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Interview with Louis Blondiau

Belgium born artist, Louis Blondiau specialises in landscapes, where the focus is on the eye of the beholder. Last year he was commissioned by London’s County Hall to paint a large canvas of a view of the capital. During the early stages of the painting, a terrorist attack took place on Westminster Bridge when a vehicle was driven into pedestrians, killing five. Blondiau’s final piece “Inside Outside the incident of Westminster Bridge’’ is a tribute to those victims.

Describe your process of working, how do you create your images?

I often start by using a reference image or a preparatory sketch to structure the initial phase of the work. Nearly always this reference image is transformed during the process of painting. And often the end result is very different from the initial idea. I try not to control what happens too much but rather am guided by what appears on the canvas.

Figures regarding a view are an important theme in your work, why?

In these paintings, I try to paint that fleeting moment during which a person becomes conscious of the sensation of being alive – conscious of their physical presence in the world. We all experience this consciousness at some point, but we rarely try to be intently aware of it. This is because our mind focusses on the external world: we constantly have plans, obligations, worries, and in the end we rarely reflect on ourselves as a body that is alive. It is a shame because this experience is often a positive one. Some time ago, a client who bought a picture of a figure regarding a view, told me that she watched the painting every morning and that it re-energized her day. This was the best compliment I could receive!

Why do you enjoy getting involved in the Artists’ Open House and the Dulwich Festival?

The first time I participated in the Artists’ Open House was in 2014 and I still enjoy inviting strangers into my home to see my work. There is something exiting about it. I see the Open House event as a metaphor for the creative process: to create anything, you also have to open doors inside you, and it can be surprising. I also like the contact with the public. Let’s be frank: not every visitor will be interested in the paintings, some participate in the event merely to have a look inside the houses, but I don’t care, and actually I understand this. Visiting a house is sometimes like entering another world, and therefore, can be seen as a creative experience, even if you don’t look at the paintings on the wall. I also like interacting with visitors who – maybe because of the intimacy of the place – seem to open up more than in a gallery.

Tell me about “Inside Outside the incident of Westminster Bridge” . What was the inspiration behind the painting?

“Inside Outside” was a commission from County Hall in London but I had a great deal of liberty in terms of its composition. The painting represents a view from an apartment. It was probably influenced by Hitchcock and Antonioni and their research on the ambiguity of what is being seen (in films such as Vertigo, Rear Window and Blow up). But I think the painting is mostly an attempt to give a sensible experience of the paradox of perception: what we see always varies with the viewpoint we choose. I knew that the painting would be hanged inside County Hall. I found that the large-scale of the painting in which the viewer would be surrounded by the work was an opportunity to explore the idea of observing something, while being a part of it. For this reason, I proposed to paint an outside view of County Hall. Since the painting will be hanged inside the building, I thought the viewer would experience the sensation of being inside a location while observing that same location from the outside.

Why were you drawn in particular to Westminster Bridge as a location?

The bridge was the place where the terrorist incident took place and I wanted to include it in the painting. It allowed me to extend the sensation of depth on the left of the artwork. The precise construction of the bridge and its stability formed an interesting contrast with the uncontrolled movement of the river.

At what point did you decide to reference the terrorist attack within the painting and why?

The incident took place shortly before I started the painting. I was impressed by it because I knew the place quite well due to the preparatory visits I had made. I was often thinking of the incident and of the victims during the preparatory phase. The decision to make a direct reference to the incident in the painting came gradually during the process of painting. I felt it was right to do so.

How do you represent the incident and the victims in the picture?

The incident is clearly represented, but I did not want it to take centre stage. I realise now that I may have been influenced by the “Fall of Icarus” a painting of Breughel that I admired when I was younger. The incident is represented by five figures standing on the bridge looking calmly at the bull. They are not worried maybe simply curious. The animal running on the bridge has an undefined nature – a mix of bull and wild boar. It represents the insanity of terrorism. There is also a bird rising from the Thames. The mother and the two children on the terrace could be an imaginary representation of the mother-of-two who died on the bridge the day of the incident. Despite being dead, she is alive in the memory of her children and her friends, and she continues, one way or another, to hold the hands of her children.

Westminster Bridge seems uncharacteristically empty with the exception of the ‘bull’, was this always intentional or did this come about post-terrorist incident and if so why?

Yes, the bridge and the city are intentionally empty. I wanted this in order for the viewer not to be distracted by the movements of cars or unimportant details. I wanted to create something quiet and serene, with great depth, from which the beauty and energy of London would seem to emerge.

How do you feel personally about this painting ? If each piece of artwork is a journey for the artist or a story told by the artist, I imagine that in this case the story changed from the original idea?

How I feel personally about the painting is difficult to describe. I am glad I completed the painting and I feel it has an internal coherence but I am not sure that I understand it completely. I produce paintings but it is to the viewer to decide on their meaning. You are right to say that the story changed because initially I did not plan to refer directly to the incident. I wanted to explore the concepts of interiority and exteriority. However, I don’t see it as a dramatic change: while the victims are sadly absent, outside our world, they remain present, inside our memory.

What can we expect at this year’s Artists’ Open House?

This year at the AOH I will show about 20 black and white paintings and 7 large landscapes in colour. The black and white paintings are the result of a new direction in my work that I developed in the last two years. When working on these monochromatic landscapes, my objective is to convey a strong impression of reality by offering a tactile sense of what is being seen. By focusing especially on texture and contrasts, I try to paint the visual sensations of what is being seen, rather than it “photographic” appearance. For this I use a specific technique: I start by applying a layer of black paint to a surface and then I etch into it and lift the wet colour to reveal the white surface underneath. The house will be open for the two weekends. On Sunday of each week end at 3pm, I will organise a workshop during which I will present this new technique and its potentialities. The workshops are open to all.

Open AOH 12-13 MAY & 19-20 MAY

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