Presenting an interview with French collage artist; Bill Noir.
We first discovered Bill Noir's work back in the early days of Tumblr and have followed his process ever since, consistently amazing us with his ability to speak to the heart with his magnificent visual poetry collage artwork. It was a pleasure to chat with this wonderful artist and find out more about the elusive character himself and the ideas behind his pieces...
Where did your journey into art begin ? Have you been creating since a young age ?
I was not the kind of kid who slips into the artistic thing out of the blue! I think I was a rather contemplative child, often on his bike and it would probably be pretentious and difficult to try to sum it up here :) I remember that with my sister, around the age of 7, we always drew the same tasteless rabbit because of a lack of imagination when we asked for paper. On the other hand, between the ages of 4 and 14, I was always in a sort of cultural center for kids and I was awakened to all sorts of creative activities. I felt a return of that time, when by chance, I enrolled in a pre-applied arts program, after having done my high school in mechanical engineering. Does anyone understand anything? Finally, there it is, the prepa swallowed up, I had a few drawings in a cardboard box to be able to do art school competitions, and I ended up at the school of the image of Epinal, where I took 3 years of pleasure and discoveries that gave me self-confidence.
How long did it take you to develop your style and what drew you towards collage work ?
After studying at the ‘Ecole de l’image d’Epinal’ in the early 2000s, my interest in creation led me to pinhole photography (camera obscura), experimental super 8 film, silkscreen printing, collection of vernacular images (family photos) and since 2008, my concentration is mainly oriented towards collage. For a long time I had used the computer to make edits, to hijack images from old magazines. The real turning point was when I dared to physically cut into these fasicles.
In 2009, I found my new and last pseudonym, which I still use to this day: Bill Noir, a hidden word game (en français dans le texte... ) that stays close to my first name, because behind the mask, the real person is never too far away. I’m an avid user of improvisation. However, there is a lot of preparation, in terms of selecting my magazines, books, cutting out shapes, classifying the workshop space, to arrive at a stimulating organization. I let the elements react before my eyes. I am intoxicated by the surrounding disorder, the loss of reference points often prepares the way for a surprise. I consider that if the astonishment or vibration works on me, it will surely work with others… I sometimes make little sketches in notebooks to materialize some ideas, but the result often drifts! At recent open workshops, one person told me that they felt I was “modeling” the compositions. I liked that idea!
What artists / movements / themes have inspired your work the most and why ?
Collage is for me an object of fascination, developed during my studies. A love for this iconoclastic young centenarian, honoured above all by the German dadaists (Hannah Hoch, Raoul Haussman, Kurt Schwitters,...). It's also because of having put my attention on some old magazines (les arts ménagers, paris match, mécanique populaire,. . . ), found in various flea markets. These provide a cornucopia of materials : textures, image sizes, abstract details, and a unique palette that I personally find especially between the 40s and 70s.
What is your personal relationship with spirituality and how does that inform your creative practice ?
I don't belong to any chapels, but I'm curious about many things. Music ( ambient music especially at this time ) or listening to radio podcasts accompanies me almost all the time when I'm at the studio. I need to nourish my mind with outside elements. In my work, I use books and magazines with multiple sources as subjects, and I sometimes feel like I'm re-creating all of this, after dissecting them, to recreate, like a Frankenstein, living objects with their own souls, sometimes exploring the edge of dreams. I don't really know if I'm aware of a subject when I start a collage. Of course, I often get attached to the human figure, or to certain body language, but I try to remain faithful to a certain wandering. Through these incessant montages, these improvised researches, the accumulation of my creations delivers a graphic language, made of unconscious games, recurrences and implicit rules. The marriage of tones, the vibration of the elements between them on the support make me consider the void as an actor of symbiosis. The space of the page leads me to search for depth, the opening towards the third dimension by stacking layers that overlap, fit together, trample on each other, to sum it up, I often use the term 'chaosmos'. . .
Does nature inspire you and your work ?
Recently, a friend of mine told me that he saw a vegetal evolution in my work. Over the 12 years of experience in analog collage, I have felt a slow evolution, a maturation of different approaches that end up intertwined and make my gaze and my choices operate more intuitively when I compose. Making comparisons in time, seeing defaults or recurrences is a good engine to lead you towards new creations. I sometimes feel like I'm on automatic pilot, which is not very floral for the example of the shot. . . From another point of view, I often integrate elements of flowers or nature, taken from old books from the 50s in heliography. I find that they have a strong power of abstraction and are often a good binder for the multitudes of ingredients I use. If not a few walks in the Vosges not far from Strasbourg sometimes rejuvenates me!
What advice do you have about finding creative flow in your practice and being 'in the zone', any routines or things you do that help you ?
The magic recipe :) I often ask myself or ask the question again. . . First of all, start the ritual with anything before, as long as it is a question of filling up with energy and wanting to get into it. Music or radio broadcasts help to immerse me in an atmosphere, a mood of my own, a listening to the 'outside' as well. Then, to generate a start, I often start by tidying up my desk and its pile of paper fragments. Through books and magazines on various themes, I like to have a varied range of 'ingredients'. When I cut, crush to define the lines, I end up with mounds of fragments that I file on my desk. I will organize by colors, sizes, elements with more or less textures, and like a pizzaiollo, I will pick and choose as I please in my search for compositions and balance. I have lots of completely abstract, or elements of bodies, faces, plants, birds, snakes, architecture. A whole world devoted to mixing it up afterwards. Sometimes I reshuffle the cards: 'Tabula rasa'. . .
Tell us about Mekanik Copulaire (click to discover) and the work you do ?
I started self-publishing in 2010, and I kept the magazine ‘mékanik copulaire’ on paper until n°9 (end 2016). Today, I continue to make a few books, but mostly my own collage collections, and to diffuse my snapshots collections. Making and distributing books takes a lot of time, and I needed to refocus on the evolution of my collages. However, I continue to share what touches me in contemporary collage via Instagram on the page of the same name: ‘Mékanik Copulaire’. It is an opportunity to make visible collagists from different backgrounds, of all ages and styles. There are people I’ve known for a long time and who I share regularly, but I always try to find new profiles. Once the agreement has been requested, I share what seems to me to be strong and consistent with my sensitivity as a curator. I see a lot of other blogs or zines like that (Weird Show, Collage Expo, Oltre Collage, Cults of Life, Collagewave, La Lucarne, Discovercollage, Toombes etc), and each time, I like to see there like another horizons, the choices that are made there.
Follow his page to keep up to date with his work at @billnoir.chasomos
& you can also purchase limited edition artworks of his at billnoir.bigcartel !
- PSYCHIC GARDEN