At VICE, we digged your paintings, tell us more about yourself.
B : First of all, thanks for taking an interest in my nonsense. Will this be published on paper? Then I can send a copy to my mum. So, I’m 33, I live in Paris, I hijack paintings and I will soon have to pay for that.
Your paintings often feature drugs, what’s your dope of choice?
B: Coucou Maman !
Hi mum ! Well, yes, of course, I always have ayawaska chewing-gums handy and reliable contacts to catch hold of good ole farmer’s crack cocaine ….
You divert old paintings, often portraits. Isn’t that showing little respect for your ancestors, your French heritage and so on?
B: You’re forgetting one small detail: these paintings landed in my “capable” hands precisely because no one wanted them in the first place.
Meaning : the one who doesn’t care about cultural heritage and its roots, ain´t necessarily the one you’d think. In short : my parents were « brocanteurs », antique dealers. The majority of the people who sold stuff to them had recently inherited.
They were selling off their parents’ houses and emptying them out without even taking the time to sort through things. It’s pretty shitty but people prefer cash to memories… So, as a result, we ended up with drawers full of family pics. As a kid, I thought it was crap that these pics would end up in the dump. It was like chucking someone in the bin !
So I started this weird collection, I still have a number of shoe boxes filled with pictures of people I don’t know. With the paintings I rescue, it’s the same kind of philosophy. I reject this sense of ending, this second death. I put them back into the system. And regarding French cultural heritage, I just want to remind you that for over a century, and using many a container, we sold off our heritage to you, the Yanks…And nobody gave a shit!
Now that all the ornaments have been dilapidated and that your dollar is weak, we are selling our castles to Qatar and China. France has become some sort of skeleton with its golden teeth pulled out. Yes, I know, I’m over-doing it…
After your first exhibition, you ended up in trouble. What kind of trouble and why?
B : First, I had a gay activist group breathing down my neck for my Lyautey and his family jewels. The fact that no priest came chasing after me for my nun praying in front of a dildo is little short of a miracle.
Oh yeah, and we also had to take down the little Mujahideen going to school with her belt of explosives during the exhibition… My art dealer didn’t want to be hit by a fatwa…
« Some people shit in their frocks, I shit on the FRACS [Editor’s Note: French Regional Funds for Contemporary Art] ». Did you coin this?
B : And I’m rather proud of it…
You really are looking for trouble, aren’t you ?
B : It’s a sign of our times...
Today everything is controversial, confusion between rudeness and vulgarity has never been as blurred in people’s mind. Political correctness is directly linked to our consumer society and, sadly, this has generated in the process its batch of paranoiac extremisms. To me, rudeness is the last bit of seemly sincere freedom we are left with. To each their own…. Take yourself, for example : your freedom zone is your trucker cap and your lumberjack shirt, thanks to which you’re proudly claiming to be a lazy bastard, but in the end, so am I.
OK … Do people often tell you that you copy Banksy, or that what you do has already been done?
B : I really like Banksy, he gets credit for breaking down a lot of barriers and that’s a good thing.
About what has or hasn’t already been made, without any value judgement of course : in the history of journalism, every stupid question has already been asked and, yet, it doesn’t stop you from doing the same thing right now. [Laughs]
I started hijacking paintings in complete anonymity, without signing them. It was fun, and the rent has to be paid. I haven’t had any formal training as such as an art restorer but my luck was to meet an old sea dog who showed me the ropes.
I started buying smashed up paintings, almost destroyed, in a compulsive way… I didn’t even look at the subject-matter, only their “condition”, what was wrong with them... Inevitably, after a while, I ended up with a whole lot of crappy paintings on my hands.
So I started embellishing them by including various things. Nothing illegal, of course, but not quite politically correct either.
And it started to work… Until the day a gallery owner offered to exhibit my work, on condition that I sign it.
And how do you go on about it ? Do you see a painting and think: “Hey, that’s what I’m gonna do with this one”?
B : Indeed, you have to come across a topic that inspires you.
Then again, to tell you the truth, I don’t really know why some images work better than others, there are so many elements which come into play ; we’ve reached that point in the interview where, in order to appear to be serious, we should quote Derrida, the French Theory etc… But let’s leave this to others…
As for me, I would only say that when you’re in front of a painting and you think : « this one works », then it’s all good,
But aside from that, not so long ago, I had a rather weird dream in which Daniel Arasse (Editor’s Note : art historian) came back from the dead to kick my butt, calling me a moron, and it all ended up with a huge booze orgy in a little tavern in Lyon… go figure !
So the main thing is that you like the painting?
B : Yes, then again, it doesn’t work every single time, you have to pass unnoticed through the restrictions imposed by the painting. Finding the right approach, the joke that will fit in etc…
More often than not, it’s the economy of means, the « je ne sais quoi » that will radically change the destination of the painting, that’s what’s most difficult. Take for example my floating Maccabee by Helbut Ferdinand: originally, instead of the dead man, there was a swan. With this corpse floating in the foreground but deliberately discreet, the painting then moves from a rather Napoleon III-like scenery, very “cul-cul la praline” [sic], to a tragic and unexpected painting. And without wanting to make up any stupid kinship, there’s an artist, an Italian, Maurizio Cattelan, who I think is great.
He mainly plays with this rhetorical effect which consists in manipulating our feelings when faced with something which seems normal, credible, a given, until the brain twigs there’s something going on. The way the scene is set up becomes important to get this result. It doesn’t last long but it’s great to see how people react to this. Feeling lost, they’re searching for eye-contact, some comfort, they’re seeking confirmation that we’re in fact taking the piss, a bit like when you leave the voting booth on election Sunday.
Take one of my paintings, put it in your home in the middle of everything else, have your friends over for dinner, make sure you don’t say a thing, and you’ll see…
At the end of the day, I think that trying to earn a living while making my friends laugh is super elegant as a way of life, don’t you?That’s why I carry on.
You’re a comic painter, some sort of dauby Jimmy Fallon ?
B : Not really. Personally, I’ve never found humour very funny.
Take yourself, for example: you pretend to be a journalist working for Vice whereas, in fact, you’re merely some shitty dictaphone on my mobile phone to which I’m dictating this fake interview.
Hang up !