WRITING ANIMATION: RICHARD NEGRE

Filmography

La dérive                                 2021, 5’ 

Paysages intermédiaires        2018, 9’ 

7 septembre 2014                  2014, 3’

27 décembre 2013                 2014, 7’ 

Atelier 1.0                               2013, 1’ 

L’exposition                             2013, 4’

Une seconde par jour             2011, 7’ 

Géométries organiques          2009, 3’ 

En attendant                           2008, 3’ 

Sous l’escalier                         2006, 5’

La forme et la couleur            1999, 6’

 

 

 

Richard Negre : I thought it might be interesting to look back over my career, which began with painting and gradually gave way to animation. 

Just after my scientific baccalaureate, I did a preparatory course and entered Gobelins where, thanks to François Darrasse, I discovered Len Lye’s experimental cinema. All of a sudden a whole new world of possibilities opened up, and above all a new relationship with painting, with animated form, with energy, with movement for its own sake, without there necessarily being a narrative. It really was the first shock encounter.

Free Radicals de Len Lye

 

Then that same year, I discovered a part of contemporary dance – I’d grown up in a classical dance environment – through the work of William Forsythe, the American choreographer. Once again, it was a revelation about the body and its formal, rhythmic and transformational possibilities. 

When I arrive at Gobelins, I think to myself that it’s all fantastic. But when I left the Gobelins, I realised quite early on that I didn’t have the tools to embark on this adventure of exploring form in movement. So I needed time to explore, develop and establish a personal visual language. There was only one path: painting. So when I left the Gobelins, I went to the Louvre and spent 5-6 years copying the masters. In pastels, on the floor of the Place du Palais Royal, in oils on canvas: Corot, Rembrandt, Monsieur Bertin by Ingres…

After Corot, Caravaggio (oil pastel on macadam), Vermeer (dry pastel on paper), Giotto (tempera + oil on canvas) et Rembrandt, Delacroix (oil on canvas), Ingres (oil on canvas).

 

I continued with Ribera – there are very few Spanish paintings in the Louvre, but this one is exceptional – so American tourists snapped them up and I sold a few.

 

After Ribera, oil on canvas, 162 x 130 cm, 2001.

 

At the same time, I’m developing a personal style of painting. In the studio, I work on elements, placement and arrangement.

Oil on canvas, 2001.

Oil on canvas, 60 x 60 cm, 2002.

 

Journeys with an easel: each journey constitutes a series of 10-20 canvases.

Oil on canvas (Budapest, Barcelone, Copenhague, Paris, Andorre), 2001-2002.

 

Only a pictorial practice, no animation.

Salle de bain, oil on canvas, 90 x 65 cm, 2001.

 

Portraits: friends, people we’ve met who agree to pose.

Oli on canvas, 2001-2002.

 

Hongroise, oil on canvas, 61 x 50 cm, 2003.

 

Then came a trip to Venice. 

While I was copying Ribera’s painting, I met an Italian who had come to copy Goya’s Nature morte à la tête de mouton (Still Life with a Sheep’s Head). He said to me: “Richard, can’t we swap studios? I said “Yes, that’s a good idea! I spent a month in Venice. Just before I left, I’d met a gallery owner who’d seen my classical work – so I took my easel with me and arrived in Venice and instantly I said to myself that it wasn’t possible to paint Venice like that. You have to simplify. We have to move towards more direct, immediate colour, just as it comes out of the tube. Towards a simplification of forms.

Gino, oil on canvas, 60 x 50 cm, 2003.

 

Grand Canal (Venise), oil on canvas, 60 x 50 cm, 2003.

 

And when I came back to Paris, the gallery owner said, “But that’s no good at all, that’s not at all what I asked you to do”. By the time I started the Venetian series, I knew that I was drawing a line under the possibility of exhibiting.

Venise, oil on canvas, 60 x 50 cm, 2003.

 

On my return to Paris, I continued to work on still lifes, with arrangements heavily influenced by Morandi’s compositions.

Oil on canvas, 65 x 54 cm, 2003.

 

Oil on canvas, 2003.

 

Each time, it’s a form of reaction, of weariness that sets in and so the need to urgently find a way out to preserve the pleasure of painting and drawing, which is really the primary driving force.

Oil on canvas, 2002-2003.

 

It’s the same for the portraits.

At the end of these still lifes, what was more interesting and what eventually interested me were the elements placed behind them, in other words the black strips which are in fact cardboard that I had placed and that I had on hand to keep only these arrangements. It’s simply a question of composition and colour. There is no longer any subject.

Cartons agencés, oil on board, 40 x 40, 2003.

 

The arrangement of shapes and colours, but always on the motif. They are really natures painted on the motif.

Cartons agencés, architect’s studio, Barcelone, 2003.

