q)So, can you tell me a little about yourself? Full name, age, some background info, etc?
a)Well, Francois Escalmel, that is my full name. My father was born in France and my mother is canadian. Both were teachers. I’m thirty six. I’ve studied graphic design, art history and I’m a painter but I’m also an illustrator. As an illustrator I do photorealistic illustrations mainly for advertising and always drawn with the software Photoshop. When I’m a painter, I always use oil on canvas and basically I completely do what I want. I’m totally free and that’s what I love, being able to express myself completely without any kind of idea of censorship or will it sell or not. My painting is completely pure.
q)How did you get started making art?
a)I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. It became important I think around the age of seven or eight.I’ve always been very shy so drawing became a mean of expressing myself. I hesitated long before making the leap to color but eventually around my teenage years I jumped into oil painting.At the same time I had to think of what I wanted to do as a carreer. I very much enjoyed drawing but also writing and so I hesitated between the two.In the end I opted to study graphic design with the idea of becoming an illustrator because here in Montreal, Canada there is no school of illustration so that was the closest thing, there were some classes on illustration. I chose illustration because it seemed less far fetched than making a living as a painter. From then on I became an illustrator slowly building a reputation and a clientele and during this period I was painting for myself on and off. And then around the year 2000. I found myself with some free time and a desire to try myself again at painting with very much in mind that spirit of freedom that I described in question no. 1. and then it clicked, I had found my way,what I wanted to do.
q)How would you describe your art?
a)Well, that’s a complex question. It’s figurative painting but there’s also there a definite interest in the abstract and lately the abstract quality of cartoons (dessin anime) has been a great Inspiration provoking clashes between 3-d and 2-d elements. I would also say that my paintings are animated with a surrealist spirit. When I do a painting I don’t know what it means to me. It’s a kind of seal of authenticity that I am unable to deciper it. A lot of the times the meaning will become apparent to me many months or years later. My paintings are very personal but I hope that people can relate to their subject matters. For me art is sharing, you share an experience through this object, the painting, in a completely non-verbal way. It’s like: step in my shoes for awhile, see what it’s like.
q)Where do you get the inspiration for your art?
a)The inspiration for my art comes from everywhere. I am very curious and I always watch what other artists are doing. Basically I’m a great fan.I always buy art books, magazines, go to see movies. Movies are a great inspiration, I tape them and can watch the same movie many, many times.I’m the same with books, I reread them constantly, my favorites ones.Generally it means there’s something there I’ve got to extract, something I m relating to in a very intense manner. So art is a great inspiration but of course life itself, people, objects, anything. The inspiration is a strange mix of purely esthetic impressions and strong emotions that I want to convey through the painting.
q)What are you working on now?
a)Well, I’m always working on new paintings. Recently they have become bigger and bigger in scale. The last paintings I've have completed are very tortured, there’s a lot of pain in there because I’ve been going through a really tough time, in fact the toughest in all my life so it reflects in the paintings. I’m also working on an experimental film, a kind of interpretation of the universe depicted in my paintings but through the medium of film. I’m having great fun with this project as the media of film is very new to me, it s all about discovery. I envision this project as an almost feature film that I would like to distribute and show in festivals and such.I am also working on a documentary film about the american painterJerome Witkin, a painter I admire very much. I’ve been for a couple ofyears now following him when he does exhibitions; I’ve interviewed him and some friends, family and art critics... In this project I am at the stage of doing the editing of the main part of the film and then I’ll go and interview a few more people to complete the film.
q)Are there some web sites that you would like to recomend?Artists,art communities,xxx,...!?
a)Well, obviously, I would suggest to go see the website of my Gallery Mondo Bizzarro ( www.mondobizzarro.net) , located in Rome, and the first gallery to have put trust in me, in what I do. you will discover there other interesting artists. You can also check www.lautregalerie.com, the gallery that represents me in my hometown of Montreal. I would also recommend www.kristiropeleski.com, Kristi is a friend of mine and an excellent painter. I would also suggest www.ewhite.com, the site of painter Eric White, always interesting. Then I've got a friend who is ina rock and roll band so can you check his band called "leap" at www.leaparea.com. there is also www.celinemalepart.com which is coming soon I think, Celine is a good friend and illustrator and painter too.www.lastgasp.com is also a good place to visit. Last Gasp is the distributor of my books for North America and you will find there a big catalogue of interesting and unusual books. Another painter and friend is Heidi Taillefer, you can see her art at www.heiditaillefer.com. and finally I encourage you to go see www.elisegravel.com, Elise is a wonderful illustrator and author of provocative children s books.
