Faces in Crude Oil

Fabrice Hyber is a French artist, whose work represents alternative ways of working with graphics and installation. For 30 years he’s been working in different styles and genres, using a wide range of materials — from soap to lipstick. At the 6th Moscow Biennale Fabrice is playing on the territory of traditional street art, creating portraits of the visitors. He’s using neither the regular oil nor the acrylic paint: instead, he’s painting with crude oil, and a bit of a charcoal. Right after they have been finished, all portraits of the visitors are put on the wall behind the artist.

— Tell me the key things that you are interested in nowadays.

— For 20 years I’ve been making a lot of shows that are like a process, process-shows. I like to show to the audience, to show in artistic way a lot of possibilities of new behaviour. This is the most important to me. New behaviour means that we can mix a lot of ways with general simple way of thinking. In this show, here, I just want to make some portraits of visitors and artists, but with the material that comes from here. The material from here is crude oil. It was not easy to get, it is not easy to get raw material from each place. You always have a border, a limit of the raw material that you need to buy. One thing is that you can take it from Earth, it is one of the things. And the other is that actually these portraits are supposed to be connected, or to have a link with the audience. As for the next step, I work on drawing about telepathy to show that the border we think about is not the border we are used to think. It is not the border between two countries but the limited network of people. There are artists, there is an audience, there are rich people, there are people of politics. This border is more difficult to go through than real borders between countries.

— Speaking about your current work, you know that crude oil has a very recognizable smell. Did you think about sensorial aspects of your work? Is it important, is it supposed to somehow affect the audience?

— Of course! Everything is dangerous. Art should be dangerous, and to do art, you have to… when you are doing something, you have to be really engaged in what you are doing. The only thing you don’t have to do is to kill. So when you smell something like crude oil, it smells bad, but it is aroma of the earth, it is from the earth, it is organic. This is an organic work, and probably all pictures created in video format are more dangerous for your body.

— This is a very positive perspective on oil. Today oil is an object of global interest, it is a universal want. How does it correspond with your work?

— I want to show another way to think about the world; to think that crude oil is something nice and you can do something nice with it. I like to do something very simple about my mind and what I want to show. And this is why I use charcoal from my country, charcoal from my countryside; I do some charcoal for myself. And this crude oil is from your country. This mix (my charcoal and your oil) is very simple, and it is very simple to make drawings and to speak to people from here. There are children, there are women, old men, and there are a lot of possibilities to be linked with them. At the same time, I am probably linked with the dinosaurs because crude oil is Jurassic.

— You are probably aware of the role oil plays in Russian economy. Sometimes we say that we are ‘on the oil needle’, that is to say that we are addicted. It’s like a metaphor of drug addiction. Have you been thinking of that?

— Yes, I see, it is easy to get oil here, so you do not think about doing something else. And you don’t have to think about the necessity to do something with your way of thinking. You take oil and you sell it, and now you have money to buy something else. It is good to show sometimes that you have other possibilities to do something with your body and with you mind. I think that there is not so much craft in Russia. Okay, there is a lot of painting on wood but there is no big tradition of craft. What do you do in winter when you have nothing to do? Do you drink and watch TV?

— It is not very true because there was a great tradition of craft, such as wood carving, for example.

— There was, and then it was broken. Now it should be rediscovered, and there are a lot of possibilities. In 1993-1994 I did a lot of travelling around Russia and wanted to see the craft, and there was not so much. I’m trying to find a way to show that you have a lot of possibilities as it’s a huge country.

— How did the country changed in your perspective? 20 years passed since then.

— It changed. I think now there are people who want to do something, who are more open; there is power, there is energy. At the same time, it is necessary to learn. This exhibition is very important because you do not see things finished but you see things in the way to be done. This is very important for the Russian audience. It’s not a finished object that you can buy. You can’t buy it! It shows something that connects you to the artist.

— What are your observations? How do people react to what you’re doing here?

— I think there are a lot of levels. There are people who want to be portrayed by a French artist with the tradition of Montmartre, or the tradition of the 19th century, such as caricature. At the same time, there is a trouble, because I catch their image and put it on my wall, and then I tell them that crude oil will destroy the paper and destroy their image, and it will disappear. I think they like to be involved in it, which is very nice. For example, in Japan they do not like to have their face painted. There are a lot of places where it is not possible to do it.

— You mentioned the tradition of Montmartre, and I’m just trying to think globally. Everywhere there are street artists who are making portraits of strangers. They are usually treated as ‘fake’ artists who are not doing real art; the thing they are doing is just a part of urban leisure.

— But there is a difference. I’m not on the street, I’m sitting here. I changed the rules of the game. When an artist is working on the street, he gives his paintings, or he sells them. And the paintings I’m doing are left here and will be destroyed. Sometimes there is a conversation between me and a person from the audience. And it’s not only animation, entertainment: this is education for both of us.

Interview: Marina Simakova