French painter Théo Viardin’s works imagine a world where the only certainty is physical proximity between human bodies. Such a liminal space enables a reflection of the narratives and discourses that led there, and perhaps even how our contemporary life requires radically new imaginations and the questioning of certainties.

How would you describe your process of creating artworks? In the sense of choosing the format, theme and colour palette that seems so specific for you?

I draw a lot at first, I need to stabilize the shapes on which I build the layers of paint. The balance of the composition is essential for me because I seek to create peaceful images. Once the general shapes are in place and feel harmonious, I choose a format. Sometimes it’s the other way around. The only real importance to the format is to allow the figures contained to be larger than a human being, or at least the same size. The size of a painting matters a lot and is often overlooked when looking at the work on the internet or Instagram. Real painting establishes a physical, almost carnal relationship with the viewer because it has a presence, a thickness, a materiality and a brilliance.

About colours, I like to work in weak contrasts and in dark shades. In this way, I try to induce an active gaze from the observer. From a distance, almost only silhouettes are visible. It is necessary to get closer to the work to perceive its details and therefore to enter into a certain intimacy with the figures.

Are the characters based on some real people you met or you know personally?

No, they are not. Even if I am probably influenced by the humans around me, at the moment I’ve never worked with them.

Francis Bacon said that portraying someone is an almost impossible bet and I think I quite agree, it is very difficult. For the moment, I prefer to borrow pieces from reality to build the figures and their faces. I often stop painting when they seem alive enough for fear of going too far and taking their life away. It’s frustrating when that happens.

“Jusqu’à ce que nous redevenions sauvages”

“La complémentarité de nos instincts”

“Même en retenant mon souffle”

There are many ongoing relationships and feelings between the characters in your artworks. Can you tell us more about it? Are there some that can be relatable or compared to the relationship with family, a friend, or a colleague?

In a very narrative approach, one could project a broad, almost tribal family relationship onto the figures. In a way, the figures are very linked aesthetically and physically. I try to build my paintings as a coherent whole so that they place the viewers in the posture of an archaeologist, who would discover the remains of a distant humanity with its own codes and archetypes.

All the paintings then become interesting thanks to what is present as much as by what is absent. In a way, it takes the form of a narration through void that leaves space for the viewers to create their own links, without imposing them.

But all this is only true for the whole. If we take each canvas independently, I try, for the moment, to move away from anecdotal or descriptive painting but rather to paint sensations. 

Ideally, I would like to create paintings that mark the eye before telling a story.

“Je bois tes paroles – Part 1”

“Je bois tes paroles – Part 2”

How would you describe your monochromatic painting style? Who or what is your biggest inspiration?

I don’t think my style of painting is monochromatic, although a few colors often crop up. There are some shades that I find harmonious and some that I don’t, but it varies. I like the painting to feel like a coherent object. Working with restricted color ranges helps me do that. It’s really about feeling, I guess it’s quite specific to everyone.

I draw a lot of my inspiration from the writings of authors of anticipation such as Alain Damasio or Ursula K. Le Guin, who are convinced of the profound need to offer new narratives that provide a more desirable future. It is hard to desire something that one has not previously imagined and these authors help us to think by offering possibilities that question our certainties and that appeases us. The approach seems essential to me today in literature, and I am inspired by it even if I cannot reproduce it as directly. Painting is a language on its own that has a different strength than words. So I try not to be in the narration but rather to paint on the basis of sensations that I would like to crystallize. I seek to craft images that provoke emotions and perceptions of serenity, protection, care, and tenderness. Sometimes violence too. I try to paint contrasting figures, whose postures are strong and faces fragile.

More formally, I found a lot of inspiration in the work of Picasso in his Neoclassical period of the early 1920s which is fantastically melancholic. I also really like Bacon’s late work, particularly intelligent in its forms and in its technique which contrasts between softness and violence.

“Juste une seconde de leur étreinte”

Are you currently preparing an exhibition or project we can look forward to?

I’m currently working for a group show with Everyday gallery opening in July at their space in Antwerp. I’ll have a solo show with the Linseed project in Shanghai in July too. It was supposed to open before but it was postponed due to the Covid pandemic. I’m very excited about the two shows as I’ve been working on these paintings for a long time. I will also participate in a group show at the L21 Gallery in Barcelona in October, and before that I will have a solo show with them in July.

Théo Viardin at his studio.

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Théo Viardin (b. 1992) is a French artist currently living and working in Paris, France. After a Master’s degree in graphic design, he co-founded Embuscade, a visual creation studio in 2015.

Through his paintings, Théo Viardin is building speculative imagery representing surreal humanoid figures in intimate and melancholic scenes. Installed in bare backgrounds and twilight atmospheres, the sculptural compositions and the colossal shapes of the bodies contrast with the fragility of the faces and the eyes.

Drawing his inspiration from the writings of authors of anticipation such as Alain Damasio or Ursula K. Le Guin, convinced that our society needs a new narrative imagination to project itself into a more desirable future, Théo Viardin represents distant humanity, deprived of the most humanistic of functions, namely language and narrative, that has no alternative except to gather in order to care and protect.


Artworks / Théo Viardin @theo.viardin

Interview / Markéta Kosinová

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