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How They See - Issue #21: Juliette Manolié on diving into the unknown and engaging with the familiar

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When I ask artists about their experiences and creative path, I am constantly surprised by their answ
 

How They See

November 21 · Issue #21 · View online
How They See will help you to meet artists from all over the globe and understand their perception of art. Published weekly on Saturday.

When I ask artists about their experiences and creative path, I am constantly surprised by their answers. Juliette story is no different. It is a story about choosing a different identity and a transition from the world of literature and being a teacher, to the riskier territory of art. 
When I started to look at her art, I saw a beautiful composition of the disorder. However, this impression is not apparent. In her creative process, Juliette on purpose explores the relation between color, texture and layering to achieve visual and emotional integrity of the painting.
You can find more about Juliette Manolié on her website or Instagram.

I often ask my guests about journeys and paths that took them to art. What is your story? I have read that you were a language and literature teacher.
As a child, I loved art class. It was where I felt the most freedom and the least amount of pressure to perform. My parents did not take my desire to go to Art School seriously: they wanted me to have more intellectual and practical pursuits. So I went to an elite, all-women’s college where I majored in French Literature and Art History. Although I took a couple of Fine Arts classes, the pressure to graduate in three years did not allow for much experimentation in that area. When I began graduate school, teaching sort of fell in my lap. I enjoyed it immensely, and it took care of tuition for my Masters degree in French Literature. Additionally, the (albeit meager) stipend allowed me to be somewhat independent.
In the early 1980’s I was living in New York and constantly going to art galleries and museums. My interest in art was further stimulated by several artist-friends of my mother, namely Jean-Pierre Berger, who collected art from unknown abstract painters from all walks of life, and whom I considered as a father figure. He was particularly interested in paintings made by marginalized people who were labelled “insane”. He would show me his collection: paintings that were several layers deep against the walls of his two-bedroom apartment in Paris. He explained why his favorite pieces were those not influenced or encumbered by aesthetic norms or expectations: for him, complete creative freedom could only be attained by social, cultural, and often psychological alienation. All the works in his collection were potent and unfiltered, like pure, raw energy transferred to the canvas. In these particular pieces, the color combinations were unexpected, unfettered by color theory, and the compositions were nowhere near balanced or deliberate. There was practically no line. This link between the alienated and the creative has always fascinated me (I had done my senior project on Van Gogh in college). Mr Berger, a very successful accountant in Paris, became a painter when he retired. I guess I’ve kind of unwittingly followed a similar trajectory. I wish he were still alive to critique my work!
Learning a language requires large amounts of persistence, I think it is a common ground it has with art. What is your opinion about it? Are there any other similarities?
I think the similarities are purely metaphorical: in as much as art is a kind of language, with its own vocabulary and syntax, I’m not sure we actually “learn” how to paint, unless you are talking about technique. The “learning” happens at another level entirely: personally, there’s a strong emotional component to it, which I usually don’t control, a psychological component, with which I am in constant dialogue, and an intellectual component which I am trying to shed. Process and experimentation take up all the time and space. The product is just an offshoot, a moment in an ongoing search. I feel like it’s more similar to gardening, or landscaping… some kind of organic process metaphor where transformation and repetition, failure and success are not necessarily contradictory. I think the language metaphor is too limiting because language is by definition intelligible. Art is much more elusive and often defies accepted patterns of accessibility. I don’t think I will ever be “fluent” in art…
Juliette Manolié, The Gift, acrylic on wood panel
Juliette Manolié, The Gift, acrylic on wood panel
You have also written about your transformation from Christel Petermann to your alter-ego, Juliette Manolié. I have inevitably associated it with literature, especially with Adam Mickiewicz. Can you elaborate more about this matter?
So I don’t know exactly where Adam Mickiewicz comes into my transformation. I had to look him up: his story seems to be closely connected to the vicissitudes of 19th Century Europe, and his poetry clearly has a political component. He clearly was a brilliant, engaged, and significant poet. Although he did teach literature for a short time, I’m not sure I understand the connection…
