Interview with the French artist who paints femininity in all its facets

FRANCESCA MARANI, VOGUE, Italia, 11 February 2021

In Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Wassily Kandinsky wrote "[painting] is a language that speaks to the soul with its own words, of things that for the soul are the daily bread, which only in this way can be received".

These are the words replying in my mind as I observe the paintings by Inès Longevial, a thirty-year-old artist born in the South-West of France, a region whose colours always informed and inspired her palette of choice. Longevial's paintings are a combination of light, colours and clean lines and are concerned with the female figure, which is portrayed in all its complexities. Be they intent faces deep in thought - something we are no longer accustomed to seeing on our IG feeds - bodies enveloped in a hug or eyes hovering over a smartphone screen, the subjects are always women depicted in an act of self-examination. They are evolving contemporary women who engage with one another and strengthen their identities. It is no coincidence that often the one being portrayed is the artist's face itself. The overall feeling is that of gliding into the suspended time dimension of introspection, inside that stream of consciousness that always accompanies our life.


Longevial kicked off 2021 with an exhibition at Les Grandes Serres de Pantin, staged by contemporary art gallery Ketabi Projects that seeks to "introduce and promote the work of a new generation of contemporary artists from France and abroad". Founder Charlotte Ketabi-Lebard picked the works of Inès Longevial because "[she] is an exceptional artist, a fine portraitist and colourist and her work resonates strongly with our time. What really touches me is that she depicts our generation of women in all of its opposites, between a soft tenderness and a deaf violence. I had been following Inès' work for a long time, and when I decided to start Ketabi Projects I absolutely wanted to work with her."


We talked with the artist to better understand her work.


How would you introduce yourself to those who don't know you?

Inès Longevial: I am a painter and I will paint every day of my life until the end of my days, so if you've not seen any of my paintings yet, you will definitely see one at some point, and I hope it will be in your favourite museum. No, I am kidding, I would like to have this arrogance, but I would most probably introduce myself in a much simpler and coy manner by presenting my surname and first name.


How was your first encounter with art?

I don't really remember; my mother would take me to museums when I was still in a stroller! A little later, I remember the Modiglianis, the Matisses, the Picassos or the Van Goghs. These are childhood references are still relevant to me today.


What's your favorite part of the artistic process?

Colour! It gives me a thrill every day, this is what drives me, makes me understand or express myself beyond words.


Can you tell us something about the new body of work presented in your latest exhibition "Before the sun sinks low"? Why did you choose this title?

When I was brainstorming a name for the show, "Before the Sun Sinks Low" just naturally came to me at the end of 2020. I was searching for a combination of words capable to tie the present moment together with the near future that we can no longer predict. At the same title, it is a title that evokes a slow apocalypse.


How did these paintings come about? How were you inspired by the Californian light?

I often paint what I cannot live and what I desperately want to live. The skins blushed by the Sun, the blueish shadows, those warm end of days brushed/stroked by a gentle breeze, are engrained in my memory and form powerful wells of inspiration. I am obsessed with the shadows and endless colour shades of the Sun's reflection on the skin. To live again, in total freedom and to be closer to others.


Why the choice of different formats?

These 12 small formats zoomed and reframed in close ups, by section rather than by overall plan, make it possible to picture the closest of faces and make the slightest shading or vibration more tangible. The size difference brings a dynamic both in the construction of the collection as well as its presentation.


Some of the portraits present faces that are absorbed, a bit distressed, crossed by doubts. What fascinates you about these subjects?

I like the combination of opposites and playing on the ambiguity that the looks on these faces can create. These canvases depict battle scenes against myself and at the same time, scenes of love for myself. I ask questions through my paintings: I find answers to some, but not to others. I paint so I won't have to speak and the answers to these questions are most certainly found in the paintings themselves.


Lately we have become used to seeing people's faces through the computer screen. Have these new visions of ourselves and others influenced your work? 

Personally, I haven't done any Zoom calls (apart from one time for my birthday) so I still haven't replaced the physical contact with the computer screen version. This is something that would inconvenience me quite quickly because you would not be able to grasp the endless skin shades and the facial features. We also tend to look at ourselves, to control our image. So for the moment, I believe I have yet to surrender to it.


How would you like to represent the human body in your paintings? 

I would like to exhibit a body that is different to what seems to be the most beautiful to us, or the most fortunate, the most adapted to our era: a tall and skinny body. I am not really into social representation, or social commentary, I am not seeking to show the expected. However through subtlety and details, I like to portray a body that is not particularly eroticised, a body that takes full control of its own power.


What do you wish to say about womanhood through your paintings?

The women in my life are very present and are amazing. They are witches, fairies, magicians. My mother, my sister, my grandmothers, my aunts, my cousins all have a special place in my childhood. I have always admired them, so much that I have never felt like the women they are. I was absorbed by their gestures, their attires, their noses, their make up or lack of, their knowledge and their opinions. When I think about it, it feels like I am looking at them from a distance. Today, I still retain a little of this, I am in love with my friends, I admire their differences, again, their noses, the way they walk, I truly adore observing them. Sometimes I forget to speak when it is my turn to do so. This is what I want to testify about.


Your favorite women in fiction and real life?

Off top of my head, I think about Fran Leibovitz and then Maya Erzkine and Ana Konkle, both in real life and in fiction.


As a woman and a painter, do you feel you are supported by the art community? 

"Supported" not really. Doing everything yourself and achieving popular success is not well regarded in this super codified sector, and yet, if I were to wait for support or validation, I would still been waiting! I felt like I wasn't how I'm supposed to be or expected to be but I also didn't really try to change myself. I untaught myself to be wise, reserved and sweet because it's not really me and I evolve in a much more confident manner.


Do you think gender plays a role in building your career? 

Being a woman is pivotal to my life. It is what I know best. But it is also precisely at this spot where all my doubts are located. I navigate between the childhood fantasy version of the woman I wanted to be and the woman I actually am.


Does success on Instagram help you in establishing yourself as an artist? 

I admit that I won't know how to answer this question. I don't know if it has helped or if it has hindered me. Being able to share my work, my research, and my journey since the beginning of Instagram is of course amazing, but I have no idea how I would view it when I get older. What I know for sure, is that Instagram is not at all a goal but a means to a goal.


Have you ever felt the pressure to perform your artist's identity online?

Yes of course! However, I strictly refuse to promote myself as a brand. In fact, the question arises in an era during which the "self-everything" has become the new self-building and career. However, I think that it is important to resist the temptation to simplify one's identity to make it more relatable, effective and liked. It is absolutely essential to resist and to be firm with yourself on these elements, trying to stay the closest possible to one's true self and one's intuitions. I get bored easily, this helps me move forward and I often want to be where I am not anticipated to be, to stay free.


What has your work taught you about yourself?

Most frequently, things about myself, and I am too modest to talk about or attempt to break them down. I express myself through painting so I don't have to talk. But through my work, I also live human experiences, that make me move forward, realize things and change.


Do you believe in the power of art to create change?

Yes of course, otherwise I wouldn't be a painter. I have always had this profound belief. The power to move, upset, console someone, to denounce something is so potent that it can create change.


What are your hopes for the future?

I hope to be able to travel and be high on sounds, scents and colours that I don't know yet. I hope to be able to be reunited with our freedoms, as we knew them in the past.

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