The Illustrator Series: Cédric Rivrain

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Kate Moss in Alexander McQueen for Numéro
Kate Moss in Alexander McQueen for NuméroIllustration by Cédric Rivrain

Delve behind the brushstrokes of French artist and illustrator, Cédric Rivrain

The first thing that grabs you when considering the fragile, ethereal portraiture of French artist and illustrator, Cédric Rivrain are the eyes: piercing, emotional and fully alive. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, Rivrain must have an unusually direct connection to his subjects’ innermost thoughts and feelings. “I’m obsessed with eyes,” confirms the artist who boasts sparkly turquoise green peepers himself. “Eyes are for me the essence of a person. When I draw someone, I focus on their eyes and the way I see them looking at me."

Largely self-taught, Rivrain was raised by a stylish mother and GP father who doted on him and his musician brother, Thibault. He immersed himself in his father’s antique medical books and anatomical models, learning the intricacies and articulations of the human form by drawing them with surgical precision. In a way, the melancholic obsessiveness of his art comes from having experienced tragedy at an early age: “My brother and I lost our parents many years ago and I took all those models and illustrations and medical books to my place and I keep on looking at them, referring to them, to my past, to my father probably or to the kid I was. It is stamped in my mind and aesthetics forever. This is a big part of what fed me visually growing up.”

On making portraits
Whether it be nudes exhibited at his gallery, Balice Hertling, commissions for Hermès, Lanvin, Sonia Rykiel, Dior or editorials for, Dazed & Confused and Document; Rivrain’s meticulous attention to detail and delicately shaded studies in chiaroscuro rendered in fine pencils and gouache on paper pull the viewer into his soft, enveloping world. “What I like about pencils is the childish feeling of it. It is a simple, easy gesture and yet has immediate precision. All those colours that you can find is insane. And I also use the eraser a lot. I never want to go too far or be too descriptive in my drawings. I want to keep the essential.”

But it is in his portraits of the friends, artists and musicians that make up his inner circle (featuring the likes of Chloë Sevigny, Oscar Tuazon and Emily Sundblad) that the quiet power of his art fully registers – rich in sensuality and an unapologetic beauty, Rivrain describes it as being “completely about emotional connection. When I draw my friends I work with my true instinct and feelings. I see them appearing through my lines under my eyes. It's very intimate and every drawing process is like a deep conversation with them. I also draw people whose work I admire and find in a way very important in my life. They almost make me feel more complete.”

On Crying Machines
Little wonder then, that Rivrain finds the process of making art a cathartic experience. “I have no issue talking with my friends. I share my emotions very easily,” he says. “But when I draw, I do release a lot and deeply. I almost enter into a trance where I really connect to my emotions and in the most primal way and they come out of me, undisguised.” His debut publication, Selected Drawings even showcased a surreal series of ‘crying machines’ – mechanised and disembodied eyes acting as a surrogate for his emotions. “Drawing about sadness is important to me. Sadness touches me more than anything. It is the truest, deepest feeling you cannot fake easily. At least not through the eyes. Sad eyes can't lie and it does move me when I see some. But I refuse pity and I am a truly happy person and maybe that is what I draw those crying machines so they can cry for me.”

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