New York, 508 West 26th St #9C
Paris-based artist Benoit Delhomme has been painting for two decades while doing cinematography for films like Theory of Everything, A Most Wanted Man or Al Pacino’s Salome. My Hollywood at Daniel Cooney Fine Arts, Delhomme’s first solo exhibition in New York, is his meditative and introspective look at film industry and cinematography, which carries many similar aspects with painting. Artspeak editor Osman Can Yerebakan interviewed Delhomme about a wide range of topics including his artistic motivations and other film maker artists.
Osman Can Yerebakan: Do your figures have any direct reference to specific actors, actresses or incidents on film sets?
Benoit Delhomme: I have done cinematography for thirty-five films over the last twenty years, so I have seen so much happening on the set. I love observing actors and actresses while they work because they are my material; I don’t talk but just observe between takes. The paintings don’t directly refer to a person or incident, but these paintings are my fantasy about cinema. This exhibition is what stays with me after shooting a film for a month or so. Film making has turned into a huge industry, and this practice allows me to think about cinema in a more poetic way. Maybe an actress said “Can we stop the film”, or not, but I can see that on her face. When you read interviews with actors and actresses, their lives sound wonderful, but I know acting can be really demanding and consuming.
OCY: Jeanne Moreau once said, “each time an actor acts he does not hide; he exposes himself.” Your paintings seem to prove her sentence.
BD: If you look at the paintings here, you will see this is exactly what they are about; these layers of paint are all the different characters they have put on over the years, but they are also the depth of their own characters. Actors expose themselves a lot and this makes them vulnerable, I think. Finding a balance between being yourself and another character is very challenging. As a cinematographer, I also have to be someone else during the set in order to please different directors and respond to their demands. I see myself like a chameleon who has to change color for each project. Painting gives me the ability and freedom to fully express myself. Therefore, I consider these paintings as my guardians. I make art to protect myself; maybe it is a superstition but I feel safe. In my studio I feel like nothing bad can happen to me. When I paint, sometimes I go too far, I lose my calm, but then I stop and find a balance. There is a peaceful feeling in what I do.
OCY. Cinematographers are very similar to artists in my opinion; they orchestrate the universe we as the audience are watching. Do you think being an artist is in the nature of most cinematographers?
BD: Unfortunately, film industry considers cinematographers as technicians, although the job entitles strong artistic vision. I think this is unfair. The role of a cinematography involves arranging the light, angle, color, and frame similar to a painter or photographer; however, cinematographer cannot take credit. The final result does not belong to the cinematographer. Once a film shoot is complete, I go back to Paris, lock myself to my studio, and invent my own cinema. Painting is where I can completely express myself and fully take ownership.
OCY: How did you decide to show these paintings after twenty years. Has your style changed over the years?
BD: I am interested in a primitive style which is the opposite of cinema in which every detail has to be precise, realistic, and relatable. Painting on the other hand talks for itself and it challenges any chronological standard. I can look at a painting and zoom into a totality different time and moment at least for a second. Every time you look at it, you can find a different meaning. When I return to the film set and leave a painting unfinished, I return to my studio after two months and find that painting waiting for me to be finished; I like how paintings allow me to travel between time.
OCY: In this series, did the words or the imagery come first? Could you talk about that cycle?
BD: Words came first. For example, “you have no idea how lonely I am when I go back home,” echoed in my head. I could make fifty paintings only with this expression. I am impressed by how actors and actresses are lonely, while their public image is the total opposite. We are all lonely and try to distract ourselves from this reality, but for them being under the spotlight at the same time creates this paradox. “Let’s forget the script,” for example. I can totally imagine Marlon Brando saying that to Francis Ford Coppola on the set of Apocalypse Now (laughs).
OCY: There is a Felliniesque exuberance and surreality in your work from your color palette to your brushstrokes. Are you influenced by other film makers who also painted or drew?
BD: Sure, I am impressed by directors like Fellini, David Lynch, and Akira Kurosawa who made drawings. They were also self-taught artists. I am pretty sure they also thought cinema did not completely allow them to reach the poetic level they aspired for. Their imagination was going much further than what they could achieve in film. You have to share your ideas with so many people in film; you cannot take full ownership of the work. In painting, I am everything: director, cinematographer, screen writer actor… I own its colors, form, and characters. In film sets I have to work for others’ approval.
On view through May 6, 2017