Interview, a calligraphic passion
Interview ‘INK!, a calligraphic passion’
Many thanks to Frédérique, Estelle and Bénédicte.
The world you are creating in your artworks looks like a tale inspired by different traditions coming from all continents, from all eras and ranging from ancient China to Harry Potter. What kind of relationship do you have with tales and legends?
« Between Dreams & Fairy Tale, the reality of Imagination. Here is the Land of INK! »
This is the first sentence I wrote in my notebook to introduce INK!
Part of my being floats in what Tolkien calls “Færie”, that kingdom where mythology, religion, history, legends…intermingle. There lies the temple of imagination filled with infinite resources. Far from being removed from the real world, it sheds some light on it. And gives it much power. It not a coincidence if Tolkien’s works are so popular these days or that Harry Potter enthrals children and adults alike. We need these “tales”.
They tell the story of the world, of the whole world, with its dark areas, its subterranean migrations and the currents of history. They never forget. We need to be free spirits, to be aware of the whole world. To really be and not simply let ourselves be whisked away by the current of the days. Tales offer keys to our world. They are precious gifts as they enable us to feel and, by tipping over our perception of the world, they offer us an open space for creation. This is how they convey joy and energy.
One of my ink families is called “Fairy Tale” but the “Færie” spirit is present in all my drawings. I am completely imbued with it so, of course, it shows… I am first and foremost a reader and a sponge. I have interiorised all those tales during my childhood. And with adulthood, they have only become more powerful.
In Asia, there is a very compelling Korean tale. It’s called Blue Dragon, Yellow Dragon. Way before starting to work with ink, it guided me in my work with photography. This children’s tale captures the essence of what I’m looking for: creating an artwork that is the most powerful but also the simplest.
In that story, it takes a life of labour for the old wise man to produce two lines of colour – which send him to prison, for the prince thinks the old man is mocking him! But, in the eye of the beholder, these lines turn into the most beautiful and powerful dragons ever drawn. The prince then discovers the years of labour the painter has spent drawing hundreds of dragons until they could be condensed into those two lines. From the very day I heard this story, it became an integral part of me, body and soul. I'm an impatient Westerner but, faced with the perfect line of the calligrapher, time stops. There's a spiritual link between this world and I. Me, the dancing woman, the “inking” woman, I dream of becoming that line to be able to draw it. My work is a long road towards it. And beyond technique, it’s also essential to work on oneself every day.
What made you swap your camera for a brush?
Le Goût de l’encre by Gao Xingjian*. When I read « ink is a substance like any other » my last doubts melted away. I allowed myself to wander down the path of ink and put myself to work that very same day. Ink fascinates me. It is noble, meaningful, and bewitching. It entails calligraphy, writing, philosophy, it is a whole way of life. I had already started experimenting with ink in my photography series “Where does ink flow” which follows its journey onto unexpected surfaces such as stone, grass, etc....
I uploaded onto my website a video entitled “In an ink whisper” inspired from that work. I was already drawing with charcoal. I had read on the Tao, and was following the works of classic and modern masters. But I didn’t think I had the key to that world yet… It turned out I was ready.
Can you tell me a little about your colours? Why red here, blue or black there?
Black is THE colour of ink. It’s at the core of my matrix.
My taste for blue comes from porcelain. I saw blue and white Ming china at a very young age. The picture of perfection. Contrary to its appellation as a “cold colour”, I love Prussian blue so much because it warms the soul. It brings in a positive light. It’s enveloping and reassuring, whatever the original message. It enables me to find a new language where symbolism is transfigured. Technically, however, I find it more difficult to use. The particular kind of Prussian blue that I use resists more. I had to learn to negotiate with it, to take into account its peculiar fluidity which disconcerted me at first. I’ll need to check and see if I hold the brush differently! Another thing is that this blue got me working onto larger surfaces. It paved the way for the other colours.
Red is a primary colour in my work. It can be found in my images on the feminine. It’s a running theme in ‘Mujer, Tierra y Libertad’, in ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ and it is also very much present in ‘Body and Soul’. In my mind, I always think of a Chinese red, very noble and deep. A single drop is very powerful.
