Raphaël Barontini is a collage lover who he grew up in Saint-Denis, in the northern suburbs of Paris. After graduating in Fine Arts, he studied at l’École Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and at the Hunter College of Art in New York. He loves to play with digital printing and screenprinting, ink, and acrylic on sewn or perforated fabrics. The result is absolutely spectacular.
He explores different historical and cultural symbologies with a mixed language. Installations, paintings and textile works challenge the monumental while questioning the imagination. Barontini does not hesitate to generate new hybrid mythologies of forms and genres. From European court portraits to African and Caribbean ancestral figures and rites, all of them have a place in a universe in continuous miscegenation. Everything hybridized, the collage born of the Vanguards with contemporary digital techniques and textile manipulation to defend, with his art, a creolized vision of the world.
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Your work as a visual artist comes from your willingness to exceed the classic codes of painting. It is also full of visual and cultural references of the past decade in which classical and contemporary languages mix. What attracts you the most about it?
My pictorial work is embellished with layers of influence from my childhood. I grew up in a family with a vast cultural backdrop, from Europe to the Caribbean and Africa, which continues to influence my practice. The cultural hybridity and constant movement present in my early life growing up in a northern suburb of Paris transform my ability to create new narratives, new worldly images and ideas. The technical aspects in much of my collage work are reflective of modern and urban hybridity.
Collage, digital techniques, spray, painting… You use many techniques and you’re not afraid of any of them. Also, the support and installation seem to be very vital for you. Could you explain to us your working techniques? What materials do you use to carry out your works?
I think today, painting offers a wide range of techniques, from more classical (painting, watercolour, ink, airbrush, etc.) to others like printing (silkscreen and digital prints). I try to mix them in order to create my own technical process that overlaps painting, photography, and textile forms. My collagist practice is a way for me to include photography in the painting process through silkscreen printing. Computer tools and programmes are also part of my practice as a painter. Layers and layers, step by step, my works assert themselves through a multitude of possibilities and open opportunities.
The choice to work on pictorial pieces outside the classical form of stretched painting stands out in my work. It allows me to be evocative, a viewer of other imaginaries, other traditions, and play with another theatricality. I transcend the Western vision of a classical painting to work on banners, flags and tapestries playing with iconographies and evoking folk traditions. I think my obsession is to create paintings that can be in movement, living, and are activated outside the white cube into the streets.
We live in the era of fast art. Do you think that respect for the image has now been lost?
I agree, the flux of images is now constant, even in the art world. Some collectors are following trends for a few years and then they move on to the next. It’s fast art, fast everything. In my opinion, I still believe in the power of art to feed people with imagination, sensibility and a resurgence of senses. Perhaps I am a little bit romantic, but that’s my honest opinion. As an artist, the art practice is also a long-term statement. For me, a good piece has another temporality. Art permits contemplation, open questions, open point of views.
Sometimes, when I have conversations with collectors, I am happy to see that some of them have a very personal story with my pieces, and after years go by, can continue to think of new interpretations. I think art has that kind of power. But to answer your question more precisely, I’m not necessarily sure to be respectful with all the pictures I use, but I choose them because of their content, their symbolic meaning. The choice of silkscreen printing is also important. I use that technicality of printing because it acts as a trace, with a screen squeegee, like an apparition from the past in the present.
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Space is quite important in your practice. How do you plan the installation of your work?
Most of my installations are made for a specific space. When I know the space I will exhibit in, I start to think of the best option to create an original narrative – and when I can, be monumental! It is also a way for me to develop new ideas about possible ways to show paintings in volume.
If you had to name three great masters of the world of art, and especially of painting, that have influenced you or continue to do so, what would they be?
I would say Robert Rauschenberg, Romare Bearden and Sam Gilliam (sorry, only men…). Rauschenberg, because I started to look at his work before I began art school. I am passionate about his poetic use of silkscreen printing in deconstructed compositions and his ease in combining photography and painting. I continue to find new and interesting aspects in his work. Romare Bearden is an African-American painter and collagist from Harlem (NY). I discovered his incredible work when I was a student in New York.
I was so impressed by the way he represents simple scenes in daily life in Harlem hoods in the ‘50s and ‘60s. He transcends this atmosphere in a beautiful and oneiric way. His series Black Odyssey is mind-blowing. Lastly, Sam Gilliam, the one and only… who was neglected in the ‘dominant’ History of Art because he was African-American. This artist from DC is a true master for the artists of colour when abstraction became something absolutely strong, theatrical and essential.
In addition to the more ‘material’ pieces you make, you’re also a performer. Have your performances been inspired by any specific performer?
Not really. Actually, weirdly enough, painting brought me to performance. I would say I’m more interested in specific collective moments. I have always been passionate about folk traditions, practices like the Caribbean carnivals, the voodoo ceremonies or secular traditions in Europe. Also, these kinds of practices carry political and historical symbolism.
Imagining performances is also a way for me to make a tribute to momentous historical figures as I did last fall at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah (USA). I imagined a parade in honour of Frederick Douglass (an African-American man and abolitionist who fought against slavery) entitled The Golden March, A Living Monument. For this parade, I worked with the Savannah High School marching band. The idea was to evoke the strong tradition of Black School marching bands in that part of the US and bands who were created during the Civil rights movement.
“The choice to work on pictorial pieces outside the classical form of stretched painting stands out in my work. It allows me to be evocative, a viewer of other imaginaries, other traditions, and play with another theatricality.”
Integration and diversity are very present in your work. What responsibility do you think art and artists have in the face of egalitarian issues and how should these issues be deepened?
I don’t know if I really work on ‘integration’ as you mentioned. For me, artists have to face certain issues and be political when we have to. We have to be acrobats in order to not become just politicians but to find an artistic or poetic way to give our vision on our world. Personally, I try to show a more complex vision of our history and see how this aspect has an impact on our contemporary times. Working on the different modes of representations in art history, you discover that art has been seen from a Western gaze for centuries.
I try to deconstruct the dominant storytelling to imagine mine, more plural; yes, more mixed. Giving space to other narratives from Africa, the Caribbean, and also other types of representations where societies have been through slavery and colonisation. Also, to understand that Africa, for example, has amazing centennial civilizations that deserve to be more known and studied and powerful roots almost everywhere thanks to its diaspora.
I will also add that the vision of the French Caribbean philosopher Edouard Glissant about ‘creolization’ is also important to my practice. It gives a conceptual space for reflection on what could be a surprising mixed culture, deep and diverse. Taking example from the insular area of the Caribbean, where different layers of migrations and traditions created a rich and unique creole culture.
What is the biggest difficulty you have encountered since you started as an artist?
I would say giving time to see your work be visible and understood. Sometimes, you have the feeling that people are waiting to see what your work will be without supporting it. I really believe in as many strong and long-term artistic exchanges as possible with young curators or critics from my generation who supported my work since the beginning.
Something you would like to do and not yet done?
Do a performance during the Rio de Janeiro carnival!
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Something you would never do?
Stop creating.
Finally, tell us what projects are you currently embarking on and what you will present in the near future?
I am now in Singapore in the LVMH Métiers d’Art residency. For a month, I have been in a crocodile leather tannery owned by the luxury group making work. I will be here for the next sixth months. It is a specific residency where artists have the opportunity to create a new body of work and develop new pieces with the particular techniques of the factory. I am working on these new creations involving techniques that I discover day after day. I can mention that this new series will mix textiles, painting and leather. I will exhibit these new pieces with LVMH in Paris next fall. I am also preparing two solo exhibitions: one with my new Chicago gallerist, Mariane Ibrahim, and another one in Istanbul with The Pill.
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