Entering Corentin Grossmann’s chimerical universe
For the French artist Corentin Grossmann, drawing is a way of dealing with reality by adding a touch of the imaginary and letting chance do the work. After a childhood full of stories and drawings, he entered the Beaux-Arts in Metz. Inspired by the nature in which he grew up, as well as the imagery of the first video games he had access to as a teenager, he developed a work rich in forms and colors that evokes the universe of Flemish primitive painters as much as the Surrealists.
How did you come to draw? What is your artistic background?
Like many children, I loved to draw. Some encouraging signs led me to develop the practice. I finally did a university course in art and then entered the Beaux-Arts de Metz by equivalence. One thing is certain: I have always been inhabited by melodies and images that I used to parade in my head as a child before going to sleep.
What are your favorite tools? Your work stages?
My favorite tools are certainly pencils, mechanical pencils that retain their precision without having to be sharpened, and erasers. Then comes the airbrush. The choice of paper (its grain) is just as important. These tools allow me to develop all sorts of textures that are essential to my aesthetic. What my memory retains are the materials, the rocks, the smells, the lights… For me, drawing is a way of rendering what I have stored. There is not really an established working process; or if there is, it is to leave the possibility to chance and the unconscious to interfere in the work at any stage. My drawings can seem pre-constructed when I don’t usually sketch or draw. I don’t have a specific idea either, it may simply start with a coloured background or the outline of a space. Often I create surfaces by penciling and allow time for the shapes to come. I draw standing up, moving in and out dozens of times per session. There, in the swarming of the surface, the grain or the coloured vibrations, I see characters, plants or minerals appear. I think I have developed, in the manner of certain surrealists, a style of writing that allows chance and the unconscious to enter through the gaps I create. It’s quite paradoxical to alternate between phases of control and abandonment, as if the technique allowed me to relax, but in the end it allows me to let my work go beyond me. And that’s probably the most important thing for me.
You seem to have an overflowing imagination… Where do you draw your inspiration to compose such works?
My sources of inspiration are very diverse, even heterogeneous, but I don’t perceive them as such, as the capacities of our minds are so limited. I don’t see them as such, so strong is our mind’s capacity for assimilation and integration. Born in 1980, I played the first screen games from the Far East and was fascinated by the promising future of scientific progress. I was allowed to grow up in contact with nature, animals etc. My family has certainly passed on various components that can be detected in my work. A grandfather who was a pastor, a grandmother who wrote poetry, aunts who were musicians, a great uncle who was a priest, teachers, pedagogues and my parents at France Télécom… Current events also stimulate me a lot (sexuality, ecological issues, music…). With time, there is a form of inertia in the imagination, one drawing calls for another but above all there are redundancies that structure my work and my desires. For example, Corn was first a graphite drawing made around 2010, then a ceramic (Corn II) then a small format (Corn III). With each occurrence of the corn motif, I develop a different meaning or network of meanings. The same goes for butterflies, birds in pairs, houses, religious buildings… This allows me to support the polysemic dimension of a motif according to its context but also to connect my drawings and make them work together, beyond the periods. By dint of this, I have the impression of developing a parallel mythology. I find my pleasure in proposing alternative images, in looking for new versions of what we know.
You have subsequently developed a ceramic practice, how do you explain this shift from one practice to another? And how do the two feed each other?
My interest in ceramics initially responded to an almost physiological need to diversify my gestures. In other words, drawing as I practice it, if it is a passionate act, is no less tiring because of the repetitiveness of the gestures and the tension it induces in the eyes, the right arm, the hands… Ceramics rebalances me and replaces nervousness with fluidity. The desire for volume is obvious in my drawings, as I am obsessed with modeling, shading of forms, perspectives. I also had a fascination with the then emerging 3D in games and films as a teenager. However when I started in ceramics, around 2013, I felt like I was starting something again. You don’t model like you draw and while I was quickly comfortable with modeling techniques, clay has its own behavior to contend with. I always follow my intuition and I see, as with drawing, what comes out without forcing it. I soon found myself making animal creatures and human heads with a rather primitive dimension. There is a kind of ease in giving life to the earth. From the earth spring supernatural creatures, deities, gri-gris, fetishes… As with drawing, I have the impression of making things appear, rather than inventing them.
What are your future projects?
I’m just finishing a piece at the Carmignac Foundation on the island of Porquerolles for the exhibition “L’île intérieure” curated by Jean-Marie Gallais. I will now focus on my next solo exhibition in Paris at the Art: Concept gallery.