In conversation with Diane Victor at Atelier le Grand Village
Recently, I met Diane Victor, at Atelier le Grand Village in the Charente. In this Atelier, founded by Francis van der Riet, Victor enjoys coming to work and escape Johannesburg’s hectic life. I was very curious about her work that looks so serious, sometimes a little satirical. Francis creates, here at the Atelier, a great atmosphere where artists from South Africa, USA, Brazil, Bulgaria ,… come in residence and enjoy to work. Victor, as part of the exhibition “weaving and lithographs”, organized by Francis at the art centre of the city of Nontron, gave a demonstration of smoke drawing for the first time in the Nouvelle Aquitaine…
Artskop3437: Diane, thank you for receiving me in this beautiful Atelier le Grand Village. Would you say you’re a happy person?
Diane Victor : Thank you first of all for coming. I really do see myself as a very positive person. I do… I think it is a privilege to be an artist, which is almost impossible not to be, and I certainly am a happy person. Perhaps, I make work that is quite serious and I look at serious issues, but it is very necessary, for me to make these images. I cannot solve the world but I can make images that expose issues and perhaps raise awareness to situations. This is important to me. But it doesn’t make me an unhappy person.
To be here at Le Grand Village, is wonderful. As you say it is a break from Joburg, and the hectic rush, the teaching, my studio, stuff, and the traffic. And it is always really good to come and work here.
Artskop3437: So you say it’s your fourth time here?
Diane Victor: Yes. Four times.
Artskop3437: What makes you want to come back?
Diane Victor: I enjoy working here very much. I like working with Francis and the printers that he brings over and the chance that you can focus. I think you’d know that it is a lot more difficult to focus in the city where you live… because there are always people saying: Oh would you do this for me? Or there is a student who says “Oh you must come and look at my work”; this is good, but to focus on your own, … a new body of work, it’s necessary to get some distance; and it’s so beautiful here.
Artskop3437: Yes it is. Especially in summer. When the nature is gorgeous.
DV : It’s so green, we never have this green, it’s Europe green, not South African green. It’s … every time you look up it’s like whaouah it’s like you’re fade with your eyes with the richness of the landscape. It’s really good. So yes, it’s a great place to work.
At the Atelier le Grand Village, Côme Touvey, a textile designer, and Diane Victor made a woven picture. Touvay created a large woven textile, 100% linen, based on Diane Victor’s smoke drawing. The textile is entirely woven thanks in particular to the manipulation of 70 shades of grey. It is this technique which made it possible to weave Diane Victor’s drawing. It is woven, it is not a tapestry and this make this piece very special.
This kind of collaboration, with diverse techniques from various artistic practices is what Victor really appreciates and one of the main reasons she keeps coming back to Atelier le Grand Village. She learns from other artists in the atelier. “There is always an exchange”, says Victor.
Francis van der Riet, the founder of the Atelier le Grand Village, told me that the idea of the woven picture came to him during a discussion with textile designer Touvay. This was obvious, because Touvay’s weavings are works of art in themselves. Done by hand, thread after thread, it takes hours and hours of work. One might think that Diane Victor’s drawing was printed, but it is a woven picture, 320 by 300 cm woven yarn by yarn with its multitude of shades of grey.
Artskop3437: Your work is indeed very serious. It speaks about different society issues such as women’s marginalization, civil war, animals, human condition…
D.V : Very much social conditions, human conditions, yes.
Artskop3437: They are very strong issues indeed. And when we look at your art, it’s really black and white, monochrome…
D.V: It’s graphic. It’s about strong issues and I try to make strong images. Yes. One lives in a country that has a lot of problems, and certainly they are improving and things get better but many issues do not have as much exposure as I think they should have. So, if I deal with violence against women, where there is horrendous case of violence very often within relationships, partners killing their wives or their girlfriends. These things make me very angry. When I’m angry, my way of solving my anger or trying to deal with it is to make an image. It’s almost like a child almost. You draw what you cannot…not what you cannot understand…, but by drawing something, you think about the process. The process of drawing allows me to think through the issues and to produce something that perhaps raises awareness in the public that not everybody knows or wants to acknowledge it. For me this is the worst.
Artskop3437: Indifference …
D.V: Yes, indifference. For me this is the worst.
Artskop3437 : One of the thing you hate the most…
D.V: Indifference makes me so angry. The thing I hate the most. I would rather make a work that make someone else angry. At least they react and that makes them think. If they come and they say “Oh that’s nice”…then I know I’ve done the wrong thing. So, I try to import this thinking to the people that I teach as well. “To be responsible for the images you produce”. Because you leave something that somebody else will look at.
Artskop3437: Should Art tell something in our world?
D.V: For me it’s important. Not for everyone.
Artskop3437: You’re not systematically into the research of the aesthetic vision of a work ?
D.V: An aesthetic component is important. Because you wish to tell something, but the best way is to produce an image that people are attracted to. If it’s a post, they’ll think “Oh, I’ve heard this before”. If it’s too violent, or too aggressive, many people’s defence system comes in and they’ll react “No”. So, I am tying work with an aesthetic that gives pleasure in the image. When you look as a viewer, you’re engaging, looking, observing and asking questions. You see something and ask, “Oh what is this? “.
