What are your earliest memories of art in your life?
Art, and more specifically colour, was very much part of my Parisian childhood. My dad, Jean-Philippe Lenclos, is a world-renowned colour designer. When I was a child, he worked a lot, either on his colour design projects, his colour teaching at ENSAD in Paris or the books on colour in vernacular architecture he wrote with my mum. I don’t remember seeing my dad without either a coloured pencil or a brush in his hand. At weekends he took us to museums, which of course we thought were mostly boring. But his enthusiasm and eternal curiosity for visual stimuli obviously eventually got to me.
You worked in film prior to returning to your art, what influence do you think your film-making experience and skills have on your work?
As a documentary video maker, I got used to framing things all the time, even without a camera. I’d be walking or cycling places and suddenly see something and think: ‘that would make a good shot’. Now, I see something and I think: “there’s a painting in that”.
My approach is to trust and capture that moment of seeing when lines, light, colours and shapes all fall into an order that makes sense to me. The result I’m looking for is a unique stillness in the urban spaces and architecture. My paintings are like long exposure photographs, intensifying colours and removing traces of people and activity, allowing the observer to contemplate the interplay of colour, light and form in the physical environments we inhabit.
Your work is identifiable by its treatment of light, lines and colour. I wish I could see the world through your eyes. Do you immediately see your street scenes and bridges as you portray them, or do you have a particular process?
Yes, more or less: when I am stopped in my tracks by a specific arrangement of urban lines, shades, shapes and light, I see the potential for a painting. There is an order that makes sense to me at this exact time, to do with what I see of course, but also how I feel at that precise moment: I am receptive to that beauty and that way of seeing.
The vision has to be lifted at that moment in order to be interpreted, so I take photos with my phone, almost in urgency. I’ve learnt from experience not to ignore what I see and put it off for later. It may never come back.
The painting itself develops over the drawing stage, where I make marks on the canvas with a biro. Reality is simplified, and perspectives become my own. Then I spend a lot of time on the colour, the gradients and the light, working and reworking areas in relation to each other.
What draws you to paint the trees in Brittany, when you’re in France?
My dad has this loft studio in his house in Brittany. It’s a long, thin room with a window at each end. The best window, or what I used to think was the best window, oversees the garden, and a bit of sea is visible in the distance. That’s where my dad set his easel, and where he works if he is painting.
Five years ago or so, when I started painting again, the only space for me was the other window side, a dark, small corner, stuck between the sink and a photocopy machine. I struggled there for a few years, doing still lives mostly, until one day I saw the trees out of my small, low window. Their majestic lines loomed over the village’s houses. Their shapes detached themselves from a sky of many lights. The colours in their impressive mass changed all the time, capturing the time of day, the tone of the unsettled weather, the sunlight and shade.
Now, that’s all I paint when I am there. Each time is a challenge: they are hard to draw, their power escapes me. I am never quite happy with the result, so I try again. And again.
I like repetition. Painting the same topic will never give the same result, particularly if taken from life. I am trying to do the trees justice, each time, with honesty and humility. I feel helpless in front of these pine trees and that’s a good feeling to have when creating.
How many hours a day do you spend painting, or planning/creating?
I paint everyday and the current lockdown has made even harder the concept of a life/work balance. The minimum time required to ‘get anywhere’ is a sitting of 5 hours. But sometimes that stretches to 8 hours. The rest of the time is spent doing social media, marketing, planning, applying for shows or grants. It’s a full time job!
What motivates you to pick up your pen/brushes and start a new canvas each time?
What motivates me is a clear feeling that there is always more to do, more to explore. One thing leads to the next, and my favourite thing is being able to follow that thread without worrying about what others expect of me.
My Life In Art – Marie Lenclos
- First piece of art you bought Since the lockdown, I have been taking part in the wonderful Artist Support Pledge on Instagram. It’s allowed me to purchase art from many contemporary artists I follow and admire. My favourite piece I bought is by a Royal College of Art painting student called Sholto Blissett. It’s an oil painting depicting a small bit of green mountain landscape dominated by a huge cloudy sky. It invokes evasion, nature, mystery and is technically superb.
- If you could own any piece of art (even if you have to rob a bank or museum!) what would it be and why? Gosh. There are so many. I am mostly drawn to figurative art that hits me at first sight, giving me joy and sadness at the same time. The latest piece to do that was in the superb National Gallery in Prague, in the Trade Fair building. I went to Prague with my family, to visit our daughter who’s studying there as an Erasmus student. This museum has one of the most beautiful modern art collections I have ever seen. It was physically painful to go through room after room of treasures and my heart ached with a mixture of yearning and discovery. The piece from there I’d happily rob and hang at home was the 1922 ‘Landscape near Sosice by Gejza Schiller, a Hungarian Impressionist and Modern artist I’d never heard from. It depicts a simple landscape with trees, a couple of small houses and a clouded blue sky, and is very Modern in facture and style. The main colours are red, blue and green. It is joyful and tortured in equal measures, with strong lines, movement and light.
View a selection of Marie Lenclos’ stunning works here.