Featured Artist: Clovis Rétif

Clovis Rétif

Clovis is a French artist living and working in Brussels. He obtained a degree in Spatial Design and first worked in the field of architecture before turning to drawing.

I’ve always loved nature and solitude, yet I have always lived in the city, this anonymity has become a source of inspiration. The role of an artist is to speak of the world through him, to speak of his world. To do this I draw on subjects that are part of my personality and my philosophy, my work speaks of natural balance, creative solitude, the present and the future and the difficulty of projecting oneself into a frightening future. Through my drawings, I try to express my dismay, my fears, my dislike but also my wonder and my perception of beauty.

“After I started my artistic career, it took me a long time to free myself from the imposter syndrome, it was important for me that people see that I work hard and that my drawings require patience and rigor.”

Can you tell us a bit about your background, where you are based now and your art practice?

After my studies, I worked at a global design agency, then I created an art agency and only after that I started drawing. Since this became my job there have been many changes in my life, I moved a lot and today I live and work in Brussels, although Paris remains close to my heart and I return very often.

Did you always know that you wanted to be an artist, how did you start out?

I didn't always think about it, I started by studying advertising but very quickly I redirected myself towards architecture and design. After my degree, I opened an art and event agency, the goal was to put forward young creatives through multidisciplinary events but I ended up realising that if I spent so much time helping young artists it was actually because I was afraid of being one myself. What I was doing for them was in a way what I would have liked to be done for me, so I moved to Montreal and that's where I decided to be an artist and do the one thing I've always loved: drawing.

Clovis Rétif

Do you remember the first art material you were given or bought for yourself? What was it and do you still use it today?

A a pencil, to learn perspective and shading, but the first material that really got me was Promarkers, the idea of being able to work with color so easily appealed to me and at the time I wanted to become a Roughman (who do sketches with felt pens in advertising agencies). Today, I use them less because they are less necessary in my current style. The pencil, on the other hand, is and remains my medium of choice and I use it daily.

Your work has a great balance between looking almost photorealistic but still retaining the quality of the gesture of the artist, is that something is important to you?

That's a very good question, I am myself very sensitive to figurative art, the visible work of an artwork attracts my eye then forces my admiration. To tell the truth, after I started my artistic career, it took me a long time to free myself from the impostor syndrome, it was important for me that people see that I work hard and that my drawings require patience and rigor, but I think that I naturally went in this direction despite the analysis that I make today.

Clovis Rétif

How do you decide your subject matter?

I started by working on two series of drawings, the first one "Contemporary Solitude" was about the fact that I am someone who loves solitude but that paradoxically I have always lived in big cities and that I ended up noticing that the only places where I found myself alone were the bathrooms and the toilets, so I drew taps, sinks, bathtubs, a large quantity of objects that we see every day without paying them any attention.

I think it was at that moment that I materialized my interest in the banal objects of everyday life. Afterwards I drew many other subjects, whether they were part of a series or not. I also have a great interest in archives, I like to go and look for unpublished or rare images in flea markets or in the depths of the internet that I could exploit in one way or another.

You have an interesting background for an artist, how does your background in architecture influence your art practice?

I don't know if it directly influences my work or at least I'm not aware of it if it does. But it remains an important interest, it doesn't necessarily show up in my technique or in my subjects but in a lot of other projects that are not exclusively directed towards drawing.

Clovis Rétif

When we visited your studio, it was surprising to see that you have digital and analogue processes because it is not obvious from looking at your drawings. Can you tell us more about the relationship in your work between digital processes and drawing by hand?

The digital side is quite recent, I bought an iPad Pro at the beginning of my residency to avoid carrying a computer when I go back and forth, but I discovered the immense potential that this tool could have for certain types of projects. It’s obviously not the heart of my work but there are certain orders or projects on which I save a crazy amount of time thanks to it. I often reassure my father and grandmother that digital will never take the place of hand drawing, but that it is just an additional tool.

When we spoke at the Drawing Factory, you talked about the everyday things around us, how does that play a role in your choice of subject matter?

As I mentioned above, objects do have an important place in my work. In fact, I like the idea that someone (me in this case) spends days and days drawing an object that is naturally uninteresting to people, which becomes so because of the time I spent on it. And it's finally in an exhibition you'll spend more time looking at a bathroom sink than every day at home.

Clovis Rétif

What is it that draws you to work in the colour black so often?

Like many artists before me, I saw in black an application beyond binarity. To get to deep black is to go through all the shades of gray that are the representation of shadow on paper.

Light gives rise to everything we see, therefore the deepest shadow is devoid of color and relief, it is here that it takes on its real dimension because without these elements there is no palpable reality. The shadow draws our material world. In the absolute, there is only need of the shadow on the light to understand the physical world.

Do you have a favourite drawing material? What do you like about it?

The black of my pencil being my absolute shadow and the white of my paper my absolute light are my favourite materials, I like the idea that I only need a lead on paper to be able to represent any idea on earth. The conceptual and technical simplicity of the medium fascinates me.

What was the best thing to come out of the Drawing Factory Residency and how do you think your work developed during this time?

This residency was a real boon for me. What stands out the most when I think about it is not necessarily my work, but more the encounters. I don't come from the art world, I didn't go to art school, I learn a little more every day how this world works and being surrounded by artists who are all older than me in age and career has opened me up to new perspectives and new knowledge of the milieu.

Clovis Rétif

What was the best piece of advice you were ever given, and do you have one piece of advice to share with an artist just starting out?

There is no one great piece of advice because obviously everyone is different, but the one that helped me the most personally is a sentence that I repeat to myself at night when I go to bed and the morning when I get up: "No one is waiting for you if you don't do anything, nothing happens". I remind myself that I’m the only master of my future and that I must impose on myself a rigorous work schedule in order to reach my goals.

Are there any current or upcoming projects that you are happy to share with us?

I’m currently working on a new series called "Bride", which deals with the notion of memory and childhood. I’m preparing a multidisciplinary exhibition with my designer friend Hugo Travaux for the beginning of the summer called TERRE VITAM. I'm also preparing a virtual exhibition with my friend the 3D designer Sebastien Baert which will be a completely artistic conceptual space, from which I’m sure some ‘NFTs’ will be generated.

To learn about Clovis Rétif and see more of his work, you can see more on the Drawing Lab and follow him on Instagram here.

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