by Vatsala SethiDec 31, 2022
It is a strange paradigm, to be sure, to gravitate towards dated aesthetic sensibilities while using modern creative techniques. And yet, there are so many artists who form the growing ranks of a kind of retro revivalism. Perhaps there is, in fact, a certain allure to the hazy, grainy imagery of old, that has continued to draw in creative minds such as Timothée Boubay, who hails from the South of France, but has lived in Strasbourg for the last 20 years. Boubay’s work is certainly inspired by retro aesthetics, but the digital artist adds far more to it; even a painterly quality reminiscent of the Surrealists. Discussing his creative journey, the artist tells STIR, “I have always had this intimate relationship with the visual arts. I was fascinated with it right from when I was very young, and I spent a lot of time drawing as a child. Later, in my teenage years, I started practicing graffiti, which I pursued for about 10 years. During this period, I experimented a lot with typographical research and colorimetric choices in my work. It was through this process that I discovered graphic art, and began to take an active interest in its intricacies.”
The period of his life mentioned above provided the French artist with an opportunity to explore digital mediums, which he sees as responsible for the birth of his more spatial style. He spent a few years honing his graphic skills on Illustrator, but also kept a strong focus on the way he utilised gradients, which have come to be a very important part of his practice. Indeed, it is here where we can locate the “retro” within Boubay’s art. His grainy gradients evoke the full-page spreads that formed advertisements in magazines from yesteryears. However, there remains the question of the form: the forms Boubay weaves into his works seem as though to swirl and flow within his framings, as if they were suspended by some paranormal energy. To return to the Surrealists, the artist’s work evokes an unmistakably Dali-esque quality, however he locates his inspiration elsewhere. He explains, “I am fascinated by the work of artists from the retro-futuristic scene of the 80s, such as Philippe Caza, Stanislaw Fernandes or Jean 'Moebius' Giraud. I am also captivated by artists like Henryk Płóciennik, Koichi Sato and Chris Moore.” Each of these practitioners has created their fair share of vast, empty and wholly alien landscapes; abstract worlds that sit on the border between the recognisable and the wholly speculative. However, Boubay takes their ideas far further, breaking away from recognisability near entirely. Take Old Time Museumfor example: As the name and structure of the image indicates, something is on display. But what exactly that something is, is very difficult to say. Boubay’s central void invites us in to meditate upon it, yet, like much of his oeuvre, is ultimately and altogether unknowable.
Pondering the sense of unknowability within his work, the artist traces a portion of it back to a rather recent time; that being the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic. He explains, “COVID arrived in 2020, and I spent a lot of time thinking about how to move forward with my creative process without denying my origins. It is unfortunate, but I ended up losing some of my clients due to the crisis, and so one thing led to another, and I had to go to work in Switzerland. It was then that I had the opportunity to visit the Hans Ruedi Giger Museum in Gruyères. This visit changed me artistically.” Boubay was fascinated by what Giger’s work awoke within him, and perhaps came to imbibe some of the darkness and mystery that fills Giger’s world within his own practice. Surely, our own world must have begun to feel a great deal like it was being built by the Swiss artist, as things have become progressively less familiar, and increasingly alien. In many ways, artists such as Boubay are responding to the uncertainty of our times through the strange and surreal imagery they create. The titles Boubay uses suggest as much: there is the ominously named The Cure, and far more ominously yet, there is No Cure. These are among the artist’s strangest works: they feel like complete abstractions; things in the air, doomed to drift forever and ever, across lonely and infinite landscapes.
The digital artist views his present practice as a merger between his various artistic fascinations. He tells STIR, “In the end, my work has become the perfect junction between everything I was able to interact with over the course of my creative journey. A mixture of graffiti, which fed into the grainy style I use for my gradients, the graphics I pored over and enjoyed so thoroughly, and of course, the abstract illustration work which focused on the void.” The “void” Boubay is referring to here is most likely the alien and unknowable aspect that defines so many of his pieces. This intangibility is, of course, only accentuated by the other elements of the artist’s practice. And indeed, the sum is far greater than its parts: Boubay’s work is an abstraction of several abstractions and wholly unique in its strange implications. The artist’s inspirations may be many and varied, yet his practice is his and his alone.
Discussing the future, Boubay expresses excitement as he says, “What I find fascinating today is to see the creative scene being built by this generation. There are more and more artists who are re-appropriating the codes of this movement. Their work is really starting to remind me of the covers of old magazines like Metal Hurlant and the books DAW published.” One hopes that the graphic artist is right, and that we may see more strange and enchanting art such as his crop up across media. A retro revival would be wonderful, but a word of caution: practitioners must take a page out of Boubay’s book, and truly make their inspirations their own. Strange hybrids of the past and present will make for a rich and fertile creative culture; one that is certain to continue inspiring the creative minds of tomorrow.