Welcome to the archive of the John Barleycorn blog, produced by Howard Gayton and Rex Van Ryn during the process of creating their graphic novel John Barleycorn Must Die. As part of that process, you'll find discussions of magic, of creativity, and 'Around the Table' discussions with a range of internationally known artists, writers and film makers. The graphic novel was printed in a limited edition, so if you managed to get one, good for you! Although this project is over now, we're leaving this blog online as an archive and as a snap shot in time.

Friday, 8 July 2011

around the table with...Yoann Lossel. Part 2.

Part II of our 'Around the Table' discussion with Yoann Lossel and Claire Briant. (For Part I, go here.) 

Dramatis Personae:
R - Rex                Y - Yoann
H - Howard         C - Claire

Crépuscle Impérial.

Y – I would like to show a painting that is part of a larger project, as it may clear up certain points we've been talking about. Also, I would like your opinion, as you are part of another culture. 
H - Have you got it online?
C - He's got it in his pocket!
R – Wow!
H – It's a USB stick, Rex. Welcome to the brave new world we live in!
Y – This piece is called “Imperial Twilight.”
H - “Imperial”? Is that from a French historical perspective?
Y – No, it’s not “imperial” as in French royalty -- what I wanted to show in this painting was the Celtic notion of royalty: the man, the King, linked to his soil, to the landscape. If the landscape dies, the King dies. If the King dies, the landscape dies. Landscape and man are very linked in Celtic myth. The ancient role of the King is this way.
H - This is something that is also important to [my wife] Terri, very fundamental to her work and being: that landscape and community are linked. Shakespeare explored this relationship too; in Macbeth, for example, when Duncan is murdered, nature goes crazy.
C - In this painting, the central figure is a woman, so it is also related to the notion that the woman is the soil. Without a woman, without a Queen, there is no kingdom. That is why Arthur chases after Guineviere, after Lancelot steals her, because without a Queen there is no crown.
Y - This is very true, because man and landscape cannot be separated -- and if you do separate them, life has no meaning anymore. Your landscape makes you what you are. I want to show the importance of this notion in my work. It is also the same with social context and political context. It has no meaning for us anymore. It just constrains us. I want to put more of the sacred in my work, to come back to the primary things.
C - What Yoann wants is your first impression of the painting….
R - It’s very, very beautiful. Who was your model?
C - A friend of ours.
R - She’s gorgeous.
H - Because of your use of the word “imperial” in the title, it brings up thoughts for me of Britannia (who is a mythic figure here in England, a female personification of the British Empire), as the woman in your painting is sitting on a throne. What is she holding?
Y - A dagger.
H - Pointing towards her?
C – Yes.
R - And the throne is a tree?
C – Yes. It's a real tree, an elm. People around where we live, in Broceliande, say it is a tree that you have to visit before you enter the forest because it is your door. It is really big, and the branches here are like two arms just hugging you.
H - She is holding the dagger out, but pressed into her.
Y - Yes. This is the first painting of a series of paintings in which the subject will be shown as a double: in its Golden Age form and in its Twlight form. Here, in the Twilight version of this image, the woman represents the land and the dagger is placed against her heart -- but she's just supporting it there, she's not putting it into her heart herself. If the land is to be killed, to be sacrificed, then you are the one making that choice. This is an invitation to think about the choices you are making. She says: “I am dying, the spirit of the land is dying, because you are not believing in me anymore, you are not paying attention to me. You are putting this dagger against my heart. If you truly want to do this, I won't stop you. It is your choice. But make that choice wisely. After all, if you choose to kill me, I will come back, because I am immortal . . . but you are not!” 
C - So think!
R - There are shades of this in John Barleycorn as well.
H – Yes, there's a story line in our graphic novel that follows this idea...
R – ...as though we are writing in tandem with what you are painting.
C – Yes, every time we read your blog, we say: “Those guys are thinking like us!” We can see where you are going.
Y - I very much wanted to discuss this with you, because there are so many things to compare between my work and your work. I am very happy to be here.
R - And we are very happy to have you here!
H - Another idea you've brought up that resonates with our work is the sense of choice, of paying attention to the choices we make. This is a very important thing for me, both spiritually and politically. 
C – It is always about choice.
        H – Yes – and yet society, it seems to me, so often makes the wrong choices! Life presents us with choices all the time -- between “this” and “that.” If you choose “this,” there are certain inevitable consequences; and if you choose “that,” there are other consequences. When we look back at history, we see bad choices made and we see the consequences of them -- but then we seem to go on making those same choices again, somehow expecting a different result! On the personal level, too, we so often blindly repeat negative patterns in our lives – seemingly unaware that we can actually make the choice to behave differently, and therefore create a different outcome. The consciousness that I want to awaken, through the use of this theme in storytelling, is that at any moment one can chose to do things differently. You don't have to wait for things around you to change. You can make a choice and make a change yourself.   
Y – Yes, that is what I, too, want to show. It is very important, not for just me, for all of us.  
H – Can I ask you a technical question now about what medium you work in? Some of the illustrators in our previous 'Around the Table' discussions started off as painters, but now work primarily on computer.... 
Y – I am a painter foremost, and this is book is my bible: La technique de la peinture a l’huile by Xavier de Langlais. Again, it is all about making choices. I am trying to tell something; I want my paintings to bring a message to people, like in older times. . . so why not use the older ways? This book has all the old techniques -- even how to mix your colours yourself. You know, van Eyck had a better technique than painters three or four hundred years after him, and even now some of his methods are still a mystery to us. Oil paint is very demanding. You need to posses the technique or you will ruin it. 
C - You do have to be very aware of the time it takes to work in this way. For example, this painting takes two days of work, and then ten days of drying, and you have to do this again and again and again.
H - So that's very different than the speed of working on a computer! 
Y – Yes. It's related to the idea that we talked about earlier, about the spiritual nature of art: The way to work is to think your work, and then pass this out to your hand, and from your hand into the matter.
R - So thought becoming matter…which is a form of magic.
Y - Yes!
H - Do you work on computers at all then, Yoann, when you are doing illustrations or book designs? 
Y – After the painting, yes. And you, Rex? How do you work?
R - I love working with pencil or inks on paper, or oil paint on canvas. I don’t work on a computer at all.
H – When we spoke with Didier Graffet, he told us he works on computer a lot, but is trying to go back to painting. Dave Wyatt illustrates on computer as well, but is returning to painting and drawing for his personal work. The commercial world demands speed, but it seems that when artists want to do their own art, they return to pen on paper.
Y - I think that work that is not brought into the material world is not really existing.
H - David said that as well, that work created digitally is not “real”...
Y - It is nothing.
H - ...and printing it out isn’t the same as actually having the tactile artwork, made by hand. 
R - I came back to painting maybe seven years ago, after years of working in commercial illustrating and story boarding. It was the first time I'd worked with oils, and it was an absolute delight.
Y - Oil painting nourishes itself on light, and on time -- both the time that passes, and the time you put into it. In this way, it nourishes the artist in turn.
        R - Can I just mention Rembrandt? One of the reasons that I love Rembrandt so much is because his technique, in his latter years, allowed him to do amazing things with just single strokes. Like the way he interpreted pattern on cloth: If you back off from the picture, the cloth looks very real; if you get up close, it's just a very fast movement of the brush. No one else can do that like he did. 
Y - This book, La technique de la peinture a l’huile, says that each painter has his own technique. It is something that develops out of old techniques, but also contains something of himself too, a chemistry that can’t be imitated. Rembrandt used a lot of resin in his paint -- the resin makes it a touch thicker, but at the same time the paint is still transparent. Nobody uses that resin anymore, but it is a necessary ingredient in his paintings. It gives a glaze to the paintings.
H – We are almost out of time, but before we finish, I want to quickly return to a previous conversation about colour, and ask a question. What is your favourite colour, Yoann?
Y - I cannot choose, because each colour is important, and each colour is telling a story. That is why I dress in black, because I do not want to make this choice! But of course, in art you must make a choice, you must find the right colours to tell the story of your painting. And if you do this right, so your painting will be right. Again we talk of the importance of making choices.

