Once in a while, you meet really great people whose stories are ones you’d love to share with others. In the first of a new monthly series that's simply called, “People,” I sit down with French artist Thibault Sendra. Originally from France, Thibault now calls Vancouver home and is a rising star in the art world. Although he’s only been painting for a few years, his large canvas work is capturing the attention of many in this city and beyond. I stumbled upon his work at the recent Lab Art Show at the Roundhouse and immediately fell in love with his kinetic, abstract work. I recently visited his art studio in East Van where he immerses himself in downtempo beats that allow his sticks and palette knives to dance on canvas; the music is perhaps a source of that kinetic, flowing vibe.
Immediately what you notice is that Thibault is kind, thoughtful, passionate about his work and engaging. He has a curiosity about life but is also a realist - that’s the French side coming out. Although he says it like it is, you don’t sense any ego - he is happy with his current journey as a young painter but also visionary in pushing himself further with the medium to incorporate current technology. Only four years in, he already understands the power of marketing but won’t let it dictate what he wants to do. Staying true to himself as a painter is a mantra that he intends to keep.
When did you begin to paint?
I began to learn about illustration when I was 15 and followed that with graphic design and animation; but painting on canvases only started when I arrived in Vancouver in 2011. Although I learned so much in front of the computer I couldn’t see myself being stuck in front of a machine the whole time - I needed something physical and real; something I could make and be proud of.
Where do you find your inspiration when you paint?
Inspiration sounds like a magic word! To me, inspiration comes from the will to surrender to reality. I take the brush and make an abstract lead from the colors that my eyes pick up by instinct. My mood is a big factor of what will come out at the end of the day.
You are originally from France. What made you come to Canada, and why did you choose Vancouver?
Yes, I am from France and Belgium. Vancouver was the random destination selected on a map far away enough from France to put myself out of my comfort zone and start learning English.
Tell me about your current collection of paintings. What are you thinking about when you’re painting these?
I was so focused on portraits that I wanted to get out of it and do something else. I realized there are so many other things to develop and to talk about other than humanity. So the Libre Pensee (Free Thought) shows the birds being so free and it was a great topic to work with.
These days I’m more focusing on time related paintings. You see this painting with two women dancing? The abstractness of it makes it interesting. It’s not just two women; it could be any two human beings. I like the evolution so you have time and motion through it, because the viewer has an interaction - it’s more interesting than just a still picture that you have to understand right away.
So do you want the observer to think about what is happening in the scene? That there’s motion, right? Do you feel like there’s a story behind it or are you trying to evoke an emotion?
I think my work is open to anyone’s interpretation. I don’t want it to be too much in my own world, that it is only what I personally think it’s about. I try to give the viewer some space to figure it out for themselves and not be influenced by what I think.
‘Selfish’ is an interesting choice of words. Why do you think it’s selfish?
Painting is a selfish act. When I paint, I’m painting for my own pleasure and it so happens that it’s also my job and people like it - or not - but first it’s a passion as a job, so I see it as kind of selfish. You’re not working for anyone else but yourself and that’s great.
And if people like it, it’s a bonus.
Right, it’s a bonus.
So you’ve only been painting for four years. How has this journey been?
It was so tough in the beginning, but looking back I think it was okay. When you first start out you don’t really consider yourself as a painter. You just consider yourself as an explorer; exploring yourself. Anyone who starts to paint for his/her own passion is really doing it just for fun. And then you start to recognize that you have a skill and that you could develop that further - it’s not given to anyone else. You realize - “Ok, I want to push this further and work on it more,” but you also need to be tough. Nowadays, it’s not easy to be an artist so you have to understand who you are as a painter but also who you are painting for. A lot of other things add up, like marketing - the whole concept of being a painter goes well beyond the brush. And while you have to satisfy others, you must first satisfy yourself because if you don’t you won’t get anything interesting out of your inspirations.
So in the five years do you feel satisfied?
Oh yeah, I’m getting happier and happier. For example, in the dancers painting, they are related to time and motion and I want to develop that further through animation - animate my paintings through videos. Painting life as it is, the stroke has a meaning in an abstract way. It brings something deeper than just painting realistic portraits - it’s more raw, it’s more universal...
And left open to multiple interpretations.
So in the four years you’ve been painting, you’ve been happier and happier. Is that because more people are seeing your paintings and it’s good feedback and you’re doing well? What defines happiness for you as a painter?
People are always encouraging. But at the end of the day, it’s your job to make it work as a painter. Many artists are really good but they never end up being known - that’s the sad part. As I said, the strategy as a painter is to understand marketing, who to reach out, understand who’s going to like this work. You need to understand what you want to do - are you a painter for galleries, or a multi-task painter…
So which one are you?
I want to be galleries and I want to paint murals as well. I want to go bigger and bigger.
What’s one big thing you have in mind that you want to do, and would mean that you’ve succeeded?
To make a true living out of painting. You don’t sell a painting every day. Once you reach that point, however, you can actually begin working with your signature. Having said that, it’s still important to continue working out of your comfort zone - you have to try something new, otherwise the excitement is gone. It’s easy to do things when it’s working but then you have to find your own goal and not solely on what people want. Some galleries prefer you to work only a certain way or paint only a certain style because it’s what they believe people want but for me I want to go further.
Does that scare you if you go further that people may not understand what you’re trying to do?
No, of course not. I’m a human being like everyone else. For any painting, there’s always a client somewhere, always a client who will love it and but you’ll have to reach out and understand who this person is and why they like it. In Vancouver people love landscapes and it’s easy because people can relate to that - people like to follow others sometimes and feels like it’s safe and easy and they’re not taking too much risk. My art is more abstract and you either love it or you hate it.
Every artist has their signature style. Do you think you have a defined style yet or do you think you’re still evolving?
I’m still evolving but the gallerist thinks that I could be a black stroke painter because I often use black in my paintings. Black is hard to use, if you use too much black, the painting could be too depressing. Every painting is different and brings you to a new place and it’s good to see - step back and see what you’re doing and where it will bring you.
Do you have any intention of bringing your work back to France to showcase?
Yes, of course. Travelling can be cumbersome with all the logistics but I will have a show there for sure.
Are there any places in Vancouver you like to go to get inspired?
I don't choose to get inspired by specific things or by other artists. Everyone has a path in life; I am inspired by what comes to me. More specifically, what tickles my attention as a human striving to stay true to his feelings. Not everything shows up in the paintings but the soul of it is always present just by the fact that I paint and express myself. This way you can be sure that you never lose inspiration.
Who is your favorite painter?
I don't have any favorite painter, but when I like what a painter does, I usually seek more information about that person.
What is your daily routine?
Every day is different. I’ll usually email in the morning and go for a more creative afternoon in my painting studio or to random places I have to go.
What is the last book you read?
I just finished the biography of Phoolan Devi, otherwise known as India’s ‘Bandit Queen’ and a Member of Parliament in India. I am now reading Shantaram by Gregory Roberts, which describes India (and in particular, life in Mumbai) with poetry, honesty and humor. My wife is originally from India, so reading about her home country helps me to understand her a little bit deeper.
Besides painting, what is one additional thing that people might not know about you?
Painting is my favorite and most devoted job but I am also quite skilled at videography. I am a very free person: stubborn, nudist (at Wreak Beach), passionate, accepting and believing.