I met Véronique Nérou through one of her paintings, which mysteriously popped into my consciousness through Googleplus, a web application that I don’t understand and can’t use and have had the pleasure of sorting through canvases one more pre-possessing than the next. Véronique and I had a conversation in the Bal Perdu this past winter. What follows are the things that struck me as I later wrote out notes of our talk.
Now living beween Thailand and India, with Paris as her port d’attache, Nérou determined early to become a painter. She made her way through the famous Ecole nationale supérieure des beaux arts de Paris partly by sketching portraits in the street. If nothing else, she told me, her experiences made her aware of market realities.
As a person and artist, Nérou looks to painters René Laubiés and Josef Sima. European by culture but born in Morocco, French by nationality but living a good part of his life in Kerala (India), Laubiès, who began working as a painter in Paris in 1949 and died working as a painter in Mangalore in 2006, is known for “abstract landscapes” and he is promoted as an ascetic, probably because of his strong India connection.
A friend of poets and poetry, Laubiès also proves that the wide world is made up of small, intimate circles that join together those of us who are apparently strangers. Laubiès, as well as friend and mentor to the painter sitting in front of me, whom I did not know existed sx months ago, was a friend of Black Mountain poet Robert Creeley. Creeley was a professor of mine; he taught me how to love poetry as well as all about William Carlos Williams in the late 1970s.
As I sit listening to Nérou, I notice that someone has left two books on the cluttered bookshelf behind her: a guide to Southern India and an idiot’s guide to quantum mechanics.
Laubiès was an aesthetic disciple of Prague-born Josef Sima, who worked in Paris from 1921, dying there in 1971. Like Laubiès, Sima was a friend of poets. These, founders of a surrealist-associated review called Le Grand jeu, of which Sima was artistic director, included the French-language poets René Daumal, Roger Gilbert-Lecomte and Roger Vailland. They were, as Sima was, less fascinated by the esthetic impact of the bizarre and more genuinely fascinated by human beings’ sublime connections with the cosmos to which we belong – André Bretton read them all out of surrealism fairly early on. Sima is best known for his painterly interest in the archetypal and symbolic qualities of painterly representation.
TD: With all this inspiration from footloose post-war cosmopolitans and your fancy triangle of home-spots, what makes you an especially European artist?
VN: ‘European’ is for me the taste for moderation (mésure) and balance (équilibre) in technical presentation. Also, and more abstractly, the taste for thought (pensée) and rightness (étant juste)…
TD: Is there a “progress” or “movement” toward some sort of “perfection” in a visual artist such as yourself?
VN: As a visual artist you don’t really see “things”, you see masses, lighting, diagonals, straight lines, I don’t know … ovals. When it comes down to it, when I am doing ‘figurative’, I am already doing abstract …
What I am trying to say here, really, is that in my work I want to go from “telling a story” to doing only an “image”.
I had always thought a story painting, a ‘narrative’ painting, so to speak, was more commercial or something… people are said to love a good story, whether the story is a landscape or a person or whatever.
But I found that finding an image, a purely visual representation, is really the key to painting for me. So I think “progress” means really to do what I have always been doing with more simplicity, more straightforwardness and strength.
TD: If there’s no story and no progress, what is this image made of? How can an eye make sense of light, mass and lines with no story-line to organize it? And, evidently, my eye does force narrative sense from you images: your works are recognizably landscapes…
VN: What do I paint if I am locked up? The walls and the bars of the prison. What else can be the support of an image if not the world around? The point is the search, to be rich with little: not to show rich, to be rich.
Painting a ‘story-less image’ is about painting the interior light of object and subject, whatever the frame might be. There is in this image an intensity of being to enjoy – .
You’ve said, “Make paintings to better admire the world around”. Me, no, that’s not something I would say for me.
I would say, I give the best of myself to my painting in order to enable a visit of myself…