q)What programs / materials / tools do you use to create yourpieces?
a)I always create first the image of a painting using the software Photoshop. Usually working from photographs I took myself of from bits and pieces from anything: photographs, paintings. It’s important to me to make come together a great variety of sources. So the Photoshop phase is when the creative process is taking place, that 's where I try this and that, it’s very trial and error. Without knowing exactly what I wantto say I do feel when something is right or not. Nothing is gratuitious,Everything is there for a reason even though I don't know what that reason is. When I am sure I’ve got the image, I print it all in little 8x10 sheets, tape these sheets together put charcoal on the back of them and trace the main lines of the subject on to the canvas at the exact size. Then I’m ready to start the underpainting which I always do in brown hues using at this stage a solvant. Then I will apply the colors with a relatively fast drying medium. For the solvant and medium I’ve tried many many products which are all pretty harmful on the health. For some years now I’ve been using the gamblin products which seem less harmful.
q)What advice would you give to younger up and coming artist?
a)I would tell them to hang in there! And that they have to give themselves time. Finding what you want to say and how to say it doesn’ t come instantly. It's a slow evolutional process. I don't think it canbe rushed. What is the most important is to be true to your heart, to yourself, it’s the only way to really share through the art. You don’t lie, you have to give yourself completely.Apart from that, I don’t know exactly what I would suggest. The artworld contains many different worlds within itself so I would say thatyou have to do your homework, know what s going on, be curious, be open,observe.
q)What is your personal definition of life and art and everythingelse in between?
a)Whoa! That's a big question! I think the way I see art I’ve already answered in previous questions: a non-verbal way-experience to sharewith fellow humans. This process has to do with contemplation, the viewer has to stop, immerse himself/herself in the art.Life is a school. There you go, what do you think of that, the biggest question, the shortest answer!!
q)Do you think that art is a universal language - transcending all thedifferent languages, cultures and religions etc?
a)Yes I do. To do art I think you must have faith, faith in it, in what it can do. And I most certainly do, if I didn’t I wouldn’t spend so much time doing it, I would do something else with my life. Can it really transcend every cultures, religions? Obviously not, not always. There are so many big differences between ways of thinking and ways to be on the planet, it would be utopic to think that art has that incredible power to transcend everything. I think it can work from time to time but of course the flow is easier amongst people of same or similar culture.Doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try! So yes and no but we have to try anyway and I identify very easily to that sort of romantic idea of working for a lost cause, and I think that little victories are victories just the same!
q)What are your artistic influences?
a)They are legion. When I was a teenager I was very interested in Surrealism and read everything about it. I have a pretty good general knowledge of art history so when I do something I know where I’m setting my foot. But I guess it’s really individual artists that have had the most impact on me. Norman Rockwell I love enormously, I feel very close to him, like I knew him, I think we’re very similar as people. I feel the same with Buster Keaton. Andrew Wyeth I also absolutely love and is always a great inspiration. Here's a short list but there are many more:Carlos Nine, Liberatore, the films of Walt Disney, The Brothers Hildebtandt, Gottfried Helnwein, Salvador Dali, the films of Guy Maddin,the films of David Lynch, Vincent Desiderio, Jerome Witkin, James Gleeson, Inka Essenhigh, Kent Williams, Ed Kienholz, Wei Dong, John Currin, Eric White, Anya Janssen, Todd Schoor, ...
q)How are the reactions on your work in general?
a)In general, I would say they are pretty good, people seem to appreciate it although sometimes some subjects I suppose can be perceived as difficult. I’m responding to this question but you know I only see people when there’s a vernissage and then I don t see them again. In a certain way there’s a disconnection between me, the art and the people who will see it. There are at this point two books on my work (produced by Mondo Bizzarro Gallery) and sometimes I think about these people who have the books and whom I will never meet but who share an interest for what I’m doing, and are possibly in many different countries, it’s very strange. I have to say that it’s always with a certain surprise that I sell a painting because I do feel that my paintings are so personal but I guess it speaks to the universality of the human experience, that we are in fact not that different from one another.
q)Do you have many connections in the underground scene?
