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Sébastien Layral

Painting as a path
by Danielle Maurel


Sébastien Layral comes from wood and earth, he carries the haughty serenity of the Causse on his shoulder. Born in Rodez, the strong hill, he was immediately one with the elemental. To note his belonging to a lineage, he readily evokes men who are tough on evil, a direct relationship with things and beings, an art of keeping oneself camp.

Primitive roughness... today the raw canvas of the paintings that he stretches and starches himself, plowing the initial earth.

From childhood, of which he reveals little, emerges the keen desire, from the age of eight, to take a different path. Not that of the father or the clan, not that assigned by the judgment of others, convenience or norms. Far from the sirens of possession, it is about creating, imagining... After dreaming of being a surgeon then a priest, here he is caught in the waves of a constant desire to draw. A certain continuity, if you think about it carefully. Desire, which will be discussed so much later, can undoubtedly be formulated as follows: to circulate between the lines, to take place where one is not expected, to become other.


After a bachelor's degree in applied arts, the experience of the Beaux-Arts in Toulouse, from 1992 to 1995, planted the thorn of a wound in the skin of the days. Painting is not in keeping with the times, figuration even less so. Between the student Layral and the school, the misunderstanding is deep. Thanked without explanation before the end of the third year, he instantly became bitter and became, with hindsight, a lucid thought. The lessons of this disappointment are diverse and for the most part fruitful. First of all, a stubbornness: if painting is frowned upon, it is therefore this path that he must explore. Then, closing the door behind him, he forgets the history of art. The case is closed. No hard drive, only RAM. Finally, he developed, as if to fill a form of void, a strong taste for philosophy. Little by little, the triptych that he makes his own today is taking shape: think, say, do. A balance between concept, relationship and experimentation.

Being an artist is above all exploring the field of possibilities, closely examining the main principles to better shake them up. Become yourself by questioning what you/what has been, through the rigor of the processes and faith in adventure. A nomadism which is reminiscent of Robert Filliou's formula: whatever you do, do something else.

Amusing paradox, it is the air force, where he performs his military service as head of the photo lab, which offers him a large room where he can do what he wants, that is to say say paint.


Every journey conceals its side steps, its side paths. In reality, these are often approaches. Before opening a workshop in 1998 and thus entering into a career, Sébastien Layral worked for two years in an institute which welcomed young autistic people. The aim is to help these children produce an exhibition of their work. We can easily imagine the stakes of this project in the light of the artist's future approach: hearing the voice – even improbable, even tiny – of the other, putting oneself at their service, placing oneself in a one way or another from his point of view. My nature is not my nature, I don't mind changing it. At the end of this inevitably experimental parenthesis, the ground is ready, plowed both by reason and emotion. The artist knows that moving forward means questioning yourself, and that the answers are not the goal. And he knows how to move forward in a sick society, which only admits one point of view and violently imposes it.

For several years, Sébastien Layral went through an inner crisis which almost folded him into the workshop and at the same time unfolded him into ardent research. It is difficult to say for him what question guides, consciously or not, this quest. Maybe this: who am I? how to be the tree-self in the forest of other-possibles? In this great rustling silence, the self-portrait and the portrait will be the way, enriched, expanded from experience to experience.

From the outset, the artist inscribed the presence of others in his own appearance. By inserting his face into bodies borrowed from magazine press photos or lent by Internet users met on a forum, he initiates with this “common self-portrait” an interactive approach destined to enrich himself.

I am (in) another.

You are (at the heart of) me.


At the dawn of the 2000s, Sébastien Layral implemented in the construction of each (self)portrait a game of exchanges, relationships and gestures, via tools – computer, webcam, screen... Even very short, the intervention of the model guides the painter's work, even contradicts it. The model is for me the center of everything. The exchanges, virtual or not, quickly cross the tactile and the physical: texts of conversations hidden in the canvas, the artist's fingerprints, later tattoos during performances. By giving the model the opportunity to observe, comment, direct, and soon intervene on his work, he revisits an art of portraiture frozen by centuries of convention, rigidified in a relationship of domination which from one point of view subject tends to make an object: inert, consenting, mute. Conversely, Sébastien Layral never stops bringing the model into the canvas, and giving him the tools for his emancipation.

The “paintomaton”, developed in 2004, marks a marked orientation towards performance. Visitors to the exhibition are invited to instantly become models, while the public witnesses this live painting where the painter must adapt to the movements, even changes, of the model. Thus an ideal triangle artist / model / public emerges where the place of each changes, where a desire to be other circulates, if only for the time of a brief putting into play acquired positions and delicious bets. in an abyss.


From 2005, over the course of several exhibitions placed under the sign of an “ego” which became abundant @go, Sébastien Layral refined the principles which shape his work: thinking, saying, doing. His work gradually increases its reflective dimension, expressed by values or virtues: openness, emotion, doubt, energy, desire. A faith in the power of words – one's own, those of others – is also growing: whether they are said, inscribed, coded, tattooed, they anchor painting in a momentum that increasingly goes beyond the act of painting.

An ever-increasing confidence in adhering to his dream of sharing with the public, visitors, loved ones, strangers. My act of rebellion is to love, the opposite of what society offers.

As for the power of doing, it also intensifies by agreeing to renounce detail for energy in the exhibition INO ONI (2011-2013): desecrated, weakened, ephemeral, painting is more than ever a path towards 'other.

A retrospective in 2012, spiced with a touch of self-mockery, confirms how a double movement – serial art and constant renewal – led the artist to the shores of full artistic maturity. Another relationship with time emerges: slower, longer, more abandoned to patience. The time we take, it is good to lose it and gain something else, increased balance and density. The early practice of aikido signals a journey where everything is linked: painting, writing, inscribing, tattooing, grasping, falling, getting up again.

Dispossession, implicit in the first works, translated more recently in the DESIRE series (2014), is indeed this soil into which the roots of the tree have infiltrated. By laying down the weapons of the ego, by erasing narcissistic temptation as much as possible, man becomes subject and mirror of the other.

Today, Sébastien Layral works in a workshop open to the street in Châtel-Guyon. In the summer, he sets up a small lounge on his doorstep: a bench, a ficus, water or coffee. His models are often those who stopped to see. In this old store, he trades in proximity, love and peace. To paint is to enter directly into the truth of the other.

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