That fascinating red however doesn’t actually exist so I have to recreate it in every drawing by mixing various inks together. Apart for vermilion, my SANGUINES do indeed have several layers of red blending together. I need sanguine and carmine to feel right.
Which world do you draw? Is it the one from your dreams? From your childhood?
It’s the world of now, the world that lives within me or that I’m trying to make true. “Dreams are the path of my future days”. That’s what I wish for and the direction I’m trying to follow. For me, drawing bridges the gap between my inner world and the world we live in. If I break that bond, I’m just freefalling. I need to be anchored. Living without creation drains me from all meaning. In his diary, I am what I see, Alexandre Hollan writes about seeing and feeling. I am definitely in the realm of feeling.
How does an image come to you? Is it a reflection, an idea you are illustrating?
Images come to me. They’re not cerebral. They come when I sit down and let them appear. I just need to empty my brain. Meditation is a great thing for that. And drawing just after getting up!
I’m only illustrating when I get an order, such as the fresco I made for Musa Décima (BLUE BRIDGE, SNCF Dmt NEN). Then, just as with writing, I teleport myself into the other’s world to get a feel for its outline.
Or do your fingers decide and tell the story?
Ink is a pas de deux. The line comes from the body, the heart and the ink. It follows its own path. We meet on the page. Sometimes I take the lead and sometimes the ink is the one to guide me.
Drawing is intimate; it involves the whole body. I am overjoyed when Jacques Rouby writes that my “choreographics” dance. Although he doesn’t know me personally, this wonderful artist understands my work perfectly. I am a dancing woman. All my creations are inhabited by movement.
My gesture is similar to the dancer’s. It’s fuelled by an intention but also daring to improvise. It maps out the encounter between pre-existing desire and reality. It is magic in its audacity. Without risk taking, it deflates. I’m walking on a rope.
Are you narrator or character?
I am narrator and character, witness and actor, author and conveyor.
How do you switch from photography to ink drawing? Is it a back and forth? What makes you chose one over the other?
They coexist. Just as writing and videography coexist in my work.
I would like for them to exist at the heart of the same project. I previously made drawing and photography coexist in “The Missing Part”, “From the back nothing has changed” or in the video “Lire Cécile” that I shot for Cécile Reboul Cleach (SKIN). With ink, I’m looking to go further than just to make means of expression coexist. I want to get to a point where it’s as if photography and ink are part of the same palette.
Do you plan on making a book?
I dream of making a book with ink, text and photography. Dreamful! Since I like working collaboratively, it would also be a great adventure to write a book with another author. It’s good to get out of your solitude and walk on the path of artistic creation with other artists. These collaborations are very enriching, both on an artistic and human level.
On the other hand, ceramics appeal to me more and more each day. As soon as I’ll find where, when and how to make it happen, as well as a partner to help me, I’ll take a shot at it.
Do your ink drawings tell a story? Is that story written?
When I sat down to think about this website, I realised there were several stories in my work. This is why there are seven families on the website today. Others will come. If I say “Here it is, here is the story.” You can bet that by tomorrow, I’ll be up and looking for another land to explore. As soon as I close one door, I open three more. In order to create, I can’t have any limits. I really hate being put in a box.
People like Bénédicte Philippe or Lalie Walker who know my work very well, can see my guiding line very clearly and the great coherence of my work. I am very grateful to them for writing about my journey. This line truly exists when you work from the heart. Switching medium or surface doesn’t change anything. On the contrary, it enables you to be at your truest. Ink is a very pure and intimate story. I feel like I’m walking in the jungle and choosing one tool or another depending on which hurdle I need to overcome. Ink is a gift garnered along the way.
When do you work?
Any time I can, really. It’s a visceral need, and a joy too. Not being able to work would be terrible for me. I would wilt away.
I like working in the mornings, in that in-between state still infused with the powerful images of the night. Or in the evening, to get far from the madding crowd and find back my anchorage.
How do you work?
