Julien Herz develops a distinctive and complex visual vocabulary mainly incorporating geometric shapes, irregular lines and graffiti patterns. He constructs an abstract system that derives from daily motifs and reveals a more personal story-telling on canvas. Although many times abstract visualizations rely on more impulsive gestures or thoughts, Herz’s paintings might take form from both improvisation and planned action. The artist deals with abstraction as an intrinsic part of his creative process and incorporates more practical guidelines to set up his vague visualizations. Squares of colours, motifs of repetition, and spiral brush strokes are displayed into an organized framework conveying creative efficiency and vague consistency.
Words: Yannis Kostarias
Different forms of abstraction co-exist on the same canvas expressing painterly expertise; more obscure abstractions set up a balanced and subtle dialogue with minimalistic arrangements bringing up the multidimensional character of his paintings. Abstraction within another abstraction shapes an ongoing and remarkable interplay in Herz’s artistry. Signs of gestural abstraction strikingly slide into graffiti-rendered techniques while additional geometric shapes, one within another, complete his painting crossroad puzzle. Continuing this artistic realm, the artist juxtaposes spray-painted forms and blocks with figurative representations. Each time his chromatic palette coherently characterises his painting series with hues and hints that smoothly shape his painting results.
In his recent body of work, such as Confinement as well as earlier painting series, Herz constructs his ideas on dividing into smaller working fields. In these divided spaces, as if they are wall tiles, the artist’s manifold patterns envisage a united art piece, reminiscent of a collage, made by contradictory techniques and motives. Fixed imperfection, occasional or nonchalant marks and faded colours on big canvases do not apply on the artist’s imagery. On the contrary, a more concerned style and well-planned gestures dominate his compositions whether they are abstract or not. His work cannot be considered uncomplicated, but it is imbued by a gestural mystery. Abstract art often does not seem directly comprehensible by the viewers and therefore his aesthetics lead to non-effortless interpretations.
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
I don’t draw anything before starting a painting. I do have a vague plan in my head but nothing that is concretely defined. I work by using the pictorial vocabulary I have acquired over the last few years. I love to play, well I am very playful in life and I like to perceive this form of art as a huge playground.
The stages of creation are marked by pauses, “half time”. A time to observe, reflect and then continue the construction of my work. I think that this system of creation is directly influenced by my artistic background, namely the study of graphic design; the use of creative software and its functioning; mark of stage, layer and backward. Painting offers me almost the same freedom. The ”backward” are more obvious on the canvas. But the ”mistakes” lead me to follow a different path. I am convinced that this way of working benefits me.
At the moment I work a lot by series. The first painting serves as a reference to the next one. I set up a palette of colors, a system of construction that I then adapt on the following ones. The composition varies but the graphic vocabulary remains the same. The series are different by the change of the vocabulary. The notion of time is omnipresent in my creative process as well as what I decide to show in my work. I play with time through the delimited spaces on the canvas, I like to reverse it or disturb the steps.
Very often the first perceptible shots are in fact the furthest away.. I leave the viewers the possibility to make their own definition and interpretation of each painting.
My approach is quite heterogeneous. I navigate between abstraction and figuration, it all depends on my mood and the effort I deliver at that very moment.
How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?
Heterogeneous and gentle.
Could you share with us some insights on your ‘Deconfinement’ series’? Is there any particular story behind this new painting series?
The series ”déconfinement” is actually called “Video blue lost in metallic world” this title comes from three observations. The first one ”video blue” is based on the only paint can that survived the lockdown. The second one “Metallic world” comes from the massive return of cars in our cities. After the lockdown, when we could go back outside, seeing and hearing those cars was a big chock. I had a feeling of aggression by these metallic boxes. Finally “Lost” because I was confused. All of a sudden we were free, the city had a rhythm, a sound and a smell that I had forgotten. It had become much more intense, almost violent.
I wanted to put these emotions on canvas and that’s how this series was born. The use of chrome represents the cars, the ”video blue” which is quite aggressive to watch, violence and shocking. Finally the different lines, the noise. The resulting abstraction, the blur I was in for a few days.
Do specific artworks have been created by random experiments in your studio or do you always come up with a particular concept or narrative in the very beginning?
Most of my paintings are the result of experimentations that raise purely technical questions.
It is rare to find a series in which the narration is the driving factor behind the creation, although it sometimes happens as in the series “post-it” or “video blue lost in metallic world”.
However, I like to conceptualize it. The experiences enriches a specific vocabulary that I developed and that I strive to expand as much as possible.
Is there any particular theme that utterly triggers you to engage your art with?
I don’t really have a particular theme except for ”time” and all that it implies.
My works are not politicized in any way, I am not a big fan of committed art. I prefer the one who observes
and who has the role of witness of an era. It certainly belongs and it is necessary, but the notion of escape and of letting go is what’s most important to me.
What would be the best way to exhibit your work?
If I had a studio that was large enough, I would’ve loved to exhibit my work, finished or in progress. That
would offer more understanding of my work to the public. The process would be immediately perceptible through the material used, etc…
Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?
I find my inspiration in everything that surrounds me. The city, the countryside, my friendships, fashion,
architecture, etc… However if I had to quote a few painters who marked me and probably consciously or unconsciously inspire me it would be David Salle, David Ostrowski, Christopher Wool, Jenny Brosinsky, Chiara’s Coraline and many others.
Do you wonder if additional work was needed, when an artwork’s making process is finished?
It’s quite difficult for me to determine when a painting is finished. Most of the time, I’ve seen the painting so much that when it’s done, I don’t love it as much anymore so I usually put it away and start another one. I am never really satisfied with the final result.
Additional work is almost always necessary when the creative process is finished, however this extra work is very often carried over to the next painting. It’s a never ending process. There is no secret when it comes to making a good painting, you just have to keep working on it, be critical and systematically question your work.
What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?
My studio is located in my apartment in Brussels. It has some disadvantages. I don’t really have a segmentation between work and my personal daily life which gives me no distance with my work since it is constantly under my eyes. I force myself to go for a walk, to get some fresh air and take a break. I’m also not very organized, so it gets messy pretty quickly. I try to clean up as much as possible but when I’m painting I find it hard to stop and I pile up a lot of stuff. But on the bright side, I can paint at any time, day or night.
What does your mum think about your art?
My parents don’t really go to museums and galleries, but they are curious.
I asked her the question directly. This was her answer.
“At first I was a little worried that he wanted to do paintings. He started with graffiti. Since we know the insecurity of artists profession, I thought that this would only be a phase. But he seemed to be really passionate and he was surprising me more and more. I was very happy the day he was admitted to graphic design school and then later to a school in Brussels to go even further in the painting section. I am proud of his journey. I was a little disappointed with the health crisis that has slowed down all of the beautiful projects that were planned for 2020 but he is not discouraged! I am more than proud, at his age I would have loved to have worked in design, especially in jewelry.
I do not like all his paintings, but I find that they are getting more mature and cheerful than those of his early days.”
Which exhibition did you visit last?
The last one I visited was an exhibition of the American artist Vaughn Spann at the Almine Rech gallery in Brussels. I also recently visited the studio of Arséne Welkin where we got to discover and understand his work. He’s a childhood friend and an excellent painter.
Which are your plans for the near future?
In the future I want to travel, meet new people and continue to experiment different things. At the moment I paint on white ceramic tiles, that I assemble afterwards like a puzzle until I find a composition that satisfies me. Lately I’ve been working with metal to frame them. I like it very much.
All images are courtesy of the artist