Q: Monsieur Rouge, how would you characterise your art?
ROUGE: Art, and abstract expressionism as a form, allows me to unify the tension that exists between our objective perception of appearances and our emotional, subjective response to objects. I also embrace the surrealist approach which attempts to uncover elements of our subconscious through art.
Q: What drives you as an artist?
ROUGE: For me, art enables me to ask questions even if there are no obvious or clear solutions on a philosophical level. I like to push myself outside my comfort zone and that is the point where painting becomes an urgent and necessary process. When I started to throw myself into this journey, it became impossible to stop.
Q: Several of your works follow in the tradition of Jackson Pollock’s iconic drip paintings. How has Pollock inspired you and how would you hope your variation and reinterpretation of Pollock’s style will be viewed in the art world?
ROUGE: People tend to forget that few artists work in a vacuum. During Picasso’s time, the cubist era embraced many of the greatest artists who painted in that style. The same was true of the impressionists. With abstract expressionism, Pollock was one of its leaders and most original creative influences on the style. Although, of course, the word “style” itself takes on a different meaning and he began to experiment with ways of applying paint to the canvas.
I found that technique fascinating and as an admirer of Pollock I was determined to explore how I could create my works, using my own colour palette that draws on intense memories, by embracing Pollock’s method.
Of course, I am aware that anyone who dares adopt a similar approach will come under intense scrutiny, but I believe that those of my paintings that draw on that technique have their own distinctive character and tend to use brighter colours. My inspiration on that level is my own, however, and the similarities in style are seen as an hommage as much as a rethinking of that particular abstract vein.
Q. Apart from Pollock, which artists have been particularly influential in your artistic evolution?
ROUGE: I admire the work of Miro, Kandinsky, Dali. I am also very taken with the work of Hieronymus Bosch. There is something very striking and compelling and unique about their works and their way of rendering objects.
Q: You studied art as a teenager in Grenoble but then chose to leave France and embark on a completely different way of life living in Brazil? What made you want to leave your native country?
ROUGE: I had spent a few years studying at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Grenoble, but I wasn’t ready to commit to the life of a professional artist. I had an enormous urge to explore the world and simply experience life the way many young people feel the need to as they approach adulthood.
So I left France when I was very young and I decided to cross the Atlantic by ship. First I arrived in America, travelled to the southwest, where I spent time appreciating the vast and strangely compelling beauty of the Grand Canyon and that region. I still have vivid memories of the rock formations, the colours, and the expanse of the area.
Then I worked my way further south, travelling through South America before eventually finding my way to Rio de Janeiro where I lived for 35 years.
Q: What was it about Brazil that drew you to that country?
ROUGE: I’m not sure why, but I became fascinated by precious stones. I explored opal and emerald mines, then diamond mines, and earned a degree in gemology. This had nothing to do with whether or not I could earn a lot of money, it was purely an attraction to the beauty of precious stones.
But to answer your question about Brazil, I was overwhelmed by the lush natural beauty of its many different regions, and the Amazon rainforest, of course. My experience travelling through Brazil reminded me of how many painters like Gauguin, for example, fell in love with Tahiti and French Polynesia. There is something irresistible about such raw nature and the pure beauty and incredible rich colours of those landscapes.
Q: Were you surprised at how suddenly you became attached to the kind of life you were living in Brazil?
ROUGE: I remember thinking how I was in such a hurry to discover so much of Brazil’s different regions that I imagined myself reliving Paul Morand’s life as he described it in “L’homme pressé” (English translation: “A Man in a Hurry,” the classic 1941 French novel that recounts the life of a restless Paris antiques dealer who is unable to relax and settle down even after he gets married and has a child – ED.)
What was also ironic about Morand’s novel and how it resonated with me is that my father was an antiques dealer and here I was in Rio and everything was happening so fast and I couldn’t take it all in fast enough! (Laughs)
Q: Fast forward to southern France where you returned to live five years ago. Can you tell us about the conversation with a friend that helped trigger your new life as an artist?
ROUGE: I was in a quandary about what to do with my life, it was a mild form of existential crisis, I suppose! (Laughs) One evening I was at a restaurant in Provence sitting with an old friend. I was probably complaining about feeling disconnected with life after having left Brazil and returned to France.
At one point in our conversation, when both of us had probably drank too much red wine, my friend became rather angry with me. He said, “Patrice, you’ve always said how much you loved to paint when you were studying art, so why don’t you stop worrying about everything start painting again!”
That conversation shook me up and I realised that he was right. Why shouldn’t I go back to my artistic roots? I had never given myself a chance to explore that part of me. The next day I went and bought a year’s worth of art supplies – if I do something, I do it for real! (laughs) – and started painting.
Q: What was it like those first weeks and months as an artist?
ROUGE: It was pure liberation. Painting was like breathing for me and I couldn’t stop. It became a wonderful obsession and I’ve been indulging in my obsession ever since. The work starting flowing in such a way that I wondered how I could have waited so late to satisfy this obvious subconscious hunger and desire that I had been ignoring for most of my life. It was a revelation.
Q: Do you ever worry that it might be too late to change careers in your sixties?
ROUGE: No. Not at all. There is not age limit to art. The only importance is the work itself and I am anxious to see how the public responds to my paintings and how this journey will continue. But the most important thing for me, personally, is that I was able to discover the artist inside me.