 

Then I spent some time in Antibes and when you walk around Antibes or other towns on the coast, you can see the sky and the sea between the houses. And this idea of working on horizontality and verticality became the central point. This time I’m leaving the motif. So it’s really a painting done in the studio with just this idea of horizon and material. That same year, 2003, I went to Mali for a month and that was an encounter with matter and materiality. Incidentally – and I think this had a lot to do with it – I met Miquel Barceló, a Spanish painter whose painting is very much underpinned by matter. It’s a work of relief; a painting as much as a volume.

Variada, Miquel Barceló, mixed média on canvas, 141 x 238 cm, 2016.

 

I saw him again in Paris and was able to show him my work. I posed for one of his bleach portraits on black canvas, a portrait that gradually reveals itself, so it was a shared experience. In Mali we had a chat and he offered me some pigment and gum arabic because he saw that I had my notebooks spread out in the cafés.

 

Horizons, oil on canvas, 22 x 14 cm, 2003.

 

Discovering the material.

It’s a work on horizontality, verticality and rhythm.

 

Horizons, oil on canvas, 20 x 20 cm, 2003

 

Horizons, oil on canvas, 40 x 40 cm, 2003.

 

These are either very small or very large formats, with work on the ground where the canvas is no longer hung on the wall but placed on the ground, allowing movement around the surface when painting.

Horizons, oil on canvas, 116 x 89 cm, 2003.

 

Horizons, oil on canvas, 130 x 97 cm, 2003.

 

Once again I’ve reached the limit of this practice and I tell myself that I’m about to tip over into the cancellation of the form.

Horizons, oil on canvas, 20 x 20 cm, 2003.

 

What do I do? Do I go even further, like Claude Rutault, for example, who repaints his canvases the same colour as the wall on which they are hung, thus taking a conceptual approach?

And in fact, no. Here’s an unpopulated space, white on white, that can once again be invested. Because there are still possibilities, and so the form returns.

And this time in the form of what is perhaps already a movement in animation: a series called Masses, with the idea of weight, gravity.

Masses, oil on canvas, 116 x 89 cm, 2004.

 

Masses, oil on canvas, 162 x 130 cm, 2004.

 

Masses, oil on canvas, 150 x 150 cm, 2004.

 

Masses, oil on canvas, 150 x 150 cm, 2004.

 

And in reaction to this series, the need for weightlessness and something more ethereal, born of the simple observation of clouds.

 

Nuages, oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, 2005.

 

Nuages, oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, 2005.

 

Nuages, oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, 2005.

 

Nuages, oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, 2005.

 

Nuages, oil on canvas, 90 x 70 cm, 2005.

 

Nuages, oil on canvas, 61 x 50 cm, 2005.

 

Even though I made a living from my paintings, the problem was that I painted more than I sold. So I had a storage problem. So I started painting on the wall.

Nuages, acrylic on wall, 350 x 250 cm, 2005.

 

And then I wanted to keep a souvenir, so I took a souvenir photo: one painting, another, and so on, and then, without really looking for it, animation came back into my practice. The result was Sous l’escalier, the first short film I sent to a festival.



Sous l’escalier, 2006.

 

At the same time, I’m developing a practice of volume: very small volumes, arrangements.

Assemblages, wood, acrylic, 18 x 18 x 10 cm, 2005.

 

Assemblages, wood, acrylic, 23 x 18 x 10 cm, 2005.

 

Assemblages, wood, acrylic, 18 x 18 x 13 cm, 2005.

 

Assemblages, wood, acrylic, 18 x 18 x 18 cm, 2005.

 

In Sous l’escalier, there are several stages leading up to this large volume.

Sous l’escalier, 2006.


For many artists, each element nourishes the work to come. And what interested me here was the edges of this volume. And I wondered how we could obtain something more ethereal, and so by stretching threads and placing stitches. Here, it’s a cotton halyard dyed with phosphorescent pigment.

 

Déplacement, cotton thread, 270 x 100 x 100 cm, 2006.

 

A game of placing points in space begins. The idea of a combination: three points, a triangle. Four points, it gets more complex. How, with very few elements, you quickly arrive at a certain complexity.

Déplacement, Fontainebleau, cotton thread, 200 x 100 x 100 cm, 2006.

 

There is always a flow between volume, painting and movement. In Presque-volume, for example, the contours of each layer represent the outline of the shapes of the cotton thread installations. Each level (layer) represents a different position in the space of my movement around the wire structure.

Presque-volume, tracing paper, 42 x 21 cm, 2007.

 

With the option of inverting layers to create depth and a changing focus.

Presque-volume, tracing paper, 30 x 21 cm, 2007.

 

Presque-volume, tracing paper, 30 x 21 cm, 2007.

