(The following text will be included in BL8D, my upcoming artbook)
My name is Bastien Lecouffe Deharme, and I was born on the shores of Brittany, France, at the beginning of the eighties.
Bladerunner, Eurythmics, Bronski Beat, just the perfect mood.
I wear both parents' names. I am the great-grandchild of Lise Deharme. She carried quite a darkness.
I grew up without much in a land of myths and legends, somewhere between the ocean and the forest.
I was always obsessed with stories. Imaginary worlds and symbolism. From the early children books, to the long nights of roleplaying with my brother and our circle of friends.
I would also lose myself in the forest and the moor. Daydreaming.
I just had stories to tell.
When the question would come up at school about "what we want to do when we grow up", I would hear all my classmates aim pragmatically at realistic careers and plans. Doctors, cops, lawyers, and nurses. The smart choices. Meanwhile, I wanted to be an explorer, an FBI agent, or a darkened paladin.
Then I met the idea of death.
A car accident when I was 7 years old, in which I ended up holding my mother on the sidewalk while waiting for the ambulance. She told me to not let her close her eyes. To not let her die. It was bad. Really bad.
It was a sunny morning.
My face was bleeding all over.
There was a veil. I could see the world, but I could also see my insides. Some kind of conscious bleeding dream. My mouth being a vast cave with veins pumping and spitting blood. It was as if my eyes were inside it.
When I describe Retrocity, I always have this image in mind. This place within. The walls within. All covered in blood.
During a month of uncertainty, my aunt and grandparents took care of my brother and me. Every night I cried in the dark, trying to hide it from him.
Trying to contain.
And my stories were darkening.
And every night I was dreaming of black cubes floating in the sky. Black cubes that I was trying to gather into a strong, unbroken core.
When we finally moved back home, I would wake at night to draw dead people on the walls of the house. The therapist told my parents "Bastien will be fine. He has ways to exteriorize".
"He has his art". As if it was enough, somehow.
... Fucking great.
And just like that, I was back to school. Pretending to be "normal" and trying to act unaffected by this new presence on my shoulder. The awareness. Death. The constant fear that all things will fade. That everything I love is in danger. The way it strikes at random. I was both darkened and blessed. Because I embraced it. It became a strength. I had one shot at life, and I would not take any other path than the one I truly wanted. I was both more traumatized and more driven. I was intense.
Nothing would have been the same if I hadn't seen death eclipse the sun at such an early age.
And all the times she spread her black wings over my skies after that.
As I was going through school, other kids were finding their ways, and I could only draw. I had good grades, but I just wanted to draw and write. That was it.
That's how, many years later, I ended up with a Master of Fine Art and … no job.
Yet I had to pay the bills.
I made sandwiches and crepes, sold tobacco and magazines, and worked night and day shifts at the factory. And never stopped drawing.
At the factory, they were calling me "the artist", because I was always finding 20 seconds to make a quick portrait of the fellow next down the line, on a sticker. It was fun for everyone.
Until one day, an older and rugged coworker sat with me for a smoke during the break. And he made me a precious gift. He said, "You know, I was an artist too! I wish I had made better choices. You don't belong here. I come to work hoping that I won't see you because it will mean you have made the right choice!".
A movie scene.
The day after, I was gone.
I moved to Paris, invited by my friend Pascal to show my work in his bar Les Furieux, and shortly after, I was hired as a concept artist on a weird illustrated podcast. It was paying the bills, and it was fun. It also gave me time to dive in-depth into my personal world. A dark SciFi city stuck somewhere between the 80s and a sinister future: Retrocity.
Retrocity is my lair. It's my core. A city out of time. Somewhere in the US, but never situated on the map. A place where people don't ever really die. They just get … absorbed by the city. They can't leave either, as the city is walled like a blackened fortress. A prison. So they become objects, fusing with what they get attached to, and disappearing. The city haunts them, and they haunt her.
A piece of concrete and neon lights, where the tragedies die.
In the center of the city is a black cube. Massive and impenetrable. It whispers, it sees, it listens. It is not a building. It has no function.
It is a presence.
If this is my heart, the streets are my veins.
I moved to America in 2010. Got married and started a life in a small struggling town where I found beauty. Not the beauty inhabitants wished to see. But the rusted, darkened, broken beauty of the place.
I could see the shadows of the walls of Retrocity all over.
I had somehow stepped into my world.
And I started to write. And to photograph. And to paint.
One rainy morning after a sleepless night, I grabbed a piece of paper, and wrote this:
"Six nights of rain, with no interruption. It calmed down ... The thick mist now engulfs the city. I see the tops of the buildings piercing the garden of clouds, monoliths of stone and metal without reflection. They stretch out as far as the eye can see, autonomous black towers lost in the foggy sky. Below, the metal, the neons, the asphalt, the city ... Retrocity.
I have been walking the dark streets for a while now. Weeks have become months. My stay was not supposed to last, but the city swallowed me in. "
Memories of Retrocity came out in 2011.
All the things I loved to do, I was mixing them into my art.
This forged my visual identity. My "style", as my students like to say.
At that time, I also became a professor at the local university.
This made me a better artist.
Suddenly, I was in a classroom, having to explain my process and techniques to aspiring professional artists. Teaching was the best way to learn! Having to question, explore and explain. Having to dive deeper.
2022. I still teach.
I look proudly at my former students taking the artist path.
Many things have happened in these years.
My career was on the fast track to some kind of goals I never really had.
Ambition was never my thing.
I just wanted to tell my stories and make a living doing so, so I could keep telling them.
Yet, I was contacted by my agent in 2012 and started to work with Shannon Associates. Then Wizards of the Coast in 2014. And here I was, painting Magic cards. And illustrating book covers for authors who forged my imagination decades ago.
Retrocity, the roleplaying game, is in progress.
A deep-dive into the nefarious city I created. There I find comfort.
I got divorced too. And the black cubes came back, shattered all over once again. It sent me into a vortex of fears, reflections, and, ultimately, growth.
Through the process of having to stand up again, I became stronger.
Today I live my life the way I want it.
The only way I ever wanted it.
I paint and write at my desk all night long, swallowed by the red lights of my loft. I live on the top floor of a building overlooking the city.
I still have that need to feel alive. I drive fast. I shoot guns. I listen to the darkest music. I live with this accepted intensity. And I found peace through it.
I walk, in black, under the moonlight.
I know the little kid I was would be proud of me.
I have become more than I ever dared to dream I would.
Simply because … I had stories to tell, and I never stopped speaking my language. With my painting, my photographs, and my words.
I just turned 40.
It was time for this book.