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Riviera poster boy brings tourist hot spots to life

Nice-based artist Eric Garence tells The Connexion about the career switch that has made his name

If you live on the Côte d’Azur, you will have surely come across the distinctive art deco style posters which promote the French Riviera.

These are the work of 39-year-old Niçois Eric Garence, who started his career in marketing, but now earns his living as an artist.

He has captured the essence of many a French town, region, or sport in his distinctive posters. So, Jane Hanks asked the obvious question...

Why posters?

My mother always took my brother and I to art galleries when we were children. She has also always collected vintage posters, and ever since I was little, whenever we saw such a poster, pasted on to the outside of a house, we would stop and take a photo of it.

I was always drawing, painting and making sculptures when I was young, but I was also attracted by the world of advertising, so I studied business and marketing in Paris. I worked in and then became manager of a Digital Marketing Agency in the capital for 10 years.

People may be surprised that you had no formal training in art.

I have never been to art school, no, though I have had some lessons in the technical aspects of drawing and painting, but I have always been creative, even when I was doing my other work.

I did drawings for some of my Parisian Agency clients and they loved them and shared them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and that encouraged me.

In 2015 I decided that I really wanted to draw the south of France and to specialise in territorial marketing.

The Côte d’Azur tourist board invited me to be their illustrator and ambassador and I was able to change jobs, leave Paris and combine my two passions for advertising and art.


Do you see yourself as an artist or a marketing man?

I am first an artist and would call myself a contemporary artist, rather than an illustrator which is a term which is too restrictive.

I have chosen to work with posters, because I like them.

I am really thrilled to be able to create them for towns.

But I also produce pieces which are purely works of art and I have had many exhibitions.


Why art deco?

When it was first introduced it was a new approach combining art, décor and advertising, everything I love.

During the 1930s there were a great many poster creators some of whom are still famous, but many who have fallen into anonymity who worked on this style based on bands of colour and stylised elements and they have been a great source of inspiration to me.

I like to conserve this art deco approach, while adding contemporary themes.

A poster of Nice in the 1930s would have shown the beach with its parasols, very much as it is today, but to bring it up to date I added an A380 which flies between Nice and Dubai, so local people will recognise their town of today.


How do you decide what elements to include in a poster?

If I am talking about a town, I first need to get to know it. I recently created a collection for Trouville-sur-Mer, Calvados. I spent four days there, to hear its history and get the feel of this charming town. 

I am almost more of a storyteller or a journalist than an artist, because what I like is to focus on small details to explain what happens in a certain place, and to create a composition which will tell a story and provoke emotions.

First I make drawings using pencil and paper and decide what I want to include. I also refer to images I have taken on a camera and a drone, because sometimes I need a special point of view to show something particular.  

I then transfer these ideas to a tablet, which I draw on direct.

Here I start to work on the composition, a bit like the leader of an orchestra who says I need violins on this side and I need a flute, whereas I say I need a boat, a beach and a woman with an umbrella.

Then I move them around to compose my picture. Everything is drawn by hand, first on paper, and then on a tablet. 

First I work on the form and the composition and then I choose the colours which will best reflect the time of day and the spirit of the piece.

If there are two blues, I tend to choose the strongest. I have a tendency to exaggerate the colours so they go direct to the heart of the viewer.

I get rid of what is unnecessary and take that which explodes with meaning and emotion.


You have represented many places in France including Paris, the towns of the Riviera and Provence you love so much, Normandy, Haute-Savoie, the Atlantic Coast, but also wild animals. Why the animals?

I think if I had been born in a different period, I would have loved to have been an illustrator on board the boats which set off to explore the world and its fauna and flora. I have two daughters.

The oldest is eight and one day she asked me why polar bears are in danger of extinction.

To give her the right answer, I started to research the question and realised there were multiple reasons, not just the melting ice packs, but also because of hunting and pollution in the oceans.

I wanted to tell this story, and show the polar bear in his environment.

With my daughter we then looked into other animals in danger. 

The idea is to send the posters to schools in the regions concerned by these animals, for example I have sent them via the Alliance Française to schools in Chittagong in Bangladesh.

If we in the west see those images we feel compassion, but it is perhaps better if children, closer to the problem see them and understand that they can maybe change things and know there are other species in danger around the world.


How much time do you spend creating your posters?

I tend to draw at night. During the day I am meeting people, setting up art events, promoting my work, travelling to new places. There is a fine line between being successful or not and it takes a great deal of work and perseverance.


What do you like most about your job?

I love having the chance to be creative. I have carte blanche to produce what I want to do, either from the clients, or myself. I love interpreting a town. I am proud of the fact that my work shows that the artist has a role in society. I have to work hard, but it is a super adventure.

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