Interview: Bill Noir

First few basic questions, who are you, what are you doing, where are you coming from?

Bill Noir, nickname and play on words, hides an image enthusiast born in 1981 in Tours, France. After studying at the ‘Ecole de l’image d’Epinal’ in the early 2000s, my interest in creation led me to pinhole photography (camera obscura), experimental super 8 film, silkscreen printing, collection of vernacular images (family photos) and since 2008, my concentration is mainly oriented towards collage. The publishing practiced alone under the name of “Mekanik copulaire”, opens towards small publications (about thirty to date) that gather and show other collagists, my collections of found photos, but also the diffusion of my own work through dedicated exhibitions, bookstores, and online networks. I regularly exhibit in collective events or with small organizations and sometimes collaborate to editions and other orders.

Why collages? How you started to do them and what was the first thing that caught your attention and made you want to try out yourself?

Collage is for me an object of fascination, developed during my studies. A love for this iconoclastic young centenarian, honored above all by the German dadaists (Hannah Hoch, Raoul Haussman, Kurt Schwitters…). It’s also because of having put my attention on some old magazines (Les Arts Ménagers, Paris Match, Mécanique Populaire… ), found in various flea markets. These provide a cornucopia of materials: textures, image sizes, abstract details, and a unique palette that I personally find especially between the 40s and 70s.

“I am intoxicated by the surrounding disorder, the loss of reference points often prepares the way for a surprise.”

Your style is very vibrant so when you start a new piece, do you have a clear vision of what you are going to do? Do you start build collages around your vision or do you let the collage build itself around the materials you come across?

Thank you! I’m an avid user of improvisation. However, there is a lot of preparation, in terms of selecting my magazines, books, cutting out shapes, classifying the workshop space, to arrive at a stimulating organization. When everything is in place and the mood is right, I launch music or a radio podcast, and I let the elements react before my eyes. I am intoxicated by the surrounding disorder, the loss of reference points often prepares the way for a surprise. I consider that if the astonishment or vibration works on me, it will surely work with others… I sometimes make little sketches in notebooks to materialize some ideas, but the result often drifts! At recent open workshops, one person told me that they felt I was “modeling” the compositions. I liked that idea!

In your artworks, what are the most important things/elements to yourself? Do you have certain things that you notice to pay more attention to, like shapes/forms, content?

Through books and magazines on various themes, I like to have a varied range of “ingredients”. When I cut, crush to define the lines, I end up with mounds of fragments that I file on my desk. I will organize by colors, sizes, elements with more or less textures, and like a “pizzaiolo”, I will pick and choose as I please in my search for compositions and balance. I have lots of abstract elements, or pieces of bodies, faces, plants, birds, snakes, architecture… A whole world devoted to mixing it up afterward. Sometimes I reshuffle the cards:”Tabula rasa”… Thinking back to the idea of a perpetual search for shapes, it reminds me of a short story by Virginia Woolf which had marked me a lot:”Solid objects”.

What are your favorite subject and media? How do you approach the subject when you start to work?

I don’t really know if I’m aware of a subject when I start collage. Of course, I often get attached to the human figure, or to certain body language, but I try to remain faithful to a certain wandering. Through these incessant montages, these improvised researches, the accumulation of my creations delivers a graphic language, made of unconscious games, recurrences, and implicit rules. The marriage of tones, the vibration of the elements between them on the support makes me consider the void as an actor of symbiosis. The space of the page leads me to search for depth, the opening towards the third dimension by stacking layers that overlap, fit together, trample on each other. Even when my compositions are purely abstract, because of the use of materials that carry meaning, I think I am in a certain evocation. It allows me to express an idea of chaos, certain psychic aspects, to play with free geometry. I have called my latest collage collection “Perles & fracas (Pearls and Smash)”  to divert the expression “avec pertes et fracas” (“with loss and smash”) and make the scrap look like a treasure. It’s also an opportunity to bring together the shock and the softness that I try to marry in my work.

How do your own artworks make you feel when you look them ready?

There may be some visual digestion time for some of them. If I still like them after six months, that’s a pretty good sign. Sometimes I’m a little disappointed right after realizing some of them and later see some positive aspects. Making comparisons in time, seeing defaults or recurrences is a good motivation to lead you towards new creations.

You also curate and publish Mékanik Copulaire, how would you describe its curatorial identity?

I started self-publishing in 2010, and I kept the magazine ‘mékanik copulaire’ on paper until n°9 (end 2016). Today, I continue to make a few books, but mostly my own collage collections, and to diffuse my snapshots collections. Making and distributing books takes a lot of time, and I needed to refocus on the evolution of my collages. However, I continue to share what touches me in contemporary collage via Instagram on the page of the same name: ‘Mékanik Copulaire’. It is an opportunity to make visible collagists from different backgrounds, of all ages and styles. There are people I’ve known for a long time and who I share regularly, but I always try to find new profiles. Once the agreement has been requested, I share what seems to me to be strong and consistent with my sensitivity as a curator. I see a lot of other blogs or zines like that (Weird Show, Collage Expo, Oltre Collage, Cults of Life, Collagewave, La Lucarne, Discovercollage, Toombes etc), and each time, I like to see there like another horizons, the choices that are made there.

How do you see that being an artist reflects you as an editor? And how being an editor has affected you as an artist?

The wall of the mirror is thin, and I think that every collagist feeds on various curiosities carried here and there. However, this stimulation is far from the idea of plagiarism, because there are so many parameters in this process that you really have to force yourself to copy someone accurately. In favor of the ‘Cadravres exquis’ (from french surrealists), I would rather say that it creates influences that slide between all of us. Since I travel a little (mostly in Europe) with my fanzines at book fairs and exhibitions, I have met a good number of glue-makers and have been able to transform a virtual connection into a real exchange. We are, I think as people, because of our experiences and exchanges, a kind of living collages.

If you should describe your art with one word, what would it be?

A word that is a collage of two: chaosmos!

Bill Noir around the internet

Instagram: @billnoir.chaosmos
Big Cartel:
Mékanik copulaire: @mekanikcopulaire