Daniel Buren, artist: 'I am more interested in what I do, or will do, than what I did'

 

I meet artist Daniel Buren in the Café Beauborg facing the Pompidou Centre. Buren famously forswore a studio practice. "I was the very first artist to quit with the studio in 1966. I live and work around the world. With no studio, it is impossible to make typical objects and it changes the business and commerce".

Sprightly, at 76, he was born in 1938 in Paris. He has a twinkle in his eyes, tempered with firm opinions, a testament to his long teaching profession – he has retired only recently.

He admits he is tired, not surprising having opened nine one-man shows in the last year, most recently in the Baltic Centre in Gateshead where the ambitious project of the façade was only finished "an hour before the opening".

Buren has become known as "the stripe guy", after his conceptual adoption of the vertical, 8.7cm-wide stripe. His most famous, or in some cases infamous, site specific work was Les Deux Plateau (1985-86) the architectural intervention, in the Palais Royal, Paris, where he integrated black and white striped pillars into the historical square.

During a conversation that lasts well over two hours we only touch the surface of a career that, as he insists on seeing all the sites of his project, has led to endless circumventing the globe. In the process, he has taken half a million photographs and now has a full time assistant engaged in sorting and digitalising them. He refuses, unlike many of his artistic peers, to sell or show them. "I have a very specific way of using a photograph. It is always written 'photo souvenir', to make sure no one will confuse it with a work of mine; it is only a record." Looking at the archive of his travels, though, helps his practice; "you cannot keep everything in your head and I can realise something that is good not to forget: in that way the souvenirs are very helpful".

For his ravishing show at the Baltic, Buren used mirrors and covered the skylights with coloured filters to allow the sun into the upper galleries as well as decorating the 30m high facade. "I played with the English sun, a big risk," he admits. "I was not sure if we would have the sun. But all of a sudden when the sun blooms the room is crazy."

Buren shows no sign of slowing down. He recently designed the sets for Ravel's ballet, Daphnis and Chloe, in the Bastille. He says modestly: "I think the result was not bad and was well received". He has also been working with the Etokan circus, in exploring radically different ways of presentation. "Maybe because I do a lot of things I am more interested in what I do, or will do, than what I did."

Daniel Buren: Catch as Catch Can: Works in Situ, Baltic, Gateshead (balticmill.com) to 12 October

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