Interview with artist France Mitrofanoff

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French artist, France Mitrofanoff, has a vast body of work behind her, having commenced her career in the 1970s, a time when she was painting monsters. Her interest turned to modern cities under construction. I remember her eerie-looking inhabitants, staring out at me from dark corners of the canvas. In the past decade she has turned the attention away from urban living to the cosmos and nature. Her large canvases, more often or not, pulsate with life and energy. Mitrofanoff’s spray of colour is astounding, but she is not afraid to explore the darker palette. Her monochrome forests or depictions of the cosmos are a celebration of nature’s awe-inspiring power..

Intrigued by this prominent,  award-winning French artist, who is virtually unknown over here, Karine Hetherington from artmuselondon.com went to interview her at her Paris studio where she is preparing her latest show.

France Mitrofanoff, why have you used the title: ‘le dialogue de l’arbre’ , ‘talking trees’ for your latest show?

I have been painting forests for many years now. The tree is our refuge as it shelters us from the rain and the strong rays of the sun. What intrigued me, is that we know so little about trees. I was inspired by a poem by Paul Valéry*, ‘le dialogue de l’arbre’ , which he wrote in 1943. I was very moved by the words.The wonderful text brings the tree to life and so I decided to ornament the barks of the trees I painted with sections of the poem.

What inspired you, or who inspired you, to devote your life to being an artist?

I didn’t choose to be an artist. I was born that way. However, it is true that during my youth, my father, set up his paints on the dining room table every Sunday. Taking his inspiration from a postcard he had bought that day, he locked himself away and no one would dare disturb him.

He left behind, when he died, a collection of views of Paris. Some paintings were a little clumsy, but all his work was imbued with a poetry and melancholy which touches me to this day.

What is a typical day for you?

My days are similar. I can’t help but make a long journey across Paris to the east of the city, to my studio. It is housed in a large building called ‘Les Frigos’ which the SNCF rail company used for refrigerating goods for many years! My studio is large and is on the top floor. In it I store my canvases from the last 40 years. 

Today I’m staring at my latest canvas which is giving me grief!

What are you working on at the moment?

I am still working on forests. However I have a secret desire to take up again on a theme I had barely started, ‘nature taking over ruins’

Looking at your work, I see the mystic in you?

If you mean that I’m always searching for hidden truths or mysteries that cannot be explained with the intellect, only with intuition, then I’m a mystic! So not in a religious sense but in a philosophical sense.

What challenges have you faced during your artistic career? 

I have never had problems on the artistic level.

They were always on the material level – yes. For a long time, I couldn’t afford a normal studio but found another solution by buying a WW1 barge, ‘la Monique’. I was terribly naive as to the challenges of the river Seine and its tides!

Have you accomplished artistically what you set out to do?

No of course not! The artist always is in search of the elusive work that he will never succeed in painting. This obsession dies only when you reach the end of your life.

What advice do you give young artists?

I advise them to have two jobs!  Firstly to have a job which requires the same skills as an artist, for example teaching. You need a job to pay the studio, your materials and to eat. Being solely an artist does not allow you to live. Having a job which pays the bills and more, allows you more creative freedom.

Do you admire any British artists? What exhibition did you see when you were last in London?

I love Francis Bacon and Henry Moore.

Last November I saw a good exhibition by Albert Oehlen at the Serpentine Gallery. A very bad one, Olafur Eliasson at the Tate Modern. And I always find William Blake impressive, who was on at Tate Britain.

France Mitrofanoff will be exhibiting at the Galerie Rauchfeld, 22 rue du Seine Paris 75006, Paris from 24th January – 7th February 2020.

*Paul Valéry 1871-1945 French poet, essayist and critic.

Film in which we see artist, France Mitrofanoff, the studio and her work: https://bit.ly/2T5ZALB. France Mitrofanoff Whoozart tv