Claire Le Restif : Why put the theme of seduction at the heart of
artistic matters and, more particularly, painting ?
Emmanuelle Villard : Seduction has become one of the most
important motives behind my work. It’s not by chance. As an artist, I
produce eye-traps. Objects that are meant to hold one’s attention.
What’s more, as a woman, I have always been keenly aware of the
seduction game. What one shows others has always fascinated me :
appearances, the principal link with the outside world. This connection
encourages me to look differently at the question of abstract painting.
C.L : Do you acknowledge the fact that there is a link between your
artistic propositions and your personality ? A reflection of yourself ?
E.V : There’s no doubt about it and I do accept this now. When I’m
trying to impress, I increase my femininity. Like a form of etiquette. I
produce an image for myself that I compare to my work. Even though
it seems obvious to me, I continue to ask myself the unresolved
question of identification with the painting.
I use the same strategies : eye-catching colours, fluorescence,
iridescence, glitter, netting, ribbons, which are just as much make-up as
they are masks and masquerades. The fact that my work may
sometimes be qualified as decorative is not, for me, the end of the
C.L : So you don’t avoid the subject of seduction. On the contrary, you
seem attached to it.
E.V : It’s complex. Seduction is there, from the outset, even before the
paintings have been produced. From the very beginning, the materials
exert a strong power of seduction over me. I try to master it, to tame it,
so as not to be too overwhelmed.
C.L : Can one say that desire is an important lever in your work ?
E.V : Quite. It’s the stories taking place on the surface that set me to
work. Even before the paintings exist.
The phenomenon of seduction is always a little dark. For my part, I try
to establish an ambivalence in my paintings. Tension between what is
seductive and what isn’t.
C.L : For example ?
E.V : Well, for example, all the series involve allusions to sensuality, but
at the same time, they refer to one’s personal universe, to the
deterioration of tissues, to flesh, indigestion even, guts.
C.L : Through your choice of colours, you evoke things carnal and
artificial. You establish a relationship between the surface and what it
E.V : The surface attracts, attracts the eye, its somewhat indigestible,
vinyl aspect produces an impact. It reveals what happens deep down,
referring to both body and skin.
C.L : This ambivalence reveals itself on the surface. You use materials
which attract, reject, interfere with one another, characteristics, well,
shall we say, inappropriate to painting. Even if one ignores their
nature, the conjunction of the different elements causes trembling,
accidents on the surface. To my mind, this is an essential point of your
work : intimacy, the skin as a living film, a sort of « cosmetic » painting.
How do you bring about these « wounds » ? This anthology of textures ?
These mutations ? This « puckered » painting ?
E.V : I work with acrylic materials, which have a chemical base and
smell. It has absolutely nothing to do with oil painting for example,
which is organic. « Cooking » this base in a pragmatic fashion is an
important moment in my work. For me, the handling of the material,
the paint itself, means a lot. I am effectively referring to skin when I
evoke deterioration : organic tissue deteriorates, like the medium here.
As if this material (like flesh) could be contagious, I decided to paint
using containers, which keep me at a distance. I decant, dilute, stir.
I’m playing at chemists, alchemists, chefs, nurses. What’s more, to this
role-playing I’m talking about, which is unconscious for the most part,
you can add the role of viewer. Because tissue takes time to
deteriorate, to dry out. This time is fundamental for me for I watch the
paintings « come into being », without me. From the moment the paint
is deposited, with no overpainting possible, the painting becomes an
C.L : Is the paint alone responsible for what it is ? Why do you put so
much distance between yourself and the materials ?
E.V : Once I had set the rules of creation for myself by enclosing the
creative act within a rigid process, more and more complex, I decided
to enclose the material (literally) in containers.
C.L. : Is it linked to a sort of ritual ?
E.V : It takes time to get the paint into the pipettes I use. So there is a
certain amount of thought, concentration and attention given,
essentially to the preparation of the mixtures, to their dilution. This is
where I distance myself from anything resembling impulse. I fix myself
constraints, limits, which have consequences in my work. This enables
me to concentrate. It’s a slightly obsessional quest for self-control, so
as not to be overwhelmed : distance, self-control, taming : for fear of
C.L : You put yourself and the painting under some incredible strains ?
Can these stages be qualified as sophisticated ?
E.V : No. Complex rather than sophisticated. It’s a quest for selfcontrol.
All the freedom belongs to the material.
C.L : Do you maintain a degree of experimentation in your work ?
E.V : I try to keep experimentation constant in my work. As soon as a
series works well, I produce its counterpoint. Experimentation is a
source of learning. I keep a close watch on developments.
C.L : Can the body language involved be defined as strictly feminine ?
