• Bernard Pruvost, Le Strapontin à glissières de la Villa Dahomey / The sliding folding seat of the Villa Dahomey, Indian ink, pigmented ink, acrylic, graphite pencil, coloured pencils, 70 x 50 cm, Collection of the artist.

The sliding folding seat of the Villa Dahomey


The vicissitudes of making paintings


I do believe that this scene, the scene I am on the point of sha- ring with you, like a whole raft of others, often identical or almost identical, is to be found in a place – my studio, shall we say – where the light (like that of a momentarily diaphanous ceremony) is close to the dimness of shadowy uncertainties. What yokes them together will be paper or canvas.

For the moment, I stand in livid silence on the barren threshold of the undefiled paper on the table. With a pleasure tinged with trepidation, I anticipate beginning to populate and bring life to this deserted land. Suddenly I have created an incident.

Another sweatingly hot day and I lean over the unrolled paper to admire its grain and appreciate the sensuality of it under my fingertips. Suddenly, two beads of perspiration fall from my forehead and form rings on the paper. I immediately add a few drops of ink into the aquatic misadventure and in no time they turn into the outlines of winged creatures of some sort with countless limbs. It is the beginning of a painting, carried out under the serendipitous influence of random chance. Thus begin the marriage celebrations of not obviously marriageable things. A short while later adulterated elements of the human pantomime, a host of faunlike illusions, conceived and dancing in a gaudy sprawl of colours, twist and turn in every direction, including the most unexpected. Moods from some wild source are borne along another slope by the illuminating lanterns of chiaroscuro, under the vacillating shadow of floral, mental, comical or funeral postures, hilarious or fatal gesticulations.

It is beginning to seem as if the painting is perhaps taking on the appearance of completion, swept along on the river of the irrational, which floods it with hybrid forms or missteps, hesitating between human, animal, vegetable and mineral, the aquatic and the aerial, the cosmic and the organic.


This is the way it usually comes about.


Sometimes I draw up a vague plan, a few sketches, but everything is invariably brushed aside, thrown out of the window and changed around until it is unrecognisable.

To begin with I create a random event. It might be a stain, a splash of pure or diluted colour, or even the sketch of a design created by some chance manoeuvre. (This can take place anywhere on the paper).


This is when the anchor is weighed and the adventure begins. This is the starting point, the detonator from which all sorts and kinds of painting deeds flow after, into and out of one another.

After a few hours, a few days, a few weeks, the paper which had once been the chaste kingdom of the abhorred vacuum begins to fill up, to be traversed by amazing events and mental agita- tion. It has turned into a stage filled with pure inventions. The curtain is raised to reveal extravagant goings-on in all directions, clothed in rags and shivering dances: for the moment I am the only person in the audience for the first act of this performance. Every time I contemplate what has come into being, and see everything that has crowded into an unknown space, it seems to be the result of some amazing enchantment that propels me into a unique category of trance, a magical twist of the mind that has nothing in common with intoxication of the Bacchic or cannabis-induced kind. It is a cohort of sensations that sails off into uncharted waters.

Every time anyone asks me why I paint, which people often do, I always tell them that I paint solely for the intense pleasure of doing it, of indulging in this extraordinarily exciting activity. There is not the slightest doubt about it, the long years that I have happily devoted to painting have in no way dampened or diminished my infatuation with the activity.

The question of why anyone paints is often accompanied by the calamitous idea that the driving force behind it has to be hard work. This is a position that I reject categorically. And yet if painting is a gratifying experience and not hard work, it doesn’t mean that painting takes place in a state of idleness or that it doesn’t sometimes lead to extreme fatigue. Painting is not a matter of pretending. For someone like me who is so pas- sionate and enthusiastic about it, it requires a lot of dedicated persistence. The act of painting raises doubts and questions. Moreover, what gives spice to the adventure is regularly putting yourself in dangerous positions, hesitating and groping around until, hopefully, you are satisfied with the result. Which is never a foregone conclusion. The pleasure of painting cannot achieve its unassailable fullness or soar irresistibly to the heights without complete freedom, which is the absolute condition for it to thrive. Pleasure and freedom are like those birds of the Psittacidae family said to be inseparable. Pleasure and freedom resolutely turn their back on any kind of restriction, any form of fetter or constraint, and on the observance of any ill-foun- ded or dictatorial rule. The only constraints – although I don’t consider them as such – might be the dimensions, the formats of the supports used. But if necessary, I increase the surface area by adding extensions, as and when they are needed.

“Let us reject tedious work. It goes against human nature, against the cosmic rhythms, it goes against man himself, to take trouble where none is needed. [...] Tedious work is inhuman and repugnant, every work which shows signs of it is ugly. It is pleasure and ease, without harshness and constraint, which create grace in every human gesture.”1 No one could put it better than Dubuffet.


Bernard Pruvost – tr. Jeremy Harrison


1. Jean Dubuffet, Notes for the Well-Lettered, Paris, 1967.


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