© 2020 – 2022. 2chairs artspace

A talk with Solène Tartivelle

Hi Solène, I'm so happy to see you at 2chairs! Could you please introduce yourself? Who was Solène Tartivelle? And who is she today?

That's a great question to start with! I used to be focused on my work in the corporate world, working as a scenographer and a visual merchandising creative leader for luxury brands. I was dedicating all my time and creativity to enhancing fashion designers' vision in stores. My ideas were merging with theirs and countless others as this is a long-winded process. Now I see myself first and foremost as an artist, which preferred medium of expression is painting. I also write a lot as words are a quintessential source of inspiration and a great way to try to formalize my thoughts.

You made a stunning career in the corporate world! You used to work and succeed in a very competitive environment that focused mostly on achievements. What did you learn there and what does help you in your everyday artistic practice?

I think my corporate career has brought me a sense of discipline, a good understanding of marketing, and the importance of communicating. It has taught me that nothing comes on its own. You must go for what you really want and work for it. Idly sitting in your office or in your atelier, daydreaming of what could be if only, will never amount to much.

What are your ambitions as an artist?

I would like to create an emotional bond and a creative dialogue with other artists and art lovers. Invite those people into my creative world and my narratives, hoping those narratives will resonate in their lives and in return enrich mine.
When you call yourself a painter and a writer, what do you mean?

I have two ways of expressing myself, painting, and writing. Sometimes, the painting predominates. And sometimes, more rarely at the moment, the words pour out of my brain, and I need to capture them in a story, mostly in a short story as I am fascinated by the fairy tale format.

Creativity can be expressed in many ways. It is interesting to see how society likes to label people and put them in a box. How many times have I heard that I should focus on one or the other because I will not be able to dedicate enough time to both adventures at the same time! Funny enough those comments come from non-artists. Why not try? Why do not do what makes you feel good and fulfilled? Does it always have to be all about "success" and "achieving"? True, I might need indeed to alternate a bit between the practices, have phases when I focus more on painting and vice versa but then again why not. An artist's life is rich in many interests and many phases, let's enjoy the journey!

How do you feel the difference between your "corporate" art in shop windows and your "private" art in a studio?

I would like to think that the two practices merge and that the transition between activities is seamless. This is what I am working on. The corporate work and artistic work enrich each other like art enriches life and vice versa. The art practice is definitely the freest as I am my own boss, and I am totally free to create what I want. But it is also the one that requires the most discipline as it can be tempting to procrastinate.

Do you remember a moment of the decision-making to dive into artistic practice? What did force you to go into the art? Can you list the main turning points on your way?

For years, art was something I did on the side, in the evenings, or at weekends. It was more of a hobby. The art world seemed mysterious, impenetrable, and frankly sometimes very snobbish. I sort of accepted the fact that I had chosen (but did I really choose…) another path and that I had to succeed on that path and do art on the side. And then I moved to New York and I met countless painters, some professional ones and some amateurs. I realized it was possible to turn art into a "job", to be a professional painter making a living with your art and yet be a kind and "normal" human being. No need to be pretentious or engage in weird research for the sake of being recognized as a real artist. This is also when I sadly discovered that most people focused on "serious" jobs all their professional life and became who they really were from the beginning only after they retire. In some cases, it was heartbreaking to think of those lives wasted away waiting for the real thing to start.

So when the pandemic hit in 2020, it was life-changing and a wonderful accelerator. I told myself that if I had to die soon, I will not wait to be who I know I am. That's when I made the decision to switch, I successfully applied for BAI (Berlin Art Institute) in Berlin, left my job in NYC, moved back to Europe and decided to really give it a try. The first thing was admitting what I wanted out of life i.e., be an artist, express myself via art and connect with other kindred spirits through art.

What do you find the most challenging part of the artist's life?

Money. The biggest challenge for me is how to finance that life. Especially when you switch careers and don't have the support/network of a prestigious art school. I hope I am not oversimplifying but what I have seen in most cases so far is that either you have a supportive spouse/family or you need to work a more regular job to pay the bills, buy supplies, ship artworks (and yourself) to shows. State financial help in France is minimal and granted either to the very young or to the established. If you start from scratch, the question of how to finance your art life is a very fundamental one.
How have you come to a certain medium? Why did you choose pastel and ink on paper?

