Interview with Herve
- December 2003
Author Debbie Ellison
What is it like to be an artist in the 21st century? What
drives a person to dedicate his/her life to the one goal of
being creative and producing works of art?
This interview tries to explore the psyche of being an artist and the
drive and determination needed to succeed as an artist in this
century. This interview does not attempt to discuss the validity of
Hervé's art but more to understand the goals and aspirations of the
artist himself. 1. Being an artist in the 21st century where materialism is
rife must be difficult. What motivates you in keeping focused
on your work? A work of art is a gift, not a commodity….Every modern artist who
has chosen to labour with a gift must sooner or later wonder how he
or she is to survive in a society dominated by market exchange.
And if the fruits of a gift are gifts themselves, how is the artist to
nourish himself, spiritually as well as materially, in an age whose
values are market values and whose commerce consists almost
exclusively in the purchase and sale of commodities?
Lewis Hyde, The Gift
A Une Femme, 1999 Encaustic on Panel, 50x50cm private
collection, Cologne Germany
HC: I think that as soon you have made a choice, a committed choice in any field it is a point of no return. It becomes just a one way of living. It isn't a separated commitment and dedication; it becomes a prime decision in one's life, a kind of obsession. Now, to say that materialism is rife in the 21st century is actually pushing it a bit too far, since materialism has been a reflection of any society in any century. Materialism is very much integrated into the fibre of any culture, past and future. My motivation is a reflection of a deep interest, a sense of discovery, which leads every time to new research in different fields.
Obviously, art does not do the same thing, epoch after epoch, merely changing its style; its function varies enormously from one society to another. Art has always interacted with the social environment; it is never neutral. It may reflect, reinforce, transform, or repudiate, but it is always in some kind of necessary relation to the current social structure.
There is always a correlation between society's values, directions, and motives and the art it produces.
Being an artist is like a return to a primary stage, a child like sensation, an excitement. If I didn't have that drive and decided to stop I would simply feel bored and lazy. The drive to create is like a drug where I can immerse myself into art without much explanation or reason. A bizarre impression, a feeling of a spiritual stage. “La
Raison d'Etre” to be in this world -placing a stone to humanity, to
build and participate in the community.
DE: Do you think art enables the discovery of oneself? And that the discovery can never really end - as the human
psyche is always evolving and changing? What has this
motivation and drive taught you about yourself?
HC: It is obvious that the main interest of being into the Arts is to undergo self-discovery. This discovery is probably the most enjoyable part of art; knowledge through travel, books, meetings etc..I feel I am very lucky as Art gives me the possibility to travel to some very exotic places such as Havana, Cuba (for the Festival of Digital Art), Seoul, South Korea (Biennial 1997) Exile art in Copenhagen 2000, St Petersburg, Russia (Biennial 2001), Alvar Aalto Museum, Jyvaskyla Finland 1996, and most recently to Vilnius, Lithuania (Artist's Book exhibition and touring 2003). These travels have been a strong part of a self-discovery process. To mix and talk with different nationalities, see different behaviour and values makes one ask many questions. My main interest is to keep that curiosity and questioning alive. Life is full of surprises; it can change your perception of things, attitudes and characters.
Sous le pont, Oil on Canvas, 30x20in, 1979 private collection France
What is so important amongst this discovery is to keep in mind the humanitarian side of life. We are in this world for a short while. Therefore nothing is worth taking too seriously. “Flaner” (stroll) through to our destiny, maybe is the description. Gathering information through our “Pilgrimage”, make the most of it. Becoming better towards our neighbours, more human and kind. This motivation has taught me to concentrate to the maximum, to live fully in a certain puzzle and structure. Being aware of what is most important to my life, to give time and resources all to a given goal. In return, this leads to a fulfilment, peace of mind, being at peace with myself. Of course, those remarks can and might certainly be interpreted as very selfish and self centred. But, since the end result is our behaviour in a community, a society, I find it very, very important to feel fully satisfied, at peace and fulfilled. If it is not the case, the relationship with the world would be false, bitter and aggressive. The end result of this aggressions can very often be what I notice: a strong will of purchasing and a, vacuum of unhappiness. I am personally convinced that a great interest in a
materialistic world is a reflection of a missing satisfaction of a
2. Self-motivation obviously is a key motivator for your work.
What other influences motivate your drive forward as an
Tyre Tracks, digital photo 2003, 20x16in
HC: The more difficult it becomes, the more it challenges me to
touch my own limits and potential, to see what point in myself I can
reach. The Viennese psychoanalyst Otto Rank once wrote (in 1932)
about the artist - “His calling is not a means of livelihood, but life
itself…he does not practice his calling, but is it.” Today, however,
whatever we do, we are supposed to do for the sake of “making a
living”, and the number of people, especially in the artistic and
intellectual professions, who might once have challenged this view
has notably decreased. Self-motivation can be generated by the life
of some other artists. A certain way of living I respect, an attitude.
