Julien Saudubray Interview | NBB Magazine

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"You have to talk a lot to learn to be quiet, that's why I paint a lot." Layers of paint, routines and questions surrounding the artist himself and his practice - French artist Julien Saudubray spoke with us about these and more questions regarding his work. In an interview accompanying his first exhibition at NBB titled "Bleu de Roy" opening on July 21, Julien invited us to get an insight into his studio and his artistic approach. Inspired by the properties of paint itself, Julien deconstructs almost every aspect of painting - the process, the shape, the colors.



Can you identify a specific turning point in your life when you realized that you were going to become an artist?

I have always drawn since childhood and have always been fascinated by images. It is difficult to say at what point you become an artist. What legitimizes your social position? Is it the fact of living only off your practice or is it the moment you devote a maximum amount of time to this work? I would say that for the last two years my work has been more visible since I have had the opportunity to do a number of exhibitions. Now I can say that I feel more legitimate in this position. However, it is a slow and long journey and one never knows how things will evolve. You can be shown a lot but then the public loses interest for various reasons; it is sometimes a matter of fashion. It seems to me that the most important thing is to keep a cool head, to keep the spirit of research of the early years of school alive and to continually question my work.

Your technique consists of layering thin layers of paint on top of each other which can lead to unpredictable outcomes. Your art is characterized by this unpredictability, could you elaborate on this aspect?

As I said earlier in another interview, it is important for me to encourage uncertainty, both in technique and in mind. I have developed this work process which allows me to always be surprised and alert to any physical reactions of the paint. The liquid aspect allows me to keep the previous layers visible so that each action and application of paint can be a new starting point during the work. I am as much an actor as I am a spectator of the work – I am in a constant dialogue with the painting. I feel that a good painting must have its share of autonomy. To quote a Belgian painter, Walter Svennen: “There is the painter, the painting, and the painting embodying this third person necessary to the realization of a work.”

How would you describe your studio? Do you have a daily work routine or some essentials you need in order to work? 

I am lucky enough to have a studio in the city of Brussels for three years with large windows that look out onto a busy street in the city center. Having natural light is truly a luxury as most studios are lit with artificial light. Being particularly interested in color and light in my work, I must say that having sunlight inside the studio allows me to obtain nuances that I would not be able to perceive with LED light. As for my work rhythm, I go to the studio every day and I would even say that I force myself to take days off. I drink a lot of coffee and smoke a lot of cigarettes. And I like the idea that the size of the work and the number of paintings are dictated by the walls that are available, so I always have full walls, each painting influencing the other.
julien saudubray

Lately, a recurring theme in your paintings seems to be the eye which you approach both figuratively as well as abstractly. Could you explain to our readers what is it exactly about the eyes that you are examining in your art?

This form was born from a failed painting when I needed to cover a surface quickly and connect two points. My recent  work uses simple forms: The curve, the circle, and elements that come from geometric abstract painting but without the desire of formalism. The delicacy of a hand-painted line interests me a lot. How does one find the suitable outline? The motif of the eye appeared at one point as a necessity. I try to exhaust it to see how far I can go with it. My goal is to get bored with the form  so that some new idea appears.  However, I am doing that not in a search for style but rather use it as a  necessary exit door in order to breathe again. The eye is a simple, archaic form that has been here across the history of signs. There is something almost transcendent about working with a universal form that has crossed the ages. The eye is also the Sun, an internal light of the painting. Some people even recognized canoes or sombreros seen from above! Finally the form is always only a pretext in order to experiment with the infinite combinatorics of painting.

When do you know a painting is finished? At what point do you decide there is no need for an additional layer?

It is quite difficult because a painting is never really finished. You always miss something because you could work on the  same painting your whole life, one painting would be enough. However, when I rationally decide to not continue with a well-explored idea, there is something that happens outside of my control and in that moment I know the painting is finished.  It always takes a structural accident to make a good painting.

You said in your text for Waldburger Wouters that you go by the motto “Fail again, fail better” from Samuel Beckett. Could you further explain what it means to you?

I always keep this sentence in my mind. Beckett spoke a lot about finding silence, a meaningful silence. I see painting in the same way, I am still too talkative but I would like that at the end there is almost nothing left to say. You have to talk a lot to learn to be silent, so I paint a lot.

What other qualities or properties of painting would you like to experiment with in the future?

I have some ideas but I prefer to keep them to myself :)

Julien Saudubray’s ''Bleu de Roy'' will be on display from July 21st until August 11th, 2022 at NBB Gallery.


All photos: © Julien Saudubray