 

Minimalisme complexe, Galerie du Haut-Pavé, drawings, volumes, film, 2008

 

This is an exhibition at the Galerie du Haut-Pavé, in Paris, which for 65 years has been dedicated to exhibiting young artists who have never had a solo show in a gallery. So there is a jury. The gallery was originally founded by a Dominican priest, Gilles Vallée, who was passionate about painting and a friend of Matisse and Nicolas de Staël, who initially lent their works to launch the gallery. And for 65 years, it has continued to pursue the same mission. Today, I’m on the jury of this gallery, which shows the face of contemporary creation, essentially focused on volume and painting; there are relatively few images (photo, video). I presented an animated film, large tracing paper and drawings.

Déplacement, acrylic et vinyl on paper, 200 x 150 cm, 2008.

 

The painting continued on large formats.

Déplacement, acrylic et vinyl on paper, 200 x 150, 2008.

 

Déplacement, acrylic et vinyl on paper, 150 x 100, 2008.

 

This series starts with a shape – the black shape, for example – which is simply moved and reproduced. Thanks to a system of masks (stencil, shape and counter-shape) and reserves, the successive levels appear. It’s simply a translation of the shape. The paper is spread out on the floor and the paint is sprayed on.

 

Déplacement, acrylic et vinyl on paper, 150 x 100, 2008.

 

Déplacement, acrylic et vinyl on paper, 150 x 100, 2008.

 

Déplacement, acrylic et vinyl on paper, 40 x 30, 2008.

 

Now the thread, this time on canvas using a combination of stitches and sewing.

Déplacement, sewing thread on canvas, 18 x 10 cm, 2009.

 

Déplacement, sewing thread on canvas, 18 x 10 cm, 2009.

 

And on larger formats with, I don’t know if you can feel it, a desire to break away from the existing form, like an uprising, a desire to shake things up.

Déplacement, tapestry thread on fabric, 162 x 114 cm, 2009.

 

Déplacement, tapestry thread on fabric, 162 x 114 cm, 2009.

 

Déplacement nocturne, installation, Château de Sacy, résidence, Picardie, 2009

(photo : Philippe Rolle).

 

Déplacement nocturne was produced during an artist residency in the Oise region. It features a stop-motion video in which the shape on the inside extends to the outermost shape; the movement evokes the breathing of the volume.

 

Déplacement, installation, sangle teintée, Loire, 2009.

 

An attempt to change scale: placing points.

 

En attendant, film, L’Art dans les Chapelles, Morbihan, 2009

(photo : Stéphane Cuisset).

 

Another exhibition was held at l’Art dans les Chapelles.

An animation test was important for this project in the idea of experimenting and exploring movement. I had drawn a set of dots on a notebook with a felt-tip pen and the transparency transferred some of the dots to the lower level, giving the possibility of associating the same dots with different combinations. What’s interesting is that when you do a certain number of them, there’s a swarming agitation and at the same time a stability of form. It produces a tension between extreme nervousness and stable anchoring.

 


Test for En attendant, 2009.

 

In this animation test, there is a set of fixed points and only the connections between the points, the drawings, vary. So there’s a great nervousness with stability. From the moment you move the dots, there’s an organic dimension to the form, and this organicity made me want to dig deeper and explore the energy released by the form. En attendant was built on this principle.

En attendant, 2009.

 

Then another project entitled Géométrie organique was presented at La Force de l’Art, a triennial of contemporary art held at the Grand Palais in 2009. The film was made on the spot, following on from En attendant, with, as the films progressed, work on the animation based on very small-scale elements; in other words, the idea of making a film simply with this idea of translation, acceleration and deceleration.

 

Géométries organiques, film, 2009. Projet Archipel de Tanc & Vincent, La Force de l’Art 02, Grand Palais, Paris, 2009

 

There are fairly few parameters to leave room for improvisation, as this is an animation that is not storyboarded. There are drawings, there’s a common thread and, in the middle of it all, spontaneity is of paramount importance. This way of animating comes from the practice of painting, from a relationship with painting that is focused on the moment. Animation is very intuitive.

Géométries organiques, film, 3’, 2009.

 

Based on the thread installations, a set of boxes was created using small-format sewing thread.

Déplacement, sewing thread and cardboard, 16 x 10 x 13 cm, 2009.

 

I did some animation tests that fed into the short films or that simply remained in the research stage.

La boîte, animation test, 2009. 

 

 

 

Here the thread is dyed with phosphorescent pigment.

 

La boîte, animation test, 2009. 

 

It’s a project that was submitted to the CNC, that made it to the plenary session but stopped there.

What seemed interesting to me, like the wired installation during the residency, was the friction with a hand-made, artisanal style of writing that nonetheless reminded us of digital, computer-generated images.

La boîte, animation test, 2009. 

 

Here’s a performance that took place in an art centre at H du Siège in Valenciennes: direct animation under camera, with people watching the animation as it took place and, at the end, the animation was played. Piezoelectric microphones amplified the friction on the paper, filling the whole space.