I chose Juliette Manolié as my artist’s name because I wanted to acknowledge my progeny: Juliette is the name I would have given my next child, and Manolié is a combination of my children’s names (Emmanuelle and Olivier, with the final  [e]  the first sound of my daughter’s name and the last sound of my son’s). A name is powerful, and I wanted to choose mine. There is the idea of agency of course (one doesn’t choose one’s name, or one’s lineage), and also the need to let go of the past and attribute value to the future. The transformation is one of identity: I am shedding my identity as a teacher, and embracing a more purposeful, if riskier, way of engaging with the world. There is also the idea of creating as a celebration of what is to come, not just a transcendence of past experiences.
What is so special in painting that it fully occupies you and become an activity, which gets you out of bed?
I think there is both the idea of diving into the unknown and engaging with the familiar. I am always very sensitive to competing tensions. What is pulling me at a given moment in time? Going into the studio and picking up a paintbrush or starting a piece feels at once safe and familiar, and risky. Like working without a net. I never know how the piece will evolve before I start painting. There is no predetermined method, or concept of an end-product. There is just the gestes: the motions. Sometimes I get inspired by a newspaper article or a poem, or a thought: that generates the first geste: whether it’s glueing or gouging, or pouring India ink on a panel. It’s kind of thrilling! Then the eye begins to make decisions. Then we get into uncharted territories. That’s what gets me out of bed.
Last year, there was a huge campaign about celebrating women as creators, in opposition to the subject of inspiration. What is your opinion about the situation of women in the art world?
Well, 3 guesses and the first two don’t count! I am always enraged by “The Year of the Woman”, “National Day of Women” etc. campaigns/celebrations. We make up more than half the world’s population for God’s sake, and we only get a decade, or a day? Every day men are celebrated and acknowledged: they don’t need their “Decade” or their “Year”. To me it’s a clever form of marginalization and it’s demeaning: here, we’ve reserved this day, or this space, or this special time just for you women… Give me a break! You don’t have to look at the ever-so-revealing statistics of female under-representation in the art world to understand the sexist and often misogynistic dynamics of the art world. Read Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World: a truly brilliant and profound novel about this very issue, among others.
Juliette Manolié, Plangent Melody, watercolor, acrylic and pencil on paper
Juliette Manolié, Plangent Melody, watercolor, acrylic and pencil on paper
The pandemic is the leitmotif of many artists, no wonder. How this difficult time affected or influences your art?
Many of my spring and summer 2020 pieces were reactions to the pandemic and its effects: the obviously poor handling and subsequent politicizing of the response. You are catching me at a particularly difficult time: I have not been able to work for two weeks. A feeling of powerlessness has been blocking me recently. I cannot seem to think it away or push myself into motion. I am hoping this paralysis will subside.
How does your creative process look like?
Very haphazard at the beginning. It’s about simply just using my hands and tools: paper or wood panels, glue or India Ink, watercolors, acrylics, charcoal, scissors, a dessert fork, tape… Combine, step back, alter, repeat. Sometimes I’m really in the zone, sometimes I have to stop and walk away, sometimes I go on for hours at a time and I’m still not there. It is connected to a certain kind of presence and engagement: what am I giving to the process? to the piece? can I let go of the thinking? I guess it’s about unconscious questions I am constantly trying to find answers to, knowing all the while that the answers are in fact moot.
When you are not painting, you are actually constantly thinking about it.  Has it ever led you to burnout?
Maybe that’s what I’m going through now… Perhaps I’ve underestimated the need to replenish, and ignored the importance of conserving energy. I think it’s the fires (burnout, ha): the country is burning, politically, socially… literally burning. No one can seem to put those fires out. My mind is parched, and when I look outside of myself, my thirst feels somehow unreasonable.
Juliette Manolié, Archipelago, newspaper and acrylic on paper
Juliette Manolié, Archipelago, newspaper and acrylic on paper
Have you ever approached an artwork that has changed your life or transformed you in some way? What was it?
First, Manet. He was so daring. He made me understand that painting, once liberated from its initial function of accurate representation, could incarnate an infinite variety of expressions. Then, Bram van Velde. I attended a retrospective of his work when I was in my twenties. I was overwhelmed with emotion, and I never understood why. I’m not even sure I do now.
Can you give some advice to any self-taught artist or designer?
Don’t only use your eyes to look: you’ll see much more.
Ask yourself questions about everything: your motivation, what success looks like, your feelings about failure, how your inner-life can illuminate or inspire your work…
Now stop thinking, and just get on with it.
What is your favourite colour?
Yes. (ed. an ironic joke, Juliette is saying yes to the whole concept of color)
Thank you for reading my art newsletter! 🙏
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Have a great week!
Piotr
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