Votive, at Vog, and included a painting entitled Voltes, which represented sculptures that were almost aerial, within a structure of geometrical abstraction. Then there was a set of paintings that highlighted the weight of objects. In the end, the point was to talk about sculpture in painting. Voltes, for example, is a diptych in which the two panels show the same structure, but from different angles. In other words, you move round it.

No sooner had you arrived than you got in contact with ESAD, the art school in Grenoble. What were you looking for there?

Given the resources that came with the residency, I felt it might be the time to do something I’d been thinking about for a while, which was to exhibit my small mouldings. And this led me to wonder about the idea of placing sculpture that was similar to painting side by side with it. Then I started transposing the mouldings onto another scale, so as to create autonomous sculptures that could cohabit with paintings. Executing these works was a complex process, and it was only natural that I should get in touch with ESAD, which had both the know-how and the equipment I needed. So I looked into the possibilities of putting together duplicated and/or coloured mouldings.

You talk quite a lot about « scale ». And it’s a parameter that’s essential to any lucid apprehension of your work. You oscillate between very large and very small formats. What’s going on here?

With paintings, I always think about the image in relation to a format. When I compose images in large formats, I think of a space in which people can walk around, with arrangements of objects. In the small formats, I see compositions as modified still lifes. But once the image has been projected – and I always use this mode of pictorial transfer – I may well choose a different scale. Everything’s defined by relationships to bodies and perceptions.

Architecture, landscapes, still lifes, etc., are your essential sources of inspiration. Which of them do you see as being the most important?

As regards painting, I’m impressed by the Italian primitives and their way of representing rocks, which is so open that it can suggest landscapes, or drapings. And talking about Italy, I’d just like to say that I admire the architect Aldo Rossi, and the photographs of his office taken by Luigi Ghirri, one of my favourites, who also produced magnificent images of Morandi’s studio. I find Morandi’s still lifes eloquent in their ambivalence. And it’s interesting to see filiations like this, which cut across time and genre.

How did you plan your exhibition at Vog?

It was a meeting of painting and sculpture. And that was the focus of the exhibition. It was also a synopsis of the residency: painting that expresses sculpture, and vice versa. What I wanted to do was to revisit a problematic of polychromatic sculpture, diffusing colour freely within mass. The legibility of the forms was distorted by the random way in which the pigments were dispersed through the plaster; which tended towards a sort of abstraction.

You talk about abstraction; but in fact there’s no real abstraction in your work, given that it’s always based on reality. So are you aiming at genuine abstraction, without any grounding in reality?

No. What interests me, actually, is the relation between work that draws on reality and a more synthetic vision; because I feel that this leaves the viewer free to interpret the subject. It’s an equilibrium between something that’s linked to reality and a door that’s open to perception. I want to create images that aren’t authoritarian.