a)Well you would have to define what is the underground or which underground are we talking about? I am not very well known so I guess that would say that I’m in the underground scene along with most of the artists I’m friends with. But what does it mean? For me what’s important is that more and more people see what I do, have the opportunity to bein contact with my work. And I guess that is also the wish of every artist. I guess I resist any sort of classification, I find it limiting.There are, to my eyes, good artists and not so good artists in every sphere of the artworld, whatever you come from, or where you re going,whether yo're part of pop culture or not, or you’re in a mainstream gallery or in an avant-garde gallery, all these categories don’t mean a thing to me, it’s the work that counts.
q)Tell us about a recent dream you had.
a)In most of my dreams I am chased by wild animals who want to attack me.Usually at first they seem to be safely behind a fence but then there is a door which is open and I realize that they can come after me and they do. A very good example of that is a very vivid dream from childhood where I was pursued by a bear in the alley near where I lived. I remember going up the steps, as a kid, this bear not far behind and searching wildly for my key to open the door. In an other dream I remember very well this lynx put his paw on my hand and tore the flesh of the back of my hand and I can remember the blood that appeared instantly and the pain and then I woke up. A variation of that which also comes regularly is that I’m pursued by people with guns who shoot at me and basically want to kill me. I shoot back and a lot of the times I wake up the instant I die. So you see a lot of aggressions, I’m working on that!
q)What is freedom to you as an artist?
a)Freedom is everything to me. And I have complete freedom over what I paint. I would not do it any other way.What would be the use of speaking, of expressing myself if I was not completely honest? It has to be. You know when I paint I not only think of the people living now, I think of the generations to come, the paintings will still be there, it’s a legacy, an account of what it was like to be alive and of course my personal experience of it.
q)Are there any particular works you've done that stand out as your favorites?
a)Yes, definitely. The firsts to come to mind are: play the game, flinch,touch, love disguised as sex, a sense of fun, angry ghost, listen,secrets, the train, are you happy and of course many, many others and many recent ones that maybe not too much people have seen. Of course I am more drawn to what I am doing now, the stuff I’m exploring now and even thinking into the future at what it will become. You know it’s very hard, near impossible, to predict the success of a painting. I know it when I’m doing it and it occurred on more than one occasion that I finish the painting and realize it’s not working and so I usually destroy it. You need to have faith, take the plunge into this weird experience where you are emotionally linked to this object you are making. I remember sometimes waking in the middle of the night and thinking: I should have put blue there instead of black!
q) Last Books you read?
a)I reread the last Harry Potter, very entertaining and real high drama.I wont tell you who dies at the end! I also reread "the dreaming jewels"by Theodore Sturgeon, a book that s been with me all my life. I read it first when I was maybe eight or nine years old and I have reread it through out my life and it s funny because I think only now do I understand why it has always fascinated me so much, it's because I’m so much like the main character, Horty, it’s basically the story of my life illustrated in a metaphorical manner. I would also sugget "the amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay" by Michael Chabon, a great novel set more or less during world war two in the world of the comic books, but saying that doesn’t say anything because this book is so intelligent and complex.Lastly, I also reread "In the heart of the sea" by Nathaniel Philbrick,it tells the story of the ship "Essex" which was sunk by a whale, the true story that inspired Moby Dick. There were survivors but a very harsh journey that included cannibalism in order to survive, a very hard but interesting read.
q)Last records you bought?
a)The last record I bought was a double album by Sidney Bechet, I bought the records and I bought a book of written music of the same pieces because I’m learning to play the clarinet and I want to learn some ofhis tunes, mostly numbers he, I think, composed when he was in France.Beautiful stuff. And I can tell you which record I’m going to buy next,it’s called "robots apres tout" by the french artist "Katherine", afriend lend it to me and I completely fell in love with this record, it's so very original, what the songs are about, but it works perfectly.Very inspiring!
q)Who are your favourite artists & Your favourite galleries?
a)One of my favourite artists working at the moment is Inka Essenhigh. Her style of painting is very unique, completely her own, a very strange blend of abstract and figurative; I feel it’s very surrealistic. JeromeWitkin is also a remarkable artist, tackling big, serious, important and contemporary themes with a style of painting that is realistic and at the same time very loose and abstract. John Currin, James Esber, WeiDong, also artists of great interest for me and working today. I’m not sure I have any favorite galleries, I focus more on artists.
a)You can write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
my website about my paintings: www.francoisescalmel.com
and you can find some of my illustrations on this website:www.illusionrep.com