(Shadows of cities and silence) By Faye Nasser
I could not imagine that those wet stairs close to the bohemian area of Hackney, East London would lead me to a large and diverse studio of the works and artistic creations of London-based French artist Hervé Constant.
The artist Hervé invited me to visit him in the studio, as part of an Open Studio, and interview him. It was a sweltering summer’s day last July, and as soon as I entered that big cellar-like studio, I called it the “artist's den,” as he completely forgets what is happening in the outside world.
The studio is filled with paintings, books, indoor plant pots, statues, paint brushes, recording objects, and other personal belongings of the artist.
It may seem, at first glance that this studio/cellar is full of many scattered things, but on closer inspection, looking at the walls, they are filled with paintings, though he made sure that the place remains tidy and far from fragmented. It is however the style of a distinctive artist, in his life and in his works, as well as in his voice and appearance.
We recorded an hour on my mobile phone between a question and answer and a discussion of artistic opinions, plus a moving talk about individual experiences, art, poetry, cinema, and other topics. Instead of writing down that interview, I found myself drafting a short story (I do not know how to end it yet) about one of his works and his distinctive deep voice, with which he reads Arthur Rimbaud's poem.
When I asked him what the purpose of his art is when you are a multi-style artist, moving between paintings, videos, printing, and reciting poems, he responded saying: “It is complicated for me; I was looking for love and attention and a wish to be loved, as if the child who experienced the loneliness and cruelty of an orphanage was still screaming inside me for love and attention.
"I was born in Casablanca, Morocco, at the beginning of the fifties, a Moroccan mother and a French father moved to France at the age of five after my parents’ separation and lived in a shelter for a few years during my childhood. I was alone and experienced loneliness and difficulty communicating with others.
At the age of seventeen, I worked in a car repair shop in the southern French city of Toulon, and one of the employees was the director of the Conservatory in the city of Toulon. He suggested that I study at the institute, and this was the door that opened in front of me and has not been closed yet, and it was a door to literature, music, and art. I then studied theatre in Paris and worked as an actor in several theatres, but I was always visiting art exhibitions and the Louvre. I was drawing and copying artists such as Anton Kirchner, Paul Klee, Max Beckman, and others and kept photos of paintings in the folds of my books. When I came to London, at the beginning of the eighties, I wanted to study art and theater. I could not get a scholarship, so I started making drawings and paintings as a new direction. I knew that is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
And so, my transitions from music and theater to visual art followed. All art forms are intertwined.”
Hervé Constant's paintings are dominated by abstraction and there are shades of symbolism, expressionism, and even surrealism. There is also the artist's realistic eye that captures simple consumer objects and isolates them. He puts them into a different environment to give dexterous symbolic dimensions that approach spirituality and suggest the vastness of the space of silence in the life of modern humans, as in the tablet of scissors, open onto a dark background, a landline telephone sitting on a chair, a doll sitting in a chair. The artist himself is not interested in classifying his style and he declares that there is an idea and personalization in the world of good even if it seems abstract, it is important that the work of art is good and original.
I asked him about his interest in the French poet Arthur Rimbaud. Hervé made a certain number of paintings based on his poetry and four were bought and are on display at the Rimbaud Museum in his hometown of Charleville/Mezieres, France.
Hervé Constant painted a large-scale portrait of Rimbaud dying, inspired by the drawing made by his sister Isabelle while she was with the poet in a hospital in Marseille. Rimbaud, in this portrait, does not look like Rimbaud the flashy young man we know, but he is the man who is looking defeated and dying, his hat looks like the head cover of the peasants in Egypt. Not only that, Hervé Constant recorded his voice to Arthur Rimbaud's famous poem "The Drunken Boat" in a wonderful and very expressive short film published on YouTube. (8) LE BATEAU IVRE by Herve Constant - Dedicated to Arthur Rimbaud - YouTube
Hervé Constant says: "I identify with Rimbaud and share his human experience. There is a great deal of alienation that brings me together with Rimbaud, a good reader of his poetry and a follower of his life and travel, and there is a life similarity between us, we both were born to French fathers. Arthur Rimbaud’s was a French officer who served in North Africa, Algeria.
We both missed the existence of the ‘Mother.’ We both moved into the unknown early on to solve the mystery of self-alienation. Rimbaud is my artistic inspiration; I am still moved by his poetry, producing my artworks both directly and indirectly.”
Hervé Constant's portraits are not just about Arthur Rimbaud only, but also of the French poets Verlaine, Tristan Tzara, Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Celan, but there is no personal portrait of the artist despite his varied works.
He recently participated with the British poet Alan Price in a joint artistic poetic experiment by publishing a book of poetry entitled "Bewilderment", written by the poet in response to or as a poetic reaction to the paintings by the artist Hervé Constant.
I chose one of his paintings that embodied a suitcase, ready to travel without a traveler and I told him "This painting is a personal portrait of you". He smiled and told me the story of how the suitcase was thrown against the window of his studio, one autumn evening years ago: "It seems that the suitcase, after the thieves took its contents, threw it against my window. I then found it to be a good suitcase and it kept accompanying me for several years in my travels"
I really told him it is the best personal portrait for you.
Faye Nasser / London 2022
Hervé Constant is a London-based French artist whose work has been exhibited in London, Paris, Istanbul, the Venice Biennale, and other venues.
STUDIO: Link to virtual tour embed in webpage: https://joshuaakin.com/work/open-studio-with-herve-constant