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In the Studio: Edmond Rochat

by Allison Malafronte

 

A naturally curious and observant person makes an excellent candidate for creating art of many kinds—paintings, sculpture, poetry, design, film—and the more experience and observations one gathers, the richer one’s output seems to become. New York-based painter Edmond Rochat is someone who spends just as much time exploring, reading, contemplating, and taking stock of the world around him as he does painting, and as a result his work contains multiple layers of meaning and depth. As a young artist with a strong interest in the humanities—specifically literature, philosophy, art, religion and history—it’s not surprising that Rochat gravitated toward a classical style of painting, and that he looks to such past masters as Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Rembrandt as exemplars.

Morning Fog, 2018, oil on panel, 20 x 24 in.

In addition to being adept at portraiture and multi-figure compositions, Rochat has in recent years demonstrated his penchant for paintingdimly lit, quiet, and predominantly unoccupied interiors with an omnipresent sense of calm and mystery—which has helped him create a style we easily identify as his own. While Rochat is an artist who cultivates his curiosity and interests with determination, he also clearly cares about those viewing his work, spending generous amounts of time, attention, and detail helping others see the beauty and intrigue that he has discovered. In this Q+A, the artist shares insight into those observations and experiences, while describing how different art forms and sources of inspiration intersect in his work.

AM: You just had an opening for an exhibition titled Nature and Form. What was the body of work about, and how did you go about selecting the venue to exhibit it?

ER: A friend and I were having conversations about aesthetics and how art speaks through form, or in other words the way in which it is conveyed. The conversations were largely about poetic forms, but there are a lot of parallels between poetry and painting. My friend works for First Things magazine and suggested putting together a show. We had a great turnout for the opening, and the magazine was great to work with.

The drawing and two mural color studies from Rochat’s recent Nature and Form exhibition.  Plato and Euclid Mural Study, 2019, oil on panel, 9 x 12 in.

AM: Was there a painting from that exhibition that you had a particularly memorable journey with, and if so can you share the details of how it came about?

ER: One that comes to mind was actually made up of a drawing and two small oil sketches. The drawing is a recreation of a wall and door from a Neoclassical space in the city. The others are color studies of possible murals for the wall. I enjoyed putting myself in a position to think about designing and ornamenting a wall that must integrate into an already existing space. Plus, the murals are designed as allegories, which gave me a chance to think about picture-making outside of my usual practice. I chose three significant figures from Greek history: Sophocles, Pericles, Plato and Euclid. The challenge of how to represent the meaning of these figures and allow them to have a living presence in our imaginations was solved through the form of allegory.

Nocturne, 2017, oil, 14 x 11 in. AM: What was the last exhibition (or perhaps a single piece) of historic work that you saw that motivated or moved you greatly? What was it about the work that spoke to you?

ER: Several months ago I visited the New York State Appellate Division of the Supreme Court on 25th Street. The courthouse was built in the late 19th century, and it is an incredible building. I’ve been studying a lot of art from that time in American history—not only the paintings but also thesculpture, architecture, ornamentation etc.—and the courthouse is an amazing example of the integration of all these arts. I’m fascinated by the idea that so many different types of artists contributed to a vision that is greater than any one of them could do individually. Also, I love the idea that profound design is not simply done for the museum or the gallery, but for the streets, parks, and buildings of everyday life.

AM: Do you read a lot about art/art history? What was the last great book you read?

ER: I do read a lot about art. Right now I'm coming back to a collection of essays by Ananda Coomaraswamy. I also have been reading a lot on architecture and ornamentation design lately. I think good design is something I'm always trying to learn more about. It has less to do with what materials you're using and more about cultivating perceptions. I find this inevitably informs my paintings.

Donat Profile, oil on linen, 20 x 20 in.

AM: A lot of the scenes and subjects in your work are painted in dim or diffuse light and have a mysteriousness about them. Has film or other art forms played a part in developing your “visual lens” or is this type of setting just your personal preference?

ER: Yes, I have a couple friends working in film, and it’s always a pleasure to discuss ideas with them. A few years back I read quite a bit on cinematography. I found these books were more helpful for composition than many of the books I previously read for painters. The books on painting composition seemed preoccupied with bringing abstract ideas into the picture, but cinematographers are more aware of how and why a picture elicits specific emotions in the viewer and how to change the design to produce different emotions. But, ironically, many cinematographers are inspired by Caravaggio and Rembrandt. For a while I was studying a lot Hitchcock. Whenever I saw a shot that interested me I’d do a small sketch of it and later analyze it.

A String in a Maze, 2017, oil on linen, 25 x 30 in.

AM: Your training has included education at the duCret School of Art, the Janus Collaborative, and the Art Students League of New York. You now teach at the Florence Academy of Art (Jersey City). If a young artist who was just embarking on his or her training asked you to recommend an educational path, what would you say?

ER: Come to New York. There are so many schools here teaching solid drawing and painting skills. Sometimes it feels a little like nineteenth-century Paris in the sense that New York has some of best artists working and teaching all in one town. Plus, there is so much here to feed the intellect and imagination, which is also essential for an artist’s development.

Untitled, 2018, oil on panel 20 x 16 in.  AM: You and Stephen Bauman recently curated Prism at the Florence Academy of Art. What did you learn from putting together this show, and why do you think it’s important for artists themselves to organize art exhibitions and events?

ER: Prism was also an outgrowth of conversations about the importance of the formal qualities of painting and drawing. How does the use of material contribute to the meaning of the painting? How does the artist edit and design the subject so as to speak poetically about it? Can the artist extract something from the subject other than an accurate depiction? These were the types of questions Stephen and I were asking. I always think of Joshua Reynolds’ statement that the job of the artist is not simply to deceive the eye, but to speak to the heart.

AM: What do you enjoy most about the art community in the New York area? What do you wish were different?

ER: Recently I haven't spent as much time as I would like with other artists. I think one of my favorite places in the city is the Salmagundi Club. It’s a great place to meet with colleagues and catch up. I've been a member for a while now, and I have found it to be a helpful and supportive place.

AM: What are some projects, exhibitions, or events that you are working on or looking forward to in the coming year?

ER: I’m going to be part of a group exhibition in May at Booth Gallery. The show is called SPACE. I’m also starting a few more interior scenes and a couple portraits too, all of which I'm really excited about.

<em>Light for the Orphans</em>, 2016, oil on linen 20 x 24 in.