French artist Cesar Piette draws inspiration from his previous job in the “cartoon industry and video game conception” to create other - worldly landscapes and figures. Using ‘Playmobil’ children’s toys and their seemingly “shiny” world, Cesar strives to create both haunting and playful images that challenge the very notion of “fine” art. His airbrushed compositions appeal to both young and old - playing on childhood memories while presenting a seemingly digital aesthetic with an analogue approach.
Where specifically in France are you based out of?
I was born in the very north of France - bordering the country of Belgium. But, I currently live in the very south of France, between Cannes and Monaco - in the french riviera.
- Has your environment shaped your work at all?
I’m not sure if the place where I live in has had a direct influence on my work, but as opposed to the north where I used to reside - this is a really sunny place. This is also a place where a lot of modern artists like Picasso, Léger, Renoir or Matisse came on holidays or to work, it is rooted deeply in art history. You’ve got some quite famous foundations too: Hans Hartung Foundation in Antibes and Maeght foundation in Saint-Paul de Vence.
The surrounding areas Monaco and Cannes are places with lot of money and foreigners come to spend a lot here - it’s a little bit of the Miami of France, so in a way the environment has a lot to do with superficiality, luxury, and the general aesthetic of “wealth”. I assume my color palette is saturated and the shiny effect that I give to my subjects seems to pop off the canvas to have a ‘bling’ touch - something that definitely attracts the attention of these spending visitors.
What do you consider your biggest influence on your work? (Can be environment, other artists, etc.)
History of art and... Playmobil. I mean, I really spent hours looking at their plastic reflections and how playmobil’s designers manage to sum up a shape. It happens quite often that I look to these Playmobil figures to figure out how to dress my characters, or simply how they have oriented an object next to another.
But my artistic path has shaped my work too in a way. I first earned a master of applied arts and learned cartoon, animation and illustration. I have worked 6 years in the cartoon industry and video games conception. At the end I was tired of the execution aspect of it, I wanted to do something more personal. So I earned a BFA, while I knew I wanted to stop this commercial work. At the very beginning of my fine art career, I had a really hard time finding the way I wanted to approach painting, and had many failures and style shifts. It took me years, but I was quite skilled at craft so I managed to get to the bottom of my ideas quite quickly every time. Paradoxically, in my previous work I’ve always tried to erase this past and at the moment it has resurfaced - and I don’t want to hide that I was a commercial artist. My current work is now much more rooted within my first career choice : video games, toys, cartoons, etc.
- Who is your favorite contemporary artist?
Too many! It’s quite hard to answer - In a general way I’m quite interested in artists that deal with the digital realm, I really don’t know how you can avoid this today. It has completely re-shaped our lives. But guys like Guyton, Lichtenstein, Murakami, Tauba Auerbach to name a few...
Can you give us some more insight into your process? Is the work done digitally first and then painted / air spray?
Sketching, modeling, airbrushing, repeat. I like to do a couple of sketches to begin - drawing is really natural to me as I was trained for it. I love to spread a dozen open books on a table related to painting (to get ideas of pictures, composition, all that stuff). Once I get one or more, I grab my computer and start modeling on a 3D modeling software. It can greatly evolve from the original drawing, due to my lack of technique in 3D - but what is great with software is that you can erase, turn around your object, add things, change lighting, colors... Once I’ve got my model, I draw the outlines on my special airbrush panels - and after I do the painting using stencils and free hand techniques.
Your subject matter is generally light with darker undertones, can you give us an idea of some recurring themes in your work, if any?
I see my work as a kind of re-lecture of figurative art and deals with the relationship between the analogue and the digital. I want to re-investigate the very basics of figure art - I mostly do landscapes, portraits, nudes, still lives, and animals. I like to stick to this routine for at the moment, because I want to explore shapes, lights, shadows and composition further. There is no political message in my work cause I really doubt about painting as a relevant medium to explore such themes and don’t want to be an ‘engaged’ artist. Literature or cinema can explore much more complex ideas about ‘big’ subjects and most of the time, transgressive social vision ideas come from writers, or philosophers, but not from artists themselves, they only spread the ideas.
However, I see myself more as a witness of contemporary world, but my main goal is more directed towards painting. Even if my paintings look quite funny, there are also dark tones in my paintings, those happy characters appear fixed, and even if they’re smiling - it’s almost a non- expression. The choice to represent the Organic as something that looks like hard plastic or toys can be disturbing too and I regularly have the opportunity to show my paintings to both adults and kids - and almost every time, kids are most disturbed by them, they think they are some ‘missed’ playmobil.
Adults find them funny. I don’t know who is right or wrong and I don’t want to interpret too much about these points because the viewer is free to interpret them as they want and I’m not sure myself about from which side I am. But, it has a connection with a kind of anxiety about this digital, synthetic, plastic world we live in.
- When you're not in the studio, what would you typically be doing?
Well, when you’ve got 3 kids, you don’t ask yourself anymore how you’re going to spend your time ! I mean everything is really scheduled, so when they’re at school I try to stay really focused, and when I arrive in the studio in the morning, I know exactly what I have to do. I’ve left the friends of my youth in the techno parties in Belgium - and now I mostly see my wife’s friends. So when I am not in the studio, I am with my family and we do typical things that a family does. Beaches, restaurants, snowboarding, etc.
- Have you had a favorite exhibition you've been to in the past year?
I remember this Gerhard Richter’s retrospective in Centre Pompidou in Paris. It was a sweet September and I remember how I was impressed by this guy. A work’s life was there on white walls and everything was beautiful. Pure beauty, from photo paintings to his abstract works. The portrait of her daughter Betty, from behind, is really one the most wonderful piece of art I’ve seen. From this day I knew that reaching this level is clearly unthinkable.
-Has Instagram shaped your work / career as an artist? Do you feel social media is an asset to contemporary artists?
Instagram is just essential to me. I’m not on it all day and liking all the stuff I watch, but for people like me that don’t live in art centers like London, Berlin or New York, you can reach people from the other side of the planet, it’s insane! I’ve had a lot of support from artists all over, it’s truly incredible. I am also on Youtube frequently. Everything I know about airbrush and 3D I got it from there and books from amazon. So I can say clearly that without these kind of networks I would have had no career. There is always this argument about where an artist should live in: big towns filled with connections or distant places. I really think instagram has brought people closer in a way but at the same time it has allowed them to be far from each other physically.
- Where can collectors find your work to view and purchase?
I have a group exhibition in Seattle in February called Ultra light Beams, another group show in at the Garage in Amsterdam in May and an Online exhibition in late January via Young Space Gallery.