Artists’ creativity constantly impresses me - I love the different approaches each of us has towards interpreting the world, our personal one or the world around each of us. There are such rewarding insights to be gained from seeing art, any form of it, because you are thus able to see things from an entirely fresh point of view.
Fabienne Verdier is an artist whose work I saw first as glowing golden-yellow stained glass windows in the Saint-Laurent Church in Nogent-sur-Seine last year. I was enchanted as they broke with any preconceived notions of stained glass that I had met, and in addition, their colour was radiant, far more so than usual yellows. I later learned that she had pushed through a new way of achieving this colour, working with the glass manufacturer in Troyes, France.
When I visited the wonderful small Granet Museum recently in Aix-en-Provence, I again met Fabienne Verdier’s work, as she has a large retrospective that is there until 13th October 2019. As I went through the spacious rooms filled with her powerful work, I was fascinated, as her artistic journey from her early years of studying and working in China with the last great masters who survived the Cultural Revolution to today’s huge canvases has been astonishing and a wonderful marriage of technical inventiveness and intellectual questing. In short, an inspiration and a challenge to anyone hoping to evolve as an artist and not stay in the same groove over and over again. Look at this evolution:
to this work done in 2018 in Aix-en-Provence:
Along her artistic route, Verdier became highly inventive about how she made marks on the canvas. Instead of traditional Chinese brushes, she developed a huge brush that in essence had as its handle her entire body - she became one with the act of painting. From that point onwards, she has refined and invented her ways to paint, from adding a bicycle wheel to allow circular movement while painting as her body turned, to huge injectors of paint hung from a gantry that she swings and moves to work on the canvas laid on the ground, or even, if necessary below ground in a hole.
Not only has Verdier developed highly unusual and effective ways to express herself. She has also travelled roads of invention in her subject matter. She has written various highly successful books and much later, moved into film making, not just recording art-making, but more episodes of a visual log book. From 2005-2007, for instance, she delved into how to depict her reactions to minimalist painters of earlier times, such as Ellsworth Kelly, Donald Judd or Willem de Kooning.
In a fascinating move, she then turned her attention to the early Flemish masters, such as Rogier van der Weyden, Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling. She studied them exhaustively, making extensive notes, paintings and drawings, and seeking to imbue herself with the spirit not only of the artists but their contemporary thinkers and writers. She sought to glimpse the primordial, geometrical, labyrinthine forms that lay behind the seeming immobility of their creations, and then she too began to create. I found it absolutely inspiring to see how new ideas can springboard from art that is not only distant in time, but also in spirit to our contemporary world.
In subsequent years, Verdier has delved in many new worlds - the void, spaces charged with special power through architecture, the energy and dynamism of forms - often in conjunction with leading architects such as Jean Nouvel. Her quests produce huge and powerful work, triptychs and vast canvases, with the painting made possible by her ingenious inventions of paint distribution and mark making. Nonetheless, she also paints and draws in far smaller format, for she is thoroughly flexible and versatile. Throughout, however, her early deep knowledge of Chinese art shines through.
Throughout the exhibition, I was left so admiring of Verdier’s inventiveness and quest to create new, harmonious and eloquent art that is individualistic and unusual in the extreme. No small feat!