 

Tout à coup, performance, l’H du Siège, Valenciennes, 2010.

 

I had the support of the DRAC for another piece of research, for which tests of animated forms, even more inspired by dance, were carried out.

 

Loops, aide Individuelle à la Création, DRAC Ile-de-France, 2011.

 

Loops, then.

 

Loops, 2011.

 

This enabled us to test the dynamics of shapes.

Then came the Une seconde par jour project, the aim of which was to make one second of animation every day for a year from 1 January. And to finance the project, I sold the drawings; at the end of each month, I posted on Vimeo the 30 seconds of the month that had just ended. At €10.00 a drawing, this form of participatory financing worked quite well. Several pieces, several whole seconds were sold. Strangely enough, a lot of people asked for their birthday – which made me laugh – because there’s a date stamp on each drawing. The project has been shown in galleries and at festivals. As far as possible, I try to have these two configurations, these two possible presentations, because there’s a relationship to space: for example, the gallery screen had to be 10 x 15 cm, so it’s an anti-spectacular relationship to the image. The window looked out onto the street and passers-by might not have noticed. The art space also shows the material in the film. Animation is the only way to have both the original in your hands and a multiple (the film).

 

Une seconde par jour, film, drawings, Galerie Jean Brolly, Paris, 2012.

 

A sequence of 100 drawings from Une seconde par jour was shown in another art space in the United States with a more cinematic projection.

Une seconde par jour, installation film, dessins, Fire Barn Gallery, MI, USA, 2012.

 

Here is another presentation of Une seconde par jour at an exhibition on intellectual property at another art centre in Paris.

Une seconde par jour, vidéo / Propriété intellectuelle, Immanence, Paris, 2011.

 

During a residency at Abbaye de Fontevraud, I developed the Paysages intermédiaires project, which is a bit of a reaction to Une seconde par jour, since making 25 drawings a day was only possible in black and white. Initially, I wanted to do it in colour, but it was too difficult to take that parameter into account, it made it too complex. From the very first weeks of Une seconde par jour, I had to live with a lack of colour for the whole year and I knew that the next project would be saturated in colour.

Paysages intermédiaires, résidence, Abbaye de Fontevraud, Maine-et-Loire, 2012.

 

I did a few tests for this project, the idea of which is a bit of a return to figuration. At the end of a trip to Asia, I wanted to bring back some material to make a film and I drew twice each of the situations I found myself in. Thinking back to McLaren, “what happens between two photograms is more important than the photogram itself”. So the idea of the film is: what kind of animation is possible between two drawings? Going from one drawing to another. There can be the regular intervals of a character rising to his feet or, on the contrary, it’s a space that allows a poetic unfolding of the form.

 

Tests pour Paysages intermédiaires, 2012.

 

Each time, the principle is to go from drawing A to drawing B. But at the end of these tests, the colour wasn’t present enough, wasn’t strong enough. I was thinking of Matisse’s paper cut-outs and the idea of having the colour already there. This exhibition shows a series of works and the storyboard for the project is on the back wall.

 

Images secondes, espace d’art contemporain Camille Lambert, Juvisy-sur-Orge, 2014

(photo : Laurent Ardhuin).

 

The Paysage intermédiaire project is therefore made of cut paper and, to create a slight sense of volume, a pane of glass separates the layers, creating a crushed multiplane.

 


Paysages intermédiaires, film, 9’, 2018.

 

The stacking of papers creates an object entitled Chronotopographie – I can’t think of another name for it.  An object that gives indications of temporality and simultaneously draws a landscape that rises up in volume.

 

Paysages intermédiaires, chronotopographie, papiers découpés superposés, 2015-18.

 

These elements were presented either flat or frontally in the Paris suburbs. As well as projecting the film onto a large hanging canvas, another video projector projected the line-test of the entire film onto the tabletop, i.e. the film on the line and reversed, so that a white line came to life. Finally, a third video projection showed the text by critic Karim Ghaddab.

 

Paysages intermédiaires, orangerie, Sucy-en-Brie, 2018 (photo Ville de Sucy).

 

There have been other configurations. What’s particularly interesting about working with art centres and galleries is the opportunity to confront and experience animation in a different way, through a change of scale, an invitation to movement through circulation and the possibility of presenting the tangible material of the film.

Paysages intermédiaires, Carré noir, Le Safran, Amiens, 2018.

 

Percussion is a project that has remained in the experimental stage. After all those thousands of paper cut-outs, I needed a bit of violence and to treat the material badly by taking blocks of paper, observing and photographing them frame by frame.

Percussion, paper, 2019.

 

I did a test in collaboration with the composer Daniel Sonabend.

 

Percussion, paper, 2019.

 

Percussion, papier, 2019.

Percussion, papier, 2019.

 

In one of the sequences, the block of paper was hollowed out with a grinder. You execute a movement, but you don’t really know what movement it produces.

