The undulating lines and curves within the geometric formations of Franco-Japanese artist Tiffany Bouelle’s work provide us with a refined view of complex subjects. Having extensively travelled from a young age, Bouelle is concerned and simultaneously fascinated by culture, drawn towards the similarities and differences within her surroundings and the people she encounters. Most recently her work has focused upon women’s stories, the shared and lived narrative of which is represented within her minimalist compositions across canvas, paper and various found materials or surfaces.
Photo © Tiffany Bouelle
First exhibiting ‘Mauvais Rêves’ (Bad Dreams) in 2018 at Tokokonama gallery in Paris, Bouelle went on to secure a collaboration with luxury brand Moynat (LVMH) under the same title, after the creative director saw and liked her work. Further collaborations have included working with architectural firm Festen, premium jewellery brand Okan Studio, swimwear brand Apnee, the sculptor Marina Mankarios as well as multiple artistic directors and craftsmen as she continues to explore each plastic language. Having exhibited at ‘Asia Now Art Fair’ in 2019 with Tokyoïte Gallery, Bouelle went on to open her first solo exhibition ‘HAJIMARI’ (‘The beginning’ or ‘Origin’) in 2019 at Gallerie DD in Paris. Demonstrating an ability to work across multiple mediums, the exhibition featured large tapestries made with the support of an artisan upholsterer alongside sculptural acrylic wall hangings and Bouelle’s identifiable modular paintings.
Working as a multidisciplinary artist, Bouelle’s application of colour and materiality is often symbolic and connected to her subject matter. In May 2019, she travelled to India and Japan to create ‘Rencontres’. Throughout this project Bouelle listened to and recorded women’s stories, which led to a responsive body of work that highlighted the variances between each culture through the materials and colours used, yet also their connectedness. Through what appears to be a repeating pattern, we can identify the variances and unique qualities in each piece of work as though denoting the distinct story of the woman who inspired it.
Photo © Tiffany Bouelle
In recent months whilst Paris was in lockdown, Bouelle developed a series of ‘Confinement‘ drawings during an intense period of creation. Utilising limited materials to create the work, she went on to exhibit the project on social media in self-curated shows, such as ‘Self Worth’ which featured written phrases hanging within her own kitchen. Demonstrating a resourceful and considered approach to her practice, Bouelle intends to continue travelling and absorb her surroundings, whilst listening to further stories and developing work that embodies her chosen subject through abstract forms and performance. We recently caught up with the artist to find out more about her practice and passion for supporting women, as well as what inspires her conceptual work and where she’d like to travel to next.
Photo © Tiffany Bouelle
Over the last couple of years you have exhibited at the Asia Now Art Fair, collaborated with luxury brand Moynat and have also achieved your first solo exhibition ‘HAJIMARI’ (‘The beginning’ or ‘Origin’) in Paris last year. Have you always known that you wanted to be an artist? What encouraged you to explore this career path?
I think I have always been a creative soul. I remember spending my summers in Japan painting next to my grandfather. He is a poet and a ceramist, but also a professor of letters and I remember spending afternoons with him making clay reproductions of food that I liked to eat. My father is also a multidisciplinary artist and would always take me to museums and galleries and we have travelled together for years. I went to India when I was 8 years old, and I discovered Easter Island and Tahiti when I was 14. My parents wanted me to be open to all cultures and to be sensitive to them. I think I always wanted to be an artist but I had fears because my references were tortured artists and I was afraid of being unhappy. It took me 25 years to dare to touch and feel paint, to understand that it was my greatest joy in life.
As a Franco-Japanese artist, how do you feel that the combination of these two cultures have influenced your practice or perspective?
My Japanese mother is the pillar of my life. She taught me rigor, perseverance and tenacity. My origins are part of my identity, they have built within me a dual artistic personality and each culture influences the other. I have for a long time sought to understand where I stood on the map because this mixture made me feel not entirely French or Japanese, but today I consider it a strength to be able to understand two societies and to be able to explore them by speaking their languages. Japan is always present in my philosophy of aesthetics and also in my medium and my textures.
