Berlin-based French artist is deeply influenced by the poetic simplicity of architectural structures, which he seeks to incorporate into his paintings. Evident in his grand, sweeping brushstrokes is an unrestrained exuberance. Yet Karsenti pays astute attention to detail and the “imperceptible quiver” of every movement of his hand. Karsenti offers us some philosophical insight into his work.
Tell us how you began fusing architecture and painting together.
To me, the picture is nothing without architecture. Before I began painting, I was deeply interested in architecture. I was and still am passionately fond of cathedrals. Between 1990 and 1995 I turned definitely towards painting as a means of expression. It was as if I decided to set out in a quest for self-coherence, detached from the constraint of laws that apply to architecture.
We understand that your paintings are driven by a unique philosophy.
The horizon, the bird or the branch become ribbons – ribbons like a Chinese dragon freed from all figurative elements. How do you depict a quivering ribbon on canvas? How does it occupy space? I look towards the work of Zhū Dā, (Chinese painter (1625-1705)), who depicts objects and creatures as they are – as pure motion, as a organic structure of forces in the world.
In my work, I try to visualise what a painting would look like if a Frank Gehry building was transported onto a two-dimensional plane. Each painting in the Serpentins series was executed with a single brush stroke. There is no possibility of backtracking or erasure. This risk of breaking down, building without any previous calculation, is the necessity of the very gesture that I emulate.
What are your major inspirations?
"Watch the meandering of everything", said Leonardo da Vinci. There are undulations in all the forces that shape the world, and I believe that this quote from da Vinci well encapsulates that theory. I am also inspired by Giotto, Rembrandt, Zhū Dā. Sally Mann and Robert Frank.
Theoretically, I subscribe to the belief that the linear form, whether imposed through violence or otherwise, is essential: the movement must find its own initiative in a “before” or a “below”, in a spontaneity made of desire and pain. “Now is already too late” is something that I constantly say to myself: only the brush ever has a chance of following things in their most intimate movements.
Do you think that living in both France and Berlin has changed your work in fundamental ways?
I’ve been living for one year between Basel (where I am currently on an artist residency programme) and Berlin. Artistically speaking, Berlin is at present what Paris was at the beginning of the twentieth century, but it does get so horribly cold in the winters! Basel is a fascinating town, built on a seismic break; it was totally razed to the ground in the 1500s. Both cities are culturally and historically interesting, and enrich my work in different ways.
Images courtesy of the artist.