Perhaps if they are interested enough, then they will read more or they’ll will find something else and go deeper… so it’s a more subtle way of raising an issue. Without not being like a photograph in the newspaper or on the TV. People often think “Oh no I don’t want to know this, it makes me depressed”. It’s good to think about these things. So I try to raise awareness combining aesthetic elements as well. And I take pleasure in the work I make. I cannot lie. I enjoy drawing. I take great pleasure. So, it’s a way to try to deal with things that makes me angry. It makes me feel positive too to do that.
Artskop3437: I heard you said once that when you are not angry you feel like you are a useless artist
D.V: haha… I am a useless artist when I am not angry. If I am happy, there is no energy. It is strange to explain it. But with anger there is focus. When I am happy, really I rather go to party, or I want go and walk outside. But if there is something that I cannot sleep because it makes me angry or bites me, that is when I am going to draw.
Artskop3437: And you need to do something with this anger
D.V: Yeah. And I have to say that sometimes, I am sitting in traffic in the car, and you hear something on the radio, and you think “Oh, really that’s crazy”. Then I make a drawing in the car while I am sitting in the traffic so that I remember the intensity of that energy.
Artskop3437: There are also a lot of wild animals in you work most of the time. Crocodile, and most recently a gorilla. Actually there is a gorilla you made here at the Atelier le Grand Village in a smoke drawing
D.V: Yes. It is a smoke drawing.
Artskop3437: Can you tell me more about the work ?
D.V: I am interested in the animal qualities in humans. Because we are all animals to an extent…. It is often a way of representing how people think or how they relates to animals. The violence against the animals as well. Gorillas are amazing. They are incredibly intelligent. I’ve been doing recently a lot of reading about the history and prehistory, and the evolution, and they are really just cousins. They are part of the family of man.
Artskop3437 : You’re talking about Darwin’s theory of evolution ?
D.V : Yeah. Very much this. They are part of the family of man. They are brothers. We are so responsible for the destruction of the natural areas, many in central Africa. Where chimpanzee and gorillas come from. It is really bad. It’s also reflects the violence that is in our societies. I try to use images of animals as a way of mediating that and saying that animals are part of our nature. They are part of our human nature. How we react to them, and how we become sometimes the bad part of an animal when we are angry or when too much violence is happening.
Also, because I grew up with animals. I was very fortunate to grow up on a small little farm, a little space with cats, dogs, horses…and …they are important to me but it’s also a metaphor for what society does.
Artskop3437: Is that a particular reason why you choose to draw the gorilla with the technique of smoke drawings ?
D.V: Because they are vulnerable. They are …Perhaps if there is not enough done to protect that species. Smoke… you cannot fix it. It is permanent because it is soot. But if you touch it, it’s gone. That for me, makes the medium very much the part of what I am saying. They are like ghosts…
If you do not actually make an effort, to do something they’re lost. But the medium also is for me really great to work with. As you cannot control it so well, so you sort of follow the smoke. It’s like tracking. You have not that much control. I like to work with mediums where, the medium also expects from you. I also do etchings and with etching you put a mark and then the mark is there. But not with smoke or ash, I do ash as well, you must be more flexible. It teaches me to be more fluid and adaptive.
Artskop3437: So in a way, it is also a life metaphor, cause in life one needs to adapt and to go with the flow. ..
D.V: Exactly. And I love the fact that the medium speaks, tells me what it wants. It is a dialogue between your hand and the material.
Artskop3437: When did you start drawing with the smoke?
D.V: 2001, nearly twenty years.
Artskop3437: is that a technique you developed?
D.V: Other people works with smoke but not with free hands. They make smoke flat for example. I use my technique of upside drawing. I was working in the university in the Eastern Cape, and I was asked to make work for an exhibition looking into issues around HIV. I was thinking what can I bring that is new? I was at one of my teaching courses, working on alternatives methods of drawing and a student had a candle, and she was saying “Oh I cannot use this” then I said “Look, you can draw”. .. and the student didn’t, saying, “it was too difficult, it doesn’t work for me”.
D.V: So, I produced this body of work in the Eastern Cape. It is a very poor area, there is a lot of poverty and there was a very high rate of HIV transmission. My proposal was to do 40 portraits of people who agreed to allow me to do their portraits with smoke. Because their lives are so fragile and vulnerable, smoke was an appropriate medium. Because the soot is very sticky, and you can’t touch it, I stored them in pizza boxes. I remember I looked like a pizza delivery person. Different candles give different smoke. The cheaper and the more paraffin they have, the better.
In the car while Victor and I were on the way to her demonstration of smoke drawing at the exhibition in Nontron, of which she is part, she told me that she used to run. This was before her kidney transplant. Now she walks a lot. She misses her runs but the doctor still does not recommend that she starts again. I was also intrigued on how she got involved into her art and her art career, whether she was predestined to this. She confesses that her father, a very strict man, wanted her to study dentistry. At this time, at university, art and specially drawing, was for her an option class. Her father passed away from polycystic kidney disease. This in a way allowed her to follow the art route. Otherwise she would probably have become a dentist.
Diane victor will stay in the Atelier le Grand Village for about a month to finish a series of works started during her last visit, and start a new body of work.