To say Brice Guilbert lives a slow pace of life would be misleading. As a prolific painter and self-taught musician, creative impulses constantly reverberate through his days. Whether it’s playing guitar or painting, Brice is always making. Yet his approach to subject matter certainly takes a steady approach. Over the past five years, he’s painted what is ostensibly the same painting of a volcano, drawn from a memory growing up surrounded by Piton de la Fournaise on the island of Réunion, near Madagascar. The title, Fournez, is how the Creole natives pronounce it.
Brice depicts the volcano erupting, often admiring Rembrandt’s use of chiaroscuro in ‘Les Pèlerins d’Emmaüs’ while he paints. As a child he’d often daydream of oozing lava spitting and puking from the crater near his home. Years on, having made a life in Brussels, Brice realised that by painting it, he could interpret and re-examine an eruption which he never witnessed, but frequently imagined: the beauty, the danger, the fear. Even now while he paints from his studio in the north of Europe, the lure of his Indian Ocean childhood spent gawking at the volcano continues to excite him. He likens the meditative process to the protracted reverberations from his guitar while playing – applying paint as if he were strumming chords in a long melody.
In reverence to the intensity of an erupting volcano, Brice paints armed with his instruments: a heat gun and an array of oil bars, which he makes himself. The whirring gun melts the hard paint making the texture softer and more malleable, his lava. By keeping the paintings alive with nature’s elements, air and fire, his process mirrors red-hot magma seeping into fissures of rock, before drying, basalt-hard. Brice varies each painting with muddied colour palettes, working at different speeds while the paint cooks and coagulates on the surface.
When he began painting Fournez in 2016, he’d work directly on top of torn pages from ‘Le Dessin Francais Au XIX Siecle’ – a black-and-white printed anthology of canonical French 19th century painters, chosen by writer René Huyghe. Painting over the greats in thick hot oils, Brice would make his stamp on art history, too, a comment perhaps on the explosive impact of great art. After three years of accruing more copies on eBay, chuckling to himself as he either defaced or revered pages from the book, he realised the wood-pulp paper would deteriorate over time. He now favours a cotton-based substrate for its durability, and wood for larger paintings, still commemorating the book by using sheets of identical dimensions, before levitating each painting in imperfect oak frames.
Brice visits Réunion once a year, like a pilgrimage. Whether in his Brussels studio, or once again in the land of his childhood, he’s continually pulled back to the spectacle of the volcano. Eruptions are frequent there, the latest was this year in April 2021. Although Brice missed it, his imaginary eruptions live on, percolating and rumbling under the crater.