Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 5, No. 6, 2006
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
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Bernard Dubé
Diane Gordon
Dan Stefik
Robert Rotondo
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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Emanuel Pordes
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Emanuel Pordes
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Gustavo Sigal
Guy Benson
Eric Bertrand
Lyne Bastien
Kapal Harnal
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Magdalena Magiera
Charles Malinksy
Marc Fortier
Bernard Dubé
Remigio Valdes de Hoyos
Mylène Gervais
Christina Coleman
Laura Hollick
Louise Jalbert
Rosemary Scanlon
Manitoba Art
The Gambaroffs
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward


Lydia Schrufer

I remain amazed and chastened because I had a preconceived bias about computer art and couldn’t have been more wrong. Computer generated art is supposed to be, I wrongly judged, slick, cold, contrived and impersonal. Photoshop art seemed so far removed from the sensual and organic touch of the artist’s hand. That was before I saw the work of Francine Hébert.

Francine’s work, although manipulated with Photoshop, maintains all the depth and sensuality that have always been present in her painted works. Since until quite recently she had been using the traditional methods of drawing, painting, printmaking and sculpture in the production of her art, I wanted to know why she embarked on a totally different and technically challenging direction.

During a recent visit to her studio, I asked Francine why, after years of success with traditional methods, she decided to employ computer bytes instead of a brush to create her art.

FRANCINE HEBÉRT: My decision was based on physical considerations when after a cancer I had to re-evaluate my life and my method of working. Although I now have a clean bill of health, the illness left me much weaker and less able to spend long energy-draining hours on my feet. The physicality of my way of working just wasn’t possible anymore. Art making is vital to my being, it creates my universe, but my main consideration had to be healing and making art had to be part of the healing process. I just didn’t know how I would be able to reconcile those two needs.

© Francine Hébert

LYDIA SCHRUFER: Are you still using similar source material that you used for your previous work or did you have to change your focus to accommodate the new technique?

FRANCINE HEBÉRT: The intentions of my work have remained fundamentally constant; only the treatment differs. This most recent work is my reaction to a walk I took during my convalescence, amidst an apple orchard whose venerable old trees I always called the sentinels. Those trees, despite being gnarled and wind blown, had withstood decades and were thriving. Just a short week after that walk I went back to that orchard and to my horror all the trees had been felled to make room for a new orchard planting. I was devastated to see those mangled old trunks and roots; it was as if everything there had been subjected to torture. The experience evoked a feeling of emptiness and I drew the analogy with my own fragile combat to survive. I recorded the destruction with my camera and I knew I had found a powerful subject for future paintings. I also knew it would be a long time before I would be strong enough to do anything about those images which have become my personal homage to the fragility of nature, where a whole universe can be revealed in the rings of a tree trunk. The catalyst that would solve my problem was a fortuitous meeting with a professor of digital art who is himself an artist. He opened my eyes to the possibility of ‘painting’ with a computer. I have to say that I was skeptical at first.

© Francine Hébert

LS: Nature has always played an important role in your work, featuring organic layerings and textures. Is that aspect difficult to maintain?

FRANCINE HEBÉRT: Actually, I always used the paint in a sculptural way. I would approach the canvas in a very tactile way, in effect sculpting with paint, which is what I’m now doing with the computer. My approach is still sculptural, and as it turns out the Photoshop tools offer infinite possibilities and lend themselves perfectly to achieve the effects I’m looking for. That discovery is a big relief.

© Francine Hébert

LS: What has your biggest challenge been so far? It can’t be as easy as all that to change your whole approach to art making.

FRANCINE HEBÉRT: The biggest and most arduous challenge has been to not only learn Photoshop, but to keep at it when it can be so frustrating.

LS: What can you tell us of the advantages and perhaps disadvantages of computer versus ‘brush and canvas’?

© Francine Hébert© Francine Hébert© Francine Hébert

FRANCINE HEBÉRT: In my case I only see advantages. Working with the computer allows me to keep expressing myself creatively and it suits my energy right now. Throughout my career I’ve often felt frustrated because I felt I was unable to adequately transmit my ideas. I’ve always wanted to explore more profoundly, to be able to make concrete the deep feelings of wonder and awe I felt for nature, and to be able to transmit that vision. I was often frustrated with the limitations of my materials. But now I’ve found a medium that, with a few clicks of the mouse, produces the effects and feelings I wish to capture. I know that makes this project sounds so effortless. What I should say is with thousands of finger cramping clicks of the mouse.

Right now I’m actually trying to sculpt a three dimensional image out of a two dimensional photo trapped in my computer which makes the computer my tool. Another problem that I am learning to solve is the consideration of scale. What I mean by that is try to imagine the relatively small format of the image on the computer screen having to be enlarged to almost life size. I want the finished works to be large enough to allow the viewer to interact with the image and reflect on his or her physical space in relation to nature. The artwork might look fantastic on the screen but once printed many times that size the work might lose some or all of its original power -- which means I have to begin again from scratch, spending many intense hours in front of the screen, cursing, stamping my feet and even on occasion tearing my hair out. On the other hand, there is no greater satisfaction than when it all comes together and, once enlarged and printed, the image evokes exactly the emotional reaction you intended it to have. I’m not saying that I’ll never go back to my beloved brushes, but for now I’m immersed in the possibilities of this new discovery.

Francine Hébert is presently working on a project that will be exhibited at the end of 2007 or beginning 2008. = shared webhosting, dedicated servers, development/consulting
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