The main subject of your works seems focused on representing the face and body. Why?
It’s more a repository than a subject in itself. Even at school where I was already drawing, there was the imprint of these current works. The face or the representation of the body are vehicles of expression and these subjects do not come from a conscious decision, they impose themselves on me.
In fact, in a previous interview, you said you are somewhat monomaniac?
Yes, although I am less so now as I develop photographic work in parallel which enables me to widen my subjects to include still-life studies.
Do you produce a lot or do you work slowly?
I work very slowly and spend an enormous amount of time on considering and reconsidering my sheets of paper in a lengthy process. I am really a studio artist, making numerous sketches to find and discover things. In my drawings, I create conjunctions or connections between the body and the other elements. In my mind or the observer’s, this must work immediately.
Do you also have the feeling of being part of one of the classic themes in art history, that is to say the portrait?
If I want to be precise, for me it’s more about the representation of a face rather than a portrait, because I am not echoing a personality or an individual. I even try to reject that notion, and, if I am a bit blocked, I may ask someone to pose, without actually working from a model. I make two types of drawing: sketches allowing me to visualize the structure of the poses, whilst the sheets of paper I exhibit are a lot more elaborate. This is a very different approach that I could compare to writing and to the fact of putting down a thought on paper.
For all that, this might well call upon art history…
Yes, for I am, in fact, very interested in this domain. I still continue to visit museums, more the ones showing old art, and I prefer the late Middle Ages leading up to Raphael’s painting. I also really appreciate non-western art or miniatures and sculptures in bronze or stone.
Comparisons have already been made between the veins in the body that you depict and the roots of trees, being able to embrace a more general idea of cosmology. Does this enter into account in your work?
I would be more likely to evoke the fact of transgressing frontiers. Because creating a link between body and landscape is indeed one possibility, but which has not to be turned out to be one of mine. Even though, of course, the veining system can make reference to what brings to life and nourishes trees…
Would you accept, perhaps more easily, an echo of religious painting or of the Turin Shroud, with your faded faces…?
I look at it in the same way as non-religious painting and I have never thought about that. My faces are anonymous or rather would come from pre-Colombian, Japanese and Chinese cultures or related to Buddhism.
Yet your work seems to flirt with the spirit of Odilon Redon and Francisco de Goya, but also authors such as William Blake or Gustave Flaubert…
Yes, I can admit to links with that period and even though Odilon Redon is not my favourite artist, I do recognize some similarities. This is a period that I like, I think that’s obvious and it’s what gives my work a likely interpretation. But what attracts me most in the 19th century is literature and I may well read a novel giving rise to an image. I function by images, also coming from everyday scenes, and when I see a beautiful face or a fine profile, they can inspire me.
You have used the term “Medusa” in one of your works. Do you nourish yourself with other references in mythology?
Ovid’s epic poem The Metamorphoses inspires me, particularly in the element of transformation in the landscape or the body. For many people, a woman with snakes for hair recalls a Medusa, one of the three Gorgons, while a body transforming into a branch of a tree, evokes the nymph Daphne. Classic art and sculpture were very present in my home when I was a child because my mother studied ancient Greek and Latin. Although they are relatively familiar to me, I was very quickly grabbed by the desire to create with my hands.
Do you work implicitly on the themes of death and decomposition?
I think that it’s another way of transcending the frontiers of the body. Even though I never talk about decomposition and physical deterioration, it can be mental or refer to particles. I am also fascinated by insects and all states in transformation. This is the reason why I really like Pierre Huyghe who worked on spiders, or the sculptures by Kiki Smith.
If for you the body is neutral, what does it show in the end?
I develop a vocabulary of the human body but I feel very free to employ it as I like because it’s not my aim. The anatomy must not surpass the expression which remains essential. Furthermore, I don’t want these bodies to show any information about age or personality.
Do you want to represent more “the idea” of the body?
Indeed, I do work with a more conceptual approach. Just as for the face, it’s about the “idea” of the face. My series naturally come one after another and I conceive several works simultaneously, sometimes four or five at the same time. Some of them are elaborated in one year and sometimes I put them aside, before discovering them once again with a fresh eye.
You leave a lot of white on your page. What does this mean?
It’s not conscious, but I have discovered, through experience, that the drawings became better if I didn’t fill up the space. I work with a minimum of ingredients, like charcoal, pastels and sometimes ink. I don’t want to be too close to the colour of the skin, because using a mimetic tone will recall a physical body. For me, the mental image is extremely important. For instance, if you draw shoulders on the edge of the paper’s border, you will be suggesting that there are elements outside of the paper and that this is not uniquely a self-centred universe only referring to itself.
Exactly how do you manage not to feel a form of repetition in work constructed around the same very precise themes, ever since you started drawing?
I may find subjects that open my field of action slightly, such as butterflies. First, I photographed them and afterwards I used them in my drawings. I had wanted to do it for years, but hadn’t found out how to do it with relevancy. Then I discovered a specific type of butterfly with eyes on the wings, I stylized them and I was able to incorporate them in my corpus.
Do you develop a certain notion of eternity in your drawings?
I would say rather of timelessness or universality, but there again, it seems to me that my works impose their subjects on me by themselves…
Marie Maertens - Janvier 2018