Through speculative imagery, artist Théo Viardin creates a visual universe inhabited by mystical, humanoid creatures. Their bodies, colossal and somewhat alien at first glance, reveal a certain fragility and sensitivity upon closer inspection. Despite the external differences, we recognise ourselves in the melancholic looks of his figures. Inspired by philosophy, science-fiction and based on a deep concern about the future of our planet, his works allow us to have a taste of hope in an environment of uncertainty. Viardin's work speaks of light and darkness, utopia, otherness, change and a human connection that seems stronger than all of the above.
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First off, could you present yourself to our readers?
My name is Théo Viardin, I live and work in Paris. At the moment, painting is what I do the most. I tried to work with other materials but it is already very hard to make a good painting so I prefer to focus.
How does your background as a graphic designer influence your practice?
I was a graphic designer for some years before doing painting, with a strong particular interest for type and shape design. It surely has influenced me, mostly with the will of conceiving structured and balanced compositions. I also frequently did studio photography where I had to set up the lights in order to give a certain feeling to an object. I think in some aspects it connects a lot with my painting practice.
Who are the figures we see in your paintings?
I can’t really answer this because I just don’t work this way. To a certain extent, this is a very narrative question, and I think anyone can project a personal story or interpretation on a painting. From my perspective, I paint these figures much more for what they carry than for who they are.
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What can you tell us about the recurring colour scheme you use?
If certain colour combinations come up often, it's simply because I feel them to be balanced, and they create a serene feeling. It's interesting to see that colour pairing preferences vary a lot from person to person, it's something very subjective.
For the past 2 years, I've been painting the figures with very dark colours. In this way, I tried to induce an active gaze from the observer. From a distance, you can almost only see the silhouette. You then have to approach and enter into a certain intimacy with the painting to perceive the details.
I read that you are interested in future scenarios with utopian and desirable characteristics, yet there is something rather somber and mysterious about your work. What can you tell us about that?
You are right, I think there is currently something at play with the comeback of utopian narrative and I find it thrilling, even if it’s not directly connected to my paintings.
Your question raises several themes at once. To give you an answer, something desirable does not mean being one hundred per cent positive. In fact, a desirable event would arise most of the time from something that could be described as ‘bad.’
In The dispossessed (1974), Ursula K. Le Guin, a science fiction author whose writings particularly inspire me, presents an alien humanity living in the austerity of a desert planet. Somehow, the anarchist society imagined in this novel could in many aspects be described as an utopia, and the hostility of its living environment is one of its conditions.
Positive stories don't have to be naive, in the same way that an appeasing painting doesn’t have to be pastel colored, or that uplifting music sometimes contains its share of violence. Good art is very much about contrast.
The figures in your paintings seem colossal, yet they convey a certain sensitivity and fragility in their looks and gestures. In what relationship do the characters stand to each other?
This is very up to each one. This isn’t really how I work. I think giving my painting too much identity and narrative could be hindering. I like to paint group scenes because sometimes I want to convey a protective feeling through the painting and representing multiple figures is convenient for this purpose. Also I think it’s interesting to go beyond individualisation.
You were talking about the shapes, and one notion that I borrowed from science-fiction and that I try to incorporate in my paintings is posthumanism. It is a system of thought aiming to open the category of humanity, so that it is no longer excluding but inclusive, especially of other forms of life and other body forms.
It’s creatively engaging because it allows new body appearances and configurations, much more connected to perception. I try to paint figures that feel as beautiful as they’re weird or scary by painting different, altered humans. It helps me to focus on what emotionally connects me to them.
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Can you share some insights on how you prepare a new body of work?
I used to have a process, but I'm not so sure anymore. My recent ideas stemmed from readings that evoke instinctive images in me. Most of the time, I work in series growing from one drawing that I feel strong. Then I paint multiple paintings at the same time. I like to work this way because it allows the paintings to be coherent and to respond to each other. Then also to quickly transfer a good idea from one painting to another while keeping the flow, the instinct.
What other artists inspire you?
In painting, Francis Bacon was surely important, for the brilliant contrast of sweetness and violence in it’s figures, but also various others... Pablo Picasso of course, H. R. Giger, Paul Gauguin, Nicolas Poussin, and many renaissance painters.
But inspiration comes from so many things in life that it’s very limiting to restrict it to art. For example, I find a lot more inspiration in reading philosophy than in art at the moment. Also, I connect a lot with hopepunk in anticipation. It is a subgenre that would see hope, combativeness, positive feelings and community spirit as realistic and enviable alternatives to the majority pessimistic conformism. It's surprising to notice that today punk isn’t on the side of ‘no future’ anymore but actually on the side of those who hope.
What’s next for you?
My next solo will be at L21 Gallery in November 2023. I also have other projects that I might take part in, but it’s still in discussion.
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