J.M. Dauvergne

Interview in Callian on the 17th August 2002

You have often exposed in the Paris area or in the north of France, what do you feel when you see your paintings exposed in Provence?

I like to expose wherever I can, the region makes no difference to me. Since I have my web site, I'm in contact with people from all over, so each exposition is the occasion to meet some of them, which is always a pleasure.

You officially present yourself as an autodidact, a word that hides many things. Can you tell us a bit more about your path?

Being rather unstable (less now) I never managed to stay long enough in a school to learn something. I experienced many activities for short periods before working as a designer and typographer in a printing press from 1982 to 1984. Then I worked as a designer for publishing then the press. In parallel I've always drawn and painted since my childhood, not a lot like some painters, but regularly.

Was there an event or a meeting that influenced your choice to turn towards painting?

Chance, in the form of a proposition for a collective exhibition in 1989, before I didn't show what I did, in fact I didn't paint much, just 2 or 3 painting a year.

Allégorie Champêtre / Rural Allegory - 1991 ø 80cm

Scenes of desolation, of abandon, ruins often appear in your paintings. Where does this fascination for ruins and extinct civilisations come from?

This fascination comes from several things. First time that leaves its mark on everything, ruins are a mark of the passing of time, the most lasting as stone is what lasts the longest. There is also the sentiment that man is not eternal and he might disappear one day.
And I like ruins, they are favourable to dreams and imagination.

Can one consider these desolate landscapes as a mirror of the current state of our civilisation?

It's one of the aims of my painting, even if I want everyone to be able to see what he wants in them, I still inject what I've got on my head. We are indeed living in world that is falling into decay. On one hand nature is revolting, floods, tempests, heavy rains, etc… as a consequence of the inconsiderate acts of mankind of which many prefer to think of their personal or short term economical interests than of a long term ecological vision. As we can see with the Kyoto and Johannesburg conferences, profit still dominates over reason. Human stupidity always wins the day, even if for the last twenty years some are pulling the alarm signal to warn us of the consequences of human activity, many industrial leaders are prepared to for the right to pollute, yet most of these industrial leaders have a family, children who will profit just as much as the others of the misdeeds of their parents.
On the other hand we have seen during these last years some dangerous lunatics, ready to exterminate a part of mankind in the name of out-dated and dubious, fascist even, ideologies or financial interests, reach power (Bush, Sharon,…) with the benediction of many countries. These people even think they can moralise Europe because of its past, it's risible. Furthermore, all the current conflicts, often provoked by these so-called defenders of liberty, never take in account ecological considerations. A war, as everyone knows, does not destroy the planet, at best it resolves an overpopulation problem !
If one adds to that the demographic expansion of humanity and the fact that by our numbers alone we are the cause of the destruction of animal and vegetal species, on has in the end a bright and promising future !

Grille ensevelie / Buried fence - 1989 - 150 x 80 cm

Is there a reason why there are never any living human presences in your paintings?

Several reasons justify the absence of humans in my paintings.
- The presence of characters seems anecdotal and unjustified.
- The possibility that my paintings represent periods that are posterior to human activity.
- The fact that my paintings through the absence of characters sets the spectator in front of himself. My paintings are addressed to him, they are not scenes where he can see other persons, he is alone with his thoughts and his imagination, with no way out, like one is alone in facing death.

All in all, the only living presence is represented by vegetation, trees, forests... What is your relation with nature?

I love nature, forests in particular as they represent for me the primordial forest. I often go walking in the forest, it's a different universe that owes nothing to mankind.
I have a fascination for all things vegetal. A lot of people misunderstand the vegetal world which they compare to the animal world, it is something else, another organisation, another way of functioning. I breed plenty of plans of which some strange ones would be hard to imagine, and sometimes to make them grow you have to understand their way of functioning, their rhythm, their interaction with their environment.
I also like bare landscapes, the great enigmatic plains like my fields where vision loses itself in the infinity.

You often paint dense and impenetrable forests that are reminiscent of those of Northern Europe. Could the Mediterranean forest also be a source of observation and inspiration?

I think that every forest could be a source of inspiration to me. My forests are not a particular type of forest, but rather a representation of forests in general. It's the primordial forest an Entity, like a sole being. It is a forest that is a source of life, sensual, sexual, the forest of myths, reassuring and frightening at the same time.

Forêt XXVI / Forest XXVI - 1999 - 30 x 30 cm

You say that "most of your paintings are or contain passages, of which we can only see one extremity...". When you imagine a painting before giving it a shape, do you also visualise the extremity that remains hidden to the spectator?

The charm of my passages lies in the uncertainty of their destinations.
I only rarely visualise what surrounds what I paint, but I feel it and that weighs on the painting.

What effects do you seek by working on non-conventional formats such as triangles, circles... ?

Often when the idea for a painting comes to mind, it already has a format (size and shape) as well as a centring from which that I can hardly deviate. If I have an idea for a small painting, it's impossible to paint large format and vice-versa.
The use of triangular, circular, oval, or very wide panoramic formats accentuates the effect and the idea of the painting. It has a visual impact on the spectator.
It can be noted that circles (tondo) as well as oval were a widespread format in the 18th and 19th centuries.