It was love after a while and completely by chance! My mother had offered me a box of Rembrandt pastels and I had tried it a few times. My first impression was not good. I hated the feeling of powder on my hands. The effect on regular white paper was disappointing. I truly wondered what the fuss was all about. So that box of pastels stayed untouched in my bookcase for a long time. Then, one day, I remember it was a lazy weekend day, the sky was grey, boredom was close. I was sitting in front of that bookcase and manipulating a piece of black paper. Slightly textured, a very interesting touch. Something lured me to grab that box of pastels. I took a red or an orange stub and rubbed it firmly on the black paper. And it was such a shock I still remember the primal wonderment. It was like reconnecting with my ancestors back in their caves when they painted with their hands and pigments on the wall of those caves. From then on, I practised pastel religiously, taking wonderful classes in Switzerland and in New York.

Sarah Schultz, visual artist and teacher, sitting on 2 chairs
And then I met US painter Marcia Holmes, who opened the world of mixed media to me. For her, pastels came last, for the highlight of pure colour. She was very experimental for the first layers: inks, oils, acrylics etc… But it still felt very controlling to me. I wanted the artwork to surprise me and to engage in a dialogue with me. That's when ink entered my practice. Randomly throwing water on paper, then ink, see it fusing and then with a gesture of the palette knife, unlock a landscape, a bird, a woman out of that drying ink. See colours mixing, guiding them further, adding more water or different hues. It is a fast and exhilarating moment. There cannot be any repentance, paper drinks the inks fast and forever, you have to make with what you have, adapt to it. That's a great life lesson as well that I try to apply to other domains! Go with the flow, adapt, trust the process. When the inks are dry, I enhance some parts with dry pastels. Their luminosity and the sheer power of pure pigments are still incomparable to me.

Where do you find your inspiration? What are the main drivers for you to start a new series?

Inspiration can come quite unexpectedly. This is not something I can control. It can be looking at nature and feeling its energy. It can be a book I love. A poem. Yesterday, I was walking in the street, and I saw two little girls playing by throwing imaginary ball to each other. And the word "suncatcher" came to my mind. How about catching the sun and throwing it/sending it to the ones you love? There is a bit of a risk in that but what is life if you don't take a few risks? The image of the suncatcher or of sun catching is now in my head, I am curious to see how it will express itself one day.

Coming back to fairy tales, they usually have a moral that should teach small people to differentiate between good and evil. Does it reflect in your artwork? Do you believe in the healing power of art?

In every one of us, there is both light and darkness. You need to be aware of the darkness, including your own, to be able to enjoy the light and lead a happy life. This is particularly true in the fairy tales I write. Some are quite dark but there is always hope. In my art, the paintings tend to have a "mood" that I hope invites viewers to meditate and dream. Here as well, it is a matter of shadow and light, the obvious and the mysterious. I definitely believe in the healing power of art. Doing art is incredibly healing and enriching in itself. Looking at art and connecting with a special piece is a rush of emotions that makes life so great living.

Could you please tell us about your artworks presented at 2chairs?

I would like to share two imaginary landscapes. The first one is called "Heaven in a Wild Flower", it is made with inks and soft pastels on paper. It is inspired by the poem of William Blake, "Auguries of Innocence", particularly the verses "To see the World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower…". I really like the idea of a world and a flower merging so that none is immediately recognizable as such. Blurring boundaries is a favourite theme of mine. There are soft tones and there are dark tones, coming back to the principle of shadow and light, disquieting and reassuring. Hope is represented by the energetic orange mark-making that transcends the dark & light duality.

The second one I made just a few months after arriving in Italy, it is called "Sicilia Onirica" (Dreamlike Sicily). I had not visited Sicily yet and I tried to interpret it by putting together what I knew and how I felt about this evocation: the volcanic strength, the sensual colours, the influences of so many incredible civilizations… I visited a few months later and I confirm this is a wonderfully inspiring island. If I had to paint it again, I would probably use more intense, primary colours and leverage even more energy. But I will not, as the whole point was evoking an imaginary place from preconception.

Any plans, hopes, or doubts that you want to share with the 2chairs audience?

First of all, thank you very much for giving me the opportunity of this interview. It is very motivating to reflect on the past, learn from it and think of the future. If I may, I would like to close our discussion with two points.

First, I would like to normalize the fact that artists might have to work on the side but that they are still artists no matter what. Passion is great and absolutely needed, pragmatism on how to reach (and finance) your dreams is also very important. And both can definitely coexist.

Last but not least, being an artist is about reinventing yourself. Your life itself is an art project. There can be many different phases, as there can be many chapters of the same book. So do what matters to you and create what makes you vibrate.

Solène, it was a really inspiring talk with you! Hope to see you soon in Berlin at one of our upcoming group exhibitions!