So begins an interview I had with Duaív, a pleasure-harnessing artist who turns blank canvas into final products that are so bright that you can read next to them in the dark. He comes from France, lives in Florida, and if you wish to be tanned by his painted sun, read ahead and remember to forget your umbrella.
A: To me, your paintings are about pleasure. I see them and I want to be in them. What role does pleasure play in your life?
D: It is the sport of life. All my life I try to do what I want, what I love. And I love music and art and sport cars. These are my pleasures since I thought to play the cello when I was nine after I saw the cellist Pablo Casals. Then I went later to Paris to study music at the Conservatory of Paris. And then I became a cellist. Then I met my wife. We decided to live 24/7 together. We took a tour of Spain on motorcycles. We stopped at the Dalí house and we met Dalí. I decided that was that and that I would become an artist. I started to paint in the streets. Now I’m in the States. *laughs* That’s a life [explained] in two minutes.
A: When someone sees your art for the first time what do you hope they think?
D: They have to feel happy. I think the artist is like the maitre d’. I have to give you some energy or some pleasure. After your work, you sit down with your glass of wine and see my picture and feel good. This is my job. *laughs*
A: Tell me about the relationship you have with your palette knife.
D: I studied with a brush and I love to paint with my fingers but the way I make my living with the art, I take the palette knife. It gives a brightness to the color and deepness to the seas of the painting.
A: Can you remember some of the first paintings that left an impression on you?
D: Oh, yes. The first painting that impressed me was a big, big painting by Salvador Dalí. The name of the painting is “Tuna Fishing.” Then I saw, “The Starry Night.” That was the first two paintings who impressed me, who gave me the influence in my art.
A: What is it like to paint? What does it feel like to sit and make images?
D: The process of creating is strange because I don’t like to paint in the morning. I love to paint at night. But generally I paint in the afternoon and start at night because it takes a long time to start to paint, to get into the creation. But when I start, I’m finished. I’m not here. I am in my painting, my art. You don’t know what happens on your canvas. It’s why I love the night. There are no phone calls and nobody speak with you. I also love to paint with music.
A: How long do you paint in a sitting?
D: Everyday I work about six hours.
D: Everyday. I don’t take vacations. Every Saturday and Sunday.
A: Why is it that sometimes it takes you a little while to get into the creation mode?
D: I don’t know why. It’s difficult to go in your painting but it’s difficult to leave. When the painting is finished, I cannot drive. It’s like I am drunk. I don’t feel comfortable, I don’t see well, my brain is not coming back in my body. To start, I feel a little bit like a dog before it goes to sleep. It turns around and around and then it finds its place. He lies down. I repeat the same process.
A: I see. You have to find a comfortable position.
D: You have to shake the tree to get the fruits.
My next question is, if you could design your own city, what would that look like? What would be in that city?
D: My own city? Oh, it would be a mix of all of the places I love. I love so many. It’s a hard question. It would be a mix of New York, Paris, Venice, Singapore… I did a painting like that for a friend once and I put all together in one painting. I love especially New York. It is a big city like Paris. You leave the South of France and you want to go to Paris. But I also love Florida because it’s warm.
A: What else would you take from the cities and put in yours? Coffee shops, libraries, bridges?
D: All of the life of the city: cafes with the people, terraces, the shops at nights, also cars, the movement of the people, the crowds.
A: Yes, yes.
D: All of the life.
A: If I saw some of your artwork from your childhood, what would it look like?
D: When you are a child you don’t have the same experience or maturity but I did some paintings of landscapes and when I saw that I said, “Oh, this is not so bad.” *laughs* I felt that the talent was there and I knew I had to work and develop it. You have to work to be better and better.
A: What is the importance of those hours spent working?
D: We say always in music, “You are 5% talent and 95% work.”
D: Everything is working, working, working. That is how talent arrives.
A: Can you recall some moment when you were younger, or even recently, when you had a breakthrough? When suddenly all of that work allowed you to do another technique, for instance?
