Text by Juliette Wallace
Fabrice Hyber is unique; artist, mathematician, entrepreneur, environmentalist and irrepressibly positive lover of life, Hyber has made a career of combining seemingly incompatible fields in honour of creation and education. This week his long-awaited solo show at the Foundation Cartier in Paris opened to an audience of all ages. The show takes the guise of a classroom in which artworks replace blackboards. Hyber’s desire to impart knowledge and provide both questions and solutions for future generations is a theme throughout his oeuvre, and so this didactic setup is wholly appropriate.
In honour of his desire to share knowledge, Hyber has created a space at the Foundation Cartier in which the visitor can expect to be invited into the artist’s personal, colourful and forever curious world, a place that the artist has developed as a realm for the pursuit of a meaning to life and to being human. “Create and love life!” is Hyber’s primary lesson to his visitors, something that he has practised since his youth.
Having begun studying science and mathematics, Hyber enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he honed his artistic style and system, developing a distinctive, cross-disciplinary approach. He found himself drawn to the creative world through being introduced to the concept of finding non-mathematical methods to understand seemingly impossible mathematical equations. During the time when I studied mathematics, I saw some contemporary art and I was sure that I couldn’t only do mathematics… I was studying very abstract areas of mathematics, like topology, and in these areas it was clear that to understand you had to invent a fiction – an image – to comprehend the complexities of the equations. I liked this idea of using another way of thinking than pure mathematics.
From this experience and introduction to alternative approaches to what had previously presented themselves as closed-off, autonomous fields, Hyber employed new and complementary ways of thinking and developing, both in his artistic methods and his other pursuits.
The term ‘artistic method’ is particularly appropriate for an artist like Hyber, whose works are somewhere between a petri dish and a mathematical equation – they are living spaces in which questions are both answered and posed, and the natural, organic progressions of life take control. Through what he calls his “non-interventionist” approach to painting, Hyber, in his own words, opens the door to all possibilities, a scary prospect for a mathematician working in realms in which control is sought after and held onto tightly. I am putting myself in danger, says Hyber, but in doing so, he also allows the new, the unexpected, to emerge, which results in, as he humorously states, both beautiful and ‘blehhh, a bit trash’ paintings depending on what comes out.
The painting method itself consists of 3 main elements: water, oil paint and time. Hyber describes how he leaves and returns to his canvases over periods, letting both the uncontrolled, unseen work its magic as well as his own mind to work and rework the concept of the piece from a distance. When I’m making a painting, it grows like the trees grow in the valley. When I work on my paintings I don’t only work on 1 canvas; I work on 100 canvases at the same time. My walls are full of paintings and drawings. It’s like a laboratory. Through using very thin layers of oil paint, watered down and applied with gestural ease, Hyber encourages the power of transformation, relieving the medium from its traditional role as permanent and fixed and giving it a new identity.
As well as oil paint, Hyber sometimes employs other additional elements to achieve his goals. This includes materials such as crude oil, which continues to move and shift indefinitely, never fully drying. In his use of these materials, the artist gives the paintings an existence and destiny of their own, independent of him, allowing the works to grow and develop beyond the artist’s own life span. I’m trying to find another possibility for life. It’s like when I was in the valley, and I began by planting trees, and then I saw that this was a trauma for the plants and the earth, and so I changed my method to sewing the seeds instead, allowing the roots to grow from scratch. Since then, I have tried to practice minimum action.
Whilst his physical interventions are minimal, the impact is huge. Hyber has created a massive body of work, ranging across an extensive and broad range of mediums and practices. The works span the shared spaces of the arts and sciences, the arts and mathematics, the arts and business, and the arts and the environment. “The valley”, which Hyber often refers back to, is his largest environmental action to date and has proven to be a fundamental part of his life.
Situated in the French countryside in the field behind his childhood home, where the family reared sheep, the valley is a space where Hyber and his father have sewn the seeds for hundreds of trees so as to restore what was destined to become desolate and bare land. This action, as well as his founding of the environmental group Unlimited Responsibility (UR), is in line with his general outlook on life, i.e. his joie de vivre and desire to bring joy to the world and its natural spheres.
Much like his experience in planting the trees in the valley, Hyber employs scientific methods of trial and error in his paintings, hypothesising and adjusting as he goes along. As well as being a non-interventionist method, the use of watered-down oil paint also provides a translucent surface, allowing the viewer to see what lies underneath. In Hyber’s case, that which is revealed is a series of scribbles and workings: the artist’s own thoughts and systematic processes that he includes in written form on the canvases themselves.
Borrowed from his mathematical training, this method displays the openness of his practice – his non-interventionism – as well as functioning in a didactic manner. Through demonstrating his workings, Hyber is inviting the viewer to reflect upon his method, giving them the chance to borrow and develop in their own practices.
There are a lot of possibilities in the world […], and I try to find the solutions. I don’t know what the solution is, but I try to find it. Fabrice Hyber marries mathematics, economics, nature and art to understand the patterns of life around us and to show these patterns, through the workings of his mathematical, artistic and environmental interventions, to the next generation. To Hyber, passing on the thread of his own practice is fundamental.
For this reason, the exhibition at the Foundation Cartier is particularly important to him in its classroom-style setup. So much so, in fact, that in preparation, the artist created a half-scale version of the Foundation in his studio to work from and conceptualise the exhibition. His excitement around the show is tangible, as is his excitement around being alive. Hyber positively throbs with an appreciation of the world around him and a desire to create. His positivity is amusing even to himself. I am ‘ultra-positive’!
Like a mad scientist, Hyber brings his enthusiasm into everything he does. Something he knows for sure is that there is one thing he could not live without: “Art!”. If you want to get a boost in positivity and a reason to keep going, I recommend visiting this new exhibition of his work.
La Vallée Fabrice Hyber is ongoing at the Foundation Cartier in Paris until the end of April 2023.