The same way Reason is regular like
an accounter, Life is anarchic
like an artist
If you raise your head you may see her: the woman
‘atop the world’. Sitting atop the world, she observes
it from a slight but specific distance.
Her name is Clothilde …
Sitting atop the world
Clothilde Lasserre, and from her perspective the world is full of life and frenetic activity, and people are dashing about and talking. Viewing the world from above, she creates blurred and abstract images of human celebrations. Although they
often depict crowds of people, the individual—drowned in the heart
of these masses—is more conspicuous than ever. Her various crowd
scenes include street, urban, and seaside scenes, crowds on the verge
of hysteria, crowds ready to ‘take off’, and emotional crowds. Crowds
are omnipresent in her work; they saturate the eye and become one
individual and compelling mass, if they are viewed from a distance.
Again, it’s a question of distance. It plays a role in every viewer’s
relationship with the works. As the viewer moves back from the works,
the language changes, the scenes are no longer quite the same, and
these masses of people lose some of their form, spirit, and essence.
The mass and the individual are superimposed, interact, and invite us
to explore landscapes peopled with imposters that look as if they have
come straight out of the work of Roland Gori.
Is the woman ‘atop the world’ inviting us to participate in a colourful
reflection on individuality? Perhaps. We will dig deeper… after all, that
is what we are here for!
At the outset
At the outset, Clothilde thought she could relate to the codes and
ambiguities of the times, join the merry-go-round, and handle the
frenetic pace of the world. She thought she could become a social, neutral, and productive person, and be happy in the modern world. A rational-minded person who embarked on a career after completing a doctorate in applied mathematics, her first life was far removed from the smell of acrylic paints and working in a studio. Her work consisted of solving mathematical equations without too many unknowns. However, in the first chapter of her adult life, there was a creeping realisation and sense that she was not fulfilled—that she was not accomplishing her full potential. She needed to be ‘reborn’—somewhere else and via something entirely different. Everything that had defined her life up until that point—the big offices, major groups and careers—gradually lost its significance and the need to find a way out became ever more pressing. Now, her life became more diverse—at last, there was room, and even a desire for chance occurrences.
She did not take up painting because she was weary of ordinary life— she felt an overriding need to use line and oils on canvas to express the idea of individuals being drowned in crowds. Clothilde does not have an artistic background, has never studied at an art school, and her technique is solely based on her instincts, her urgent need to express herself, and her rigour. Her work is mathematical—mathematics is in her blood—, in that it is ‘fractal and chaotic’. However, underneath all this, one can see that she enjoys expressing her concerns and deals with them in large colourful compositions.
A Small Organic Laboratory
In Croissy, in the Yvelines département (in the Parisian region),
Clothilde put her heart into setting herself up with oil paints, easels, and brushes in a disordered (naturally!) studio, which contains her plants and paintings, ‘her nature and art’. All around her, life in its many forms seems to intrude upon her activities and pervade everything, particularly her work. She—she says that she ‘peoples the solitude’ in her works—readily accepts this intrusion. Within the walls of her den, the artist’s solitude is inhabited by small tomato plants, groups of plants, all the jars of colour that make up her palette, and canvases, which are everywhere. Completed, incomplete, or blank, they form a sort of compact ‘crowd’ that inhabits the studio. The ‘spirits’ of oils, wooden frames, and pieces of canvas create a unique atmosphere in the studio. They change and move position according to the wishes of their maker and constitute a small crowd that is broken up at the will of their ‘leader’. The space is intimate—it could not be otherwise—but seems, in particular, to have been designed as a laboratory in which the painter pursues her work on the ambiguous relationship between the multitude and solitude. It is an organic and ‘eccentric’ work area, beyond which is the outside world teeming with life that Clothilde observes from a reasonable distance: two planets connected to one another. On the floor or at her easel, the artist now sets out other equations whose result is based on both the irrational and mathematical logic.
Crowds are both comforting and frightening. They take away as much as they give: they offer us the comfort of anonymity, but take away our supposed individuality.
Are we alienated in a crowd? Does being in a crowd make it impossible to feel unique? Does a crowd make the idea of feeling alive palpable? Because the other is a link between the individual and the self, the individual feels the lifeblood flowing through him or her and their heart beat as never before in a crowd. The individual breathes and suffocates. All around the individual, life is reflected and confronts him or her; thousands of ‘mirrors’ remind the individual that he or she is also here—that he or she exists. If they were not there to prove our existence, would we exist?
The crowd is the master that encourages us to abandon ourselves. When we are in a crowd we forget ourselves; we become crazy, lose our inhibitions, entrust it with our sense of responsibility, our free will, and offer it our personal conscience. It does not matter what we do because everyone else is behaving in the same way. Group thinking becomes personal thinking. We copy what others do, and welcome the fact that the crowd obliterates certain things. We are links and are all alike; we are tiny links in an ensemble that we nurture. The crowd opens its arms to us and embraces us; it takes us to places that we would not go to on our own. It is a benevolent mass, a coloured and harmonious colossus that—in a painting—translates a clear link: it is part of us, and we are part of it. We should in no way fear the crowd because it sublimates us and makes us—and others like us—better… them, us … together in constant movement, a powerful and creative force.
