There was something very reassuring about my meeting with Jonathan Binet (b. 1984, Saint-Priest, France), who welcomed me at his studio on a sunny February morning. During our two-hour conversation, I realized that the potential of elsewhere can be searched right here and now, it doesn’t necessitate the motion of travelling elsewhere. Through his body of work, Jonathan Binet has built a world of his own, consisting mostly of monochrome spaces within spaces: to him, the transition into a new geography can take place in one room. The only thing that is missing from his studio is the view of the horizon.
You studied first at Beaux Arts in Saint-Etienne, later in Paris, gradually also moving from drawing towards painting centered practices. Could you walk me through your artistic path?
I have been drawing since my early childhood. When finishing high school, I wanted to follow my dreams and study fine arts at Beaux Arts. Even though I was determined to follow the artistic path, it wasn’t so easy: it was a real challenge for me, when even my high school professors doubted my capacities of getting into art school. When I finally got accepted to Saint-Etienne I felt very lucky: living in Lyon back then, this was also a chance for me to leave my parents’ place at the age of seventeen.
The first years of my studies was a very important period for me, also full of surprises: discovering this world was overwhelming, in a positive sense. I studied in Saint-Etienne until the end of my fourth year and then moved to Paris to study at Beaux Arts over there. Naturally, I was supposed to pursue my studies from the fifth year, but due to a mistake of the administration, the fifth year became all of a sudden the second. I decided to accept this in a very calm way and move to Paris no matter what– I was probably reading Kafka’s The Trial at the time.
This incident reveals the attitude that I have towards my work and life in general, and how my stance might often be the opposite of what is normally imagined.
How would you define your approach to the different media today?
The fact of moving to Paris presented a real evolution in my body of work: during that period I switched from the use of a pencil to a brush, then later to spray paint: this also marked a shift towards sculptural practices. Now with my new works, I’m focusing on drawing again. To me, all the different media are connected one way or the other. However, I would say that all of my work is based on drawing and questioning the idea how one line can define a space. I’m constantly trying to find the limits of this, and to explore different possibilities to address this question.
When I think about drawing, I think about a line. Since the early days of my work, I have considered drawing as a possible end in itself. When I started my art practice, I already had this idea in my mind, and drawing has since become my main medium.
The collaboration that you did for the Etudes Spring Summer 2017 collection takes the shape of an enclosing boundary of a spray paint can. The use of spray-paint marks is quite common for your work and started with the piece La Petite Moitié (2010), which is also the title of your show organized at CAPC in 2012. Does this material, or object, play a special role in your life - did you grow up doing graffiti?
When the volume of my works developed further, turning simultaneously into paintings – a period that I strongly associate with my arrival in Paris – I was somewhat stuck when trying to use a brush on canvas. I kept asking myself the same questions over and over again: “what and how to paint?”.
And one day, I was there with a spray paint can in my hand. It was actually a new object for me: I don’t have a background in graffiti, as people tend to think often. Spray paint allowed me to figure out how to draw, or paint, lines without the interruptive gesture. I started playing with it: next, I put the spray can behind the canvas, in a way that the stretched canvas worked as a button while creating the tension for the bottle. I just had to wait for the drips to arrive from behind in the front. This is how the piece La Petite Moitié was born: I did the first half of the painting, and the painting itself did the second part.
In your work, stretched canvases can take many forms: sprayed, painted or drawn elements cover fabrics often with a monochrome palette, which might be left partially nude or covered entirely. How was the experience of transferring your work towards silhouettes worn by men, without the rigidity of stretch bars?
The Etudes Studios collaboration is based on a work I did in 2014, called Voiture. This work was also inspired from a spray-paint can, however used in a different way than before. This time there was no sculptural dimension: the piece was born when I wanted to draw a circle using a spray can as a compass. The radius is the size of the spray can. Once again, there was the idea of continuing the movement in space, applied on a canvas. The collaboration, and the fact of working with garments, obviously gave a new dimension to the idea of continuity, conferring the work also a sculptural dimension.
