Olivier De Serres

Olivier De Serres

Totally digging Quebec City-based painter Olivier De Serres' strange and wonderful abstractions, which oscillate between representative and purely abstract, occasionally hinting at still-lifes that might be out of a science fiction film. As he works toward developing his abstract style, we chat about transitions in painting, the difference between undergraduate and graduate art study, and becoming inhabited by work and vice versa. More at the links below!

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First, can you introduce yourself? Where are you from, and where are you based now?

My name is Olivier De Serres and I'm from Quebec City, which is also where I am based right now. 

When did you know you wanted to make art?

I have been drawing a lot since I was a kid and then after high school I chose an art education almost by default, because I didn't know what else to do. I also got into graffiti which is certainly one of the things that led me to canvases later, even though I kept these two aspects of my life separated. Over time I realized that I wasn't putting energy in anything like I was doing with painting.

What has your art education been like, whether formally or informally?

I studied at Universitรฉ Laval in Quebec which has a multi-discipline approach when it comes to art and to me, it certainly had a downside. We had to elaborate so many projects, using so many different mediums and techniques to finally confirm what I kind of already knew, that is I wanted to focus on painting. Of course I was still much growing up has an artist and found my way to evolve in all of that. Then my MFA was an intense period of painting. I learned a lot from sharing some more serious ideas with my colleagues during that time. I got to challenge myself a lot and really enjoyed it.

Your recent work is abstracted and full of patterns, yet retains some representations of plant life, and even perhaps a sense of surreal landscape. Can you tell me more about your work?

During the last years I went back and forth between figuration and abstraction. I never thought about choosing any of the two. Making abstract work is like school painting to me because it's where you play more easily with visual ideas. It brings more understanding of the medium and of yourself because it has the power to drive you in one direction, the more you do it. It's more fertile, in some ways. But recently I wanted to go back to more organic shapes, more influenced by free hand drawings. Then I got interested in still life and vanitas. I wanted to make something that could be interpreted in a more symbolic way, to create meaning not only in the formal sense. I want to see things melt and glow a little bit more these days. The imagery I choose comes from various places and my other interests, like science or philosophy.

What is your process like? Do you do any research before starting? Do you plan pieces before beginning them?

It begins with building the stretcher. They are way more reliable (I got my share of crappy materials in the past and was tired of it, haha) and I like to see the whole process of a painting happen, from A to Z.On the canvas, it usually starts with a mix of blurry ideas, including something in particular that stands out and acts as a starting point. Just something that's enough to get me out of the white, empty canvas space. It could be a desire for any type of composition or element I feel should be there, before knowing how. After that, I like to see things as a construction or a determinist-like process in which anything you do is going to affect and influence the future actions, whether it gets you somewhere or not. I also spend a lot of time observing the pieces that precede the one I'm about to start, trying to get something out of them as a new (potential) starting point. Music is a very important part too. Can't paint without it.

What do you like most about working with a combination of acrylics and oils?

It's a change between two beats. I started using oils quite recently and one of the things I like about it is that it forces me to slow down everything I do because of the drying time. It has me working more regularly on many canvases simultaneously, spending more time thinking about what's my next move. I like working with new constraints. Acrylic is cheaper so I keep it for larger surfaces or if I really don't need working for too long on some element.

What is your studio like?

It's affordable! It is a bit of a weird place but it gets the job done. It has only one small window, which doesn't bother me much since I usually paint at night. It allows me to be isolated when working. I share it with four colleagues, so it's also a good hangout sometimes.

What do you think is the most challenging or daunting part of pursuing an artistic practice, whether creatively or professionally? What do you do to get through it?

The first big challenge is to balance time and money, especially if your job is just something that pays bills. I think you have to be very versatile and flexible in many ways as a young artist today in order to keep doing what you do. And to me that's the point. I try to not lose sight of the fact that I just want to keep going. Who knows what can happen later but for now, it's all about that. Talking of art, my biggest worry would be to end up in a loop where I just repeat myself; being completely satisfied with what I do.

What is the best advice you've received? 

To get out of this town. But I still have to find out.

What do you do if you find yourself at a creative standstill or feeling uninspired?

If things don't work at all, or if I'm stuck it's usually because I try to hold on to some idea I once thought was good, thinking I'll find a way around it. But when I do, after a while trying to convince myself, the image tends to disappear under a fresh layer of paint or in the trash. So I have to recognize those moments and let go of those ideas because I'm obviously already somewhere else in my mind.

What do you need most, or value most, as an artist?

I'd say I value work the most. By work I mean to constantly do something you're inhabited by, to be committed. The feeling to be giving something from yourself.

What are you working on right now?

After a few group projects that took place earlier this spring, I'm basically at the beginning of the cycle right now. I've got new stretchers all lined up and ready! With the latest of my work I feel like I opened a new space for myself and I'm only beginning to explore it so I need to get busy.

Anything else you would like to add?

Aime ton sort.

Find more at olivierdeserres.com and on Instagram @olivierdeserres!

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