How do you live the fact that a certain number of people know you more as a "record cover illustrator" than as a painter?

I live it very well because I love layout work and in most cases if there some of my paintings on a record cover it's because I did the layout.

Tronc creux / Hollow trunk - 2001 ø 80cm

Some of your paintings have been reproduced on record covers. Nevertheless, don't you prefer the opposite approach, to design an artistic concept based on the music?

I've done both as on some of the covers I've done there are no paintings. If some paintings figure on record covers it is because they corresponded to the record's concept.

What importance do you attach to music? Does it have an influence on your Art?

Music has a great influence on me. I've always listened to a lot of music and I always listen to music when I paint.

What are your other sources of inspiration and/or influences? Literature, painting, cinematography...

Literature first as it is an infinite source of inspiration (my main source of inspiration together with my imagination), which presents the advantage of stimulating the imagination without canalising it like everything touching on visuals does. Painting and cinematography impose a frame that often bridles the imagination. It is for this reason that I generally try in my paintings, through the centring, by representing only fragments, parts that are very dark or that disappear in the light, the absence of characters and other artifice, to reduce to the maximum this frame.
My literary influences range mainly from gothic novels to Science Fiction, and include fantasy. I also like 19th century fantasy which often very subtle.
I also like Science Fiction dealing with disaster, world endings, the English Science Fiction of the 60/70's was very prolific in this domain.
In painting, I was marked, if not inspired, essentially by classic painters, Hubert Robert, Fussli, Monsu Désidério, Piranesi, C. D. Friedrich, Böcklin, Shiskhin, David Robert, John Martin, Fussli, Mossa, Gustave Doré,..., contemporary artists such as Dado, Velickovic, Giger, Cremonini, Beksinski,... In fact I could mention many others as I look at a lot of paintings and pictures.

Champs VI / Fields VI - 1996 ø 100cm

Have you tried your hand with other forms of artistic expression?

Very little by lack of time, but also because for the moment painting is the only expression that comes naturally to me that I can control sufficiently.

We have learnt that the label Divine Comedy will release a portfolio of your work. Can you tell us a bit more about this project?

A lot of people see different things in my paintings. As I like mixing different forms of expression, the idea of the portfolio is for other people to express, through texts or music, what they feel or see in my paintings. In the end, it will be a portfolio containing the paintings the participants chose as a base for their text or music.

Some of your paintings are exposed in your virtual gallery http://jmdauvergne.free.fr/.
What importance do you accord to internet? To what extent does this media help you diffuse your art?

My site is the only place that I can administrate as I want and, because I'm offered few expositions, it is the place where one can see the most of my paintings. The pictures are unfortunately small, but I designed it for a quick display whatever the type of connection and screen size of the user.
With my site, I've had more contacts and exchanges in two years than during the previous ten.

Allée II / Lane II - 1997 - 50 x 70 cm

Before concluding, the traditional Heimdallr question: what are you listening to and what are you reading at the moment?

I read a lot, so I will mention the last books I've read and enjoyed this summer.
Jérome Leroy: Bref rapport sur une très fugitive beauté, (Ed. les belles lettres) a very dark tale mixing prospective and politic fiction steeped in a very black humour and cynism.
Nicolas D'Estiennes D'Orves: Othon ou l'aurore immobile, this is also a political fiction.
Gore Vidal: The end of freedom, towards a new totalitarianism? ( Ed. Rivages), an essay about freedom in the USA, Very cynical and frightening.
Robert Holdstock Mythago Wood (Ed. Denoël), I've read this book at least three times and I never tire of it. One of the rare fantasy books (with Clive Barker's Kingdom of the diviners) that I found readable and interesting.
Horacio Quiroga : Tales of love, madness and death. Like many Latin American authors (Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casres,...) it is a very light-hearted fantasy.
Alain Gresh : Israël, Palestine, vérités sur un conflit (Fayard) It is a very good book that retraces the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the XIXth century and it is always interesting to inform one self on current events in an other way than by the radio and TV.

As to music, this summer I mainly listened to (a full list would be too long) Kirchohmfeld "Diode", Stone Glass Steel "Dismembering Artists", Golden Palominos "Dead Inside", Seven Pines "The garden of fand", Godspeed you black emperor, Massive Attack "Mezzanine", Pink Floyd "Atom Heart Mother", as well as several production on Divine Comedy that I like in particular : A Challenge Of Honour, Othila and Land.

The last words are yours… do you have anything to add?

Despite my answers to some of the questions, I am neither sinister nor constantly depressed (although it is best to phone me before coming round to avoid the bad days!), it is just that I've only lived with the consideration that mankind was just a species awaiting extinction, like other species on earth and that its domination of the world comes from its fragility.
I am not however, a hard line ecologist, just another polluter like billons of other human beings.
Above all, I am a dreamer for whom the imaginary and the weird are indispensable to survive in a more and more rigid society.

Nathalie F. & Ian C.
Summer 2002

Mer de ruines III / Sea of ruins III - 1991 - 150 x 50 cm

Contact and virtual galery :

The reproductions of the paintings illustrating this interview are taken from the new series of postcards available directly from the artist.