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Body and nature at the center: a sensitive artistic practice

I spoke with Alain Joséphine in all simplicity, on the balcony of his apartment in Baie-Mahault, where he lives part of the year. The rest of his time he shares with La Martinique, where he grew up surrounded by nature.

Nature, physical work, poetry are the foundations of Alain's art. He lets himself be impregnated and moved by all this and that is what he proposes to share with us in his artistic work. Follow me…

A childhood in the countryside, a breeding ground for his artistic practice

As a child, growing up in Rivière-Pilote, Alain Joséphine often accompanied his father in working the land and caring for the family's livestock.

“I deeply believe in the value of work. When I paint, I am in the same posture as a worker in the earth: I use my whole body to create a space on the canvas.”

Alain wants to commit all his energy and put his whole body in motion in the creation of a canvas. Moreover, the more he paints, the more he trains his body in painting. As if he were repeating a choreography 1000 times, which will lead him to the most exact expression of the movement he is looking for.

“I consider myself a worker of my art. The body and the muscles must be accustomed, trained, to achieve the purity of the gesture, the precision. To inhabit color entirely.”

As a little boy, Alain Joséphine also spent hours walking in the Martinican countryside, his nose in the air, on the lookout for the colors, smells and lights of the steep landscape.

When he explains it to me, I too see the type of panorama in question. It's a bit like the Grands Fonds de Sainte-Anne I believe, with valleys, slopes... and everywhere, wherever you look, a bit of sky.

I could not resist, here is a photo taken in the countryside of Rivière-Pilote.

It is therefore not surprising that Alain likes to paint so much while thinking about the placement of light in his canvases. Not surprising either that in his latest collection, we can see whole sections of the sky seen from the ground.

“I build all my work around light in relation to a very particular landscape made up of reliefs, hollows, hills, bottoms, hills*. The way it poses, the contrast, the chiaroscuros, the points of view. All this is completely different from light on a flat country.”

*Morne: Creole word for a hill, more details here

And this childhood made Alain Joséphine aware of the place of the body within nature. He considers that changing his body in the middle of nature is the surest way to really know himself:

“By interacting with your environment, you only do actions related to what the body feels, as close as possible to its sensations. After a while, we begin to understand who we really are. You enter into harmony with your inner self, your pure sensitive being.”

I spent more hours with my nose in books than in nature when I was a child. But I know the lack I feel in the absence of nature. I also know very well the serenity that I feel, the way of breathing that I adopt when I am at the beach, or among the trees. It is not necessarily a question here of meditation, or of communion with nature: it is rather like a form of appeasement as far as I am concerned. As Alain says, it's "something that doesn't make noise."

Music as a counterpart to visual art

Music has always been part of his life. His parents sang a lot at home, and Alain Joséphine did choral singing from the age of 10. And if her parents give her the desire to try her hand at theatre, dance, music... it is the taste for singing that remains with her. During his studies at the Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux, he even took advantage of the proximity of the Conservatory to learn opera singing! I myself have an opera singer uncle, and I feel in Alain's voice the same sounding board, the same power.

Perhaps one of the reasons that makes me feel so comfortable in his company?

But let's go back to his entry into the Beaux Arts in 1988. I would like to talk to you about Zao Wou-Ki, one of the first artists to have made a strong impression on Alain Joséphine, to the point of influencing all his work.

“He taught me that you can suggest space without necessarily drawing it, simply with the value of colors. It's like in nature, we see colors overlapping, and our mind creates lines between them."

While he practices a visual art, I am surprised that the other inspirations that Alain cites to me are musical. Ravel, Stravinsky, Debussy… he loves classical music from the beginning of the 20th century. These composers are not chosen at random. Like Zao Wou-Ki, their proposals are built around a strong axis: defining a space.

So yes, in painting, we imagine how to define a space, since it is a visual art. But in music too, certain pieces transport the body in a space thanks to hearing and the perception of sounds, in a way as tangible as when looking at a canvas. Here are some examples: The Rite of Spring, The Firebird, The Sea, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun...

I particularly recommend Debussy's The Sunken Cathedral. The variations in the composition and the intensity of the playing make you feel the distance that separates us from this cathedral. At first, it seems to be separated from us by a large space - which we can easily imagine filled with water. Then we feel the moment when we enter it, when the notes make their most beautiful flights! A moment later, we are outside, perceiving the last notes more faintly as the cathedral moves away from us… until it disappears in the waves. Unless it was the music that transported us to her?

This is how Alain strives to create, by applying the colors in a great fluid movement of his whole body. To create a canvas on a human scale that dBefines a space, a point of view, and in which one can fully immerse oneself.

A poetic and humanist reflection on art

Alain reflects on what he creates. And a whole aspect of his work involves writing. I have the impression that there is a part of the writing that is done upstream of the painting, and another part downstream.

Upstream first, it is poetry. The poetry of a moment, of a landscape, of an atmosphere that he seeks to capture. Alain writes very short poems, haikus, which transmit much more than the words of which they are composed. They have their own vibration and feelings to convey to the reader. Sometimes in his exhibitions you can see a few lines in front of his paintings.

“In poetry, just like a work of art, you can feel things that go beyond words. Art cannot necessarily be explained, it is almost epidermal.”

And the poetry in Alain's art is also expressed in a particular practice: the drawings. For me, they are real works, I find their colors and variations wonderful. But for him, it is a moment of poetic reverie, of fantasy even. He lets himself go to try new combinations of colors, more spontaneous compositions. Sometimes the drawings prefigure what the paintings will be. A bit as if he was doing his scales before painting large formats, which are at the heart of his art.

Downstream of artistic creation, we enter the intellectual aspect of the art of Alain Joséphine. That is to say that in addition to drawing on his childhood, his passions, his feelings to create, he then endeavors to dissect his practice. Alain teaches and does research at the Center for Studies and Research in Aesthetics and Plastic Arts (CEREAP). He is in the process of writing a thesis on the process of artistic creation. After each exhibition, he organizes a cycle of conferences. One of the favorite themes (I give you a thousand) is the place of the body in creation.

“I take almost as much pleasure in research as in painting. What interests me is the relationship between the body, the canvas and the mind. There are exchanges that take place between the three poles of this triad, and the nature of these exchanges interests me enormously.”

If he reflects so much on his art, and on art in general, it is because Alain Joséphine is convinced of the crucial importance of art for human life.

Be careful, when I talk to you about art, I mean any creation that can touch you on a daily basis... Far from the stuffy atmosphere of certain galleries, or the snobbery of certain experts, I am convinced that art should be lived in daily. Whether it is music, sculpture or painting, a work transmits an emotion that pushes each person to stop in the flow of life. To inhabit his body to feel. And live fully.

I have always thought that art touched my sensitivity and my spirit. It is by exchanging with Alain that I understand that all this time I had neglected the physical part of my feelings. Because yes, faced with an emotion, the body also gets going of course: goosebumps, watery eyes, heart pounding in the chest, feeling of floating sometimes. When we are touched by an artistic experience, we feel more alive because we fully inhabit our body, and we let ourselves be carried away by the sensation, as much as by the emotion.

Et si on peut sentir une émotion dans sa chair, je comprends pourquoi Alain est convaincu que l'art nous réhumanise.

“A good concert, or a beautiful exhibition, can change people's hearts. These are vibrations that will speak directly to the soul. I deeply believe that art helps to make people better.”


The creations of Alain Joséphine

Between pictorial material and poetic reverie


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