Thomas Canto in his studio Courtesy The Artist

French artist Thomas Canto’s work disassembles the distinctions between art and architecture. Inspired by his own memorial impressions of urban architectural structures, Canto creates pictorial representations with a heightened attention to detail and geometric fascination. Working internationally, Canto’s work draws upon the quintessence of some of the world’s most modern and futuristic urban environments. Abby McKenzie met with Thomas Canto to talk about the reasons behind his fascination with industrial architecture.


Thomas Canto Les Bains Courtesy: Magda Danysz Gallery © Stephane Bisseuil

Thomas Canto
Les Bains
Courtesy: Magda Danysz Gallery
© Stephane Bisseuil

Why cities, what is it specifically about cities that inspires you?

Since I’ve been young, I’ve been travelling to many modern cities like Hong Kong or Dubai. In opposition to that, when I’m back in France, I’m living in the countryside and it makes me appreciate more the modern architecture. I don’t think there is one city that really inspires me more than another, we can say that Hong Kong, which has a really important and specific architecture, should have impressed and inspired me a lot, but I guess it’s a mix of everything. What I am working on in my art pieces is like an impression. Some years ago, I used to travel and make pictures like everybody does, more focused on architecture things maybe, and I used to get inspired by this and for some years I begin to work from my memories, about the impression I felt. So, I guess its not only the architecture in the cities its really a mix of everything.

Would you say it is as specific interest in geometry and balance in the cities or the chaos of the cities… as your work kind of encapsulates both in a way?

I come from graffiti and I always thought that it is an art of calligraphy. I have been really interested in learning some calligraphy rules like in the Japanese and Chinese rules which is based on equilibrium researches. So, I always try to introduce that notion in my paintings.  When I represent the cities, like in the last lithograph I did, you can see the link with Hong Kong architecture.  I tried to make the spectator feel the impression of being oppressed that I have when I’m there.  I try to explain and fill the impression I had in a specific moment in a specific place with the sketches and the lines I’m putting on the canvas but, I always keep the balance and the equilibrium…I look for an aesthetic thing, it’s a way to make the public experience my fascination for the beauty of any architectural landscape.

Touching on graffiti would you say you take more from the aesthetics of that genre more than you would say its philosophy or institutional critique?

No… well you’ve been seeing my studio works that are now in plexiglass boxes, but the link and the way to show it in the gallery what I could say is that really since I do the things with the plexiglass box I really see that as windows…the parallel between the window and the plexiglass thing… inside is another universe. It’s not done for the gallery but it fits with the other work, the installation that I sometimes showcase in galleries but I don’t know if its kind of made for the gallery, its not.

Thomas Canto in his studio Courtesy The Artist

Thomas Canto in his studio
Courtesy The Artist

To me that is what is interesting as it takes that idea that within the plexiglass it removes itself from the gallery space by enclosing itself. I was also quite interested as, apart from the blue lithograph you mentioned, the majority of the time you use monochrome. Is there a particular reason for that or are you just drawn to the contrasts that work with the line better?

For a long time, and there are many reasons for that, I used only black and white. First, because as my sketches and my paintings are really complex, I want people to be able to focus more on the structure and the equilibrium aspect.  It’s easier when you look at something in black and white to understand those elements and the different levels – to me. The other thing is, as I find my inspiration in architecture and, most of the time the cities are grey, black, white, maybe glass reflection from the sky. So, it makes sense to use those shades because of their technical industrial aspects. But since I have worked more about my memories I find it easier to introduce colours, like I did some red and really orange that reminds me of sunrise in Tokyo. The “Still life of Spacetime” lithography is really about Hong Kong because I have been there a lot in the last years. I decided to work on a blue theme because the water is everywhere as its an island and everywhere you look there are super big and super intense buildings and at the end you have water… so I found to show my impression it was a good colour to use.

Would you say that there is any kind of work or artists, past or present I suppose, that you’re particularly in conversation with?

As a self-made artist, I have been learning by meeting and creating with other artists so it is hard for me to only name one person. I guess I ‘m in conversation with many artists’ works, from different times. There are many artists from many different fields of creations whose work mesmerizes me and with which I feel connected. The art of Soulages, for his unique approach of light and his minimal appearance or Soto’ s sculptures are some really good examples.

What are you working on at the moment, is there a curve that you are trying to develop or do you see your practice shifting slightly?

As a self-made artist, I would not say I am trying but I am doing things that are not letting my art become static. I mean, for example, with the installation works I have done in the past two years, I added a new element in every one. First, volume, then different types of lights and finally videomapping in the last one I did for my last solo show at Wunderkammern gallery.

Thomas Canto Installation, Celestial time blast, 2015 Courtesy: The Artist

Thomas Canto
Installation, Celestial time blast, 2015
Courtesy: The Artist

It’s interesting that your work is almost coming in a sort of circle, from being inspired by architecture represented in a 2D format and it’s coming back round to being architectural in and of itself.

I like this idea of a cyclic element in my work. When I look back to what I was doing before moving to tridimensional works, I think it’s kind of paradoxical. Working about architecture and using 3D appears now to me, as a need. The idea of my art is to make people feel the impression of experiencing architectural elements and how I get into that. I guess there s a curve I’m following, but I’m trying to do it in an exponential way. It’s finally, just making match more and more my art with the cities elements that are impressing me.

Thank you!

Abby McKenzie



Leave a Comment