Alain Potrel is a Chicagoland painter, NU Research Associate, and the latest featured artist in our ongoing exhibition series Local Art @ EPL. His show – titled Ambidextrous – is currently on display on the 2nd floor of EPL’s Main Library where you can catch it through October 31. Specializing in Jackson Pollock-esque oils, Mr. Potrel has shown throughout the U.S., Canada, and France though he admits, “I never really studied art. I just paint my life, and life is an art.” We recently spoke with him via email about his artistic origins, creative process, and future plans.
Evanston Public Library: Can you tell us a little about your background as an artist? How did you get started in art? Was there something specific in your life that sparked a need to create? What drove you in the beginning? What drives you now?
Alain Potrel: Actually, from as far back as I can remember, my first art is and has always been science. That’s the reason I have a Ph.D. and a career in the Academy. When I was approximately 40 years old, however, I realized that to me “science” means trying to understand the world I live in and then expressing my thinking to everybody, not just a restricted group of people in my field of study. So I wrote a manuscript to express my ideas, but it wasn’t written like my Ph.D. dissertation or the papers I’d published in scientific journals. Like my previous publications, my manuscript was based on my knowledge, but it was also and mainly based on my life’s experience, my personal opinions and my feelings. It was also written in my own style and not following the rules of whatever potential publisher. So, in fact, what drove me in the beginning was to try to become who I am, once I understood who I was.
Unfortunately, I was unable to publish my manuscript, and after trying for a while, I felt stuck. I was living in Newfoundland at the time, and although all my friends were artists, none of them were able to help me or even give me an opinion on my writing as mainly I write in French and they were all English speakers. I was jammed and didn’t see any way to express myself to those I wanted to reach until one day I grabbed a large sheet of drawing paper and some colors and just painted. It was my first painting. Two or three weeks later, I had enough to set-up my first show and was finally able to share my thoughts and feelings with everyone. This was in 2005, and since that time, I’ve kept painting because I have to. Maybe one day, once I become known as a painter, I will even publish my writing…
EPL: How do you describe your art? Do you see yourself as fitting in with any particular artistic movements or styles?
AP: In fact, I don’t describe my art. I just paint. I let the art professionals describe my work: art brokers, journalists who write about my shows, fellow painters who actually studied art. The consensus is that I am an abstract expressionist. I mainly knew European painters so I did some research on this particular movement and found it is mostly an American school. I understand why I’m categorized as such. I feel very close to the works of these painters, in particular Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Rothko and Nicolas de Stael.
EPL: Can you give us a window into your creative process? When and where do you work?
AP: I paint my feelings. Everything that happens in my life makes me feel, and every feeling that I have I need to express. So basically I paint whenever I have to.
EPL: What are your future goals and plans as an artist?
AP: My future goals and plans are to keep painting and showing my work so I can touch more and more people and thus keep expressing my thinking which I am actually doing right now.
EPL: How do you find Evanston and the Chicagoland area as a place to work and exhibit as an artist? What inspires you as an artist about the community where you live?
AP: I love Chicago and the Chicagoland area. I want to keep exhibiting here, and I am always looking for more space to show my work. Everything inspires me whether it is winter coming soon, my first encounter with a lake the size of Lake Michigan, a walk in downtown Evanston, or the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup. The bigger the community the more I feel, and thus, the more I paint.
Interview by Russell J.