Their special commitment towards their work.
In a sense, what it all comes down to is that everything depends on
the quality of the individual. For we are what we are devoted to,
and what we are devoted to motivates our conduct. I do not believe
an artist gives meaning to his audience. What he may give is an
example of personal commitment to the search for value and for
truth. To recognize truth is not a matter of talent but of character.
Among the existential modes of truth telling are the solitude of the
philosopher and the isolation of the artist: this is what the modern
artist understood in maintaining an independent position as an
I usually work from a theme, which very often leads to produce a
new series of work. Therefore, for the last few years it has been a
continuous follow up of themes related to communication, poetry
especially from the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, symbolism of
objects and colours, Kabbala.
DE: I think this may sound patronising and condescending to
the majority of people. Not becoming self-obsessed and one
point focused does it mean you are less a quality of a person?
HC: I don't agree with that comment or rather, I would say to be
able to continue that commitment and dedication I need to make
abstraction of a certain reality. That reality might not be the outside
world reality. If I don't create my own world I would simply find it to
hard to keep my path. I need to make a choice. It is obvious that
my truth isn't the same as others, if you consider the different
background, upbringing, race, education etc..
There doesn't exist such things as right or wrong, winner or loser; it
is all relative. We need to pay the price for whatever we do.
Portrait of Arthur Rimbaud, 1992 Oil on Canvas, 46x38in,
Musee Arthur Rimbaud, France
I see the world in fact as a circle. Half of it is immersed in the water. The circle is a book our book. It turns at a different speed throughout our lives. In the end we all get approximately the same amount of experiences, bad or good. The major events in our lives are similar to all the rest of us in the world. Birth and death, unemployment at some stage. We all have in this world some
importance. We all are part of a cog of the wheel and are of some use. No small or big men. All are important to humanity.
3.On visiting your website http://www.Hervéconstant.co.uk,
it seems apparent that a large part of your work has a
subject of darkness, death and war rather than happiness
and celebration. Are these subjects close to your heart or
perhaps you find it easier to work within such powerful topic subjects?
Bones, Charcoal, 2001, 40x30in
HC: From the beginning, I have always liked the drama and the theatrics in visual art. I come from a background of theatre school; 5-6 years in total. I studied at the Conservatoire de Toulon for 4 years before moving to Paris to study at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Dramatiques, rue Blanche. That was for nearly
2 years. Therefore, when I started, my interests were based on such artists like Soutine, Goya, Giacometti etc.
I do like the idea of existentiality in art. Not being totally responsible for things around us. A kind of “Outsider”. We make choices, but they are very often imposed upon us. Also, since I come from a broken family and spent nearly 10 years in an orphanage, I am responding to my first few years in life. The lack of warmth made me more withdrawn from my contemporaries. Reading, walking and travelling alone. I was solitary, wild and difficult, that was very much part of my upbringing.
To study theatre was to search and try to mix more with other people and to become accepted. Apart from the idea of being loved - I wanted to discover poetry and plays and to appear in different stage characters. But the most important was the wish to discover a new world. Being part of a group, whatever the motives, didn't work for me. I was looking for honesty, genuine warmth; I came across insecurity, pretence and much hypocrisy.
Around that time, at the start of my studies in theatre I was very much interested in visual art, cutting photographs. I remember having one De Chirico being used as a cover of a theatre script. Another one used was a painting by Mondrian.
DE: It is said that art can be a form of therapy and I suggest that perhaps you have used it to exorcise the darkness you have experienced in your life. Indeed many psychologists use artwork in which to discover their patients' inner
thoughts. Do you think perhaps, that you may begin a self-nurturing phase in the near future, where you deliberately focus on topics more empathetic to the joys of life?
HC: I would say no more than a certain way of dressing could describe a personality. It seems evident that as soon as you put a line on paper or canvas it does reveal part of your person. The subjects, colours, themes are describing your inner thoughts. In the end I don't think we can lie, since a voice, attitude and aspiration all will be revealed. To say, things will change (I mean by that, the start of a self nurturing phase or more empathic topics) I can't say it won't be the case since it would be a mistake to say never. I believe our first step in life, our first behaviour, is the one to bring us to our last one. We don't change a great deal. It is true that we slightly change through our pilgrimage or “Chemin de croix” but the change isn't of much consequence.