BA Fine Art Painting, University of Brighton final-year student Charlotte Guérard speaks to Kitty Bew.

“The painting becomes an object or an archive of my gestures, something that happened in my body separate to what happened in my head.”

Charlotte Guérard is coming to the end of her third and final year at the University of Brighton. In the studio she shares with nine others we discuss her formally-rich practice that is rooted in the physicality of abstract expressionism.

Guérard’s mixed-media abstract paintings are defined by dynamic, gestural brushstrokes, puddles of bright colour and the odd panel of fabric, guided by an intuition for colour, gesture and form. Canvases testify to the consequences of layering; coatings of paint, paper or textile that collectively speak to the ‘history’ of a canvas in action.

What is your background, and what do you study at Brighton?
I’m originally from France, so I came to England four years ago. I started by doing a foundation course and after that came to Brighton. One of the reasons I applied to this course was because it was fine art painting, of which there aren’t many in the country. I remember the open day and the person who presented the course talked about how painting is so broad and you can do so much stuff with it. It made it feel like quite an expanded field.

Looking at your Instagram, your work seems to have been a lot more more muted in terms of colour than it is now. Do you think your practice has evolved over the course of your time at university?
Definitely. I got introduced to abstract art when I came to England and saw the abstract expressionist show at the Royal Academy of Arts in 2016. I remember going there and I knew two names on the poster – Jackson Pollock and one other. I walked in and it felt so important. From there I started painting a lot like the abstract expressionists. In first year I was really looking at Willem de Kooning. As it evolved, colour became the initial part of my painting.

What are your other influences?
I think abstract expressionism is at the root. Recently, because my work has become more about shapes and composition, I was looking at the British abstraction movement – Roger Hilton, Patrick Heron etc. Now it’s like a big mixture of all kinds of influences. I went to see the Albert Oehlen and the Amy Sillman show. I also like Oscar Murillo and even Pamela Bartlett.

What other kinds of materials do you use?
At the moment, collage is the only mixed  media that I am using in my work. I paint mainly with acrylics, and I’m not using massive amounts of mediums with it. I think in a way I’m really digging deep within that small amount of materials and seeing what I can do with it, how different it can appear on the painting. It’s quite a good exercise.
I had a solo show last year in May and I had to get 17 paintings ready for it. I used paintings I’d done already and stretched them, cut them, and just paste them back together. I’m really into layering, and having a narrative through the layers, because there isn’t a premeditated image or history in terms of the story of the painting. The story of the painting happens when I’m creating it in the moment.

Is tactility important to you?
Yes. I like using very basic material as a means of exploring different sense of touch. While my gestures in themselves can be something really grand, if I’m taking time to place the paper, making sure it doesn’t rip off, it’s much more delicate. There are so many actions and reactions in the way that there are different paces in the movement, different pressures. So it’s not just even about the visual and the composition at the time, it’s purely about the effect of the different senses of touch. There is a big balance in how much I let the accidental side of it come into – all the good stuff happens from what would have been an accident.

Have you always worked on such a large scale?
I do tend to work larger scale, although for a recent show I produced a series of four small-scale paintings. I think that small is a really good challenge. On a big picture plane you’ve got space to breath in-between, whereas in a smaller painting it’s like you don’t want to overdo the marks, overdo the layers – but you also want to have something to show for it. It’s like, how do you create the layering, and the history of the painting, without having a massive Lego block of things.

Do you see your paintings as sculptural?
Yes. I think that as well as the shapes, the colours, and the material, the gesture and the movement is a massive part of it. It’s like a performative act and again in terms of the layers and giving a story to the painting, my movements are kind of connected in that frame. This becomes an object or an archive of my gestures, something that happened in my body separate to what would have happened in my head. I’ve never been a dancer, but it’s this idea of performing – this isn’t just the painting, this is not a finished product, this is a product of an act that happened.

Do you like your paintings to have a strong physical presence in the gallery space?
I’m interested in the different ways you can encounter abstract paintings. When I had my solo show, I had an installation piece with four paintings, where one was sliding off the floor and some fabric was pulling down on everything, giving it the effect of a monumental object. I went to see a show of Vivian Suter’s work at Tate Liverpool, and she hangs unstretched canvases in the gallery on strings. These pieces are massive, but everything is so delicate. It’s really light, and you can imagine, if one of them was stretched on the wall, the weight it would have and how completely different it would appear.
I think that is another choice to be made in terms of how you want to show the painting. I think with abstract painting, that’s definitely something that you have the opportunity to explore. You can be quite experimental with that.

Charlotte Guérard on Instagram

Degree show: Dates and details for an online exhibition to be confirmed.

Interview by Kitty Bew, one of eight a-n members on the a-n Writer Development Programme 2019-20

1. Charlotte Guérard, Gherkin, acrylic and paper collage on canvas, 22x18cm, 2020.
2. Charlotte Guérard, installation view of ‘Notch’ exhibition at the Fishing Quarter Gallery, Brighton, March 2020.
3. Charlotte Guérard, Antagonist, acrylic on canvas, 54x54cm, 2019.
4. Charlotte Guérard, Day 28, acrylic on board, 64.5×97.3cm, April 2020.
5. Charlotte Guérard, Red and Black, acrylic on canvas, 170x148cm, 2019.