Interview for ~ ARTS MAGAZINE INTERNATIONAL Number 33. January 02 2021
Below is an interview I did for the magazine 'Arts Magazine International', issue #33. It was originally written in English and translated into French for the publication, released in December 2020 ~
What is your artistic background? I have always been fascinated by art. My childhood was spent drawing and colouring, and I excelled in art through high school. There was something deep there that I was drawn to - a compulsion - to lose myself in the bubble of creativity. My childhood was not a happy one and art was my way of coping.
I wanted to have a career as an artist but in my second year of an Arts Degree I fell pregnant (I was19) and decided to go ahead and have the baby. That changed everything! It wasn’t until my daughter was a teenager that I revisited my passion to become a painter and realised it was a dream that hadn’t died. So I picked up a brush and began to teach myself how to paint. I was in my 30s and very impatient to express myself. I thought that if I went to an art institution it would be too disciplined, so I just pushed through, making lots of mistakes, but learning steadily. In those early years, I wasn’t very good, but I knew I had the passion and drive to practice until I became better. So to answer your question, I’m primarily a self-taught artist although in 2016 I did six weeks of traditional training at the Florence Academy of Art where I refined my technique and mastered the skills that were missing from a lack of formal education.
What has France brought you in your pictorial research? French culture is at the heart of all my paintings. The artists of the 19th & 20th century that gathered in Paris have left a legacy of incredible measure that artists continue to turn to for inspiration and guidance. In 2000 a dream came true for me - I moved to Paris to realise my ambition of becoming a true artist. For 18 months I dedicated my time to the practice of painting, but I couldn’t have done it without the support of my French boyfriend at the time. It’s thanks to him I am where I am today. I now live back in Australia which is home for me. I love it here, but my soul is always restless for Europe.
Where does your passion for Art Deco, Art Nouveau and the Italian Renaissance come from? The dawning of the 20th century in Europe - particularly France - witnessed an enormously accelerated change in society ignited by rapidly expanding technological advancements. A progressive new generation of artists, designers and architects developed innovative concepts and stylised designs that matched these radical changes. I love everything about these two eras: the geometric motifs and intense colours of Art Deco, and the fecund, romantic curves of Art Nouveau. Both these movements find their way into every painting I do. The tragedy of war disrupted paradise and cast a dark cloud over everything, yet it gave birth to a new group of artists - the Avant Garde.
French Neoclassicism in the 19th century was a revival of the Italian Renaissance and introduced a new era of portraiture to Europe. These artists were highly trained and the restraint and discipline shows through in the clarity of their work, which I admire very much. Art history is a profound teacher. Every time we walk the halls of an art museum - the Louvre especially - we are face to face with the souls of the painters who created those paintings. Right there at the heart of every painting lies the spirit of these artists. We only have to open our eyes.
Did your unique style impose itself from the outset? The work of Tamara de Lempicka captured my heart and set my imagination aflame when I first saw her incredible paintings in a book back in the mid 90s - I remember the day very clearly. It was a moment of truth; a turning point. Tamara, then and there, became my teacher and I’ve never looked back. Her paintings taught me how to paint.
How would you define it today? Tamara’s style of painting, her tight, post-cubist compositions depict strong, sexy women in control of themselves and their world. Back in the 1920s, German magazine 'Die Dame' defined her as "a symbol of women's liberation". Her paintings had a hard edge to them; even her thick, resolute application of paint onto the canvas reflects her character, as I discovered when I saw her paintings for the first time in an exhibition in Rome. Even in the early years of painting, I was motivated to find my own unique expression. I didn’t want to copy Tamara’s legacy. I think my work has evolved into something softer, more feminine over the 20 years I’ve been painting. I paint using gentler brushstrokes and finer layers of paint. I’m patient, present, and dedicated.
For the past few years I feel my work has been in flux; I’ve been challenging myself to reach into unexplored arenas to find new inspiration, new direction. One of the biggest obstacles artists face is the temptation to keep painting in the same style year in, year out. I’m committed to evolving my work.
Women are one of your favorite subjects. Who are the women you paint? The subjects in my paintings are women that have attracted me for one reason or another; women on the street, in a cafe, shopping. Something captured me about their face or the way in which they moved their body and I think > I want to paint her. It’s been a kind of ritual - taking an ‘everyday’ contemporary woman into my studio and transforming her into a Golden Era goddess.
As I get older, what I’ve come to value is that every woman has her story, and how important it is to speak up and share our stories. I’m drawn to portraiture as a way of expressing the inner narrative of the sitter, rather than imposing my own perspective of her through an imaginative, stylised rendition like I did in my early years. It’s important on so many levels and I’d like to explore this further in my work.
What do you find so fascinating about women in general? One of the things I love most about painting women is being able to incorporate feminine designs and motifs into the backgrounds, around the figure. The painting becomes a complete experience of the feminine; the portrait plus the environment around her. When you pare the world right down to basics, dichotomy forms the fundamental rule of operation. I chose the feminine because I know her language. I’m not adverse to painting men or the masculine but when I have done so, there is an effeminate sensibility that shows up!
Why are light and colors important in your works? Colour for me is one of the joys of working with paint. It’s become a ceremony of sorts to mix the colours on my palette before starting work for the day. And mixing different pigments to create new colours is something I never tire from.
What is the philosophical significance of your style and artistic choices? My work is, for the most part, guided by instinct. The less I say about it, the more space the viewer has to bring their own philosophical musings to the table: I’ll let you be the judge!~ Catherine Abel