La dérive, film, 2021.

Atelier du Hézo – d’art contemporain, Vannes, 2023.

 

 

 

The La dérive project was carried out during the confinement period. The initial idea, the rule of the game, is to draw a shape, transfer that shape and then transfer the resulting shape. No matter how hard I try, the shape keeps changing and migrating to different parts of the screen.

Les aires, Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Étienne, Pont Salomon, 2022.

 

 

 

Les aires is a recent project based on a shape called an aire, a kind of faceted metal paving stone used by metalworkers to shape mowing scythes. It’s a beautiful shape that can be seen in the visual scratched onto film and projected onto the wall. I tried to extract the possible poetic movements contained in this heavy form which has a very strong inertia and, through scratching on film, slides, 3D animations and a digital 2D animation, to see how fragments of animation can cohabit. Friction of movement writing and friction of techniques. There’s a recording that lasts a minute.

Les aires, Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Étienne, 2022.

 

The slides are photographs of the cast shadows of these objects.

 

Les aires, Manoir de Soisay, Orne, 2023.

 

This project was presented on summer 2023 in a barn that hosts summer exhibitions in Normandy, the Manoir de Soisay barn, which made it possible to show this ensemble in other forms, other confrontations, in particular the modelled form animated in 3D on a black background; this establishes an intense relationship with the architecture and the surface as soon as the cinematographic frame disappears.

Les aires, Manoir de Soisay, Orne, 2023.

 

The next project was called Instabilités. It was presented in a contemporary art centre on the outskirts of Paris. The initial idea was to reconcile a form of architectural appearance with simultaneous biomorphism, and to observe the tension that can exist between straight lines and curves.

Instabilités, correlations between drawing and ceramics,

espace d’art contemporain Camille Lambert, Juvisy-sur-orge, 2023

(photo Laurent Ardhuin).

 

Instabilités was created as a result of Formes du mouvement, a research group that Georges [Sifianos] and I took part in at the Arts Déco. In this research group, directed by Serge Verny and Nicolas Nemitz, various contributors, psychologists, biologists and physicists, came together. One of the biologists talked about the cell and the cytoskeleton, which is the tubular structure that holds and stabilises the volume of the cell, and I think that’s an idea with very exciting poetic potential. The film is based on this possible stability/instability of forms that are desperately seeking stability but are unable to achieve it.

Instabilités, correlations between drawing and ceramics,

espace d’art contemporain Camille Lambert, Juvisy-sur-orge, 2023

(photo : Laurent Ardhuin).

 

There was an initial animation test for this project. The music is played by a free jazz drummer and percussionist: Ramon Lopez.

 

Instabilités, test, 2023.

 

 

Georges Sifianos : I’d like you to develop the relationship between music and form. 

Then, if we think of the standards of animation, particularly cartoon animation (anticipation, follow-through, etc.), I have the feeling that in your work we find something different, a different kind of movement, a different relationship to movement.

And a third subject: first of all, I have to say, I was quite surprised to hear that you turned to abstraction after your visit to Venice. But what’s most interesting is the relationship between the malleable material and the firm lines that I see in your work. 

In some of the animations, we see very assertive lines, perhaps drawn with a ruler, and in others, you incorporate organic and unpredictable matter, as in the very first works, Sous l’escalier, for example. There’s a back-and-forth between purification and a reassertion of the material that emerges once again.

 

Sous l’escalier, 2006.

 

Richard Negre : What is unique and specific to the medium of animation is a movement that emerges ex nihilo, that springs from who knows where. There’s an element of mystery that questions me and naturally encourages me to repeat this experience of animating a form and, at the moment of the test, I see a movement that I’d been working towards, envisaging, but which is never exactly the same as the one I had in mind and which I can’t compare to any other movement.

 

 

 

Une seconde par jour, 2012.

 

GS : In Une seconde par jour, how do you plan the movements, how do you achieve this, sometimes with repetition?

 

RN : Pour Une seconde par jour, it’s the great lesson of Robert Bennett, I mime the movement even if it’s a moving triangle or a point. Systematically.

It’s inevitable for me because it’s also a way of dancing, of having a fragment of dance and, in an underlying way, I think I would have liked to choreograph, it’s something I would have really enjoyed. The films aim to set up elements that live together and move in synchronisation or desynchronisation.

 

GS : Do you mime physically with your body?

 

RN : Yes, I physically mime with my body. Then, once the impulse is given… For the Une seconde par jour project, I used layouts where I drew a trajectory of movement on which I could, in a very precise way, act on the accelerations, decelerations and dampening. I was looking for great suppleness and at the same time a nervousness that perhaps comes from the material – as you said earlier. A material that rises to the surface. A doubt has been removed about the nature of the image, that is to say, no, it’s not a computer-generated image, but one made by hand, because it’s the hand that I’m also trying to make visible. The hand is essential.

