Olivier HUARD lives and works in Marseilles (France).
His work has moved in stages towards increased densification and simplicity. In Huard’s most recent paintings, it is plant life that reigns supreme, while the human presence is fleeting, timorous, almost an afterthought, illustrating our absolute dependence on sovereign nature. Certain figures seem to refuse to remain within their lines, creating an uncertain and unstable reality.
These landscapes are a testimony to the force the living world, its strangeness, violence and eroticism. Painting no longer imitates nature, but rather draws on its inherent vitality to corrupt any narrative discourse.

Interview with P. Allard – Summer 2018

In Eden, your latest collection of works, primitive nature in particular vegetation is brought to the forefront. Humans and animals are much more discrete. Were you aware of this hierarchy ?

Yes, it’s true that my paintings from late 2017/2018 do depict singular landscapes where nature is all-consuming, a bit like Douanier Rousseau, where foliage is overabundant and tends to crowd out the human element. I wanted to create gardens “glutted” with life, primeval or post-apocalyptic landscapes where nature has reclaimed its rightful place. The tremendous vitality of plants, the way they grow, their inherent beauty…are all exemplary. You have to see for yourself how quickly a wisteria can send forth its tendrils and silently enlace a wooden post, see the force with which it patiently crushes it. You have to see for yourself the resurrection of a dying tree when young shoots emerge from the dead wood.

Interview with P. Allard – Summer 2018

Until recently you were working with scarified paper, making incisions with a utility knife. It was long, absorbing work that required a certain form of isolation. Could the inks and gouaches we’re now seeing be a sign of a lighter, more open period?
When I was scarifying, it could take many days or even weeks to finish a piece. There was a certain pleasure in feeling cut off from the rest of the world and not seeing the time pass.
As for the inks and gouaches, these techniques do give the impression that the work is easier—quicker and lighter—even if this is hardly the case. But the physical lightness of the paper, the liquid inks and colors do give me a feeling of greater freedom—to take chances, to make mistakes—and the urge to keep moving forward. It’s this type of impulse that drives me to take the leap without necessarily knowing what’s up ahead.

In Eden, your latest collection of works, primitive nature—in particular vegetation—is brought to the forefront. Humans and animals are much more discrete. Were you aware of this hierarchy?
Yes, it’s true that my paintings from late 2017/2018 do depict singular landscapes where nature is all-consuming, a bit like Douanier Rousseau, where foliage is overabundant and tends to crowd out the human element. I wanted to create gardens “glutted” with life, primeval or post-apocalyptic landscapes where nature has reclaimed its rightful place. The tremendous vitality of plants, the way they grow, their inherent beauty...are all exemplary. You have to see for yourself how quickly a wisteria can send forth its tendrils and silently enlace a wooden post, see the force with which it patiently crushes it. You have to see for yourself the resurrection of a dying tree when young shoots emerge from the dead wood.

In your gouaches and paintings, the vivacity of the colors adds vigor and exuberance to the vegetation, while the Indian inks are highly contrasted. Would it be right to speak of a certain exorcism?
For me, what is exotic is what is foreign, what is different, what calls into question our comfortable conviction that what we know is the only possible truth. When I was a baby discovering my world, I’m sure everything must have seemed very exotic to me. As a boy, when I visited my grandfather who was an archeologist, his house was filled with many curiosities, particularly African masks, that I thought were exotic. And I still find the many different forms of life on Earth exotic. Animals with two eyes and a mouth are of course familiar to us, but it’s true that the plant world is incredibly bizarre. Something I try to convey in my work, without always being conscious of it, is the inherent strangeness of reality. In this respect, I see a certain affinity with artists like Peter Doig, Adrian Ghénie, or Malcom Morley. Morley’s exotic palette of colors immediately removes you from your daily life. Ghénie starts with collages to compose his landscapes. In my most recent works with ink, I insert ink cut-outs from different works, a process I call “coupé décalé.”

But what exoticism can possibly remain in today’s world?
That’s a big question...but two ideas come to mind. Very soon now, when the last few remaining tribes in the Amazon forest have been wiped out, there won’t be any alternative references left, nothing left to nourish our imagination besides the conquest of Mars. The lives of everyone on the planet will be rigorously programmed, and we’ll have devised solutions to exist without nature. This future is much more probable, and much more terrifying, than the imminent apocalypses we constantly hear about.
The second idea is that artists may, in their own way, have a role to play in the defense of alterity. The painter embarks on a highly personal and solitary adventure, and pays a heavy price for freedom—the freedom to dream, to imagine, to ignore the dictates of the system, to be left behind—unless, on the contrary, the painter becomes the tiny grain of sand that jams up the works in the infernal machine that’s leveling the world into one flat expanse.

What is Saint Sebastian doing in your Eden?
Throughout history, Sebastian, like many other saints, has been utilized in a variety of ways. Certain Renaissance painters portrayed him as a young ephebe, while in the twentieth century he was a gay icon for many artists. But initially he was a Roman soldier, with a story open to many interpretations. Here, his decomposing body nourishes the plants that have begun to grow over him, illustrating the force and intelligence of nature, its ability to assimilate and digest whatever gets in its way.

