What is the idea behind 'L'Afrique C'est Chique"?
I don’t like to think of it as an idea. There is a source of inspiration. I work with a theme. I need a strong desire to create a large body of work that always starts with inspiration. My work is never about the idea. It’s about strong expression, deep emotion and the search for the right shape. Classical African Art suddenly inspired me. The 3D statues and masks is what I’m talking about. I get in touch with this art very often because one of my closest friends is an expert in this field, but it never really did much to me. That’s because I had to learn to really see. And then it hit me and I knew I had found my muse. I booked 3 stunning African models, set the date with a very talented fashion designer (Romain Brau) and got to work.
How did you get the idea, what’s your intention?
I find it challenging to combine an antique, wooden object with a human being of flesh and blood. Three-dimensional African sculptures can have a very strong presence. I thought of the female human form, which is my main subject for as long as I remember, melted together with already existing objects and tried to imagine these two “elements” giving them the same ‘treatment’. My treatment of sculpting and manipulating the way I tend to do. I found this a very exiting thought because I never did this before. I always work with human beings, women actually, never with “dead” objects and I’m sure I never will, but the combination of the two excited me. What I wanted to achieve is to build a large series of two-dimensional sculptures based on African art that would have the same strong presence I find in some wooden statues. Besides this I felt the need to undo the slightly musty aura that African Art has these days and wanted to place it within a contemporary framework. I explore my freedom as an artist within the boundaries of this theme. Swap the dark brown colour for shocking pink for example. I placed my figures on a white, sometimes black background to accentuate the idea of being exposed to the viewer. In some cases I even placed them on a pedestal to stress this feeling even more. But it’s the combination of strong expression and presence with a sensitive vulnerability that I find most interesting and this is what I’m looking for. As bold and forceful as my images may be, there’s always a very tender component. I aim for this. There would not be any power without this. I search for touches of humanity that move me. Wrinkles in a beautiful young woman’s neck, stretch-marks, birthmarks, tender skin with goose bumps, little downy hairs….I cherish this proof of humanity and give it a solid part in my creations. It’s criminal to kill this with Photoshop.
Why did you call your work “L’Afrique c’est Chique“?
This is my “work-title” as I tend to call it. I don’t know if it’s there to stay when I have my first show with this series. But for now it works for me. What I love about it is the frivolous character of this title. An inherent artistic African quality combined with a Parisian, sexy, fashionable touch.
How did you realize the idea?
Which technique do you use? I use a technique you could call “digital collage”. My pictures are constructions build up out of pieces and parts of my own photographs and sometimes traces from existing pictures I selected. First I collect the most interesting parts of my pictures. Then I start to combine. I search for the right combinations, what works together. I never know where to end up in advance. I start with a clean white sheet and a free blank mind. It is a process of eliminating, twisting, sculpting, melting and it takes a lot of sweat really. I try not to walk on the safe side, not to ride on my former trophies but to invent myself again every time I start a new project. I also try to avoid being a copycat. I want to be an original and express myself right from the heart. So what it all boils down to for me is making numerous choices and make sure they’re the right ones.
You said the series is still running. When will it come to end?
When it’s finished. This means when I stretched the subject in as many corners as I could think of. I’m not there yet. I did a series of 7 that are strictly personal and then realized a series of 10 images commissioned by a fashion magazine called “So Chic”. I pleaded for total freedom and I got it. I worked with a fashion editor, Laurent Dombrowicz, who selected a series of strong accessories for me to work with. I found this extremely interesting. I love to unite worlds that don’t have anything to do with each other and there can’t be a greater contrast between fashion and Classical African art.
What equipment do you use (camera, computer, software ...)?
Nikon D700, continuous lighting -1000 watt lamps, Mac Pro, A3 Wacom tablet, Photoshop. Do you have any examples ? It’s not like I have Idols or hero’s or something like that, but if you ask me which artist I admire most I would say: Egon Schiele.
Which people do you want to reach? What do you want them to notice, to feel?
I would like to reach people to whom my work matters! When people say they feel the desire to look at my work for a long time and they explore new things every time they see it. That is a good thing. Any kind of emotion will do, really. I would like to stir something up, positive as well as negative. I don’t like people to be indifferent to my work.
I found this snap-shot on Martin Pyper's website www.mestudio.info, a brilliant designer I work with sometimes. This poster we did for a new piece by the National Ballet of the Netherlands. I shot my pictures of Holland's most famous Prima ballerina Igone de Jongh and later got to work on my computer, as always ; )