The French artist talks to Edmund Lee about her surreal paintings.
Surrealism meets expressionism meets cartoon eyes in the whimsical paintings of Marlène Mocquet, which are made with an expansive array of techniques (such as the use of cooking utensils) and of an unthinkable range of materials (including the dust in her studio). A 2006 graduate of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ENSBA, also known as the National Academy of Fine Arts), the 33-year-old French artist has seen her star rapidly rising in the past few years, having already held a retrospective at the Contemporary Art Museum in Lyon in 2009. Before the opening of her first solo exhibition in Asia, which is presented by FEAST Projects as part of Le French May, Mocquet sits down for an interview with Time Out, with Philippe Koutouzis, director of the gallery, providing lively interpretation.
What’s your creative process like?
I start with just an impulse. There’s no preconceived notion. If I were to reduce it into a process – which is difficult – it’d consist of three stages. The first is impulsion; I go into the studio to splash colour on the canvas and I’ll receive something back from what I’ve just done. It then allows me to meditate further into the unconscious, where I can receive and catch the waves [of ideas]. I format what’s going on and concentrate. So it’s a bit like this: I decide, then the painting decides, then I decide again. Decision, following [the feedback], decision.
Your paintings are often comprised of fantastical elements. Do you daydream a lot?
No. But sometimes, even when I’m walking on the streets, I write stories and scenarios for myself. I’m a completely analytic person; I analyse everything I observe and, from then on, it’s not about the objects I observed any more – it’s become the base of something else. This goes back to the creative process. I see something on the [unfinished] painting that more or less appeals alone and then I build on that. That gives birth to the composition.
How important are fairytales as a source of inspiration for you?
Not at all. It’s interesting you say that because earlier today we had a conversation about symbols. Maybe I’ve heard about [some] symbols without realising what I’m understanding but they come back [when I create the artworks]. I’m like a sponge; I absorb a lot of things. As for fairytales, I don’t read them – but I write my own.
How has your artistic practice developed in the years after you graduated from art school back in 2006?
I don’t really know. I go into my studio every day and it comes naturally. There’s no plan. [The thematic components of my paintings] have no reference to reality. Basically, I’m a little girl who has grown up, who still has a lot of dreams, and who constructs a world like an adult but still with the capacity of dreaming. Even at school, I’ve been like this.
There seems to be a touch of spontaneity to both your painting technique and your use of material. When did this begin?
When I was in the ENSBA, my professor told me that I wasn’t a painter interested only in that particular material – of paint – but I was already exploring other materials. Even before I was in the ENSBA, I would use industrial paint, cement and other things people use for buildings to do my works. I took what the teacher said as an open authorisation to do whatever I want through any means and materials. To me, it is liberty.
Marlène Mocquet’s solo exhibition is at FEAST Projects until May 26.