For part one of our interview with painter, Guilaine Arts, we met at an ultra utilitarian coffee shop near her house in England. Tall, like Macy Gray tall, and as flamboyant as a black outfit allows, Guilaine was generous with her time and candid and garrulous about her background and her work which sells to collectors all over the world.
Later on for part two Guilaine took us inside her studio, but for now this...
Outsideleft: You're originally from French Guadeloupe, you've moved around a lot, first of all where are you in the world now and what brought you here?
Guilaine Arts: Yes, I am originally from french Guadeloupe, but grew up in metropolitan France. As you mentioned although I'd moved around a lot, I had settled down after having my daughter in order to provide her with some stability. However, when she reached two years of age, I was caught again by the feeling of expatriation. Britain was on my list and, there are three reasons that ranked it first on that list. First of all, I have already had a great experience in the country, when I was younger, through a one year au pair contract. Secondly, I was and I am still fond of the language, so I thought it would be a great opportunity for my little family and myself to integrate the language - the motivation was bigger as I had my husband's approval. Finally, I wanted my daughter to be able to have a close contact with the rest of our family. Britain's proximity to France enables us to go back and forth as often as needed and vice-versa for all of our family members.
OL: If I was visiting Paris what would you recommend? Is there a suburban art scene?
GA: I come from Paris' Suburb which for the most relates to the capital. In Paris the art scene is so vast. However if you had to visit any art place I would suggest the inescapable places such as Le musee du Louvres, Le Musee d'Orsay, The George Pompidou Centre, there are so many well known places that I could recommend. However, from a personal prospective I like the world of art in its wild form, probably because I am wild myself in the sense that I like to be disconnected from The Conventional. So, if you came with me to visit, I would take you to places of street arts and also to some artists' squats - most often based in abandoned houses or flats illegally occupied - where you can find great pieces of work. There the imagination is uncosseted, free and free from commercial conformity.
OL: It's tough, independent world you inhabit. How do you see the gallery structure at work for artists coming from abroad to work in the UK?
GA: Unfortunately I believe that Galleries in the UK are not very open to diversity. From a personal point of view I found it very difficult to break through. It appears that British African, Caribbean, Asian, and Chinese artists face the same problem. Although many attempts has been made by the Arts Council to set up policies in support of diversity, I believe that they only had the effect of ghettoisation. These policies seem to patronise these artists as if they would be incapable of making it into the artistic mainstream.
OL: What made you paint in the first place?
GA: I always had a feel for art and craft since my childhood. I come from a family where art and craft is very present. In regards to painting, I started painting with my daughter about five years ago after my father's death. We started on small predesigned canvases, I was very much enjoying it. One day I decided to paint one of them for my friend's birthday. Her mother, already an artist, told me that she liked the way I was handling my brushes and also the way I was using colours and convinced me to start to make my own way. By telling me that it became a challenge. It's not a conventional path. One evening, after reading a book about the Way of Seeing written by John Berger a British art critic, poet, novelist and painter, I started to meditate on one of the sentences that stated "we do not see what we are looking at". On my bookshelf I had a book with Nelson Mandela's photo on the cover. I started to look at this photo trying to understand Berger's sentence. I spent so much time on this picture and as time was passing instead of seeing a face with lots of little details, I started to see a face with colour masses. My view had changed. So from that I decide to put it on paper as I could see it, and then put it on a canvas, and Mandela became the first face that I painted.
OL: How would you describe your current work? And how has it evolved to this point?
GA: My current art is figurative. I call it the art of the soul. The society in which we live today is so perverse, so I believe that it is very important to be able to reconnect with our inner self in order to avoid the fall. That exactly what I express through some of my paintings. Others are witnesses and also the big cry against injustice. My characters are most often women because they much more easily bring out charm and sensuality. I have never been to an art school, I developed my art as an autodidact, so I have learned and progressed through trial and mistakes.
OL: Can we see your work online?
GA: My work can be seen on artmajeur.com.
OL: (I heard this one on the radio the other day) but of course it's just the sort of thing that appeals to me... If you could own any work of art in the world regardless of cost, what would it be and why?
GA: It would certainly own one of Claudy Khan's work, an Artist from Congo Africa. I like the power of spirituality that can be find in his work. What I also appreciate is the freedom of expression that you find in his work which differ totally from European art. Here is a link that showcases his work: claudykahn.com
OL: What makes art good art?
GA: From my point of view it would be a mistake to judge art as good or bad. Art is a personal way of communicating our perception and feelings of things around us. We are all different physically morally, culturally etc and see the world in so many different ways. It would be so reducible to judge art as good or bad.
See more of Guilaine Arts' work here:
image on this page l'africaine
in part 2 of our interview Guilaine discusses her inspiration from art and literature and talks about where her work is going next.