Marie de Villepin (b. 1986) has an artistic practice that synthesizes an incredible breadth of inspirations and lived experiences. Predominantly abstract, her large-scale canvases recall American postwar painting but with a decidedly updated twist, owing to the influence contemporary life and events have on her creative process.
Currently, the artist is the subject of “Murmuration,” her debut solo show in Hong Kong—and first major solo in Asia—held by Villepin gallery. The exhibition features works on canvas and paper that reference sources of inspiration ranging from music to film to photography.
We reached out to Marie de Villepin to learn more about how music is involved in her creative process and what visitors can expect in the current exhibition.
Can you tell us a little about your journey as an artist?
I was born in the United States and grew up in India before returning to France to study science. Quickly, I realized that this was not for me, and I chose an adventure in New York. I created several rock bands in which I sang, composed, and wrote lyrics. At the same time, I filled notebooks with drawings that became more and more important until they formed the basis of my first pictorial work.
After several years split between New York and Los Angeles, I went to Paris in 2019 for a solo exhibition, “New Creatures,” before joining Poush Manifesto in 2021, an artist collective in Aubvervilliers where I currently have my studio. After an exhibition last year at Galerie Charraudeau entitled “The Lost week-end,” I was lucky enough to be sponsored by Anselm Kiefer to participate in the Prix Marin.
What is your artistic process like—where do you start?
I like to work on large canvases in successive layers. It sometimes requires several days of drying, which allows me to work in parallel on paper. I always carry a notebook and acrylic pens or colored pencils. I glue any kind of debris I find on my way to fix the moment. It is a kind of coded diary. I like to go from the canvas to the notebook. It allows me to change scale and to specify techniques or to develop others according to my needs.
I often take time to choose my canvases and to prepare them. There is an incredible variety in the fiber of the canvas, as if it already contained, in germ, all the diversity of the world. No two canvases are exactly alike. This creates a kind of dialogue with the material.
I try to multiply the possibilities by exploring mediums as diverse as possible: pencil, charcoal, pastels, collage, and, obviously, oil paint. I notice that the medium often determines the direction of my creations: figuration springs up more spontaneously when I use paper, and, on the contrary, abstraction becomes more obvious with canvas.
How would you describe the role that music plays in your work?
I try to engrave in my paintings a specific soundtrack. I would like people to look at my paintings as if they were reading a score, with notes that, when put together, would create an inner music. My notebooks are full of drawings elaborated to the rhythm of songs; often, they give their titles to my works. I have the impression that it is a way of transcribing authentic moments, of preserving them and sharing them. As in music, there is the repetition of motifs, the alternation of sounds and silences, a rhythm that gives a texture, that transforms the space.
Can you tell us about the works in the exhibition your current exhibition, “Murmuration”?
For this show, I was struck by these flights of birds, like the solitary crowds of our big cities—carried by dreams, instinct, despair, or perhaps habit… These collective movements have an echo in the political, economic, social, and cultural life. And therefore, each of the paintings questions a particular moment of the dialogue between the one and the many, the empty and the full, the color and the line.
To take a few examples of these recent paintings: (2022) evokes the sacred path of the Australian Aborigines, multiplying traces and signs through their rituals. (2022) seeks to measure the echo of violence, the shock of power brutalizing the world. (2021) unfolds through a quadriptych where the sky and the sea mingle and birds and water lilies merge in a kind of hymn to life.
What do you want the visual experience of “Murmuration” to be?
First, I would like to share the emotion I feel. What makes us choose one direction or another: why this change of course, this crack or break?
I try to combine the plans to bring out the essential and the accessory; what lasts and what passes in a permanent movement from one to the other. I try to link the big picture and the details, the individual life and the collective life. It is on the canvas that everything is decided. There are forms that haunt me and that come back consciously or unconsciously, like evening visitors: human silhouettes, birds, boats, forms on the move in a primitive nature not domesticated by man. But there are also footprints, traces in a world after the catastrophe. In the middle of all that, I try—with color, with the play of the lines and forms—to restore an order where life is possible.
Are there any artists that have influenced you the most?
Having lived in the United States for many years, I obviously drew a lot from its past. Painters like Cy Twombly, Joan Mitchell, and Philip Guston, but also painters of Art Brut, like Horace Pippin, Bill Traylor, or Henry Darger. It is true that the American culture rocked my childhood as well as my young adult life. I couldn’t escape music, either, from Junior Kimbrough to Kendrick Lamar, Nine Inch Nails, or Jimi Hendrix.
What are you currently working on? Are there any topics or ideas you want to explore?
One idea leads to another. It is an infinite work, like advancing in a labyrinth with the often-tragic interpellation of the daily news. I need to be in permanent contact with what surrounds me. I don’t want to lock myself into readymade images, I want to be available, to be surprised.
I have projects in France, the United States, and Asia, including an upcoming exhibition in Beijing in the fall. But I refuse to let myself be stifled by an overly restrictive schedule. I like to follow the cycle of moods and images. To do this, I don’t want to make too many commitments in advance that would force me to burn out the stages or repeat myself. I need absence, silence. Creation is a fragile thread.