A Wide Array: A Conversation with Cesar Piette on his New Solo Show in Beijing, China
It's been a little over a year since we originally introduced the buoyant works of the French artist César Piette and his 3D modeling software-based, airbrush-rendered, hyperplastic realism paintings (which now seem to appear brighter, smoother, shinier, and somehow even more plasticine). Masterfully using a delicate technique to create most subtle light and shadow luster, his work was presented in a series of notable group exhibitions, including participation in Sugarlift x Juxtapoz' ME: An Exhibition of Contemporary Self-Portraiture, and was recently included in Water Always Moves On group presentation at Almine Rech Gallery in Brussels. Last weekend Spurs Gallery in Beijing, China, opened an inaugural solo exhibition in Asia, presenting a new body of work entitled Array.
A specific method, often used commercially, is used everywhere from the automotive industry to photo retouching and tanning, enables Piette to fabricate remarkable surfaces, bestowing his imagery with the smooth, immaculate perfection of ceramic figures. The unique marriage of computer-generated imagery with the world of toys and cartoons, guided by craft and precision, creates a base for surreal paintings, indiscernibly digital print, photography, and painting. The recent use of such archetypal motifs as portraits, animals, still lifes, flowers bouquets, vanitas, or landscapes, flaunt experimentation and independence amidst the clean green space of Spurs' Gallery II venue. Curious to hear the artist’s thoughts about his newest body of work and the current state of his practice, we went straight to the source.
Sasha Bogojev: The newest work looks, impossibly, even more perfect. What methods and motivations do you use to improve or add to your practice?
Cesar Piette: I'm still unhappy with several things in my works. I think I can improve the presentation, surface, and painting itself. I'm searching for the right rendering but I’m still unclear on the way to achieve it. Also, I have to make some tests with varnishes and the edges of the paintings.
What are your goals when looking into perfecting these elements even further?
One of my goals is to create confusion for the viewer on what he is observing. Digital print, photograph, or painting. I just want to reduce the gap between these mediums. Lately, I've improved my highlights by removing the paint so the whole values and gradients are better, I guess. The illusion is a fight that is never won from the start. As I work part by part, because of the masking technique, I find it a hard task to reunify the parts at the end. I would like to paint like a printer - no hesitation from the top of the piece to the bottom! Cutting stencils is also something highly technical. I have read articles on Japanese masters who make makis (sushi), and they say that each time you cut them in small rolls it's a bit like if you were new to it, even if you did this for 20 years already. It's a bit the same with the stencils.
Is there a connecting thread among the works, and what are some of the sources of inspiration for this body of work?
Since I've started this kind of computer-generated work I think I'm still investigating the same subjects. When I decided to go representational, I needed some basic subjects that affirm the history of painting and thus register myself in a long tradition, as well as maybe do a representation of the world. So naturally, I have limited my subjects to the portrait genre, still lifes, nudes, animals, and landscapes. These are really the basic subjects when you want to do representation.
Is there a concept behind which imagery you use or are they randomly picked images?
Painting them in a random way allows me to not give any importance to a particular one. My approach is really formal as I try to focus on the basic components of the making of figurative painting. And second, I feel that I can approach these subjects in a more fresh way than if I was doing 12 nudes in a series for example. My modeling technique and painting have evolved since the beginning, so this way all the subjects evolve at the same time. When I will achieve the feeling I did enough, I could move on to something else.
So your practice is very much technique-driven. Where do you source inspiration for your subjects?
My inspirations are really the subjects that you can find in the history of painting. Since the start, I have painted portraits, sitting portraits, dogs, cats, standing nudes, reclining nudes, still lifes, sunflowers, flower bouquets, vanitas, trees, landscapes. I did not go very far to find these subjects. I think my way of painting is particular enough to just embrace tradition. So in a way, I am a traditional painter.
Was the green background at the venue your idea and do you plan to use this in future presentations?
To be honest, it was not my idea but a proposition from the gallery. With the global lockdown and its consequences, I was not able to attend the opening so we had to discuss the presentation via emails and Instagram. The idea for this kind of presentation in exhibitions is spreading and I quite like it. I don't know yet if I will use this in the future again. I’ll think more deeply about it but it's not an impossibility. For now, I want to stay focused on the canvas because the rectangle/square format on a flat surface is still the most challenging thing.
And why do you believe that?
Because everything has been done, so finding something new is quite a big deal. But yeah, playing with the environment can be a good thing too, and a track to explore.
What do you have planned in the near future?
I have a great group show at Almine Rech Shanghai in November, a piece at Westbund Art Fair in November also with Spurs gallery. If not postponed again, in February a group show in Seattle, and then a solo at Almine Rech London in September 2021.