Thierry Lefort, from shadow to light

Provence Tourism Notebook - By Nadège Moha

Like Cézanne, one of his reference painters who painted with passion and perseverance 80 faces of Sainte Victoire, Thierry Lefort paints industrial and urban landscapes of California with extreme beauty, grace and an inexhaustible creative source.

Meeting with his painting

During a musical evening and an exhibition at the Château de Sannes, in the summer of 2022, I discovered for the first time the universe and the painting of the one who is nicknamed "the shadow hunter "I am immediately moved by the elegance which emanates from this universe splashed with colors and light and I recognize through these unexpected landscapes, certain districts of Los Angeles which are not unknown to me. It is then a strange feeling of purity that invades me through his painting because time seems to have been deliberately erased, swallowed up, like a freeze frame on a cinema screen, a frozen photo. Moreover, the total absence of human presence in his paintings sends me back to my own imagination and the artist to his own loneliness. It is certainly his three years of study spent in a Shaolin temple in Henan province in China to learn the art of calligraphy and the discipline of martial arts that give his works this feeling of total stripping and absolute serenity. . These strong urban representations in color devoid of character are no less devoid of life, nor of poetry, and even less of elegance; It is an exquisite elegance that emerges from these long telegraph gallows, so characteristic of Californian cities with their mythical Washingtonia, from these lines, these strong or fragile, full or hollow features that come to lose themselves and cross each other in the sky like s ' they sought to reach a mystical dimension and withdraw from the earthly world...

“You start to find your style when you start transgressing what you've learned. »

A shadow hunter...

Not caring about fashions, Thierry Lefort likes to transgress the codes of art. What is deeply striking in Thierry Lefort's painting is this frantic obsessive quest for shadows, which by their contrast, give all the strength and power to his works. We must admit that the bright light of Los Angeles projected negatively on the tarmac is a blessing for him. The shadows cast are deliberately thickened with a strong line, tangled like roots, with strange shapes of cobwebs of devoured lace salamanders. They give Thierry Lefort's painting all its DNA, its divine dimension, its artistic signature.

Colors like musical chords

With a brush as long as an archer, He assembles the colors together with the innate delicacy of a musical chord. Indeed, the marriage of colors is an essential element in the painting of Thierry Lefort. The muted and dark colors, ultramarine blue, slate of the shadows are exalted by the contrast and the richness and the skilful assembly of the tints between them, luminous, raw, fresh, acid, violent, dazzling, anise green and dark green combined with yellows and corals dotted with a few touches of red. A musical note needs several notes to form a chord. A color needs an agreement with other colors to vibrate. Here, the emotion and the vibration of the colors between them are intense. And that blue? Tell me about blue, about your blue: “blue fascinates painters because blue is the color of the sky, of royalty, of religious emblems, blue is the warmest color. In a flame, it's the blue that burns, not the red. The blue crosses the epidermis and crosses the retina. La Maison Marin offered to make her blue.

Thierry LEFORT's blue is luminescent, it overwhelms with its freshness, it is so powerful that it challenges you a bit like a cry. It is this sublime blue, of which he keeps the secret, a blue in perfect harmony with his palette of colors contrasted by the shadows cast, which delicately breathes tempo into his painting, thus revealing in broad daylight the extent and the grace of this unique talent. One summer evening, I took a marvelous trip to the land of shadow and light…grace and tranquillity. I crossed the painting, I crossed the landscapes, and I had the irresistible urge to stay there.

“I juxtapose certain colors together to generate a vibration. »

Conversation with the painter

Thierry Lefort, How did painting come to you?
I became interested in painting very young at the age of 7 or 8 years old. My two maternal uncles of Czech origin were artists, they sang and one of them painted. He came to see us in Paris, and when he left, he offered us his landscape paintings that he had done. As soon as he left, I had fun copying these landscapes. Very early on I became interested in painting and the Impressionists. My paternal grandfather also painted and my father, who was an artist in his own way, bought paintings. I was not a very good student in class, I was not a bad boy either, but to make up for my lack of interest in school, I offered my little paintings to my teachers. I left the school cycle at 12 years old.

When you paint today, do you still feel the same emotion as when you were a child?
Yes, since I was a child it's always been the same emotion that drives me, the same desire, an irresistible desire that comes in waves, it goes away, it comes back.

What did you learn at Shaolin for 3 years and how did you come out of this initiatory experience:
When I went to China at the age of 28 to the Shaolin temple, I went on a spiritual quest. I practiced martial arts, Buddhism, meditation, chi gong, tai chi and calligraphy. I learned to draw a line, to affirm it, to make a perfect line that uses the full, the empty, the finesse, the feel of the paper. Sometimes it takes years to complete a line! My work began to take shape after that temple experience. I came out of these 3 years profoundly modified, as someone who would have had a very serious trauma, who would have been close to death, and who no longer sees life in the same way with a total awareness of the existence and the value of life. Curiously I never felt so free as when I lived in my 3 m2 room in Shaolin, my imagination traveled much more, whereas today I can have everything I want, go on a trip wherever and whenever I want.