In relation to what you asked about the way in which movement emerges, it also emerges from the drawings. In the Instabilités series, each drawing already carries within it a potential movement, through directions, through internal tensions, through an out-of-frame – a drawing that runs right up to the edge. So when I draw, there are already embryonic possibilities for movement. The drawing reflects these possibilities back to me and, at the moment of animating this form, I am inhabited by the movement I have in mind, I move this form and, in the course of this movement, this form is transformed and I see new configurations of the form, in other words the intervals, the path to go from one point to another, offers yet other configurations of drawings, drawings that I would not have been able to make if I had wanted to make them. So there’s a circulation between the drawing that feeds the movement and the movement that feeds the drawing, without one of them starting.

 

GS : I sense a desire for abstraction and at the same time a desire for matter, for the biomorphic. I wonder if this desire for abstraction serves to calm the ‘chatter’ of nature. There are so many things that shapes say. In the landscape behind me, you get lost.

 

 

RN : Indeed, there is. And even more. It allows you to concentrate, not to be directly attached to a narrative, in other words, if I draw a flower, it tells the story of a flower. But here, it’s more about tension and release. And indeed, it’s a way of reducing chatter, even if drawing a flower is wonderful. But when it comes to animation, I stay in this non-figurative register.

 

Zepe : Yes, it’s more non-figurative than abstract. 

It seems to me that you’re much more concerned with dramaturgy than narrative. 

When I watch animated films at festivals, I sometimes detach myself from what’s being told and just look at the shapes. I can’t follow the script and, once the film is finished, I realise that I’ve seen a film, that I’ve sensed things, but not a story. 

In two films by Paul Driessen, Une vieille boîte and Les taches de la vache (Het scheppen van een koe), I find similar movements to some of your films, as if there were an underlying layer, the same dramaturgical preoccupation through shapes and lines. I manage to have similar sensations in a figurative film and in a non-figurative film.

 

Une vieille boîte, Paul Driessen, 1975.

 

You’re probably familiar with Robert Breer’s A man and his dog out for air. Here too, but in a different way from Driessen, the lines evolve, we can make out landscapes, a dog’s lead, the muscular effort of a man we will never see. Yet there is no figurative element in these lines that appear and dissolve, rather it is a kind of energy that makes us glimpse and feel things… 

A man and his dog out for air, Robert Breer, 1960.

 

RN : Yes, this feeling about two such different cinematographic forms is quite mysterious indeed. I’d say it’s the energy rather than the movement, the energy released by the form in motion that’s common? I’d answer with a question: is it the common point or the poetic charge? As soon as a point moves, there is an intrinsic dramaturgy. An actress friend of mine had seen the film En attendant, with its connected dots, and instantly said that there was a dramaturgy there. It’s a question I hadn’t asked myself at all. The sound also reinforces, underlines and intensifies this dramatic feeling.

 

En attendant, 2008.

 

 

 

GS : Len Lye, whom you mentioned at the beginning, defends the idea that a piece of rusting iron tells a story.

 

William Henne : This collection of films traces the spatial issues that ran through part of the history of art from the Renaissance to the Cubists, and through other twentieth-century avant-gardes such as the Suprematists. This tension between flat space and volumetric space is summed up in these films: even in the least figurative compositions, there are still effects of perspective, there is a deconstruction of space and also layered spaces with layers or multiplane compositions. Through these films, we retrace the whole path, from the perspective space that was constructed in the Renaissance to the Cubists, who deconstructed it and recreated other types of space, where sometimes the shapes seem to emerge from the canvas.

 

 

In terms of time, chronotopographs are very reminiscent of vector drawing, since we have topographical coordinates around which the compositions will move by interpolation, not mechanically, but subjectively, and the organic dimension you were talking about can be seen in the accelerations and decelerations of movement. 

In Paysages intermédiaires, during the residency at Fontevraud, when we move from one figure to another, it’s not a matter of morphing, it’s more a matter of deconstructing and reconstructing to move from one figure to another, with the temporal tension of acceleration and deceleration.

Tests pour Paysages intermédiaires, 2012.

 

RN : By being at Gobelins, I am simultaneously discovering the history of animation and going to the galleries and museums. And I was completely baffled – contemporary art, Duchamp’s urinal, etc – I needed time to absorb it all. And in the end-of-study film that I made at Gobelins, I took the opportunity to dig, to discover and to deepen the history of art by animating. This film was wildly ambitious and incomprehensible when you watch it, but it allowed me to put together the works of Mondrian, which form an animation in fact, or those of Matisse, his bas-reliefs, his simplifications of shape. There is this sentence that Gustave Moreau, the workshop leader, who said to Matisse: “you are going to simplify the painting”. That’s a scenario in itself. And in this end-of-study film, I was able to put my nose into these works, drawn more from modern art than from contemporary art. The concern for art history is perhaps too present, but expresses a need to understand and better situate oneself. Like when we are disconcerted when we arrive at a gallery and see an installation: what do we do with it?

