François Avril: The city as building blocks

The creator of our first cover speaks about travel, drawing, and architecture.

François Avril, kunstmuseum-II

François Avril travels frequently, but not in the way that you would expect. His journeys take him most often from Brussels to the Breton coast, passing through Paris. These are the locations of his three studios, where he is set on establishing the same workplace in each. “I hate being a tourist,” he explains. “I like to stay in one place, to get to know it, and allow it to influence me. Otherwise you only see things superficially.” On the contrary, inspiration can come from the corner of a street. “In Brussels, around my workshop, I see loads of interesting details, such as the barriers onto construction sites…, I can’t see the finished building, only flashes of colour, the composition, an angle, a snapshot. It’s easier to start with something ugly, because you can embellish it. When a building is overly beautiful, all you do by drawing it is make it ugly, make its beauty fade…”

And as for the far-flung journeys his drawings seem to evoke? “It’s not real. They are memories of different things which I put together, laying them down like things on a table, like Giorgio Morandi.” Whereas the early 20th-century painter used beautiful bottles and vases as the basis of his works, Avril uses his memories and imagination.

“I was born in Paris and have always lived in cities,” he tells us. “Roads, buildings, things built with a sense of perspective reassure me. When my father taught me about perspective, I started looking at everything as volumes, that you could reconstruct with building blocks.” An author of comic strips since the 1980s, François Avril quickly turned from illustration to working on canvas, which would go on to become his surface of preference. Influenced by Yves Chaland, who was his professor, his paintings retain the power of the black lines found in illustration.

François Avril, kunstruktion-5A red cube and a blue cog stand out on a black and white composition. Elsewhere, a square-shaped shadow cast by a bridge draws your attention. These details could be found on a Serge Polikaoff painting, or one by any other abstract painter, for that matter. “I often think of my pieces as compositions,” explains Avril. “It’s a question of balance. If I need more volume, for it to be bigger, finer, of a more striking colour, I add to it.” His “imagined reality” is composed like a piece of music. On the cover of Extra, tram cables form a network, a dream-like net, which it is clear the absent-minded photographer would never have captured.

When you ask him if he would like to see his cities constructed in real life, Avril hides a slight smile. “Of course part of me does. Architects have a lot of fun at the moment, because there are barely any more technical limits, so you can do anything. Even now at La Défense, the most recent towers are really striking. There’s also Canary Wharf, the Fondation Louis Vuitton, the Guggenheim in Bilbao… I would love to design a project that would be given to architects for them to create.” The call-up is open.

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