David Raffini’s painting studio: an archeology on progress Interview with Sylvie Coëllier, an Art historian


David Raffini greets me in the studio into which he moved a few months ago. During a previous meeting, he shared a space with Florian Pugnaire, with whom he still works closely on video or installation projects. This new studio is dedicated to the solitary ordeal of painting. David Raffini talks to me about his work process by showing me some works intended for the exhibition Défigurer (Disfiguring) such as he has been fantasizing it two months before its installation.

David Raffini: �������������������‘This studio has been an important project for me in my relationship with ‘‘making some paintings.’’ Although it is not very large, I thought is was quite an ideal place in terms of position of things in the space, and the organization based on the various gestures I was used to make, knowing since the other studio that the floor was very important for me. I am used to do what I call giornatas of work on not prepared canvas, very spongy and that bleed all the excessive paint on the floor. I thus wanted to keep not only this connection with the floor but also on a frontal point in order to put these canvases on the wall to keep on working on them.

Sylvie Coëllier: I remember this fabric loaded with colored mud on which you used to walk in the other studio. The stains remain on the floor…

DR: And yet they are filtered by a sort of multi-layers, strata. The floor, it’s the last layer that will receive the paint, the surplus of the surplus. On this floor various plates are arranged, in this case all square formats that are here. [Shows a dozen of plates stacked up against one of the walls]. They have collected the paint droppings and are generated by making other paintings above them. So there is a first layer, it���s the floor. The second, it���s the plate that covers the floor.
The third layer is a thin cloth that enables me to create some sort of another framework, another filter on the wooden plate. And the last layer, it’s the canvas on which I’m going to work, the painting. And the paintings, that we are going to discover, will be between two or four in the exhibition. To create all that, in the exhibition, will be connected to the floor, to accumulate all that is found as material on the small squares, four paintings were necessary.

SC: Some small squares? These plates seem rather big to me… What are they made of?

DR: They are squares of 125 (cm). It’s usually wood. Some are metal sheets or even linoleum. As for wood, [DR shows the back of some plates], they are material used in construction, either OSB, a composition of compressed wood shavings, or bakelite coated plywood made to not stick, because it is used for coffering. It enables to have a smooth surface that is in the end my first base. And so, the connection with Grund, in the end, is already made in the choice of the material used. And when I start working on the various paintings, my first pretext is a form of use of the fact of salvaging all these wastes, and perpetuating these various alterations of matters, canvases����������� Here, per example, the relationship with the refuse is striking if we look at the painting in terms of representation, because we can make out a figure near a mountain of waste.
[Staples to the wall repainted in white Things Different, a large painting of 2.80 x 1.75 m].

SC  [surprised by the size of the painting]: Ah!����� If I can sum it up, there were four slates of 1.25 x 1.25m on the floor, and this canvas came over them. Was it prepared? Is it a painting canvas?

DR: It comes blank. The advantage of working on unfixed canvas, is that only very little matter remains: even manipulating them without caution it doesn’t run much risk.
It’s cotton and linen canvas, the kind usually used for painting. It is not prepared, and it is very important it is not. Today, a preparation is only some transparent acrylic. But here we can rather use some Caparol or some skin glue to begin to treat it, it’s the excessively nourished juice of paint that is going to make sure this canvas prepares itself, with the layer and the overlayer, during the work itself. If we were to use oil on a blank canvas, it would not hold as much.
By using a paint composed mainly of acrylic for the first layers, the canvas is treated in in its mass and then other juices can come, with oil, for example.

SC: So it is both an accumulation process and a way to have a pictorial surface containing very little matter, which favors – I can see it – aerial and depth effects. There is also a relationship with the image. How was the latter chosen?

DR: For me, the image is a pretext to start a painting, which generates others. This pretext can come from things on which I bounce back, coming from reality, from photographs I’ve made, from a stock of archives collected on the internet or in the media. But because I�������m not interested in image first, I get to detach from its feasibility to enter into painting, in its evocation of matter, history. It may mean to go search into gesture that, on the same painting could seem distant in time. For example, if we look at the foreground of this painting, we are almost in something that is on the level of ‘‘ dripping ’’. And thus I think about Pollock. But when I work on the backgrounds, I am more dealing with Leonardo���s ‘‘ sfumato ���’, in is evocation of a distance in which we get lost. And what I like to do in what are for me the real paintings compared with the slates, what I call ‘‘ verbs ’’, it’s imagining that on the same surface the small painter that I am will be able to communicate with art history characters from four centuries ago and others who are more contemporary… I more and more like the idea of stressing the fact that there are several stages in the painting or that three months worth of work be swiped away by a gesture that come raping it, a consented rape, since the painting would not exist otherwise…

S C: Do you also maintain a connection with oriental painting? Here, for example? [shows the higher part of the canvas.]
DR: It is possible that my connection with oriental painting resides in the fact that it is unattached canvas. The fact that there is often some emptiness and that it is some hardly anything, it has to deal with this economy of means here. I’ve been interested in the sketches and Japanese paintings and I had worked on the idea that the painting could be seen during the exhibition, then that it could be folded back and that the memory would be sufficient to feed the connection with the viewer,
a bit like in these Japanese traditions of the scrolls one opens and rolls back as one looks at it. This history also meets closer history of our old Europe. There are things for me that are of a High Classical period and the first ambition of this painting is to enter a phase that is quite classical in the end, where we build things until they are exhausted, and this exhaustion makes that paint, drained from its experience, eventually becomes a painting.

SC: In your painting, this one at least, what is being constructed seems in connection with the image chosen. I suppose it implies some preliminary sketches?

DR: These sketches are made in various ways. They can come from mental images. Reading some poetry, for example, we picture it… and in my collection, I find what can refer to it, and I recompose this image with a geometry I find interesting – it can be made on a computer. For this painting for example, I started from a documentary photograph of Paul Antoine Pichard, and we can recognize, if we go on his website, the initial document. T