D: No because you get evolution all your life. You don’t see the evolution yourself. You see the evolution, when for example, when I moved from Paris, to the South of France, from South to Tunisia, and from Tunisia to Florida. You see your pallet changing and technique changes also but you don’t know exactly why. You are always all new.
A: So it’s gradual and maybe only when looking back is it obvious.
A: Interesting. A similar question: how does calmness contribute to your talent as an artist? By this I mean, you mentioned earlier that you are able to go to a place and get lost there. How does your ability to be relax contribute to that place?
D: I am never relaxed. *laugh* I don’t know what that means. I start in the early morning and sleep when I go to bed. So, relax? I don’t know. I’m never relaxed.
A: I see.
D: I’m sorry.
A: No. That’s a better answer.
D: I would love to be more relaxed but I always create, create, create. I don’t know what I’m doing or what will be the next painting. I want to be better and better.
A: How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it?
D: It’s oil and canvas. Post-impressionists. I love to do abstract to but I don’t have the market to be openly abstract.
A: Does it feel different whether you’re going for a scene or something abstract?
D: Yes. It’s different. In a figurative painting, you have to go inside the place. In an abstract painting, you don’t go inside a place. It’s just your mind going somewhere else but you don’t know why, you can’t say, “Okay, here.” You can’t just suggest something. It’s a question of feeling and energy and me. It is difficult to explain.
A: Hey, that’s why they call it abstract.
A: When you want to achieve something new in your work, something different, how do you instigate a new idea?
D: I don’t know. I don’t think. I just arrive. I think to myself, “This painting, this next painting that I’m doing is not for me. It will be for somebody who needs this painting. It will be for someone who needs this color, energy, or this shape.” It just happens. It’s why all of my art is always sold.
A: I imagine that this has made you a productive painter since you can just go at your painting and let it become. Is that true?
D: Yes, yes. That is the most important thing. This is why I made the change from musician to artist. I felt I could sell my art because it was coming to me like that.
A: What is it like to listen to music while you paint?
D: When I paint, I don’t listen to the music. I just hear it. Like background inspiration. But I don’t listen like if I go to a concert. Then I listen.
D: When I paint with music I couldn’t tell you what exactly what was playing or who the composer was. I don’t know.
A: So you truly get lost. What if someone is knocking at the door and needs to get a hold of you? What then?
D: I paint late so no one will be knocking at my door. Only my wife. *laughs*
A: I notice you paint in front of audiences sometimes.
D: Yes, on stage.
A: How much fun is that?
D: That’s fun. That’s very fun because it’s a challenge. For example, I painted two buses for the Canne festival. Here I have time. I have certain days to do the bus. [Other times], I have ten minutes, fifteen minutes or like the last concert, I had four minutes for each painting. So it’s a challenge. How are you able to succeed? But you have to do it. I painted a Porsche in Palm Beach in front of the TV so I have two hours to finish the Porsche.
A: Wow. So it’s a different feeling.
D: Absolutely. It’s a show. You are not alone in your studio. It’s like if I’m alone with my cello, I practice in the morning. If it’s at night, I’m going to a concert. It will not be for me now. It will be for the public so I prepare for months. It’s the same with live painting.
A: When you look at a painting that you’ve done in the past, what do you usually remember? Can you remember the time in the place?
D: Oh, yes. I remember but also for me it’s like an old car and a new car. You see an evolution. If you have a car ten years ago, it doesn’t drive like the car you have now. It’s the same when I see my old art.
A: Can you explain that more?
D: It means the colors, the hues that I used. The view is different. If you look at yourself ten years ago in a picture you don’t have the same feeling as if you looked at yourself in the mirror today. You feel a little bit uncomfortable. *laughs*
A: When someone reads this interview, what do you hope they get out of it?
D: I hope… how I feel with the art. I paint sports cars because no one is coming to the gallery and opening the door. So the art has to go to the public. What I love with sports car is that they are in the streets and people look at them. The art comes to them.