Your work features a distinct abstract style, often supported by a muted or limited colour palette, which provides a sculptural quality to your practice. Where do you find inspiration for your geometric formations?
I started my geometric work after becoming inspired by architects’ plans and by mixing these with the curves that I had seen and collected during my travels. I am a great admirer of design and I love traveling. Gradually these forms have become curves, undulations, and peaks. It may seem strange to say, but I have flashbacks that appear when I look at certain items or a memory that reappears when I see an object, projecting me into the past. The same thing happens with humans. I see people as shapes and colours and depending on the interaction I have with them, the curves change.
Photo © Tiffany Bouelle
How is the use of colour and exploring colour important within your art practice?
Absolutely everything. The colour reflects the frame or the behaviour of my subject. It can be a colour found on the floor or on the wall, but also in the clothes of the person that I am painting. The interaction I have with my subject will also have a geometric impact, which is why it is so variable in my work.
Working as a plastic artist you utilise various mediums and techniques, including painting, drawing, tapestry, performance, sculpture and ceramics. Do you have a preferred medium? What draws you to each material within a project?
I think that painting remains my favourite medium since it allows me to satisfy my creative impulse immediately. The advantage of acrylic is that I can make a canvas very spontaneously if I need to express a feeling. Therefore, I can use my work as an outlet to free myself from what haunts me. As I previously told you, I see shapes and what often happens is that I throw myself onto canvas, tracing those shapes, which can remain colourless for several weeks while I understand what I want to transmit. I throw myself into everything in general.
Generally the medium for each project is obvious, as it is often connected to my subject. If I want to make a work on the subject of pain, I would use rough, cutting materials, and if I tackle reindustrialisation as a topic, these would be toxic materials, although I don’t want to use those. If I speak of modesty, I would use more fragile components and if I speak about women according to my subjects, then I may evolve the medium. I have no rule for materials. I wish to explore all the possibilities, since for me my thoughts or topics always have a textural quality and it is constantly evolving.
Are there any artists that have inspired or influenced your practice?
For years I made a list of names that evolved year after year and I realized that it was not representative of my thoughts. The people who inspire me are spontaneous, authentic, sincere, fragile, sensitive, passionate, or warriors of their own life. Obviously, I have artists that I like, but who are not plastically referenced in my work. What I like is the passion that they dedicated to their art and the artistic lifestyle they led. These influences mostly come from a painting background, but some also come from architecture, sculpture, literature, politics, etc. I also admire the women who have changed my daily life, women who fight so that our world evolves in the right direction.
Photo © Tiffany Bouelle
You collaborated with luxury brand Moynat on a bag collection titled ‘Bad Dreams’, featuring monster teeth across the designs. How did this collaboration come about? Is fashion an influence on your practice?
Ramesh Nair, the artistic director of Moynat, was my first collector during my first exhibition. He liked my work, which at the time was intended for a younger audience and much more tortured. He found that my creatures were fun, and decided to make a monstrous collection. Fashion is part of my life, but it’s not as much a passion as art.
Are there any other designers or brands that you would like to collaborate with?
“I have a very long list of dream collaborations! I keep this in my personal notebook and it’s mostly full of designers and architects, rather than brands. Some of them are unfortunately not alive anymore. My list includes; Jacques Couëlle, Oscar Niemeyer, Studio Tate, Hermès, Brinda Somaya, Chloé Nègre, plus many more.
‘Rencontres’ is a project that took place across Japan, India and France. This involved interviews with women exploring how society and they themselves viewed their own body. What similarities or differences did you learn about the ‘representation of self’ across these cultures?
No matter the country in which we are in, we meet similar problems when born a woman. I met people from villages in the middle of nowhere who passed on their confessions to me, which were quite similar to the experience of urban women. I want to go to other isolated countries to discover other problems and I want to put on a big exhibition in a few years’ time with all of this research. I recently produced audio recordings and videos and I would very much like to create interactive installations, which will encourage my visitors to go through personal introspection.
