Inès Longevial speaks in brush strokes - and in a year of incredible unrest, she has a lot to say. Before the Sun Sinks Low, her latest show and the inaugural exhibit of Ketabi Projects, explores the emotional weight of the past year, unveiling personal yet universal feelings of desire, isolation and self-expression through intimate portraits.
In these works, paint becomes a vessel for communicating Longevial's yearnings. Tangible, sun-kissed keepsakes are created, reaching out to a past not yet forgotten. Grounded in self-portraiture, the works populating Before the Sun Sinks Low embrace their femininity in beautiful colour, with Longevial allowing the pained and passionate moments of the past year to trickle candidly into each work.
Schön! sat down with Longevial to discuss Before the Sun Sinks Low, her inspirations and her "diary"-like approach to art.
This show has been in development throughout the many periods of lockdown. How has having time to sit with these pieces affected how you view them now?
All the works I am showing in this exhibition, Before the Sun Sinks Low, were produced in 2020, so more or less in this sad, tense and sick climate. My habit is to produce works in short periods of time without giving myself time to apprehend or digest them. This time, I introduced a larger ensemble whose common thread is the year we just went through. I work a lot by season, and the fact of being stuck in one same country helped me to be more patient and benevolent. It also helped me understand that the coherence of my work is not too much selection or triage but rather showing it all.
What do you think unifies the pieces featured in Before the Sun Sinks Low?
What unifies it all is 2020 - this time we are living, my past vision, how I live in the present and how I imagine the future. I unfold personal questions for which I sometimes find answers in these series, then I lose others… The different series of this show correspond to moments of my year. I painted them like a diary. They are full of music, books, recipes from these last months.
Speaking of those series, your 'Magic Hour' pieces highlight faces in beautiful detail. What inspired you to start this series?
I've been working on faces very closely for a long time so as to be as close as possible to the essence of a face, and thus to the human. It's obsessional for me to watch faces this way. During this [isolated] time, I terribly missed details of mouths, noses or skins, such as sunset-lit, reddened skins at the end of a day at the beach. I thus painted these portraits as souvenirs, but also as desires.
How have you found your approach to painting has changed since you relocated to Paris?
It's by living things that one can nourish any kind of practice. Thus, changing cities [and] leaving my family was obviously a motor to a certain production. Paris isn't the city that helps me grow the best, but her spleen is deeply linked to mine.
What were some of the first paintings you saw that inspired you to create your own works, and what do you remember most about them?
I don't have one painting in particular that has made an impression on me. There are plenty of them! Too many! It's also the life stories of the artists that have marked me. I have references for works that have marked me, but it's not only about paintings - I remember seeing Girl, Interrupted alone at the age of eleven totally by chance, and this film touched me deeply and shocked me. I also saw Hable con ella (Talk to Her) when I was also alone and little, and this film haunted me.
As well as others, you've painted portraits of yourself. How has the act of painting yourself changed how you view yourself, both physically and emotionally?
This is the centre of all my work, because most of my paintings are self-portraits. They are battles and hugs with myself. I think the answer to this question is in my paintings, but I find that answering it with words would be very vulgar, or at least, not really appropriate for me.
Generally speaking, what do you believe is the role of the artist in society today?
If I am an artist it's because, for me, it's a way to change the world, to change mentalities, to provoke or comfort. It is a powerful vector of communication with others but also with myself.
You're an artist working in the age of Instagram, where you've amassed an impressive following. How does social media play a role in your work as an artist?
Instagram could crash tonight [and] it wouldn't affect my work. Nothing and no one could stop me from painting. Instagram is not a goal, but a means of sharing.
If you could spend a day in any artist's studio from any period of time, who would it be and why?
Probably Georgia O'Keeffe or Picasso because they were Scorpios like me! [laughs] And especially because they themselves are as fascinating as their works. Their oeuvre and their lives are deeply linked.
There is such a beautifully poetic quality to your work. If your paintings could talk, what would they say?
I paint so as not to speak. There are other ways to express myself than through language. I am certainly not going to make my paintings speak when they already express themselves.
What media - literature, film, art, etc. - have you been enjoying recently?
Right now I am reading [Michel] Pastoureau's Blue, and I just finished Emil Ferris' [My Favorite Thing Is] Monsters, which is absolutely sublime. I watch absolutely all TV shows, so it would be a bit absurd to choose just one, but today I'm going to watch Painting with John and I'm really looking forward to it! I always listen to a lot of music - Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell. Right now it's The Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls on a loop!
What are you most looking forward to about Before the Sun Sinks Low?
I don't paint waiting for something in return. Painting is the ultimate goal for me. So I expect nothing more than to be free to continue to paint and draw as much as I want.
Before the Sun Sinks Low is currently on view at Ketabi Projects in Paris until 29 January. Inès Longevial's book Longevial can be purchased here.