H – Thank you, Yoann, and Claire, for making the choice to come and talk with us today!

R – Yes, thank you both. It's been a real pleasure.

We end with this drawing that Yoann gave to me, Howard, as a gift when he left Devon. Thank you.


  1. Thank you once again gents - and ladies on this occasion! - for another truly absorbing and informative post.

    "Imperial Twilight" is indeed a most visually arresting and beautiful painting. To be honest Yoann, I had thought that the model for this stunning work of art was your lovely companion Claire!

    If this is the painting of the 'Twilight form', I would very much like to see its partner image, the 'Golden Age form', to which you make reference above.

    I imagine also that "La technique de la peinture a l’huile" by Xavier de Langlais, would make a most interesting study.

    Signed: The Real Anonymous

  2. Thank you, Howard and Rex, for the retranscipt and the work it requires.

    Claire will probably be my model for "Imperial heyday" I'll make later.

    We could talk about painting a lifetime, Xavier de Langlais is devoting his.

  3. There are so many 'YES' moments in this post! Everything about the landscape I feel so very acutely (why I want to get out of the city!), but it goes deeper than that too. And about choices too, every moment is a crossroad with infinite paths...I think that's why we need artists (of all disciplines) so much, they show us the other paths that were not chosen, and show us the possibilities we can still choose. Nothing would ever change otherwise. And wonderful, wonderful paintings...I think I was first introduced to the idea of kingship as custodian/partner of the land in the old movie 'Excalibur', and it's remained a very potent idea in my mind ever since.

  4. I so enjoyed the discussion and think Yoann's work is absolutely stunning-and is so because of his feeling for the themes he is exploring. That the land and the king or queen are one is one I'd like to explore myself. I've decided the spirit of the artist is always felt if it is genuine.No amount of technical expertise can provide that result..and Yoann's emotion is evident in these pieces. Look forward to more art and discussion.Thanks