I cannot change the world, but I like to put words on the things that we do not dare to tackle. This project allows these women to talk about problems that they have never tackled before, and I think that helps to inform and understand each other better. I remember in India when I asked a series of questions about periods with twenty teenagers and young adults. It was an exchange that allowed them to better understand their bodies and I think that these things are unfortunately not yet discussed enough in schools. It may seem strange, but whether we are in India or in France, periods are still so taboo, although much more so in India. This natural process is still not explained to women during their schooling. I really wish to continue to raise awareness of this subject, which will allow us to move forward more confidently.
I hope that by questioning this reality it will become less taboo and will allow us to better experience the many events that women encounter in their life. I am for information without filters on the human body and I feel that the education system in France is old school. I would love to create an artistic women’s centre to educate women about all the subjects they want to know in a positive safe place.
Photo © Tiffany Bouelle
Your travels and conversations with women have provided you with a lot of insight and understanding. How do you translate these findings into your abstract drawings and paintings?
When I paint on a subject that excites or moves me, making the painting gives me the courage to approach this subject in reality. So, I think my painting immortalizes a subject still considered taboo in our societies. It is a political abstraction. My work is visually simple and minimalist, but only the curious will know my reasons for painting and will understand my shapes and colours in depth. You know what, I still have so much to say. I’m bubbling inside!
Throughout the project you used a range of media, including Japanese gansaï, a type of watercolour paint. What other mediums did you explore and how do they connect us to the cultures involved?
I think about my materials differently since my trip to India, which is when I started working on supports made by hand. The confinement also instilled within me a willingness to utilise the things around me or to call on local craftsmen. I am currently working on a performance where the weaves used will be made from recycled fabrics, ordered from French organic and ethical manufacturers. I support crafts around the world and I hope to go on a journey to discover new materials and textures. Every time I travel I find new mediums that will be used within the series of works that I create afterwards. So, yes my mediums are directly connected culturally and to the issues that I raise.
Photo © Tiffany Bouelle
You mention that you are exploring the use of recycled and organic materials. Do you feel that you are environmentally conscious as an artist?
It’s connected to what I think. I take care of what I wear, what I eat and it just becomes evident that I can use things that already exist or are made with respect. I don’t want people to work for almost nothing just because I want something cheaper and cheaper. I once bought a bunch of canvases and then realized how bad the quality was. I just thought, ‘Ok, I’ll make it myself from now on!’. I can’t tell if I am the best example, but I just hear and read about how bad we are to our planet and I try my best as a citizen. I’m living in Paris and buying my food at the supermarket, but maybe one day I’ll have my potager (vegetable garden) and I’ll enjoy the food that I produce. For now, I’m just hoping that people will slowly understand the repercussions of this consumerism nonsense. I don’t want to create something with a base made by machines or robots. If I want to have an industrial process in my work it would be to denounce how terrible it is, which is something I already did for my first show about the industrialisation of Japan.
The ‘Confinement’ series includes pieces that you produced daily whilst Paris was in lockdown using limited materials. What encouraged you to create this series?
I live like I’m going to die tomorrow. During the confinement I was obsessed with the idea of creating new things daily. I think I spent most of my time imagining projects without taking into consideration the materials I had with me. These limited resources led me to create ‘Chess’ but also offbeat projects like ‘Worth Show’, which was an exhibition I held in the kitchen featuring phrases I had heard on the phone during the confinement. For me the confinement was an incredible moment to create all the crazy ideas that came to my mind, I had to do on average one work per day.
What do you invite people to take away from these ‘Confinement’ drawings and paintings?
I think the paintings I’ve made during my confinement were really intimate. I think it can remind people about the different feelings they crossed during this pandemic.
What are your plans as we continue to move forward out of lockdown? Do you have any projects that you are currently working on?
Don’t ask me why, but I always have the feeling that my life will end soon so I am obsessed by creating. I am thinking about a lot of performance pieces and dreaming about trips to Greenland and South America to discover new cultures and meet people. I want to share my art as much as I can.
Written and interviewed by Georgina Saunders
Featured photo © Chantapitch