Richard Peduzzi The Soul of Drawing
Drawing is often associated with a tradition that has been interrupted and whose continued existence is threatened. Why do people consider it a practice whose time is past?
The practice of drawing has never been outdated. From when I was a child through today, I have always drawn. Today, more than ever, drawing helps me see and understand what I observe. I learned to draw both from my father and the only teacher I ever had, the sculptor Charles Auffret. Later, when I was director of the École Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, I invited him to teach there. All the students loved his courses. At that time drawing was a way to escape the discourse and excessive theorization that dominated teaching. It was and still is an important part of the training of all young students. It educates the eye and the hand. Drawing provides the essential framework and the real backbone for artistic education. I would even say that drawing makes it easier to understand and take up the new technologies. There’s no reason to be afraid of using certain tools like a T-square and a plumb line. It might seem old-fashioned, but this kind of basic training is necessary. Just as learning to write requires mastering grammar and spelling. Drawing teaches how to see, it sharpens the eye and brings together technique and emotion.
What personal need does drawing fulfill for you? Does it give you some special satisfaction visually? Does it have to do with your theatrical vision as a set designer?
Without a pencil between my fingers I can’t get hold of what I’m looking for. I always have a pencil in my hand or my pocket when I’m thinking and looking. I draw everywhere—in the métro, restaurants, while traveling, and on anything at hand. These free sketches on paper are like the musical
scale from which forms arise. When I have an idea I turn it over again and again in my head until it’s ready and I can set it down on a blank piece of paper. I need to work out all the variations on my ideas. Often I start with a minuscule sketch and then make it bigger so that I can find the scale and balance of the shapes, to get their proportions just right.
That’s how you come to design your sets.
I use drawing to find a way to keep the various elements from floating in space and make them form an ensemble. As Mies van der Rohe famously said, “The more I advance the more I erase.” I think that corresponds to my drawing process. I try to find just the right perspective. On paper I try to use lines and style to achieve an openness to the infinite and make the space breathe along with the actors. The set is a character in its own right. I need to figure out its functions and the right balance in relation to the text, the direction and the actors. When I accomplish that, that’s when I feel like I’ve done my job properly. When I work with a text, I always try to bring it into my world, to reproduce the landscapes and buildings that trouble my dreams. It’s always by looking and sketching that I establish a relationship between a play, a directorial approach and my own work.
Drawings reveal the tension between the quest for the perfection of line, with all that entails in terms of the length of time required, and the pleasure of rapidity, the quick sketch and the heat of the moment. Which aspect do you prefer? Or do you alternate between them?
I love the tossed-off character of certain drawings, even their clumsiness. They make it possible for me to see more deeply, more precisely, to give form to my dreams. A sketch conveys a feeling of infiniteness, the enchantment of rapidity. In sketches that sometimes produce that modern sensation of unfinishedness, you don’t see the effort and the work involved. A drawing should have nothing tired about it. Its lightness comes from the heart and the sprit the heart imparts. Drawing allows me to arrange forms so that they enter into a dialogue with each other, whether I’m looking to produce a harmonious feeling or to shatter that feeling. I try to introduce something like the march of time into my work: before drawing a wall in ruins I like to understand, through drawing, what the building looked like before its destruction.
Do you have preferences?
There exist something like families that artists feel they belong to. Once when I was working at the Louvre on an exhibition of drawings by Claude Lorrain, I found a wall that resembled a drawing of a building I had once made. I said, jokingly, to the conservators around me, “Hey, look, he copied me!” Art history is a line that goes both ways. You can find links between today’s art and the distant past. For me, more than ever, the goal is to seek the best in drawing.
Do you thinking a drawing can be compared to a piano sonata?
There’s music in every good drawing.
I can’t forget something you said to me one day, early in the summer, before you left, “The definition of happiness: to draw in Italy.”
That’s right. The definition of happiness is to travel, watch the landscape go by, draw in Italy surrounded by the people I love.
Translation, L-S Torgoff
Stage designer Richard Peduzzi did the sets for all of the operas and plays directed by Patrice Chéreau since 1968 and also of his films. He works regularly with Luc Bondy and international museums. He was the head of the École Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris from1990 to 2002, and then of the Villa Medici in 2002-08. Georges Banu is an academic and essayist. His latest book is Amour et désamour du théâtre, Actes Sud.
Page de gauche / page left: « Quai Ouest » (B.-M. Koltes, 1985). Mise en scène Patrice Chéreau. Théâtre des Amandiers, Nanterre, 1986 Stage design for “Quai Ouest” by B-M Koltes Ci-contre / opposite: « Peer Gynt ». (H. Ibsen et E. Grieg, 1876). Mise en scène Patrice Chéreau. Théâtre de la Ville, Paris, 1981. Stage design for “Peer Gynt”