When he begins a new composition, the French painter Jean Claracq mines Instagram for the contemporary characters who will populate it, choosing subjects—mostly young men engaged in ordinary activities—and pairing them with unrelated backdrops that he stumbles upon in books and magazines.
As a result of this conjoining of different times, places, and perspectives, the dreamlike works are imbued with a feeling of transience between worlds. They invoke the contradictions of our simultaneously hyperconnected and isolated contemporary moment, but also tap into an ageless human conundrum chronicled throughout art history, from the quiet domestic scenes of the Dutch Golden Age to the passionate compositions of Eugène Delacroix.
Although the scale of Claracq’s oil-on-wood paintings is now often larger than the minuscule 5-centimeter- square works that first garnered him attention, they still require a steady hand, meticulous attention to detail, and the aid of special magnifying glasses to complete.
We caught up with the artist at his studio in Aubervilliers, on the outskirts of Paris, while he was preparing for his exhibition—now on view at the Musée Delacroix in Paris as part of the Foire internationale d’art contemporain (FIAC) “Hors Les Murs” program—where his paintings dialogue with the French Romantic artist’s own conflicted and melancholic canvases.
What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why?
When I go back to the south where I grew up, I often take my work with me, and everything I really need for work fits in a trekking backpack. So it’s obviously my favorite colors of oil, my favorite brushes, a bottle of medium, turpentine, magnifying glasses, a few rolls of paper tape, and my notebook/sketchbook.
What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to?`
Tomorrow I start the day with an appointment with a food artist to organize a party with all our friends in our shared studio. And after I am going to continue my work of a tiny sculpture made out of a tagua seed, which looks like ivory.
What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?
It depends on what I am doing. I work in a big shared studio called Le Houloc. I love to be surrounded by friends and artists, but when I work I need to focus, so I use headphones to be less distracted by what is going on around me. If I do energetic stuff I listen to pop music, like Lady Gaga and Mylène Farmer. But when I do very slow detailed stuff I listen to podcasts. I am a big fan of “Transfert” and I listen to “France Culture” a lot.
What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you most despise?
To me the key to forming an opinion on a work of art is having an understanding of the context of the time and place it has been made.
What snack food could your studio not function without?
Coffee!! And some mixed dried fruit… It’s not good enough to be a treat, but not so bad that you are not happy to eat it when you are hungry.
Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?
My favorite one is a French artist, Thomas Lévy-Lasne. Smart, funny, and deep. I am always happy when I see a post from Glen Baxter. And Jerry Gogosian is a lot of fun too!
When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck?
Thankfully I am sharing my studio with 20 artists! So when I am in a rut, there is always another one in the same situation, so we can take a break together for a cigarette or a beer. And it’s very important to let yourself and your work breathe a little.
What is the last exhibition you saw (virtual or otherwise) that made an impression on you?
My biggest surprise and mind-blowing exhibition this year was Laura Owens at the Fondation Vincent van Gogh in Arles! Very impressive and inspiring.
If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right now?
A photo of a knight, a plastic chair, and a friendly dog.