What is your background? Interview recorded 27.02.90
Hervé Constant HC I was born in Casablanca. My father is French and my mother was from Morocco. In 1955 Morocco became independent and our family was forced to leave the country. We then lived in Toulon where I was educated.
NJ Your creative beginnings, was your training in the theatre?
HC Yes, I studied in Toulon, in the Conservatoire Nationale de Musique for four years, then at the École National du Théatre in Paris. There we were taught all kinds of things-theatre design, acting etc.
NJ You then worked in the theatre?
HC Yes, my last involvement was acting in ‘The French Revolution’ staged in the 1970s in Paris. It was directed by the same team who produced ‘Les Miserables’ in London.
NJ Were you painting at that time?
HC No, but when I was in drama school I became very interested in painting and used to visit shows.
NJ There is an apparent element of literature as well in your work?
HC That’s true, and my paintings may seem theatrical. In a way they are made like props.
NJ Your most recent cycle of paintings (exhibited at Knapp’s Gallery, Regent’s Park London in February 1990) has been inspired by the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud.
HC Yes, I started with the poem ‘Le Bateau Ivre’ (The Drunken Boat) by Rimbaud, written about 1871, and most recently I’ve been working with texts from ‘Une Saison en Enfer’ (A season in Hell).
NJ How do you develop the paintings?
HC I work out ideas on a small scale with many sketches. I simplify these to the end result, building layers of strong colour. I try to integrate a particular feeling into each of the colours.
NJ Which are beautiful and dramatic. You also incorporate intriguing symbols such as eyes and this coiled serpent, or is it a sun?
HC It is a spiral that takes the form of either a serpent or the sun, depending on the individual eye. I have recently been drawn towards a primitive influence. I am attracted by the graphism and direct simplicity of that kind of culture. Here we have a strange landscape of a desert in the night. Very often these paintings are made in two parts, divided as a third and two thirds with one area gaining precedence over the other. They are fairly classically composed.
NJ A central work in this series portrays repeats of the phrase ‘J’ai Vu’.
HC Again it is set off ny ‘Le Bateau Ivre’ by Rimbaud. The phrase occurs several times in his poem and I found it very striking; powerful and an almost pretentious perception for such a young writer. He was seventeen when he composed it and he brought the text with him when he visited the poet Verlaine and his wife in Paris.
NJ Do you ever return to original sources like your birth place, for motivation in your work?
HC I would like go back to Casablanca, though it has some bad associations for me. I think the unusual colouring in my work springs from my roots in Morocco and it would be interesting to further develop that.
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