It begins in the studio, that secret place, hidden, concealed in a yard. And it’s not just a studio: it is a place for life, work, writing, painting a place where everything mixes up, piles up. Each door opens on piles of photo, painting sketches, works in progress or completed, innumerable drafts, lying on the floor, waiting for the next working session. The first impression is astonishment, a feeling of proliferation, abundance, submersion: this is how I felt when I entered this universe for the first time.

Just to outline the environment, and expose the swarming, the oil smells that create the works. The artist seizes the canvas or the photo, elaborates it, leaves it, comes back to it. The construction is slow, but the gesture is lightning. This is how the painting, canvases or painted photos are born. As for the photographs, they are taken elsewhere, in the streets, squares, landscapes… with outdoor sensations, people, air. The painting is born from isolation, in the light of a headlamp. In this space, the artist is confronted with himself and through his paintings, he restores the images of this soliloquy.

Whereas the photographer tells us about the others, the steps aside, as if he doesn’t want to reveal anything about himself, he hides behind the others’ images to avoid speaking of himself or to only show snatches of himself through the others’ faces. The others are his meal, his ‘feast’. He confesses his culpability when he says ‘I am addicted to people. I devour people’. If photography is an art of playing hide and seek with truth and one’s self, on the contrary, painting is a revealing and stripping game. François-Marie Banier is not an exception to this rule.

He has been recognised as a talented, intuitive photographer with this remarkable sense of catching the instant that is so characteristic of his photography. In this text written for François-Marie Banier’s exhibition at the Kunstverein of Stuttgart ‘Private heroes’, Hector Bianciotti acknowledges this talent for appropriation: ‘The 1991 exhibition at the Centre Pompidou was the revelation of a photographer who, since his childhood, had been trying to appropriate everything within his look, all that fascinated him’[1]. This is why the pictures he takes of personalities are never stereotypes imprisoned in their role, but familiar pictures. He catches Françoise Sagan, lying on her hotel bed, Kate Moss and Johnny Depp sitting at their breakfast table, Samuel Beckett walking on the beach. All these photos bear the nature of simplicity, and of when you catch a friend in a moment of intimity and abandon. Regarding this, François-Marie Banier underlines: ‘Most of my models are artists and I share their lives, they are friends whose world I like and admire… I am aware that our complicity forces me to reveal a face, words they would not know without me’.

This complicity and consent have given birth to photographs, snapshots revealing on the one hand, the model’s strength and courage, and on the other hand, the artist’s talent. The photo of madeleine Castaing, those of Madeleine Renaud and Jean-Louis Barrault or the 1998 portrait of Nathalie Sarraute come to my mind. Beyond Art and aesthetics, these photos express life instants, instants of persons who have grown old and show the marks of old age to the photographer’s eyes filled with avid emotion. They trust him a lot, but they know François-Marie Banier’s emotion so well, when they open up to him, they know this bent woman trudging along rue du Bac in Paris, or this old man crossing Bond Street in London. ‘Taking pictures means writing a face, a body in a definitive eternal way’[2], says François-Marie Banier who has been at war with Time for so many years, as if he had a score to settle with it. He writes: ‘Strangling the passing time. Grabbing time by the throat for ignoring our pains, our desires, for ignoring the passing of time. In the crowd, taking, catching profiles, shadows, this started resistance, the trees walking as long as they can stand, remember, standing arches, attached to me for the moment. These old flames are still strong, moving, never alone any more, and standing for ever’[3].

First come joy, happiness, then come souvenirs, nostalgia, and then the cruelty of the passing time and the questioning about the changing faces. François-Marie Banier catches the instants when time, stopped, strikes in an instant the harmonious delicate young faces bound to become those craggy faces furrowed by the passing or hours, day and years. He seems to be obstinate in an attempt to measure and decode the passing time, in search of its secret rules. Proust was trying to go back in time through the sensation memories, François-Marie Banier tries to decode it through the process of photography. Yves Saint-Laurent, Nathalie Sarraute, Françoise Sagan, Silvana Mangano… lent their faces to this periodic analysis leaving behind lots of pictures that characterise life sequences, becoming a period of time in their succession. Life would be shot put together… or aren’t these shots a means to understand life. François-Marie Banier, as a photographer as well as when he writes is trying to set down the intuitions of a moment when some mystery of life seems to be popping up. ‘Taking pictures, he says, to save the few things we understand in what we see from vanishing, even if some may say: that’s not the way it was’[4]. Thus, the inner beauty and remarkable force of some characters is revealed. For instance, Nathalie Sarraute fell in more than once with the artist’s game. He tries to find her and often represents her sitting, in her bed. But what a wonderful woman she is in this 1998 photo, monolith worthy of a portrait by Bacon or Lucian Freud. This may be the picture in which she is the most ‘wonderfully human’, as François-Marie Banier puts it: ‘This indefinable and wonderfully human something defying the pen as well as the most realistic brush. Curiously, the photographer is able to catch up with this indescribable aspect’[5].

François-Marie Banier as a talented photographer is incredibly intuitive, the light, the composition build up the setting; catching the subject is always the true finality, catching the moment ‘when the image leads the camera’[6]. He tries to catch personalities as well as anonymous people he meets on a street corner, or in a garden. A park, a mountain, a block o houses… Everything becomes a pretext and ‘everything depends on the moment when you take the shot’[7]. The street is François-Marie Banier’s favourite hunting-ground, and he travels across the avenues of Paris or London or Sarajevo with his camera, always ready for an encounter and to get taken away by the other.