A: It’s funny you say that because earlier you said that when you are painting in your studio you feel like the painting just arrived and now here you’re saying that you want the art to arrive for the viewer too.
D: Yes. This is a different view of the artist. You cannot always be alone in your studio. You have to share your art with galleries but also with events, life events, cars, or something like that. So it’s fun for the public and people who don’t go to galleries. Or museums. They can see the art on their way.
A: How important is it for the public to have art in their lives?
D: I make people love art. They appreciate much. They are more sensitive. In Europe we have everything since years and years. We critique too much. Americans, they are easy. They love everything. They are sensitive. Some people cry sometimes and you don’t know why. In Europe, it never happens.
A: So you’re saying that because Europe has a history of art and America is younger and newer, it strikes us more strongly?
D: Oh, yeah. You are more positive then we are in Europe. You are more open.
A: When did you realize this?
D: When we arrived. There were a lot of shows and VIP events so the people were coming and we met them the night before at a presentation and then the next day at the auction.
A: Can you recall a particular moment where someone gave you a positive reaction that you didn’t expect?
D: Yes. We did an auction on a VIP cruise and it was one of the best events we did. We did very well at the auction and I gave a cello concert after that. Collectors came to me afterwards and were crying. I say, “Why?” They say, “We are so happy. We don’t know why.” That shocked me.
A: That’s incredible. That is so energizing. *pause* Tell me your favorite dessert.
D: That is a hard question. I love chocolate. I love sorbet.
A: What flavor?
D: Strawberry. Or if there’s no strawberry…lemonade.
A: Can you recommend me a book?
D: Yes. The Master Key by Charles F. Haanel.
A: What is it about?
D: It’s about how you can do anything with your mind.
A: Jeez. I have to read that one.
D: Yes. It’s fabulous.
A: What kind of impression did it give you?
D: When I finished, I started again. And again.
A: You re-read it.
D: Yes. You have to work on it, work on yourself.
A: What painting are you working on at the moment?
D: I don’t know.
A: Do you mean that you’re not sure what you’re working on beforehand? It’ll be a surprise?
D: Yes. It’ll be a surprise. Call me later today. *laughs*
A: I think it’s wonderful that every painting is a surprise.
A: What was your imagination like when you were a kid?
D: When I was a kid, my imagination…
A: I mean, what did you do for fun?
D: I was doing a lot on sail boats, marina boats. I lived in a small island near Bordeaux, France. I spent all of my youth on a boat, free. I can do everything I want. Nobody disturbs you.
A: That sounds like a great place to be a kid.
*call breaks up*
A: I’m losing you a bit.
D: Is this better?
A: Luckily, that was my last question.
D: *laughs* I hope you can write something with what I said.
A: You’ve given me plenty. Thank you for the interview.
D: Send me an email so we can keep in contact.
A: Absolutely. I shall.
D: You are in New York?
D: I was just there two months ago for a show.
A: Next time you’re here, let me know and I’ll come.
D: Yes. Thank you, sir.
Thus ends my encounter with a man who can arrive at a canvas and have art arrive to meet him. Perhaps those not-so-distant pen pals have a relationship which scientists will one day crack and present to the rest of us so we may partake in artistic telepathy ourselves. But until that day we can stand in lines around the block that Duaív lives and works on, waiting our turn to get a glimse of his creation live. If the line runs miles away and seeing the creation live is as hopeless as a dog finding the comfy spot on the couch first try then surely we can look at the clouds in the sky, squint, and be reminded that in that gassy nebula is the same nature-swept inspiration that creeps into Duaív’s sorbet and stirs itself within him during the interval between afternoon tea and midnight chocolate. In these momentums of clarity, he becomes a Venice gondolier, Miami beach bum, and forever-young sailor who can throw fishing hooks onto paint brushes and paint brushes at paint pools on palettes until pools turn to seas and canvases turn to oceans that drain in faraway canals behind our eyes.