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Person to Know: A Painter Who Imagines a Chaotic Universe

By Terence Poh

The French artist Fabien Verschaere draws and paints something everyday.
 
Courtesy of Fabien Verschaere
The French artist Fabien Verschaere draws and paints something everyday.

From the period of June 2019 to February 2020 at Parkview Museum Singapore, an exhibition, titled “Disturbing Narratives”, had been curated with a singular mission to ideologically and sensorially provoke. Along with contributing works from more than 30 international artists, the artist Fabien Verschaere had painted a monstrous landscape: Against a massive blood-red wall, the spectator could make out thick black outlines of either a deformed arm on fire, the eye (or eyes, such as three devilish ones) of a faceless being leering back, or nothing realistic at all.

Born in 1975, in the eastern suburbs of Paris, France, Verschaere lived the first 15 years of his life confined in hospital for treatment of afflictions unknown to the medical world. Coming out of it, the French artist began manifesting a wild imagination in artworks that do not pertain to any particular style. Since the age of 20, art had seemed to become an extension of Verschaere, offering a glimpse into the imaginary universe of the young artist.

Courtesy of Fabien VerschaereIn 2016, Verschaere exhibited at the Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art in South Korea. The giant fresco — 7.5 metres in height and 18.5 metres in length — is one of his many ephemeral works.
In 2016, Verschaere exhibited at the Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art in South Korea. The giant fresco — 7.5 metres in height and 18.5 metres in length — is one of his many ephemeral works.

To show his works, Verschaere has toured internationally as a solo artist and in collaboration with brands — a special project, in 2005, showcased his artworks at an Hermès boutique in Milan, Italy — and artists. Most notably, the explosion of colours, bold brushstrokes and grotesque, abstract renderings of symbols and motifs related to his life experiences are often painted onto walls or giant canvases, and not made to last beyond its exhibition. Like street graffiti, the art pieces are destroyed and replaced by the next artist in line. 

In a quick Q&A, T Singapore speaks with Fabien Verschaere about his artistic journey, the meaning behind his fleeting creations, and his plans for the future in uncertain times.

Courtesy of Fabien VerschaereVerschaere paints, with assistants, for a project commissioned by the French luxury house Hermès.
Verschaere paints, with assistants, for a project commissioned by the French luxury house Hermès.

Can you tell me more about your current artistic style?

I cannot say that I have a style, but I’ve found a kind of personal writing. I mean, I draw without an idea in my head. I just want my work to be like choreography where, for the people watching, they can make their own stories from my graphic vocabulary.

Who or what are your inspirations, and why?

Joseph Beuys, Basquiat, Haring, Victor Hugo, Deleuze, Cioran and Brel. I love artists who live their work. I mean, their work is their life — and life is their work. Hence, my work is like a self-portrait. I’ve mixed every experience of my life into my drawings.

Courtesy of Fabien VerschaereVerschaere’s beautifully disastrous creations, in progress.
Verschaere’s beautifully disastrous creations, in progress.

What is your art-making process in the studio?

That depends. I draw everyday. Sometimes just for my own projects, and often for projects in museums or private companies.

Your giant murals — like the one you painted at Parkview Museum Singapore for the “Disturbing Narratives” exhibition — are often temporary artworks. Can you comment on your relationship with them? What is the meaning behind creating impermanent artworks?

It’s just the experience that is interesting to me — not the finality of the work. I love the process and the relationships with the people and my assistants very much. It’s like I include myself in the society of the country where I am at. And at the same time, I create a little group with different people working on the same artwork. It’s why it’s not important if the work is temporary. I create an action, like dancing, just in the moment.

Courtesy of Fabien VerschaereA look into Verschaere’s studio, filled with paintings. A true Parisian, the artist lives and works in Paris.
A look into Verschaere’s studio, filled with paintings. A true Parisian, the artist lives and works in Paris.

Do you think that dark times, in your personal life and society in general, have motivated your artworks?

Yes, every time I consider it to be my last piece as an artist, it [becomes] very special. I mean, you're the witness of your time. I’m not scared of death. I think in art, death has become something aesthetic — it is as if the symbol of the skeleton is a living character, and not a rigid thing. When you're an artist, you can play with everything — like the way of your life, and what you want people to remember about you. I’m sure everything is going well, and after the virus, life doesn’t change really.

Why make the city of Paris home to your work?

I'm a real Parisian. I love this city because it looks big, but it's like a village in fact. Everybody knows everybody, and people work hard. But, at the same time, you can [also] feel like you’re on holiday very quickly.

Who are your frequent collaborators?

I'm not selfish, but I don’t make collaborations very often. My art is my story, and it's difficult to share that fact of my life. So, if you talk about projects, I’ve done a lot of collaborations with brands like Hermès and Universal Music. I’ve worked with G-Dragon in Seoul too. Every time, I did it because [the collaborators] know what they want, and I can mix my universe with another one.

Courtesy of Fabien VerschaereIn 2015, Verschaere was one of the collaborators in a collective exhibition at the Seoul Museum of Art, titled “PEACEMINUSONE”. The singer and artist G-Dragon was the mastermind behind the show, and sought to contemplate the crossroads between an ideal peaceful world and the real world through art.
In 2015, Verschaere was one of the collaborators in a collective exhibition at the Seoul Museum of Art, titled “PEACEMINUSONE”. The singer and artist G-Dragon was the mastermind behind the show, and sought to contemplate the crossroads between an ideal peaceful world and the real world through art.

What are your interests outside the field of art?

I love philosophy and history.

What are your plans for the future?

Yes, I have shows in my gallery in Paris, a show in Tulum in Mexico, and next year, a show in Seoul.

How has the recent pandemic affected your work as an artist?

I stay at home, and I can do things slowly, take my time, watch films, read books, and think about new drawings. I just keep calm and quiet.