There is also a spatial element, which is very important in your work when taking into consideration the architectural elements of the surroundings. Tangible elements, such as the use of raw linen, paint marks, and stretch bars are rather traditional elements of painting, yet they come to life in different, rather surprising ways through a spatial construction and deconstruction. Do you consider your work as something very site-specific?
When working on new pieces, I always have the upcoming exhibition in my mind. The spatial framework influences me a lot, especially in terms of finding a way to start a new body of work.
Recently, I’ve been trying to find an alternative way to work. I would like to be able to isolate my pieces from a spatial framework and have more autonomous pieces. However, the determining surroundings of the exhibition give always the second aspect for the work, and the contextualization will inevitably happen at some point. First, the pieces are shown somewhere, but they keep on moving to different contexts, and this is something I can’t control. This is also the reason why I would like them to be strong enough to stand autonomously on their own.
Besides this spatiality, your work includes also a strong performative element, when you approach the exhibition almost as a stage. Do you see this as a process, moving away from abstraction to concrete, or vice-versa?
The question how concrete gestures can make abstract images is very close to my praxis, and definitely an important part of my reflection. Recently, someone asked me why I shape canvas, instead of using a canvas of a regular format where I could paint my shape. I guess that would be easier to sell!
The physical encounter with pieces is essential to me: it is not whether something is visible to the spectator or not. For this, we can find images online. Computer and the Internet are actually really abstract elements to my practice.
Your works assume the significance of an encounter, first, between the canvas and your gestures, and later on, between the viewer and the finished work. Yet the proposed elements, are not definitive: it is rather an ensemble that fluctuates, and is bound to evolve in the future. I would say that the notion of time doesn’t correspond to standard measures. Do you intentionally seek to defy the standard notions of time?
Good question! Is the unconscious intentional? I have some kind of intuitive feeling with the notion of time, and it is a thematic that occupies my mind quite often. While waiting for the sci-fi machine, I hope that one day we’ll manage to go back to the future!
The Etudes SS17 collection centralizes around traveling, seen as a movement while highlighting the importance of time spent when journeying. The search of the unknown is also very characteristic of your work - the potential of elsewhere is being continuously searched for, using stretched canvases as if maps were being laid over one another. During our previous conversation, you told me that you don’t really like to travel to foreign places. What is your way to de-connect, especially in terms of everyday escapism?
It’s quite funny, I actually just spent one week in Cologne, where I am having an exhibition. Usually, I’m not very good at being alone in cities that I don’t know so well. But for the first time, it feels somehow different. The week has passed by quite quickly, and I didn’t experience the familiar feeling of loneliness that I often encounter when travelling.
I’m not sure if I need the everyday escapism, but I hope that one day I will have a little house in the countryside or next to the sea. I don’t have a view of the horizon either in my apartment or in my studio, and that is definitely something I miss a lot.
I can see that your studio is an important space to you. Do your work and your daily routines offer you a way to move away from your immediate surroundings?
The space was basically a garage when I first arrived six years ago. Throughout the years, I’ve built walls, wooden floors and windows that I can see the sunlight. My friends always make fun of me, as my studio is a constant work-in-progress: it is true, but when doing this, I find answers to my artistic work.
Now the place has become a sort of a big wooden cabin, where I spend a lot of time. When winter arrives, I often make fire in the wooden stove, change into my working clothes, turn on the music, and make some coffee. And then I might be just sitting and looking at the fire for a half an hour. Besides working on new pieces and doing some maintenance work, I also like to discover other parts of the building and the wasteland around it, I like visiting the surrounding muddy soils.
Where do you see yourself in ten years from now?
In ten years from now, on Mars. This afternoon in Neptune Bad, which is a really nice spa in town.
Conversation with Jonathan Binet, Paris, February 2017. Interview by Sini Rinne-Kanto. Photography by Études Studio