Rising French South African artist
Juliette Pearce is a young French South African artist that currently lives and works in Italy. We have met her for a tea in the heart of Florence to discuss her style, views and passions.
When did you first realise that you wanted to be a painter?
I think that I have always known that I wanted to be an artist. When I was 5 years old my father gave me a set of gouaches and some huge cardboard sheets that were almost as big as I was. We were in South Africa visiting my grandmother and I painted a series with houses, flowers and the bright sunshine in very bold colours. I recently saw the paintings again as my uncle has hung them on the walls of his law practice in Durban.
Who were the first artists that you found inspiring?
One of the most inspiring artists for me has been Picasso since as long as I can remember. It’s been a continuous love affair as there is so much variety in his work, and I’ve been interested in different periods of his at different points in my life. I admire his ability to question everything and rebuild it anew. It’s also close to my heart as my parents live in Mougins, where he lived and died. I would often walk down to the Chapel of Notre Dame de Vie behind his house and peer into his garden, it’s one of my favourite places to go to and think.
There were two posters that travelled with us from house to house when I was growing up, ‘Paris through the Window’ by Chagall and ‘La Danseuse Créole’ by Matisse. There is something so balanced and comforting about those two pieces to me. My parents were wonderful and no matter how much we moaned about it they would drag my siblings and I to every museum possible. We also grew up with the Impressionists, and it’s like seeing old friends when I spot them in a museum now.
In terms of who inspired me the most for my current work, it would be David Hockney. Like Picasso, I don’t just admire his work but his way of thinking. Hockney has always played with the relationship and possibilities between photography and painting. This is something that I have also been drawn to. Ed Ruscha, Edward Hopper, Dexter Dalwood have also been great influences and I’ve recently been enjoying the paintings of John Tierney and Jeffrey Smart as well as the photographs of Todd Hido.
What is the concept behind your distinctive art style?
The paintings are based on photographs of places that I have encountered. They are places that are designed for human use but with no human trace. The work describes the fleeting moments in between the action of people when these spaces are almost in a state of repose. A feeling of anticipation fills their emptiness. There is an artificiality to the work, the ambiguous light emanates from the colours that are bright, acidic and highly saturated. The proposed point of view is voyeuristic. The irony is that the viewer gets to look into scenes that are devoid of human presence. These paintings are edited and distilled from photographs. The amount of visual information proposed allows the paintings to become generic, universal spaces.
Can you briefly describe your art project and its evolution?
It originally stemmed from films. I was fascinated by the structures and composition of sets for scenes in movies. In some scenes, the action is almost an excuse to showcase the set. I wanted to celebrate these sets and focus on the place where the action takes place. I sometimes find a certain electricity in places that are devoid of people, especially in those that you are unaccustomed to seeing without people. The first place where I experienced this was at a petrol station at night. The fluorescent lights and shiny white pumps were no longer just part of a useful place of daily life but a new structure with its own magic where any action could unfold. This is where my obsession began. Added to this idea I became more specifically interested in different types of light and times of the day as well as the geometry within the structures that I was looking at.
Cote d’Azur or Tuscany?
That’s a very tough question. Both are so special. I think for everyday life Tuscany. But there is something about the light in the Cote d’Azur that you cannot find anywhere else. It’s as though there is an extra half-degree of brightness and clarity. Can I have both? It was easy to give up the light in my old studio in London if that can be counted.
Could anybody, in your opinion, learn how to be creative?
I think that anybody can learn how to draw and paint. Given enough time and persistent training anyone can learn how to see, read and replicate line and colour. The technicality doesn’t have to be innate.
Creativity on the other hand is an entirely different beast. I don’t know how you can cultivate it. The best thing I’ve learnt is to allow yourself to notice what you enjoy. Sometimes we have such a precise idea of what kind of aesthetic we like and would like to produce that we forget to notice the things that stimulate us. For examples, I never would have thought that I would be obsessed with metallic structures, telephone wires and traffic lights, but I am. I was looking through some old life drawings that I did a long time ago, and it was almost comical to see the effort I had put into the chair and the cupboards in the room as opposed to the model. At the time I really thought I was interested in drawing figures, but the drawings say otherwise.
What is your artistic training, and what materials do you use?
I attended the City and Guilds of London Art School. It was the only school that I wanted to go to and I had an incredible four years there. Since then I’ve been painting with oils on canvas.
If you had to match your style with a wine and a dish what would they be?
I don't think that I could associate a single wine and dish to all of the paintings as a group. There are certain paintings that I could match to a mood therefore to a type of wine and food. In the case of ‘Biglietteria’ and ‘Staircase’ I would think of a Bolgheri and a pappardelle al ragu di cinghiale because of the warm and deep colours and the emphasis on perspective in each composition. I like to think that both paintings drag you in, just like a deep and complicated wine might. For the Antinori painting, the wine association is self-explanatory. I would immediately think of the La Braccesca, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano. The curves and lines of the Antinori Cantina in Bargino are mesmerising, and even more so after a wine tasting or two! On a completely different note, when I look at ‘Lights’, which is based on a photograph that I took in North Carolina, I have a completely different food association. I was driving from the coast to Raleigh and the road was an absolute straight line for two hours. I took the photo of the swinging traffic lights during a coffee stop, so to me this painting has a very different palette. It reminds me of an American road trip and in the acidic colours I can see a pack of Skittles.