Hams Klemens is part of the Group show Allez la France which just opened at Saatchi Yates we managed to grab a few minutes with him at the opening of the exhibition.
1 Allez la France – The French football team brought together French people of African, Arabic & European heritage to create a harmonious unity to achieve the ultimate greatness of winning the World Cup – do you think France will ever be able to create a harmonious country for everyone to live and prosper in?
I believe prejudgement starts in adulthood. Having worked for years with young people in the underprivileged areas of Marseille where football is omnipresent, I have observed a total absence of discrimination between the youngest, linked to their different origins. This would be my vision of a harmonious society
2 You paint large scale It must be such a relief that people will be able to see your work in person – how has COVID been affecting you and your art practice?
I locked myself in my studio right from the beginning of Covid, which is when I started making this series and somehow managed to protect myself from the constant stream of information. I’ve been lucky enough to have this personal space to dedicate myself to work and escape from our new reality. As if suspended in time through the series of lockdowns, I felt this helped me produce with more focus. I spend most of my time outdoors so this was a new experience for me.
3 L’OM or PSG?
L’OM of course! I fondly remember the quarter-final Europa League Marseille-Leipzig (5-2) where the last second goal was by Hiroki Sakai. Being from Marseille, I can tell you that the whole city was behind its team, transcending origins; everyone is marseillais above all else. We are lucky in Marseille, that the sense of belonging to the city is stronger than the dividing general opinion.
4 How did you all meet? And how did you get to the idea of painting on shared walls?
We met through mutual friends in Marseille, Paris, Brest in France. We don’t meet very often but make sure we do make time for each other, and it’s always a creative and emulating experience.
5 You enjoyed the freedom walls gave you to paint in any size at any time no deadline no expectation no pressure – how have you found the transformation to painting for a gallery especially a gallery in London?
Without betraying the medium, I try to remind myself of the tunnel’s atmosphere as much as possible. The canvas is directly hung on the wall and I find a solitude between me and the physicality of the surface. The abundant water in the tunnel is replaced with a bathtub standing in the middle of the studio. The echo isn’t purely nostalgic, as bringing all the tools on site could be tiresome and without falling into it, the comfort provided by the studio brings a precious balance. I like to keep this momentum, between adversity and safety. London is indeed a change in perspective, but the focus is work and I try not to put pressure on myself whilst at it.
6 How did Saatchi Yates find you?
Via Instagram. Recently I’ve become more active on social networks as before, I didn’t realise the scale of the platform and that the virtual connections could turn into real ones. It is with this perspective that it took me time to fully realize what was to come! – that the paintings truly exist and so do the gallery owners. Phoebe Saatchi and Arthur Yates eventually came to Marseille and I showed them the underground tunnels where my paintings live; it was a great meeting.
7 What have you been reading, watching & listening to during lockdown/ Covid
As I said before, this period was propitious for spending time in the studio in near self- sufficiency. My main travels were between home and the studio through deserted streets.
It was a strange but not unpleasant atmosphere, while listening to ambient and instrumental music such as Terry Riley, Fuck Buttons, Dead Can Dance and French text music like Renaud, and Gainsbourg; which I found worked quite well with the mood. I also took the opportunity to read Colum McCann’s This side of brightness describing, in two temporalities, New York’s bowels during the subway construction at the beginning of the 20th Century and in them, the life of a homeless man in present-day – a very realistic and gripping way of storytelling. I also read Sylvain Tesson’s Sur les chemins noirs, an autobiographical narrative of his traversal on foot of France via the wildest, less travelled paths.
8 What’s next for you?
Keeping a balance between painting in a studio and along the river, wherever the boat takes me.