In June 2017, French artist Guillaume Chansarel flew to New York with a slightly crazy project: Go down Broadway Avenue, stop at each street corner and capture the atmosphere of the place with a sketch. All in 7 days. ‘Drawing Avenue’ resulted of this venture.
"New York is my vitamin tube." says Guillaume Chansarel. In June 2017, he travelled the length of Broadway starting from the Bronx. At each corner, he stopped to make a sketch, seeking to capture the atmosphere and feeling of the place, with the same spontaneity and speed that it takes for a selfie. The artist wanted to catch the rhythm of the city, to be totally immersed in it. His project: to depict all the corners of the famous Manhattan avenue in 7 days. During which, he gave himself travel and time constraints: 3 kilometres and 35 drawings, per day. The artistic exercise doubled as a sport exercise!
Back in Paris, he took each drawing, redrafted the inkwork, added details, revitalizing the perspectives and added colours. At the time of the project’s show, the obvious was stated: "History only works as a whole", he declared explaining how the idea was born to collect all the drawings into an art book, simply titled: ‘Drawing Avenue’. With a limited edition run of 247 copies, a reference to the total number of drawings, each volume is numbered and signed by the author, each with one of the original 247 drawings.
This authentic work of art is the result of a year’s work, from the creation of the sketches to the completion of the book. The pages dive into the heart of Manhattan, walking the 22 kilometres of this most legendary avenue. Colombus Circle, Times Square, Wall Street… the decor unfolds on the 516 pages of this imposing volume, where we find all the familiar silhouettes of the American megalopolis, from yellow cabs, to giant ad screens hung on skyscrapers’ sides… In keeping up with his pace, Guillaume Chansarel seems to be able to tame the city known to be indomitable, thereby offering us a different look at its cityscapes.
"It is an extraordinary painting, a collection of exultations, a kind of imaginary film’s storyboard, going from a dilapidated panorama to a close-up on a detail (a porch, a mailbox, a bus wheel…). He revisits the American dream by going down the diagonal of a crazy draftsman, just as Kerouac crossed America in his battered car. The colours respond like musical notes. This work blew me over because I know that this unknown lunatic has changed the way I see New York, forever." Frédéric Beigbeder (preface excerpt).
Watch the video below (made by Technikart magazine) to listen to Guillaume Chansarel on his project.
How did you think up of the idea to depict every Broadway Avenue’s street corners?
Guillaume Chansarel: “I have been painting New York for years. Very constructed pictures, very architectural. Excessively large sizes... This time, I decided to go back there setting myself a very specific task: to capture the energy! So, that is what I wanted to do. Capture the mythical energy of Manhattan in drawing!”
“I settled into the city’s rhythm. I focused on its geometric construction: 12 parallel avenues and a perpendicular street every hundred meters. And in so doing, I connected directly onto the main city’s artery: Broadway Avenue! Broadway Avenue is 22kms long, from North to South. It leaves the Bronx and goes all the way to Wall Street! Harlem, Columbus Circle, Central Park, Times Square, Flatiron Building, Soho ... this avenue goes through all the nerve centres! All of them. It intersects with no less than 245 streets. 245 streets, can you imagine! Frankly, I couldn't dream of a better playground, right!?”
You could have worked from photos, but chose to sketch in-situ, which imposed an odd tempo onto the project as you had given yourself a time constraint (7 days). What did these restrictions bring to the end result?
Guillaume Chansarel: “As I just explained, my goal was to feel the energy of Manhattan while doing my drawings. And as it is said that New York is the city that never sleeps, I told myself that I was going to do the same. That I was going to draw nonstop at a frantic pace... But there is also something else that I was looking for with the time constraint, a spontaneity: at each new street angle I had to find a subject, as quickly as possible! The search for a subject and the sketching of the drawing should not exceed 15 minutes. In other circumstances, I would probably not have chosen to draw a puddle, an old shopping cart, or even the shadow of a pole, for example...”
What led you to the idea of the book to showcase this project and what was your involvement in its creation?
Guillaume Chansarel: “The idea of making a book came to me very quickly. New York, and even less so New York’s energy, cannot be combined into a single sketch! This project is an endless trip through the city. An endless process ... We move forward together in turning the pages, never knowing what we are going to find. Also the choice of Broadway Avenue is far from trivial. This avenue is the old Indian trail. This is where they went hunting. Do you see the historical weight of the place!?”
“As this work is a global concept, I wanted to take care of everything. From the mock up model to the manufacturing. I have worked with incredible people. The FOT printers, who immediately supported and joined the project, Frédérique Beigbeder who wrote a preface that still makes me blush, Ikazi who produced a sober and effective mock up.”
You said that after this experience, that you no longer draw the same way. What’s changed in the way you draw?
Guillaume Chansarel: “This experience really changed my sketching. I’m not there yet and besides, I don’t know if I will ever achieve it, but I’m slowly getting the impression of getting closer to having an uninhibited style. I draw what I see, period.”
Drawing Avenue – 247 drawings of New York
Drawings: Guillaume Chansarel - Text: Frédéric Beigbeder
Limited art edition, 2018.
516 pages. Bound format: 21,5 x 30 x 4,3 cm + original drawing format: 29,7 x 42 cm.