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Question 11: Which artists or artistic styles have influenced you? How does this play out, in concrete terms?
The artists that influenced me, initially, was, when I was in Paris in the 1960s, Soulages, his large paintings, with large black lines crossing white surfaces – I was overwhelmed, stunned that a painter could create this type of painting. Traditionally, there was always a picture, a landscape, a portrait, a still life. Here there was only this streak of paint. This was an enormous influence in terms of my concept of “painting”. Afterwards, from the 1950s, Rauschenberg’s installations which he called “combines”: a painting on the floor planted with a goat, a tire placed around the goat and a lick of paint on the goat’s nose. This was tantamount to the artist giving me permission to go beyond the idea of “paint only”. The idea that a painting could be in three dimensions, that you could put what you liked into it, that was an important influence. Cy Twombly with his graffiti and his child-like, but oh-so-elegant gesturals. On series after series and for years, he worked using this same graffiti. It seemed like ballet to me, incredibly elegant. And it also gave me permission to include my own graffiti, my abstract drawings, in constructing a painting. These were the painters that gave me leave to do something other than to dip my brush in paint and smear a canvas. Someone gave me permission to take a pencil and to scribble as I used to do when I was little. And the whole tradition of childhood could be allowed in building a painting. All graffiti as well, and all the symbols that we use. Antoni Tàpies is the greatest ‘matierist’ painter in the world, so with sand and gravel on his paintings, his large surfaces done in beeswax, he was also a painter that gave me permission to use other materials. That’s why I found this interesting. The link I created with them was mostly one of gratitude, telling them, it’s great that you’re allowing me to use these materials by the fact that you did so before me. They became sort of my guardian angels, you know guardian angels that are all around me, telling me, yes, you have the right to do that, when I'm trying to develop an approach, I don't know, a series of paintings, they are all there; you have the right to do that. It's much more in that direction that I have a lot of admiration and respect for these artists, through this emotional tie that I feel with them, because they have done this work. This also allows me to use parts of the work they did or to use their kind of materials. Anselm Kiefer crushes things onto his enormous paintings that I saw in Bilbao or at the Guggenheim Museum. There must have been a three-inch layer of branches and leaves that were woven with steel wires through the canvas. He actually works on canvas instead of wood panels. I found it surprising that people of great culture such as these would use ordinary materials, tree branches, in paintings that were hanging in the world’s greatest art museums. I found it incredibly poetic. It surprises me and also gives me permission to use materials… There is a lot of fear, when you’re from a small culture such as Acadie, of doing things that have not been accepted in your own culture. I didn’t have the chance of living with artists in my studios throughout my life, because there weren’t any. There were a few in Montreal, of course. But to work in huge studios as Kiefer did, in sprawling former castles, where he does photography in one studio, in another he paints and still another one is for sculpture… this is not how we usually work here. This seemed as an incredible creative opportunity. These people have an enormous influence on me just because they have the capability of living and working the way they do. Just as when you listen to Bach. In his music, Bach gave permission to the world to create this kind of music, to build these musical patterns that we still find compelling. He made such a large contribution to the faculty of intellectual elaboration and that brings me pleasure and empowers me to create. All the painters have influenced me, from all over the world. I’m interested in everything that is done in the field of creation and of course, life itself has an influence on me because I’m completely in the living at all times. Artists are my predominant influence, painters especially but also poets and musicians.