“I really love to start painting early in the morning. I arrive at the atelier around 7:30 a.m., when the world is still a bit asleep; it is a moment of silence, calm and tranquility”. Thus, Oliver Masmonteil (b. Romilly-sur-Seine, 1973) tells FRONTRUNNER about his relationship with art.
Raised in Corrèze (in the French region of New Aquitaine), he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux. After a period living in Leipzig, he traveled the world twice: from India to Thailand, from Vietnam to Brazil. For each place, Masmonteil delineates the horizons that inspire his painting. He creates landscapes with a multitude of colors with strong shades. These are boundless horizons where the lines that complete the work become, for the viewer, a gaze in which to identify new forms of language. They live and coexist in infinite time, precisely in the shades of colors that he represents. In this way, each work becomes an infinite painting.
His production seems to come from the past. In fact, it’s in contrast with the technological innovation that often affects the arts sector. In his technique, we read a form of freedom that Masmonteil re-proposes in the nature of the sea, the clouds, and the wind; also in animals – such as butterflies – and a naked (or apparently naked) body of a woman, sometimes veiled, sometimes stylized.
Masmonteil founded the “Une oeuvre à la maison” project to support art and artists in France during the third COVID-19 lockdown. He is the first artist-in-residence with The St. Regis Venice (first founded in 1904). There, he created a unique series for the Grand Salon, and in the suite where Claude Monet stayed and created some of his masterpieces.
Your works tell the story of painting through mostly landscapes: horizons you encounter around the world. Why landscapes and what does it mean to you to portray them?
It all starts from my origins, I grew up in the Limousin, in the countryside, and throughout my life I have practiced – and still practice – fly fishing. My relationship with the landscape is an intimate relationship, as a fisherman; the landscape is the territory that has always surrounded me since I was born. When I started painting I was very attracted to abstract painting and at the end of my academic studies I had acquired a sort of freedom in gestures and painting but I also felt a desire to return to figurative painting and the landscape, the sky in particular, is that which allowed me to return more easily to figuration.
For The St. Regis Venice, some works pay homage to the Impressionist Claude Monet in the suite overlooking the Grand Canal where he stayed in 1908. What were the sensations of being in such a unique and inspiring place ?
Obviously the first sensation is emotion: finding yourself in the room where Monet was staying, the room that is located in front of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore. When I made my first visit to the construction site of The St. Regis Venice, I first looked at this view, San Giorgio Maggiore and the light, the play of light on the facade of the church, itself. As a painter, I immediately understood how Monet had been fascinated by Venice in general and by this view, in particular. It was easy for me to immediately realize that I had to paint a tribute to Monet. This series of paintings, Les Horizon (the Horizons), is a work on landscape, but above all, on color. I wanted to follow in Monet’s footsteps. I took the same colors that he had used for the different versions of his views of San Giorgio Maggiore, and I used them both for the figurative part and for the horizon lines.
What were the production times?
This project took me several months. I created two projects for The St. Regis Venice at the same time: the homage to Tintoretto for the lounge and the homage to Monet for the suites. In particular, for Monet, I started with backgrounds – a real tribute to the painter for which I tried to take back not only the colors, but also the techniques and tools used. I used brushes similar to those that Monet could have used to make his paintings. After the background, I made all the horizon lines. So, it took 3-4 months to make five canvases.
With the closure of museums due to the pandemic, you launched “Une oeuvre à la maison”, a proposal to cultural institutions to lend a work of art to private homes. Tell us how the idea for this project was conceived and what the feedback has been like from this initiative to date?
The idea was born from frustration. The frustration of not being able to show one’s work. For me, a work is not complete until it is exhibited. If it exists only in the atelier, it exists only for the artist. So when the third lockdown was announced, I had this idea: I decided to transform France into a gigantic art gallery. An art gallery is a place similar to a library, but works of art are lent instead of books. I called some artist friends to propose this idea and they all wanted to participate. The initiative quickly went viral. In total, 300 works were loaned throughout France. The main rule of the initiative (imposed by the lockdown limits, themselves) was a maximum distance of 10 km between the work and the home of the person who wanted to welcome it. This allowed for the development of new encounters: the artists discovered that they had near art lovers and vice versa. Moreover, many loans have turned into real purchases.
How important are social networks for your activity as an artist?
For me, they are quite important and during lockdown they became very important because many people took refuge on social networks. In fact, closed at home without exhibitions or museums, social networks played a very important role for artists. Thanks to Instagram, I’ve been discovered by many people during that time.
What do you think the art system needs, or lacks, today?
I think that the “meeting” is mainly missing. There are many artists and people who want to discover and know the artists and their works, but there is no meeting place; a place that’s easy to access for everyone. If we think about it, galleries are meeting places between artists and the public. But, galleries are very often in big cities and, in some neighborhoods in particular, many people are intimidated by the idea of opening the door to a gallery. There are centres of art, but they are not numerous. There are contemporary art fairs, but even these are a little intimidating. I invite and meet many people in my atelier. My atelier is always open for people who want to pass by. But I think it’s necessary to ask ourselves this question and reflect on a new place; more social, more open, to bring together the artist and the viewer.
What are your future projects and where would you like to create your next solo show?
Among my next projects is the realization of a large fresco in a new hotel in Paris, the Madame Rêve Hotel. A solo exhibition in June next year at the Fernet Branca Foundation in Saint Louis, near the Swiss border (not far away from Basel). One of my dreams is to exhibit in Italy; in particular in Venice, which has been the epicenter of painting and art for many centuries.