Before the opening of her solo show at DF2 Gallery, Parisian artist Servane Mary spoke with Artslant's Alex Couri about her latest work.
Alex Couri: This exhibition is entitled Double Happiness. Can you explain the meaning of this title and how it relates to your paintings?
Servane Mary: Double Happiness is a brand of cigarettes in Asia. In connection with the subject, we think about a substance in the woman’s body. An organ inside who carries the fears, the emotions.
As Diderot says: …“La femme porte au dedans d'elle un organe succeptible de spasmes terribles, disposant d'elle, et suscitant dans son imagination des fantomes de toute espece. C'est dans le delire hysterique qu'elle revient sur le passe, qu'elle s'elance dans l'avenir, que tout les temps lui sont presents”…Denis Diderot, Sur les Femmes.
"The woman carries inside her a susceptible body of terrible spasms, having it, and causing in her imagination ghosts of any species. It is in the delirious hysteria that she reconsiders the past, that she throws herself in the future, that all times are presents to her "...
Those subjects also fascinated poets and writers like Andre Breton and Luis Aragon who wrote afterward in 1928, Le Cinquantenaire de l'hysterie, La Revolution Surrealiste, 11, 20-22.
Double, also because the line is thin between two states, two attitudes.
AC: How do you choose the images of the portraits that you paint? Is there something in particular that has drawn you to each of these faces?
SM: All of these images are drawn from photographs that I have found in various places. The starting point for this series is some kind of obsession with photos from fashion magazines, reportage on women, on young girls going to the prom, cosmetic advertising. But the point is that this is not about fashion, it’s an appropriation of images so they tell another story.
These faces are contemporary; thru them I try to sustain the flood of images reproduced by the thousands in the media, the magazines. There are so many of them that they often loose their meaning. In that way, I sustain the tradition of a figuration. I want the women of Double Happiness to carry the emotive power of images.
AC: What is it that first drew you to the medium of painting itself, specifically your use of tempera and oil paint on wood panels?
SM: It has always had to do with a classical tradition of surface, a classical tradition of paying very strict attention to surface. Tempera is a very ‘noble’ medium that fits well with the wood. The surface of the wood is almost “pixilated” by the natural lines on it. That's its way of giving a structure to the image. Wood was used for religious icons (single, diptych, triptych panels) and was the very first traditional support; the pinewood I use is more raw. Traditionally I also use oil on canvas or oil on wood. In this series I decided to limit my palette and to use mostly black and pink.
I experimented with wax and pigment for the sculpture.
AC: How does the size and scale of the work play into the subjects of your paintings? Many of your works are rather large, while an equal amount are painted on a much smaller scale. What is the deciding factor for this?
SM: The factor is the scale itself. An artist like Elizabeth Peyton for example works on a very intimate scale close to the subject matter, and on the other hand a fresco by Piero De La Francesca is dimensioned so it fits the wall. I chose for some of my work to be bigger than in real life for that specific reason. I always redeem my paintings in one way or another by following a very traditional scale connection. But bigger scale pleases me because it allows me more facility in gesture even if the drawing stays tightened up.
AC: What kind of connection do you have with the individual images?
SM: I extract the subject matter from their context, from their stories so they become individual images. It’s a game between truth and fiction as in historical painting. I play between this thin line.
I appropriate the subject matters myself. I make them become a part of my own history.
ArtSlant would like to thank Servane Mary for her assistance in making this interview possible.