What are the colors of your Eden?
The acidic, almost fluorescent colors of certain plants reflects their latent toxicity: pyrophytes, killer algae, aggressive pollinators, communicating trees. Eden is not necessarily welcoming; with or without humans, the garden remains wild and untamed.

Extract from Jean Klépal « Olivier Huard, today » – scarified papers

First comes the background, created using the “all over” technique, a more or less uniform distribution of colored pigments covering the entire surface of the paper, with no depth of field.
Next comes the long and meticulous task with the utility knife, scraping the paper, incision by incision, directing the blade as it etches away at the surface, similar to drypoint techniques used on copper.

Olivier Huard, Today

A text written in 2009 for an exhibition in Marseilles at the Galerie Mourlot spoke of Olivier Huard’s “intertwining universe,” reflecting on the fact that the drawn line was predominant in the artist’s work at the time.
Today, although drawing remains just as essential, the desire to fully immerge himself in his paints and move beyond the guided line is just as pressing.
The exhibition in Cassis offers the best of both these worlds. Two intricately linked, intricately balanced outposts that the artist visits at different times during his work.
The arrangement of the works at the exhibit clearly charts these journeys.
The text from 2009 ended as follows:
“This is a determined artist, always mindful of the goal he has set: to continue down the pathway that he has now made his own. He has carefully steered clear of the calculated styles that currently curry favor, as if he wants to remain in a quiet corner of a noisy room. Another good reason not to let him out of sight.”
Nothing more need be said.

Paintings

Abundance aplenty. And an added delight: good things come to those who wait, as it takes time to grasp the wealth of meaning here. When the visitor fails to see a painting, we know full well it’s rarely the painting’s fault.
What we discover is clearly the fruit of slow distillation, far from the spontaneous splash-dab painting that is currently in vogue. Painting is serious business, to be taken seriously, and requires time for reflection and maturation.
First comes the preparation, the layers that are stripped away, like old memories, or left in peace on the canvas. The painting becomes a voyage, both temporal and spiritual.
Colored fragments and preserved layers disrupt the foreground, create tension and resonance, extend an invitation to embark...
On our journey we’ll encounter echoes from diverse origins: Surrealism and André Masson, Matisse, and quite possibly German Expressionism. All have been convened in a scintillating bouquet, where they are joyously evoked and transformed. Huard certainly knows many of his predecessors, has gathered from many a flower before making his honey, and deftly tends the rows in his own secret garden.
The stunning blue of Grand fond (Seafloor) both irradiates and fascinates as it directs the flow of a moving estival dance, awash in memories. The painter is a maestro with his palette.
The azure Crique (Cove) takes shape in a festive outpouring where Guillaume de Machaut and Paolo Uccello may have been invited by a surreal Aeropagus. What a pleasure it would be to join them.
Rousseau, why Rousseau? No matter, the evident influence of Matisse is a source of pure delight. Here is life, depicted in so many ways. Luxe, calme et volupté?
The Collectionneur (Collector), so calm and sure, revels in his colored dreams. Another world appears at his fingertips. And why not at ours as well?

Scarified Papers

First comes the background, created using the “all over” technique, a more or less uniform distribution of colored pigments covering the entire surface of the paper, with no depth of field.
Next comes the long and meticulous task with the utility knife, scraping the paper, incision by incision, directing the blade as it etches away at the surface, similar to drypoint techniques used on copper. Pointillist spaces slowly appear and shapes begin to form–for this exhibit, primarily the interplay of hands, statuettes and fantastic masks. What Seurat and Signac first ushered in through the accumulation of colored dots, Huard now pursues in the opposite direction, by scratching off small points of color.
Nothing comes easy; the eye has to adapt to its new environment, to voyage down unknown paths and discover its own clues along the way. The painstaking labor required to complete each paper is also required from the observer. The work comes with its own prerequisites: a certain vision and time of reflection to render each nuance attainable.
The series depicting hands–a recurring theme from the first paintings at Lascaux and continuing up through the Renaissance and to the present day–forms a fascinating ensemble. Each one seems to be telling an ongoing story that continues outside the frame, and that each observer must discover on their own.
In traditional Indian culture, the mudra-–symbolic hand gestures–form the alphabet of life (Main 3/Hand 3).

The dancing hands (Main 5/Hand 5) may evoke the bharata natyam, a classical dance from southern India, as well as La Danse of Matisse.
Or might these scarified images on the walls be geophysical metaphors? One of the works (Main 1/Hand 1) may evoke a coral reef in symbiosis with its environment. Everyone now knows how fragile these delicate objects are.
And then an old memory surfaces of Fernand Léger’s studies of hands–rough hands, bearing the marks of manual labor–for his magnificent painting Les Constructeurs (The Builders).

The courage to depict a hand, in its totality.

Jean Klépal – March 2015

https://youtu.be/p906xsADfv0