Gilles Balmet is a fantastic artist who lives in Paris. He creates stunning paintings that look like photographic landscapes http://gillesbalmet.free.fr/. I wanted to find out the inspiration for such inspired work. Here’s our cool chat.
MICHAEL: So Gilles, I think that if we could open your head and look at your brain, we would definitely see the works you have created on paper. So this is what your brain looks like?
GILLES: I don't know if that's what my brain looks like, but that's what I want to show and create in my works. My work deals with the borders of landscape representation mixed with an abstract interest and an attention to parameters and the will to control the images and paintings or drawings on paper that have a kind of photographic quality. There’s also a process that links with the idea of revealing an image.
MICHAEL: Yes, the works definitely look like photos. What is it about landscapes that inspire you?
GILLES: Landscapes are beautiful subjects and there are a lot of connections with abstraction. There are some great painters who’ve created works that have a certain kind of hesitation between these two genres – artists like Turner, Monet and even Matisse in some works. I was exposed very early to great works of a school of painters named “Ecole Dauphinoise” from the 19th century. They represented mountains in a type of pre-hyperrealistic manner around my native town of Grenoble. They have an entire room in the Grenoble Museum. I spent a lot of time there as a teenager and that probably influenced my work. Grenoble is surrounded by mountains and that reminds me of a famous quote attributed to Stendhal who is also a Grenoble native. “A chaque rue. une montagne.” But I have to say that I am not very interested in mountains.
MICHAEL: Tell me more about growing up with art. When did you first become aware yourself as an artist? Do you come from an artistic family?
GILLES: I grew up in a family where art was important due to the fame of my great-grandfather, Louis Balmet who was a stained-glass master in France. He created stained-glass for churches and collectors in France, Italy, Vietnam, Brazil and India. My grand father was a lesser known figure who worked in the shadow of his father. He framed works of art and all kinds of pictures from drawings to canvas to photographs. I was exposed very early to different kinds of pictures in my father's shop. I’ve had my own studio in Grenoble since I was 10 years old. It’s located in my great-grandfather’s building. There’s a connection between us even though I didn’t know him. He was also a collector. I am and glad that I was surrounded by art that he collected even though my parents weren’t very interested in art. That may sound strange, but I always considered myself an artist or at least enough to decide to have my own studio at the age of 10 and even teach some of my neighbors to draw.
MICHAEL: Wouldn't you have an easier life if you had chosen to be a lawyer, doctor or businessman? The life of an artist is so difficult, isn't it?
GILLES: I am doing what I always wanted to do so I am in no way frustrated to do another job. Of course, life can be difficult sometimes as an artist, but that is true for all kind of jobs. I have experimented with a lot of different activities, more classical ones during my summer jobs and enough to know what I do not want to do. As an artist, you can meet a lot of different people, be in contact with different kinds of activities and do yourself a lot of different things. You have to interact with museum directors, art critics, curators, gallerists, politicians, editors, graphic designers, collectors and you can be sometimes be called to do some of these activities. So, being an artist is a very interesting way of conducting your life and that's definitely my choice. I had the chance during my education at Grenoble art school from 1998 to 2003 to be surrounded by great artists and teachers like Ange Leccia, Jean-Luc Moulène, Gianni Motti, Martine Aballéa and Joël Bartolomeo. So I had a precise idea of what could be the life of a contemporary artist who can teach in a parallel life. I have recently been appointed as artist teacher in ESBAMA in Montpellier. That is a great public art school and it’s a great honor for me.
MICHAEL: Fantastic! Congratulations. What do think about the art world and the business of contemporary art today?
GILLES: I think it is a very complex question. There a lot of different art worlds or at least different spheres of art. If we talk about the one I am working in, I am very interested by its history, the development of historical galleries and institutions. I read books about great gallerists like Kahnweiler, Castelli and Bergruenn, but everything has changed nowadays. I am also very curious about private collectors and their way of dealing with their passion. I have a lot of respect for collectors who can spend half of their income on contemporary art like for example the fantastic Herb and Dorothy Vogel did in New York without being rich. I also like the independence of the great collector Antoine de Galbert who was a gallerist in Grenoble. I often visited his gallery when I was a teenager before he opened more recently his Fondation La Maison Rouge. It shows contemporary private art collections in Paris.
MICHAEL: Tell me about contemporary art in France.
GILLES: I am very aware of the different components in France from private galleries to public institutions and museums, but I am especially and mostly interested in artists and what they are doing and producing today. When I came to Paris in 2004, I met different important figures of the art world. I wanted to meet Ami Barak who worked on the cultural affairs of Paris city and Hans Ulrich Obrist. I contacted him due to my interest in his book Interviews. He was and still is a very generous man who introduced my friend Benoît Broisat and I to different people to help us. He can call young curators to organize a meeting with you and has no hesitation to mix different kinds of people. We had the luck to meet him in 2004 during two separate 30-minute sessions to present our works and when you realize his agenda and that he is working with three international cell phones at the same time, that was a privilege to meet him when he was working at Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris. I think we definitely need and lack young curators like him with a total engagement to his work, a very large cultural interest from painting, architecture to video installations and more and a great generosity toward young artists. Curators should have a real curiosity for artists and their work and not only try to develop a social position without a real, profound and passionate interest in art and the artists. That seems to be the rule nowadays.
MICHAEL: That’s true. Finally Gilles, We're living during a tough time right now for contemporary art. Given that, what are your hopes and dreams for the future?
GILLES: I hope there still will be a multitude of possibilities offered to artists to live from their art and that politics will try to resist the will to use art for political short term gains. I am a partisan of "the elite and the best for everyone.” But it also demands an effort from the public not to be satisfied by easy entertainment forms of art. Paintings or drawings demand time to be seen and unfortunately, our society encourages zapping.
MICHAEL: And your hopes and thoughts about France?
GILLES: In France, we have a strong and very diverse web of art institutions and structures, public and private ones from art centers, museums, private galleries, art foundations, FRAC, FNAC, FMAC etc. Due to the economic crisis, a lot of the small, public ones are on the verge of precarity. I hope our left government will see the interest to maintain a great budget to help visual art to develop. It should be a priority for a left government and I am scared that it’s not considered enough today. I wish there will be a development of art history teaching and art practice in school and not just one-hour per week or not at all. I think there should be more contemporary art documentaries on television like the wonderful PBS art21 documentary in the USA. We already have some, but we need more art on TV or on the Internet. Studio visits should be a priority for curators and institutions to teach their work and not just have book knowledge of what is an artist or an art practice. On a more personal side, I wish to have a great museum exhibition in Europe soon and different gallery representation abroad in New York and Tokyo and everywhere else in Europe. I will have my next solo exhibition next year at my gallery in Paris, Dominique Fiat gallery. I will also participate in the great Drawing Now art fair with galerie Chantiers Boîte Noire in the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris. I hope everyone will be able to see it in person or at least on the documentary I will post on the Internet.
MICHAEL: Thanks Gilles. This has been very illuminating.
Check out Gilles’ cool work at http://gillesbalmet.free.fr/