In the studio with Diane Dal-Pra.

Words by

James Ambrose

In the studio with Diane Dal-Pra.

You have just moved to a new studio in northwest Paris, how is this new space working out?

Very well! It took me a few days to get my bearings and adjust my inner rhythm, but the place is so bright that it is very stimulating to go there every morning. The other nice aspect is to be part of a place invested by several artists and creatives, it has an exhilarating effect.

Did you grow up in Paris? Did art play an important role in your life as a child?

I grew up in a town in the southwest of France. The atmosphere was very different than here in Paris. I remember this period as a kind of a bubble, quite conducive to slowness and observation. Since then I’m a very periodical person, with phases of intensive production and compulsive drawing and phases of idleness and contemplation (which is a disabling thing, totally unadapted to our current systems pace).

There seems to be a certain energy in the relationship of the figures in your works, how do you determine the subject matter you create? Do you want to portray a perceived narrative in each painting?

I’m fascinated by trying to create narratives without using literal codes of narration into representation. My paintings question the construction of our identity and of our intimacy by the material filter before the spiritual one. This is why the balance is complicated to find. I search the paradox of being precise into the transcription of things and materials while remaining vague and ambiguous enough regarding the depicted scene and portrait. I’m where I want to be when everybody literally reads the same objects/textures/things but projects totally different stories behind.

Installation View, Of Course You Are, Cob Gallery, London, September 2020

With the increasing prevalence and evolution of false or photoshopped portraits due in part to social media, your recent work raises questions of visual identity by hiding and concealing the faces of the figures depicted. What prompted you to mask your figures in this way?

It doesn’t really react to social media. It is more the logical continuation of my reasoning explained above. For this series, each portrait speaks of engulfment. It is a way of questioning our relations to objects, and the filter they play between us and the outside world. They have the power to strongly define our identities but at the same time become a kind of armour, that swallow us up. It is a fascinating power it offers to us, we become the kind of totems we shaped ourselves. Hiding the faces was the way to give more presence to our absence, but also a way to underline that despite everything «of course we are».

Will you create preparatory sketches for each new work or start working straight on to canvas?

I always spend a lot of time on the sketching phase, the research of compositions and the arrangement of shapes. Once lines seem sufficiently speaking, I develop it on the canvas. I think this is the most exciting stage of the process, the moment between the preparatory drawing and its production. Things are crudely defined and still can come to life in a different way.

Installation View, Acqua in bocca, Galerie Derouillon, Paris, September 2020

Your early work was predominantly created in acrylic paint, however, your most recent series is created exclusively in oil. Tell me what was the driving factor behind this change and what the use of oil paint brings to your work.

I have been working with oil for some time now. This medium allows more finesse in the treatment but also more depth in the work of colours. On the other hand, it is also more technical and I have the feeling that I still have a lot to learn and test before understanding all the possibilities offered by this one. I also believe that the historical dimension of this medium, used for centuries, has something fascinating and timeless.

You completed a residence at Palazzo Monti in 2019, what did you learn from this experience? Do you feel your practice has taken on a new level of maturity because of it?

Definitely. On the one hand, the scale of this incredible Italian Palazzo was an opportunity for me to work on a large format. On the other hand, the influence of the location in the production is huge. The atmosphere, the light, the change of scenery are components which impact creativity but also technique. I think it’s not necessarily a good or bad thing, but it is conducive to research and discussions. Also, Edoardo Monti the founder of the residency has been very attentive and full of precious advice.

Installation View, Of Course You Are, Cob Gallery, London, September 2020

Your work is very concise and beautifully detailed, how long do you generally work on a painting before you can say it is finished?

It is complicated for me to answer this question. Each painting is a new journey, with its duration and its share of surprises. I can spend more time on a small format I’m not happy with than on a large one. There are no rules and I’m still often trying new technical things that can slow the process.

You have recently had your first solo show in London with Cob Gallery and your first solo show in Paris with Galerie Derouillon, both receiving high praise and extensive interest, what is next?

I feel blessed by the reception of these exhibitions, it is very stimulating. I’m super excited to work on different projects for the next months and to take part in future group shows too.

What is it about painting that you love?

I imagine it’s a kind of outlet. I also love the idea that painting and more widely images accompany my construction and become my tool for trying to read things. The other precious thing that the practice of painting offers is the dilation of time, when I paint for 8 hours I sometimes have the feeling of having been away 72 hours, I love this sensation.

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