Photography is first and foremost the other, it is also ‘the fight with truth, with emotion’, as François-Marie Banier says, but it never means being confronted with one’s self – or so little, nor with true freedom. The model dependence, the possible eventuality related to the other, the liberty frustration probably led François-Marie Banier to painting: ‘My painting is just me, so I can do everything’.[8] Painting is also a more unconscious act, more attentive to chance, to which the artist gives himself up deeper and deeper. This rather unusual expansion for a photograph appears in François-Marie Banier’s work, like the accomplishment of a revenge through releasing shapes and colours. He paints his photographs like he paints blank canvases; he expresses himself the same way: urgently. ‘I paint on the brink of death. As if I were forced by something else. Under pressure. Urge. An urge I can’t restrain nor control ’[9]. His painting has no room for any institutional particulars, it is free of any representative contingency, and looks more like a visual writing that can translate what the mind builds up out of what photography shows in every day life. To such an extent that the free proliferating writing swarms into the paintings’ composition, telling many stories, a thousand possible stories taking shape within colourful constructions. His painting burst out, in signs, strokes, rushing gestures, vital urge that form childlike characters, coloured deserts, stories to laugh or cry upon…

Since the beginning of our century, some have claimed for this freedom to create a picture language and I think François-Marie Banier is one of these artists who like Dubuffet created a pictorial language out of their works, conveying sensations, emotions and suggestions. To be more touching, works such as C’est toujours le même problème, Partageai même ma femme or Aime-moi need ‘inscriptions, instinctive lines by the human hand’, as Dubuffet said. Reflection and thought are predominated by the spontaneous and physical relationship between the material and the canvas. François-Marie Banier’s works are the result of the imperfection of the living and acting, of spontaneity, movement, urge. Like a child, he invents the drawing as if he were the first drawer, as if art were not a search for perfection but the expression of a will to assert oneself based on rebellion and destruction. Rebellion against the pre-built pictures of photography. François-Marie Banier invades them, destroys them, unrespectful of the models they reproduce, he reinvents Isabelle Adjani, he touches up Mick Jagger or Ray Charles… many photos, many subjects to be painted. The result is unique and surprising: out of this exuberance come Sunflowers, whose luminosity no photo can render. At the same time more real than reality, but as far from reality as we can imagine, this is the language born not to represent the object (as it was pictured or imagined) but to show the sensation, the feeling the subject can communicate. Mental landscapes like La Plage de Copacabana, where air and nostalgy are suggested through a few blue strokes, basic signs representing space and time.

But unlike his freedom enamoured predecessors, who broke taboos and challenged systems (see Dubuffet’s quotation), François-Marie Banier doesn’t pretend to defend any doctrine. Unlike Dubuffet, he is not a painter who means to theorise and claim for a certain independence facing dogmas and theories that may sometimes be too academic. No, François-Marie Banier is simply a painter, with all his spontaneity, emotion, sensation. The language he speaks is a primitive kind, with signs without a precise symbolic but that of communicating feelings and impressions.

His stroke is very simple. He crosses, breaks up, dissects the bodies and rudimentary shapes he invents, he stretches the letters, the sentences that swarm over the painting, as if all these elements were nothing but some basic material designed for another story, the story of a larger, more universal cosmos that would concern something else than Man’s story… the story of the life generating magma. Titles such as So you believe in human beings, sometimes raise questions out of this chaos, like refusals to be or to recognise oneself in these hastily sketched drawings. Stories about men, Les quatre agresseurs du Gendarme Mobel, Des yeux de braise, stories about the universe, Soleil rouge, stories about colours, Bleu sans mots, Traces sur fond jaune et orange… The whole work expresses an appetite for life. Looking at these photos, we can’t help thinking of trash art, and the misappropriation some affichistes, like Raymond Hains or Mimmo Rotella, initiated. These photos, torn from their initial function become subjects, supports and pretexts for another language. The link between Rotella’s Marilyn Monroe and François-Marie Banier’s Naomi Campbell is that they symbolise two different periods. Torn effigies, ousted idols, one being the contesting of a period, which symbols she rejected, in a way, by magnifying them. The other asserts herself in the recognition of those models, by making them common-place.

François-Marie Banier’s world is multiple and contrasted. From realistic fiction that his photos show to the representation of immaterial emotions he throws over the painting, he makes us travel, meet anonymous beings or giants, cross unknown lands. We’re willing to follow him through this dream labyrinth, in between myth and reality, joy and pain, youth and old age. We wander, among the biggest contrasts ever, dealing with absolute opposite, almost lost between ‘Apocalypse’ and ‘Innocence’,[10] as Hector Bianciotti says.

 

[1] Hector Bianciotti, about the exhibition ‘Private Heroes, photographies, photopeintures, peintures’, Kunstverein, Stuttgart, 27 November 1998 – 17 January 1999, in Le Monde, 2 January 1999.

[2] From ‘Le Déclic’, in François-Marie Banier, exhibition catalogue, Pinacoteca Do Estado, São Paulo, June-August 1999.

[3] From ‘La vie de la photo’, in François-Marie Banier, exhibition catalogue, Pinacoteca Do Estado, São Paulo, June-August 1999.

[4] Ibidem.

[5] Ibidem.

[6] Ibidem.

[7]  Ibidem.

[8] From ‘Le Déclic’, in François-Marie Banier, exhibition catalogue, Pinacoteca Do Estado, São Paulo, June-August 1999.

[9] From ‘Peindre’ by François-Marie Banier, in ibidem.

[10] Hector Bianciotti, about the exhibition ‘Private Heroes, photographies, photopeintures, peintures’, Kunstverein, Stuttgart, 27 November 1998 – 17 January 1999, in Le Monde, 2 January 1999.

François-Marie Banier the primitive

by Dominique Stella


This text was written by Dominique Stella, published by Mudima on the occasion of the release of the exhibition catalog François-Marie Banier which took place at the Triennale di Milano & Fondazione Mudima in Milan from the 6th of May until the 30th of July 2000.