Meet the Artist: Paul Signac

We woke the very-much-dead artist for a quick q&a.
Paul Signac lived and breathed art. One of the grandfathers of Pointillism, he was at the forefront of the Neo-Impressionist movement, painting small, colorful dots that formed colorful sunsets and coastlines when viewed from a distance. From his studio in the South of France, he explored a variety of mediums, from watercolor and oil paint to etching, lithography, and pen and ink, but always had a flair for the avant-garde. Basically, if we could invite him over for wine and puzzling, we would. In a heartbeat. But since he died in 1935, we did the next best thing: we turned a few of his paintings into jigsaw puzzles. Then, one night under a full moon, we summoned his spirit (in case you haven’t noticed, we’ve been getting pretty good at this summoning thing) and had a good ol’ life chat.
How did you get into painting?
I was on track to become an architect, but when I was 18 I saw an exhibition of Claude Monet’s work that changed everything. His paintings were alive. The colors, textures,  landscapes—it was quite captivating. While at the gallery. I started sketching a Degas painting that I liked, and Paul Gauguin came up and basically threw me out. He yelled, “One does not copy here, sir!” Bitter fellow. The joke is on him, really, because I was almost entirely self-taught, and I’d say I did very well for myself. I studied Monet, Manet, Caillebotte, Degas… the lively artists of the time.

Portrait of Félix Fénéon, 1890. Get the puzzle!
You were a large part of the Neo-Impressionism movement, and you co-created the style Pointillism. Tell us about that.
I suppose I did! My dear friend and mentor Paul Seurat and I, both greatly inspired by Impressionist works, began experimenting with different techniques, and I loved the precise practice of painting dozens of small dots on a canvas. Small dots that, when you look at them from a distance, create an image. Your mind works to blend the colors and form a picture. In some ways, it makes the art even more vivid. Eventually, art critics gave this a name—Pointillism—but they coined the term simply to mock the style. Again, the joke is on them.

Le clocher de Saint-Tropez, 1896. Get the puzzle!
So many of your paintings depict boats and ports around Europe. What drew you to those subjects?
This question tells me you’ve never been on a sailboat in the Mediterranean Sea at sunset. Or sunrise. Any time of day, really. What a shame. Sailing was one of my true loves! To sit, half wrapped in a blanket, with a bottle of wine, and sketch the sky’s pearlescent reflection in the water, swiftly becoming one with the environment… there’s nothing like it, and you can’t convince me otherwise.
Wouldn’t dare.
You know, my first boat was a canoe. Manet Zola Wagner, I called it, after my favorite painter, writer, and composer. I believe boats deserve strong, honorable names. Even canoes.
That’s a fine name. You cofounded the Société des Artistes Indépendants in 1884. Why was this association so important to you?
Liberté! It was all about freedom—freedom of expression, and the freedom to show our work. Our motto was “sans jury ni récompense,” or “neither jury nor awards.” We held many exhibitions over the years, featuring real, innovative artists whose work may have not been accepted by the more traditional government-funded Salon. They were ahead of their time—avant-garde, you know? The way I saw it was if you make art, you should get to show it on your own terms, not wait for some panel of lofty critics to approve of it first. To hell with the government! 
You were an anarchist back in the day. Would you still consider yourself one?
Anarchy is the only way to a true utopia. Not enough people realize this. Hell, one gallery made me change the name of a painting from “In the Time of Anarchy” to “In the Time of Harmony." Can you believe it? The irony. Anyone who’s studied Jean Grave should know that harmony is a result of anarchy. Anyway, Saint-Tropez was the closest I came to experiencing that utopia. My then wife Berthe and I bought a house there, and I constructed a large, beautiful studio. My friends would come down some weekends, and we danced, drank, painted… oh, it was sublime. You haven’t seen France until you’ve seen Saint-Tropez.

Places des Lices, 1893. Get the puzzle!
How do you feel when you look back on your life?
I’m quite pleased. I always knew things that other people didn’t. If I hadn’t trusted myself and listened to the fire burning away inside of me, I don’t think I would have had nearly as much success, not to mention a legacy. After all, I taught Vincent van Gogh Pointillism. I was the first patron to buy a painting by Henri Matisse. I believed in what I did. I still do. Although I was never a fan of Fauvism, which they say I inspired. I wish they’d stop linking me to that awful style.
How profound. What is your favorite place to haunt?
Saint-Tropez, where else?! But it’s not haunting as much as it is floating through.
How does it feel to see your work turned into a jigsaw puzzle?
It’s marvelous! You know, I have an idea for a new kind of jigsaw puzzle. I’ll send you my sketches.