 

 

Isabelle Aboim Inglez : You have already mentioned the question of presenting films in galleries: when you make the film, do you already think about the presentation system and this specific type of reception from the viewer? I am also thinking in particular of the projection of Les aires on a brick wall.

 

RN : It depends. It doesn’t guide the project. But if there is a way to show a physical quality of the film – because once again this traditional animation technique allows it – if there is a way to show the material of the film, I look for opportunities to put the two in relation: stillness and movement, to have this physical confrontation. I am always amazed to see the extent to which works, whatever they may be, a drawing, a photograph, constitute an experience. Even a photograph that we see either on a screen or published in a magazine: having a print in a much larger format than what we imagined generates an emotion, a fairly strong experience.

 

Les aires, 2022.

 

Isabelle Aboim Inglez : When I see your films, I see that architecture and space are already present in the images but also in the relationship that the device offers spectators with your works.

You already answered the narrative question. This is also my approach but is there a beginning, a middle and an end in your films or can we see them in reverse for example?

 

RN : It’s not necessarily noticeable but the films are really thought out and produced with the aim of being seen in a room, seated, in this format, with a beginning and an end. But I understand that this could raise questions.

In relation to architecture, my wife is an exhibition scenographer and we naturally feed off each other in our relationship to space, presentation, layout, layout, circulation: These are notions that she introduced me to, especially the notion of circulation in a space.

 

 

Anton Henne : What made me wonder when I saw the short films was when you take pleasure in the production because you showed us lots of tests. The first short films, we feel they were made in a very spontaneous way, on the spot, with a kind of desire to animate and the one you made in Fontevraud is more laborious. Is there a desire to move towards something more spontaneous in the future?

 

RN : This is indeed a good feeling, because it is the case: systematically, there is pleasure at the start, a desire, an enthusiasm. It is inconceivable to embark on such projects if there is not this initial energy. For Fontevraud, it is a film which generated frustrations in the middle, especially in relation to the CNC: the film was shown twice in plenary, it was supported by the readers and in the end it had no support and I I had a pretty bad experience. The film was therefore put aside for a year and I made other films which I have not shown you; these are narrative films whose principle is to visit a contemporary art exhibition and, each time my gaze falls on a work, it comes to life, deconstructs and reconstructs itself. These are films that were made in an extremely spontaneous way. I needed to do something else because frustration and disappointment had completely wiped out the initial enthusiasm. And by doing these projects and putting aside the making of the film for a year, the enthusiasm returned. And to answer Isabel, there was the desire to finish this film. If I screw up, I might screw up until the end but you really have to screw up. I need to get this done and then we move on to another project. I didn’t want to leave the project on hold, particularly because the Abbey of Fontevraud had supported it and even if they weren’t expecting a finished film, I felt part of that exchange. It made sense. And in fact, for Paysages intermédiaires, there is a part that was laborious and particularly laborious at the time of shooting. It lasted a year and a half since it’s animated in the image and there are perhaps 8,000-10,000 pieces of paper cut out, and, each time, the placement of a glass plate between the different color levels. And just that time of placing the plate, removing it, putting it back on, it was quite physical. In these moments, I am a bit like a robot.

In relation to spontaneity, it is precisely this animation that I defend, with, each time, a prior structure. 

 

Tests pour Paysages intermédiaires, 2012.

 

Paysages intermédiaires, 2018.

 

Vincent Gilot : The sound is made afterwards, I imagine, while the image seems to be quite spontaneous, designed, taken using precise rules. The work, day after day, is regulated like clockwork. How much freedom do you take with your experiments? Do you show everything, including what didn’t work, or do you put together the loops, the pieces to make it a total object at the same time as editing the sound?

 

RN : Compared to Une seconde par jour, everything is shown – but the other films follow the same logic. On the other hand, what happened with Une seconde par jour, when there were passages that did not suit me, I was more in a dynamic of compensation, that is to say that if I feel that the first month, there is something to readjust, I will try to compensate the following month. The accident is part of the process, and the accident may be perceived by some, and not by others. The audience’s experience of the film no longer belongs to me.

 

Une seconde par jour, 2011.

 

In relation to music, it happens through encounters and musical worlds. For example, on the last project, it was a free jazz drummer that I met and whose work I greatly appreciate. In Louis Malle’s film, Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, Miles Davis reacts to the projected images and I want to try that with him; once the film is finished, to screen it in a loop because obviously it’s not a feature film and to see how he reacts. He’s up for it.

