Purity is a failed state, an illusion. It is only through pushing the possibilities, blurring boundaries, and embracing the hybrid state of things that anything evolves. It is this idea that propels Arnaud Rochard’s work. “Already in my first year at the École supérieure d’art de Quimper, I became fascinated by the art of engraving,” says the Breton-born artist, who first spent one year in Brussels as an Erasmus exchange student, before he got lost permanently in the multi-layered cultural playground where, among other things, he helped the enticing art platform Le Kabinet to surface from the underground. “Partly because of the artisanal, tactile work with wood and metal. But also because of the fact that you work in different stages : drawing, making a matrix, inking, printing, etc. Even once you have mastered all of these techniques, there are still moments when unexpected variations occur. Trying to think through and elicit these accidental sparks is one of the most exciting things about this work.”
Arnaud Rochard’s studio is the perfect habitat for that. In this artistic jungle works on paper and canvas are resting on painters’ easels or hanging from a laundry line, there are wooden matrices, sketchbooks on a rack, sources of inspiration on the wall, books on Otto Dix, punk, and Peter Doig on a shelf, and an assortment of tools: a series of gouges, but also pastels, charcoal, acrylic and oil paints, stamps… “This place is much more spacious than my last studio. And that affects my practice: I can make work on much larger scale and there is more space for experimentation. I am part of the history of that ancient technique, and it nourishes me constantly. But I also wonder what it means to make engravings nowadays. How can I take the art form to new places, expand its borders so that I can appropriate the medium and add something to it?”
The answers to these questions have led Arnaud Rochard to experiment with works in which he blends engraving with painting to such an extent that it is no longer clear which has the upper hand. By retracing, accentuating, or concealing things with paint, by working on canvas, by directly inking the canvas rather than the matrix, or by using homemade stamps that allow him to focus on the pattern and the pure forms themselves instead of on composition and perspective. “Until the weight of engraving evaporates into a more or less undefinable technique.” Until the density of the foliage obscures your sight.
This loss of perspective is closely linked to the luscious universe that Arnaud Rochard evokes. “Before, I often depicted characters in a post-apocalyptic landscape, gradually being overgrown by nature. A universe suffused with suffering and agony, very much in the European tradition… Lately, nature has taken the upper hand completely, to the point where the figures are only barely discernible, like wandering ghosts.” The inevitable finality of humanity, dissolving in the hybrid world that surrounds us. “A return to nature, finishing the cycle.” Kurt Snoekx