E.V : I don’t wish to express myself on behalf of all women, but neither
do I choose to overlook the history of women in art. To my mind, my
way of apprehending painting is radically different from that of a
man’s. There is effectively a very, very different body language. Many
women artists and painters adopt it. It’s difficult not to.
C.L : You have chosen to make paintings, « visual objects ». Are they
surfaces for synthesis and projection ?
E.V : At the outset, I tried to refuse the premise of the painting as a
surface for projection. I didn’t want it to serve as a « receptacle ». My
own premise was precisely « how to make an abstract painting that is
not a surface for projection ? ». I asked myself, there again, why I kept
my distance. A whole series of observations of what happens within the
intimacy of the studio and the final sense of the paintings has led,
today, to a violent, « in your face » come-back : the meaning lies at the
heart of the connection I mentioned earlier. I bow to the evidence : it’s
a sort of synthesis. It has nothing to do with constructed painting. It
takes on another dimension.
C.L : On the one hand, there’s a serious question : time and
deterioration, on the other, a mask, masquerade even ?
E.V : Both are extremely important to me. They make up an identity. At
the end of the day, it’s what happens in the interval between the two
that interests me.
C.L : In the « little pie » series, everything seems to overflow.
E.V : That’s right. Surely because it’s the most food-like. Also, the
formats are small, sensual. They work because they overflow.
Otherwise, there’s no point.
C.L : They are very small formats. Are they some sort of covered
E.V : It is very meticulous work and yet it’s in this series that the
material has the freest reign. On the other hand, my gestures are
particularly controlled. I was bent over, mindful of the slightest mark,
the slightest trace. Less is left to chance. The procedure established is
both experimental and constructive for elements of plastic
C.L : Do you give your paintings titles ?
E.V : No. The series have generic titles. For example : « the nettings,
« the ribbons », « the little pies », « the goosepimple paintings ». Because
they’re abstract paintings and, to quote Noël Dolla, refer only « to the
state of mind that existed at the time of their birth », I name them
afterwards. When I succeed in creating a form that carries its birth
within it, it’s a very pleasant surprise.
C.L : Is there both « jeu » (game) and « je » (I) in your work ?
E.V : It’s a strange « je/jeu ». I use all « jeux » (je). Today, without being
dogmatic, I admit that my approach is fairly egoistic and self-centred.
C.L : Is this where questions of intimacy and seduction come in ?
E.V : I feel that paint carries within it all this history of fear and
assertion. There is a form of equivalence with existence itself : doubts,
assertions, very intense moments of self-control. Whatever it is, it’s
always a question of research. For me, artistic work is a path. My
decision is to make my way along it, in the middle, through, amongst
other things, seduction and its opposite : glorification of the body,
appearances, pleasure, ageing, illness, fear and the final stage, death.
C.L : I believe that in « the confetti » series you didn’t use the same
E.V : At the time when I made that series, I was reading Bret Easton Ellis’
novel, « Glamorama », (the author of « American Psycho »). In this book,
confetti, usually associated with parties and pleasure, is a worrying
presence. It seemed hostile to me. In fact, whereas, usually, motives
are born out of my work-processes, this series, on the contrary, exists
because I wanted to make confetti and tried to find out how to make it.
C.L : In this novel, which has to do with show, in the widest sense of the
word : fashion, seduction, appearances, masks, cosmetics, consumption
(including that of the other), confetti is a sort of omnipresent
punctuation from one chapter to another. It’s also, for me, a metaphor
for our world contaminated by viruses.
E.V : It is the ambivalence that interests me. I try to make it coexist in
my paintings : an « easy painting » aspect, on the one hand, easy to look
at and, on the other, a strange, unknown element, and sometimes
suffering even. What’s important is the reference to the surface
universe and the extent to which we become diluted when we devote
ourselves entirely to this particular entity.
C.L : Elements that question the surface, but also their role in a
common universe ?
E.V : Quite. Like snowballs one throws. It’s a part of my heritage. Just
as one can’t ignore Pop art. My generation of artists owes its lack of
complexes to the path travelled by artists before us. I am free to use
glitter, fluorescent colours, even though they damage the paint and
seem corrosive. Like a sort of acid on the flesh of the paint. I use
certain painting concepts like so many different materials. In the same
way as some artists use acrylic painting « as it comes out of the tube », I
work with paint-runs, monochrome, the grid, all of them important
elements in the history of painting.
C.L : Do you also subject your paintings to particular modes of
E.V : The setting up of an exhibition is a sensual moment. When I make
a selection of paintings, I take into account, on the one hand, the space
they will be placed in and, on the other, the fact that several, formally
different series will confront one another. By establishing viewing
conditions between the paintings, then by introducing the question of
seduction in terms of the viewer’s movements within the exhibition, I
play with distance and proximity, confrontation and detour, intimacy
Paris, November 2001