For La dérive, the film made during confinement, it was a Greek composer Georgia Spiropoulos that Fontevraud Abbey introduced me to. And when I discovered her work, I was immediately attracted and I sent her a few seconds of animation during confinement and she told me “Richard je n’ai pas le temps de faire une musique pour toi, en revanche j’ai des mouvements musicaux au saxophone qui peuvent correspondre”. And when she sent them to me, it seemed obvious, it responded to a sort of seriousness of the very special moment we experienced. The music brought this dramaturgy because we know well that music has a large share of responsibility in the dramaturgical load of a film.

 

 

VG : Are the films edited after or are they cut before storyboarding or is there re-editing?

 

RN : Everything is assembled afterwards.

 

Z : Little anecdote: in the 8th take of a piece of Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, there is a piece of skin from Miles Davis’ lip which came in and circulated in the trumpet. It can be heard in the alternate takes on the bonus track.

 

GS : In one of your films, 27 décembre 2013, we see drawings and colored paper, cut out, sometimes masking the pencil lines. Which brings me back to the question of the flexibility of the material and the firmness of the treatment of the form that I mentioned earlier. Can you consider using more textured shapes, bordering on the figurative, with the way you manage movements? Because you physically imitate the movements. This abstraction is a solution, but it is not the only one. You flirt with texture, when you scrape your ream of paper, when you hollow out the paper with a grinder, when you drive nails into it. How does movement emanate from matter? Are there other forms of movement that can emerge?

 

 

RN : There is an appetite focused on the material and the gesture.

During my doctoral thesis, I looked into Processing [digital sketchbook] to see how we could animate in other ways. You have to spend time. It turns out that, whether on Processing or on 3D software, when I have modeled figures, there is a gap and I always come back to the sketchbook. This immediate pleasure of the form which emerges from the relationship with matter and sensuality calls me and guides me. This ease of the pencil to bring out a world, potentialities with an economy of means.

 

GS : To clarify my question, I give an example: Jacques Lecoq is very important in the world of theater. In one of his classes, he crumpled up a sheet of glossy paper and asked the students to observe its movement, from the first relaxation, to deployment and until final immobility. He drew a parallel between the dramatic expression in the movement of the paper and that of a wounded man with his tension during agony before being abandoned by death.

Another example are the exercises that I gave at ENSAD, which you perhaps still offer: in these exercises, we sought to invent original movements emanating from the texture. We were looking for a match and continuity between texture, form, movement, personality, dramaturgy, etc. going as far as staging.

 

RN : When I moved, I came across sketches of live models that I had made and, to my great surprise, it really resonated with abstract forms, that is to say that in the end it is the body that is represented even if the form is abstract. This geometric shape, this task, this line, this curve appeals to me because this relationship to the body remains present. I had great emotion seeing these drawings again. A naked body is very moving.

 

GS : To stay in materiality again: you showed us at the beginning a set of colored volumes. We didn’t see this again in the rest of your work. What perspective can we envisage from these small volumes and the movements that it can produce?

 

 

RN : Each form is a potential movement. This is what nourishes me. Then, animating objects of this order is another way of animating that doesn’t suit me, I think. Drawing remains my practice.

 

GS : In Paysages intermédiaires, you still use volume.

 

RN : The volume, considered as information of movement: an immobile volume which contains a potential movement, therefore the passage from volume to drawing and from drawing to animation which creates the volume, which creates the stacking, a form of circulation between the supports, surfaces.

 


Paysages intermédiaires, 2018.

 

GS : Do you sometimes want to leave music?

 

RN : Yes. Music generates desires, or awakens intuitions, opens perspectives. The music penetrates us immediately.

In Montreal, I had met Jean-Pierre Gauthier, a sculptor who makes sound installations and I contacted him to use his sounds and when he saw the result, he told me that for the next film , he would do the music. These exchanges are delightful. The space that sound brings, its off-camera, everything that may be missing from the image.

 

GS : I notice that in France, at the CNC for example, we favor narrative dramaturgy: we have to tell stories. Now, you are in abstraction. This raises the question of identification in abstract films. How can we identify? do you have to identify yourself? Do we identify when we see a character with their psychology or do we identify through movement?

 

RN : I am in tune with the forms that I am proposing and I regret not having found readers in committee likely to support these projects within the CNC. But the most essential thing that makes these films possible is enthusiasm. When I felt that these results threatened me, I told myself that I cannot depend so much on institutions or circuits to which I do not correspond. It’s about finding other circuits like art centers or residencies, other means of production. So I organized myself accordingly. I sometimes resubmit projects, but not with the same expectations.

Concerning identification, movement is enough to create identification. I think that’s what William was saying about acceleration and deceleration, organicity. If it is a movement that produces a uniform flow, without an arc of movement, as in certain Lapoujade films where the sequences can be quite linear, we can ask the question. But as soon as there are accelerations, decelerations, delays, it resonates, there is something familiar.

 

WH : It is the whole relationship with the body, as in painting, especially when it is monumental and expressive, through its gestural side, which allows a form of projection on the part of the spectator, to another degree, since the dimension of time is not present as in the animation.