Who are your painting masters?
Strangely, I have never had masters in this sense, it may seem pretentious. I have always been fascinated by the multiplicity of painters and genres from the Italian Renaissance through the Golden Age of Baroque, Impressionism, modern painters, American painting.

Do you define yourself as a subjective figurative painter?
Yes. What interests me in painting is the transition and the precise moment that switches from figuration to abstraction while remaining in both. If we take a picture of a snowflake and enlarge it to infinity, it may seem abstract and yet it is reality, it is figurative. Abstraction as such does not exist.

Why are the characters absent in your landscapes and yet the titles of your paintings evoke the human presence and the world of cinema?
I don't want my paintings to become scenes of life, that's reserved for photography. I want my painting to be a harmonization of colors, of shapes that are good for the retina. The character is us who enter the picture. As for the titles of my paintings, they seem offbeat but in reality, they refer to what I experience in my daily life, through my encounters: One day, I painted an ink titled La danseuse because while I was drawing the sketch, in a district of Los Angeles, I attended at the same time a surrealist scene: In front of me, a young woman was dancing on the road. I also met Peter Falk's wife, Colombo, who gave her lines in the streets where I paint, hence the references to the somewhat offbeat film titles.

When do you know your painting is finished?

I know that my painting is finished when the risk is no longer to be taken. Then it's filler.

Tell me about the shadow in your painting?
In traditional painting, the shadows are treated in a very diluted, very fluid way, especially in pre-Impressionism. When I arrived in California I started to be passionate about shadows, to find shapes for them and to want to put them on the same level of value as colors. I started wanting to transgress what I had learned. My studio is in Studio City, near Hollywood. I devote several days a week to wandering around and looking for corners that fascinate me and when I find one that I like I stay there for weeks looking for shadows to make sketches on the same subject. Sometimes I combine several sketches together.

Decisive encounters?
My meeting with Philippe Lejeune, founder of the École d'Étampe, was decisive. He had ancestral painting know-how. He was a very learned man. I worked alongside JO BLEINSTEIN in the United States who taught with an important figure of the 60s, the painter Richard Diebenkorn of The School of San Francisco. I learned a lot of the foundations of Richard alongside Jo Bleinstein. Then comes my meeting with YoYo MAEGHT: she had published one of my paintings on her FB page without knowing who I was. Then a few months later, she contacted me and she came to visit my studio. It was then an immediate artistic thunderbolt between us, as between Claude Sautet and Romy Schneider when they met. YOYO MAEGHT opened an additional artistic dimension to my work. She's a woman who isn't afraid to get her shirt wet, she has a plan, she's going for it.

How do you live your fame? :
As Edith Piaf said, success can be tragic. I have my head on my shoulders and I keep a cool head, you have to stay yourself, continue to paint what you feel, without trying to please, because the public is terrible. He wants change and at the same time he doesn't. I live in the moment. If I have a dream I realize it. If I want to go to China or Australia or the USA, I go right away. I don't keep any of my paintings at home. My favorite painting is the one I'll do tomorrow. What matters to me is today and tomorrow. I never look in my rearview mirror. I'm 55 it's not young but it's not old, but I only have nineteen summers and one spring left to live well!!!

From the Shaolin temple to Los Angeles there is a gap of civilization and yet?
In fact I adapt to everything, I love sleeping in a 5 star, but I can also spend 3 months in a cell or a dump. Luxury always has its limit. I like beauty and I like ugliness a lot too. »

“Ugliness is superior to beauty because it lasts. » Gainsbourg


This little self-taught Frenchy was born in 1967. He shares his life between his studio in Saint Ouen sur Seine and his studio in Studio City in Los Angeles where he has lived for 8 years. He is currently experiencing tremendous success. The town hall of Burbank, nicknamed the world capital of the Media, neighboring city of Los Angeles commissioned him a mural fresco of 150 m2 which he created alone and which he has just completed in August 2022.

The famous gallery owner Yoyo Maeght, in the fall of 2022, is organizing a masterful exhibition for him in Paris entitled Fahrenheit. The success is resounding. Huge works are unveiled to the general public as well as very small paintings, all of a striking power.

It is exhibited twice at the Museum of Modern Art, in Tokyo, at the Constantin Museum in Saint Petersburg and throughout the world. He has to his credit about twenty prizes and distinctions.

He teaches painting in workshops in Paris, gives training sessions in the south of France, in the United States in Morocco in Italy.
An internationally recognized painter, Thierry Lefort defines himself as a subjective figurative painter.