I am lucky to have a studio in London which is something new for me. Otherwise, I draw a little everywhere, on the bus for example, just quickly sketching things. I take notes. I often work with music on. There is this common line between drawing and writing, and music carries me along and offers grounding. Visually, I fill my space with papers, pictures, colours, works and books I like. I need them just as I need my beloved friends. They bring me back to what I’m looking for confusedly. At the moment, you can find in my studio: Sylvain Tesson’s Géographie de l’instant, Gaston Bachelard’s L’intuition de l’instant, the second volume of Alexandre Hollan’s journal*, Louise Bourgeois’ Femme Maison* and the wonderful catalogue of the works of Bernard Guillot. They are my charms… They protect me.
Gao Xingyan Le goût de l’encre is also never very far as well as Zao Wou Ki’s catalogues, the works of Virginia Woolf and In Camera: Francis Bacon which is awfully heavy but that I still sometimes take with me in my suitcase when I travel, like a talisman.
Do you finish your drawings in one setting or do you need time and go back to them?
There’s no rule. It also depends on the size. Sometimes I manage to finish in one setting. Sometimes, I need to wait for the ink to dry up in order to work on the different layers. Some ink drawings, even small ones, have taken me a few months to complete such as ‘Across Appearance’ or ‘Ana’. Ink does not allow for mistakes. You need to wait for the right time for the right gesture. And to be patient.
Do you sometimes work on an ink drawing again?
Once the drawing is done, I put it on display in my studio or in my house. I live with it. Sometimes I realise it needs some more work, that a part of it is not quite balanced. I am one of these artists for whom every space counts and is part of the story.
Why are most of your drawings monochromatic?
I don’t see them as monochromatic but more like the work of a tightrope walker on emptiness and fullness, and the relation to space. White represents a vital breath for me. And there are so many shades in a black or a Prussian blue…
I sometimes associate black with red or black with blue. It creates a duality which interests me in relation to my work about dance: it brings structure but also freedom to improvise.
Was is ink technique that lead you to this elegance of line, situations, emotions? Or is it your need for gentleness which lead you to ink?
That’s a really good question…There is an inherent nobility in the ink substance and a very choreographic elegance in the line that I also find in dancing. In both these arts which are at the same time physical and spiritual, movements are intimately linked together. This is the heart of the living, and maybe, even, its most delicate state.
What was your biggest surprise when you started exploring that technique?
I was astounded to feel so good! I felt at home. All these years spent observing and immersing myself surely helped me make a foray into this work. I will never stop learning or experimenting. My brain started dreaming in ink too. It’s quite pleasant.
What are your influences?
I have mentioned many artists, calligraphers, painters, authors. But drawing is a matter of internal balance. I must go back to the source and pay tribute to two wonderful men, Félicien Marceau and Jean-Louis Barrault. I am in love with Baptiste, the character portrayed by Barrault in Les Enfants du paradis (Children of Paradise). It led me to miming. I always keep with me the picture of the Mime Marceau from October 5th, 1956. It ends with these words: “A gesture is not enough, it needs to be encompassed in a thought and the drawing which translates this thought need to be rigorous. And finally, let Style shine through.” Marcel Marceau. This very gesture is the one that leads me in my work. It’s the one which dances.
Is your eye for photography useful in working with this new material? Or is it completely different because there are no shadows or light, no texture, no 3 dimensions?
Photography helped me build a relation to space and time which is tremendously useful in the work I’m doing now. It created a cocoon. My camera is also a great notepad to nourish my imagination. It enables me to bring back to my studio places which inspire me such as trees, lights, waves… When you know my work, you find in my drawings the same obsession for elements as in my pictures. Creating texture, making it appear, moves me, deeply. I don’t know why. It’s an infinite quest. Mixing ink with chalk or sometimes acrylic is a different adventure which fascinates me. Then a completely different dimension opens up. All that work makes the soul sing.
Gao Xingjian, Le Goût de l’encre de Michel Draguet, Editions Hazan
Je suis ce que je vois d'Alexandre Hollan, Editions Le temps qu’il fait
Francis Bacon La Chambre Noire de Martin Harrison, Editions Acte Sud
Louise Bourgeois, Femme Maison, de Jean Frémon, Editions L’échoppe
Faërie de J.R.R. Tolkien