Jules de Balincourt

Interview & Photography by: Mart Engelen

Jules de Balincourt
 

Jules de Balincourt, Misfit Island, 2014
Oil on wooden panel 202.2 x 175.3 cm


 

The last two years have been very dense for artist Jules de Balincourt with lots of museum and gallery shows all over the globe. Time to have a conversation with one of the most sought-after artists of this moment about his life and art.
 

Mart Engelen: How do you come up with an idea for a new painting?
Jules de Balincourt: My working process is really intuitively-based. Spontaneously searching through that intuitive process without a real set agenda. First, it’s trusting my impulses and going with my own intuition.
ME: Does the current situation in the world influence your work?
JdB: I find it hard to negate what’s happening in the world. As much as I sometimes try to alienate myself from the current political situation, I think that even if it’s not directly linked you can still feel a certain global anxiety, uncertainty, in my work even when for instance it’s not directly about Syria or an economic crash in Russia. It’s a sort of accumulation of information as a process through painting. Some information is taken directly from images I see on the internet. Some of it is from experiences I have lived through personally. Being on the internet you are constantly bombarded by one thing or another. I process the images—I allow myself to process many different images whether they’re
personal or political. Then I put them all together and have them in a kind of orbit, in a sort of atmosphere.
ME: When it’s finished, should it be in the eye of the beholder to judge what he/she gets out of it?
JdB: Yes, I have no set narrative. There’s not one clear distinct theme. For me it’s an accumulation of experiences and images that collide and create a free associative narrative. I want it to be open-ended and not a set script. I am open to people’s own interpretation.
ME: Because of your upbringing, first in Europe and then in the States, do
you have a different perspective of American society from artists who were born
here?
JdB: Sure. I think it’s always something like being a perpetual tourist: not
really having any fixed roots in France or in America. There is this perpetual outsiderness: looking in, observing and taking what I like from each culture. And each culture has things I hate and things I like.
ME: Can we consider your art as being political in a way?
JdB: I think everything is political. Making a purely formalist abstract painting is political in the sense that it is apolitical. It has no political perspective: it’s just fighting for art. But in that sense it is political. Does that make sense?
ME: To me it does.
JdB: I started the graduate programme in New York just after 9/11. It was hard not to be responsive to the climate. I was doing more that was deemed political
but I wasn’t calling myself a political artist.
ME: What’s remarkable, after I saw your exhibition, is that I think I noticed an incredible tension in all your works. You create something but it’s not what it
seems. I could call it a very ‘Hitchcockian’ way of painting.
JdB: Sometimes I like to think of it as either the calm before the storm or after the storm. It’s never at the moment of the climax, it’s always pre or post. That
keeps a level of suspense or untold narrative.
ME: But I also discover a kind of beauty. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
JdB: I guess I had to be visually seduced by all the work I have been drawn to. I was never a real diehard conceptual artist or installation artist. For me it had to
be a three-dimensional sculpture or painting but it also had to have some kind of content, story or something deep or transgressive. It can be visually seductive and at the same time have some content, have some depth. Then maybe it’s a successful art piece. But we were talking about so many different images earlier. As a painter I always wanted to keep the open-endedness or the freedom because I saw that as a painter you can easily be trapped in one or two different visual binoculars. I didn’t want to get pigeonholed so I wanted to be open-ended and free. So my interpretation of images should be as open as possible.
ME: In an earlier interview you said, “When I start, I don’t know where I am
going”.
JdB: I don’t. I want it to be a personal discovery as I go.
ME: If you look at all your works, they are all visually different and tell their own story, what is the connecting factor for you?
JdB: (Silence) Sometimes I am not always sure if there is necessarily a connecting factor. I am a bit stumped by this question. It’s hard. I can say it’s my colour, or this or that….
ME: For me it’s the tension in all your paintings.
JdB: But there’s a disconnection too. Some of the images are so disconnected
and sometimes that makes it quite difficult.
ME: You always paint on panel. Why is that?
JdB: I don’t want to talk about that but I’d like to come back to the connecting factor. Sometimes I make two images that are, maybe, so different or with such
a distance between them. Lately, I’ve been thinking ‘How do I throw all these desperately different images together’. Now I am thinking when I have two paintings that the third can be a fusion of them. If these two paintings were congruent, what child would they make? It’s the plus sign between the two that makes them equal. Sometimes my mind is drawn to different images like refugees and ISIS and then a scene of my friends on the beach. Two realities.
I am shocked by the reality in the Middle East and my blissful reality on the beach. What could a third image be to bring these two together somehow? Their genetic make up may be slightly intertwined somehow.
ME: What artists have always inspired you?
JdB: Well, there is the obvious canon of the old masters that everyone loves, like Goya, Velasquez, Manet, Picasso, but recently I have been rediscovering
Helen Frankenthaler. I see something so different from me, some kind of psychological narrative through pure abstraction. I’ve never been able to tackle pure abstraction; something more abstract, metaphysical, spiritual, and not as literal, something I have not really tried. There are also lots of great painters of my generation, as well you know, that I love.
ME: You have finished a very busy period with lots of exhibitions. Are you
already working on new projects?
JdB: The last two years were very dense with lots of museum shows and a big
Rizzoli publication. I needed a year to kind of refuel, to go back to the sandbox and play for a while and experiment without a deadline in mind. And it has been very productive.
ME: What can you say about the titles of your artworks?
JdB: Titles are not easy to come up with. Sometimes the title comes before the painting and it inspires the painting. But I struggle with titles and they are not
easy. What can I say about my titles?
ME: Well, I mention this because a title unveils the work a little bit and I also discover a kind of healthy cynicism in your titles.
JdB: A title indeed unveils a little bit of the work but hopefully not revealing too much. By the way, as I get older the cynicism is being toned down. I am softening up in my old days. (laughs) I think it’s too easy to be cynical and ironic; it’s more hopeful to be honest and sincere with a bit of cynicism. It’s more difficult to be honest and sincere and it’s not sexy. Nobody likes that. (laughs)
ME: Thank you for this conversation and I am looking forward to seeing your
new work.
JdB: Thank you.
 
—Copyright 2015 Mart Engelen
 
 

 Jules de Balincourt
 

Jules de Balincourt in his studio in Brooklyn,
New York 2014

 
 

Jules de Balincourt
 

Jules de Balincourt, Refuge island …everyone gets out alive, 2014
Oil on panel 203.2 x 177.8 cm