INTERVIEW - SAMUEL FRANÇOIS

Installation view, Politics of Surface,  Berthold Pott

Installation view, Politics of Surface,  Berthold Pott

The first interview ever presented in Aujourd’hui celebrates and presents the work of Samuel François. Naturally, the international exposure of his work, widely exhibited in galleries and institutions such as Galerie Jeanroch Dard (Paris/Brussels), Rod Barton Gallery (London), Berthold Pott (Cologne) and in collective exhibitions at the Musée Musée Départemental du Sel (Marsal), Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), BWA (Wroclaw) and Autocenter (Berlin) is considered, but also his role as a curator in several projects. Take a look on why the french artist born in 1977 in Pompey went to work in Hettange-Grande, a small commune far away in the north-east region of France, but close enough to some of the biggest locations in european art.

Installation view, Threesome, Berthold Pott

Installation view, Threesome, Berthold Pott

Could you tell us a little bit about your background and what has brought you to this point?
It's simple: Graffiti, an architecture school, an art school in province and a collective project where we worked to make some links between design and art (Inkunstruction). I have done artist residencies in France and Germany, meetings, and a gallery that trusts me (Galerie Jeanroch Dard). The desire to experience things. I don't know what else I could do.

You live in Hettange-Grande in the north-eastern region of France’s border with Luxembourg. Why have you made this choice and does it influence or inform your work? 
My girlfriend comes from this village and I met her in art school. After few years in Metz, each of us won, in consecutive turns, a scholarship to work in Berlin. Two years later, when we finished our residency, we returned to France, Hettange-Grande, because her parents had a house with lots of space. Now it’s our studio and our home. It's 1h40m from Paris by train, 2 hours from Brussels or Cologne by car,   2h40m from Basel by train… It’s in the countryside, but not really isolated. In Metz there is a very good FRAC (Fond Régional d'Art Contemporain), the new Centre Pompidou, CAC Delme. In Luxembourg they have Mudam, the Casino and some galleries… Finally, there are enough cultural structures to be able to find a certain dynamism.

Your approach to painting has a strong emphasis on the materials used, such as the survival blankets or raincoat paintings. How do you select the materials you work with and what’s your relationship with them? Do they have a symbolic meaning?
I have been very interested in the concept of "surface" for several years. I collected samples, pictures, details of materials, furniture and clothing. When I became interested in "painting" I tried to paint on canvas using paint, but I realised I was just producing one more abstract painting. Mostly, I understood that it was the "canvas" as an object I wanted to talk about and not really paint. I decided to work without painting, to find out what could be similar to a contact, a line, a move, a trace on a surface ... like what I had stored in my studio. I choose materials for their plastic quality but also sometimes for the meaning that can be injected into them. The survival blankets were associated with lighters on which were printed naked women. The parallel between physical heat and warmth, the idea heckled me. And then the fact that it's false, it's shining like silver or gold, but it's not… The illusion of a treasure or an encounter. The pieces with the raincoats I immediately found within the surface. The material is very attractive... it contrasts with the image that we have in mind of workwear. This surface is like a skin, it has very different vibrations depending on how you look. It’s a skin with two different faces. I search and cut it, I have nothing to do or to add, there are already traces or marks on it, which are exactly what I was trying to paint or sculpt.

Samuel François, Ralph Lauren, 2014

Samuel François, Ralph Lauren, 2014

Installation view, Threesome, Berthold Pott ( Jean-Baptiste Bernadet (left) Samuel François (right) )

Installation view, Threesome, Berthold Pott ( Jean-Baptiste Bernadet (left) Samuel François (right) )

In your opinion what’s the role of an artist today? What drives you? 
What motivates me is that I don't see myself doing anything else. I like to search, to be in failure and to interact with others through my production. My works embrace failure in a positive way. The role or roles of the artist… I don't know yet or I’m not sure to be able to find the right words to express my thoughts. I taught in art school for three years and I must admit that my idea about it is constantly evolving. I try to do what I have to do without worrying too much about it. 

You have also curated exhibitions before. What was your approach on curating, and what’s your opinion on the “artist as curator” role? 
I have curated several exhibitions project with different degrees of success, but I am still trying to question the size of these exhibitions. A library room with works by Piotr Lakomy, Renato Leotta, Claire Decet… or the exhibition space of a national art-school of Nancy with Israel Lund, Olivier Kosta-Théfaine, Jean-Baptiste Bernadet, Justin Morin, etc ... Each time there was this idea of confronting the works with the space in which we decided to show. The space of the library offered a step back on the work while the school's exhibition space offered a similar vision of a landscape. It's a real pleasure to work with other artist’s work... it's like a solo exhibition with pieces that I would like to produce. It's like having at disposal more vocabulary to express what is sometimes difficult to express with our own words.

Do you collect other artist’s work? 
Not really…I received pieces by artist friends like Justin Morin, Jean-Baptiste Bernadet, Olivier Kosta-Théfaine, Manor Grunwald, some pieces by my girlfriend Claire Decet and some paintings and objects from the flea-market. I don't really like to own things, and it's the same for my works: I don't keep any of my pieces. I do have some editions and too many books, I can't stay somewhere without buying a book, old magazine, etc…

Installation view, For your love, Galerie Jeanrochdard ( Samuel François (left) Benoit Plateus (right) )

Installation view, For your love, Galerie Jeanrochdard ( Samuel François (left) Benoit Plateus (right) )

Installation view, ASAP, Galerie Jeanrochdard

Installation view, ASAP, Galerie Jeanrochdard

What are you working on / Do you have any upcoming projects you could tell us about?
I am working on news pieces for difference projects: Art Cologne with Jeanroch Dard and Berthold Pott in April and a solo exhibition at Berthold Pott (Cologne) before the end of the year. I'm currently working on it, but things change. I am seeking a way to integrate video or photography in my new proposals. A few years ago I took advantage of things so I would find this spontaneity. Next week I am going to the United States for three months with three artists and friends, it’s an exciting project with many surprises. From Hettange-Grande to Los Angeles… it's funny. I am also trying to finish a book with my own publishing house "BunkEdition”, and I would like to do more kilometres by bike than last year… it's a good start.

Exclusive interview by Aujourd'hui.
Image courtesy of Samuel François, Berthold Pott Gallery (Cologne)  and Galerie Jeanroch Dard (Paris).