Zirignon Grobli, the Abidjan-based psychoanalyst, studied philosophy and is a self-taught artist. His highly personal pictorial technique involves destroying the image of the Other before repairing it through language.
Why did you start painting?
Through necessity, due to the profound conviction that this medium could help me resolve my aggressiveness and death anxiety. I started spontaneously colouring like children do, in the hope that the process would enable me to absorb some of my suppressed aggression and free me from the grip of my anxiety. I find release by giving free reign to my destructive sadism, but this moment of pleasure is mingled with the guilt associated with transgressing the law of the father, making me want to repair the transgression, which is where the real creative process comes in. At this point I enter the symbolic, leaving revealing traces that I call « pretty remains » as they constitute a victory over destructiveness.
You begin by destroying in order to recreate new images. What kind of images are they?
Images that express myself. I am deeply influenced by my psychoanalytical background, and believe that the relationship with the Other is characterized by aggressiveness. The first act is fight or flight: the image of the Other is first and foremost an image to be destroyed. I smear the white surface with dirt, colour, dyes, anything that will help destroy the Other.
Your work can therefore be situated in the same vein as other African artists who use the creative matter they find on their doorsteps.
I start off with any old thing. In analytical terms again, I needed to articulate the sadism that was stopping me from symbolizing my urges. So I let myself go, always pushing the boundaries of this process to the extreme limit, attacking the canvas with knives, emery paper, my own nails… I scratch, rub, rip, gut, polish, wash, releasing myself ready for the next stage. The medium symbolizes the mother: painting corresponds with the pre-verbal phase when the child has to attack the dominating mother it is intrinsically related to in order to impose him/herself. I am not trying to create at this stage, but rather to free myself from the clutches of the Other. Then I can start the repair process.
That is when you add a very simple image.
It is always the image of a human figure, whether an individual, or a dual unity, two attached people, often with a third person in opposition: pleasure and harmony are forbidden by the law, by the father. My painting is destruction and repair through the language of the image of the mother, which was destroyed in order to be able to express my personality.
Are you are the only person working on this process, or are there others?
It is a universal process, which is what alleviates the guilt! I recognize the same process in relations between people and between countries. We confusedly long to express the suppressed desire to destroy, threatening human existence in the world itself. This is why it is essential to symbolize and sublimate so as not to have to carry out the act in reality. Art is a good way of doing so. It lets you to shake off repression. Pleasure is forbidden, but symbolic satisfaction is allowed.
A process of initiation can be identified.
African initiation effectively involves the refusal of symbiosis with the child, the mediation of the father, the determination of the human as a gendered individual, which boils down to the forbidding of the pleasure of being in society. In short, a universal process. I think that at the end of the day, all that is fundamentally African is fundamentally universal, which is why I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a typically African symbolism.
Your paintings can ultimately be seem as the repetition of an obsessional content unrelated to their environment.
Absolutely. I am not interested in anecdotal or decorative painting. What interests me is exploring my urges as far as possible. As soon as I feel constrained, I turn to my painting! It stops me from threatening society. It is a release.
It reminds me of Jawlenski who painted the same portrait of Christ over and over again.
Yes, like Rouault too. I have often painted Christ’s portrait myself. I have angled my work towards a process of producing language. I would probably not have had the courage to launch into this type of symbolic representation of my destructive urges without my analytical training.
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