How can we become part of the crowd—our society—without
relinquishing our own individuality?
Order and Chaos
Our lives are like tightrope walks, in a fragile balance above the underlying paradox of this question. If we fall to the left, we dissolve into the mass, and, if we fall to the right, there is a void. But is there really a confrontation between the notions of the crowd and the individual? Maybe not. We are individuals as long as we are responsible beings who have freedom of choice. Our responsibility only diminishes as our environment becomes regulated. The burdensome norms that are applied to everything drain our souls. We were thinking beings who have become active beings. Roland Gori called such a society a ‘factory of imposters’ (‘l’usine à imposteurs’)—a society of norms that strives to regulate behaviour and lifestyles. It is a whole ensemble devoted to the religion of the marketplace—a social farce based on the idea of selling appearances.
So, does the individual come to life and find meaning in disorder?
Confusion liberates us because it makes us question our direction, and prompts us to search, think, choose, and create. It obliges us to look at the road on which we are travelling rather than the speedometer. It invites us to live life again and allows us to experience life. The individual is opposed to standardisation, not the crowd. The philosopher Georges Canguilhem stated that ‘reason is as regular as an accountant, life is as anarchic as an artist’. On her high wire, performing a delicate balancing act, Clothilde produces canvases in which this idea resonates.
‘If you take a closer look’ …
The Right Distance
A suggestion that echoes the very essence
of Clothilde’s work. In her work, everything is about distance; neither
the right nor the wrong distance, she experiments with the straight line
that separates the eye from—or links it to—the canvas. As the viewer
approaches it, the painting changes and the dialogue between it and
its observer is enriched. From a distance, the colours merge in an
iridescent, chaotic, and hypnotic dance of colour. Lines, points, and
curves converge to create a seemingly comprehensible—but elusive—
language. At this distance, the eye perceives the image without being
able to fully grasp its content. The main impression is one of abstraction,
but as one approaches one begins to perceive a definite composition.
So the viewer is drawn to take a closer look at the work.
Close up, the initial impression becomes more clearly defined, the
message clearer, and the painting’s humanity becomes evident to the
attentive viewer. The points, curves, and lines are so many arms, heads,
and movements, which, from a distance, appear to be motionless. Now
everything makes sense and the wealth of detail is apparent. As a
distant observer, the eye becomes actively involved in the scene it is
beholding. Drawn into the heart of the crowd, it becomes acquainted
with the men/points and women/curves that inhabit this world: many
individuals lost in the mass, an abstract mass that swallows up people,
if the viewer remains at a certain distance from the painting. Living,
restless individuals emerge from the rich, coloured mass. Clothilde’s
world gradually comes to life: men and women who open their arms to
us if we move towards them … there is much to be seen in Clothilde’s
canvases ‘if you take a closer look’.
‘Inhabited’ is the euphemism that comes to mind when
describing Clothilde Lass erre’s work.
People… Other Directions
‘Inhabited’ is the euphemism that comes to mind when describing
Clothilde Lasserre’s work. But her people do more than just inhabit her
paintings—they embody it. The artist’s crowd scenes and the people
that inhabit them have an iconic dimension that is capable of existing
in other worlds like the word paintings by Ben (Benjamin Vautier,
a French artist) and the minimalist frescoes by the social agitator,
Banksy. The painter does not consider herself a contemporary artist,
even though her work has an undeniable and extremely contemporary
dimension. And this dimension would be expressed more forcefully—
and become even more pertinent—if she began expulsing her people
from her canvases, and returned them to their natural environment.
Her crowd scenes are designed to pervade the urban environment,
and her figures leave their mark on materials and supports that echo
them, and reclaim the modern world they embody on the canvas.
Clothilde Lasserre devotes herself to her work through the language
of oils and pigments. And tomorrow? The universality of her work may
assume other forms and her message may strike a resonant chord in
other areas. She may never feel the need to explore these unfamiliar
areas, but it is nonetheless true that her art has multiple dimensions. It
is not just painting—it is a pictorial mise en scène of a sentiment that is
fundamentally contemporary because it is eternal. Baudelaire and his
crowds (‘It is not given to everyone to plunge into the multitude; to take
pleasure in the crowd is an art. The man who is unable to people his
solitude is equally unable to be alone in a bustling crowd.’) This echoes
contemporary sociological thought and the notion of the crowd and
solitude has become even more pertinent in our digital era. Clothilde
Lasserre expresses perceptible truths in various forms—the future will
decide which direction she takes her work in.
Copywriter: David Khun
Translation: Jonathan & David Michaelson
Artistic Direction: Stéphane Gautier
Special thanks to Stéphane, Virginie, Valérie, Bruno, Stéphanie, Catherine, Patrick // Frédéric, Laurène, Romain and Simon, Gramy, Mamète, Isabelle, Bene, Ft, Guillaume, Héléna for their unwavering support // Juliette, Serge, Carole, Thierry, Martine, Jean-Pierre, Vanina, Olivier, Sylvie, Benjamin, Philippe, and all those who care for me day by day …