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Inès Longevial’s “Before the sun sinks low” was recently on view in the cavernous hall of Les Grandes Serres de Pantin just outside Paris. The solo show was presented by Ketabi Projects, and included new paintings by the artist, who is known for her figurative works full of vivid color, light, and intimacy.
The series of paintings were all made in 2020 and are a direct reflection of Longevial’s experience in confinement as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Painting during that time was a struggle for her at first, but eventually she used it as a way to travel, to dream, and send a cry of hope to be free, sun-kissed with others once more.
Whitewall spoke with the artist about why the paintings in “Before the sun sinks low” are her most courageous yet.
WHITEWALL: What was the starting point for “Before the sun sinks low”?
INÈS LONGEVIAL: There wasn’t really a starting point for this series, simply because it’s more of a series within a series. It’s part of my work from 2020, a body of work closely related to what we experienced last year. For the first time I learned to paint a little more patiently, less in a hurry. What I retain from “Before the sun sinks low” is the capacity I had to show an ensemble of works. It was a very intimate show, in which I dared to show paintings that I wanted to keep to myself and which are nevertheless indispensable to the understanding of the whole. I managed to mix several seasons without being disturbed, whereas it is usually a difficult exercise for me. I think that with this show I was able to be more precise and courageous.
WW: What was the inspiration behind the series “Magic Hour,” included in the show?
IL: This year I wanted to travel. Every day I was transported to memories of sunset lights here or there. And this series with this particular light was a way of transcribing this desire of reddened skins from the sun, of moments suspended in time which we would want to pause. Colors I use to get noticed, as if I was screaming we would soon get our freedom of living again and be at the closest to the faces of one another.
WW: What do images of frogs, butterflies, snails, and flowers represent for you in past paintings?
IL: Animals act in my paintings as literal symbols but also as a starting point, like colored motifs—which means sometimes like a starting point that helps me get to a form of colorful abstraction.
WW: What about similar motifs that appear in Pearls and Snakes?
IL: It’s the story of Charles Perrault’s “Fairies,” which is about two sisters: One is kindness and softness and the other is vulgar and vile. Pearls and diamonds end up coming out of the first one’s mouth while snakes and toads come out of the latter one’s. I thought it was interesting to discuss this duality of opposite forces which characterize us while not only showing the two sisters, but also two versions of myself.
WW: Is there a work in the show that was particularly challenging or satisfying for you to complete?
IL: Yes! Liquid flame was the first painting I made during the first confinement, and it was like an exorcism to finally manage to paint at that time.
WW: Is there a piece you’d prefer to keep for yourself?
IL: Well, actually, Liquid flame! I hadn’t planned on showing it until the day before the show. But I find it indispensable and necessary to the whole. It brings up questions which the others answer.
WW: What was it like installing this new body of work in the unique setting of Les Grandes Serres de Pantin?
IL: It was very impressive to imagine this installation with Charlotte Ketabi from Ketabi Projects. First, because the location is extreme, grand, and also because it’s this duality which ties together and brings apart the location and the works, which is challenging. Seasons are very important in reading this show, and the fact of showing works in the Grandes Serres, which is neither completely inside nor outside, offers us a natural light and an artificial light, which both join together on my paintings.
WW: How would you describe your relationship with color?
IL: I’d like to be colors, to incarnate them. That’s what makes me want to paint. Color is deeply free. In nature it’s independent from our decisions, and I find that fascinating.
WW: Can you tell us about your studio? What's a typical day like for you there?
IL: I paint at different locations, in different improvised or fixed studios, so there really isn’t a typical day. The only thing that doesn’t change is the comfort I organize around myself, my clothes, as comfortable as possible. I listen to audio books and to a lot of music. I particularly like sunny days, which bring me a golden light.
WW: How has the ongoing pandemic impacted your studio practice?
IL: It hasn’t significantly impacted my way of working technically, but more philosophically. I was used to taking long breaks between my series, and since the pandemic started I feel like I can’t stop—there is nothing to distract me, nothing else to do.
WW: Where do you begin with a painting?
IL: I often start with a part that I long for, and I absolutely have to finish it before I start the next part. I work in a descending order of preference.
WW: What kind of environment do you prefer while working? Is there natural light, is there music playing?
IL: I listen to a lot of music. I have playlists that I update regularly. I try to be quite demanding in my discoveries, because if I let myself go I always listen to the same cheesy music.
WW: What role does drawing play in your practice?
IL: I draw very often, and I try to make sure that my drawing is always linked to my painting. If the latter evolves, my drawing will too. It’s quite hard to stick to that, but it’s necessary. It’s very important and it allows you to express yourself as honestly and clearly as possible, and it’s something that's dear to me.
WW: You recently self-published a book you described as “like opening my secret box.” What do you want to offer with this book?
IL: This book is a bit like a living object that can last over time and bear witness—like a logbook or a diary—to a moment. It says a lot about the way I work, about the thread of my work and my thinking. I am a rather modest person, and this book is full of unspoken or intimate things about my inspirations and feelings.