Lise Stoufflet’s works are innocently disconcerting and beautifully surreal. Narrative is richly present in her paintings, yet the story is not always clear and, often times, unsettling. Part of this tension arises from Stoufflet’s beautifully contained manipulation of color, which marries a contrast of pastel, soft colors with rich, dark hues and creates atmospheres of mystery and intrigue. The scenes her paintings reflect this as well. Each piece is a snapshot of a larger whole, a hint of a story without really revealing anything about what is going on. These moments are richly evocative of something, and Stoufflet is almost toying with the viewer, dangling the thread of answers before their eyes, yet showing almost nothing at all. In one piece, Balancoire (2017), for instance, a young man and woman sit facing opposite directions on a swing set. Very little information is present in the painting providing any sense of context, place, or time — uncharacteristic trees darken the background, a sun is setting or rising in the distance. The entire piece is bathed in dark blue. Even the figures themselves are initially unassuming, dressed in white onesies and staring almost expressionless into the distance. Yet, the scene is still bizarre. Where are these two people? Why are they dressed in these institutional clothes? Why are their expressions melancholy and why are they avoiding one another’s gaze? Stoufflet doesn’t have or provide any answers. Instead, her works invite viewers into a conversation with her paintings, her colors, her forms. She invites the viewer into the work itself as a voyeur, showing them something that only they will and do understand.
Born in 1989, Lise Stoufflet lives and works in Paris, France. She has shown in many exhibitions across Europe, including the solo exhibition ‘Confidences’ (Paris) this past year organized by Art Mate and the group exhibition ‘Attitudes’ at Air Project Gallery in Geneva, Switzerland. Most recently she showed work in the group exhibition ‘Green is the coolest color’ in the exhibition space of Le Houloc. She was a member of the Art School Alliance program in Hamburg, Germany (2012) and was the winner of the Antalis Prize at the 2011 Sarcelle Engraving Biennial. She obtained the National Diploma of Fine art at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris (2014) and was an artist in residence at the Astérdes Residence session in Marseille (2015). Her work has been featured in Untitled Magazine, Point Contemporain, and Art factory magazine.
What is your background in art and how did you get interested in painting?
I started making art in school -- I studied science in high school, but for my Bachelor’s I realized that I could maybe do something with my art. My family is not in the arts at all, my parents are scientists and engineers. I went to preparatory school to get into the Fine Arts School in Paris, which I then got accepted to. I studied for five years in Paris and six months in Germany, and I finished my degree in 2014.
What attracts you to painting and specifically the medium?
I have always been interested in this medium. I work with drawings and paintings because it’s the best way for me to express things. I also make sculptural ceramics, but my ideas come through drawing, so it’s the most natural art I can do.
You make drawings, paintings, and sculptures -- how do you approach ideas materially?
I make a lot of drawings and I find my ideas through drawings. I study some of them to make bigger paintings. I feel like it’s important to make a connection in the paintings between reality and fantasy, and to break the boundaries between what’s real and what’s fiction. Painting is really a fiction scene; you can put everything you want in it. It’s a window into what you want see and show. It’s so interesting to be confronted with a real object and make it be real. The boundaries between reality and fiction are very important to me.
How are you approaching and thinking about narrative and developing your paintings in terms of content and image?
I think of each painting as having its own narrative, like a very short story, but it doesn’t have a beginning or an end. It’s just a little moment in the middle where time is suspended. It’s a moment where people are doing something, but they are not really in an action. Something is happening, but maybe things seem calm and quiet. It’s kind of an in between moment and each painting is its own little world.
They’re also mysterious and dark as well.
I like to play with that, like maybe something is dark, but it’s really colorful and everything seems super nice. I really like this confrontation of something happening that maybe isn’t so good, where depending on the spectator someone might find the scene really funny or really scary. It interests me how people read things differently when they can’t really understand what’s going on because there’s a lack of information. I think it’s disturbing and frustrating when you don’t have any clues and a work is an enigma.
I don’t try to be scary or weird, but it’s something that happens a lot. I don’t try to put something too scary or strange, but sometimes it’s maybe more that I can’t do without it, and it comes naturally. Sometimes I make paintings that I find myself too scary and I don’t like them too much.
I also think there’s often times a dark implication when you think of something like fairytales, like there’s always something super dark behind all the childish stuff. It’s very interesting to reimagine the classic fairy tales, and think about childhood and sexuality. There are really more messages between the lines and really symbolic stuff and it’s really interesting because you can’t really describe it.
You mentioned sexuality, which is also a theme present in your work. Can you talk about how you are addressing this theme and incorporating it into your paintings and approaching that as a subject?
I’m interested in this question of sexuality, and representing the sexuality of women and the discovery of the sexuality for children. All those questions for me are really touchy at the same time, so I’m interested in playing with it as a subject. It’s not really clear, and there are some weird ideas that I include, but it’s not really obvious. I think it’s hard for me to really describe all the ideas I have and how I transcribe them. It’s kind of a mix of everything, and I don’t always end up saying what I wanted to say at first. It’s more like a process of painting through painting, and then they can say what I want them to say, but it’s a mix of a lot of things. I don’t really try to explain everything, so sometimes I don’t have the clue either. It just happens.
Figures are also very central to your work. Have you always made figurative paintings? How are you thinking about the figure as a form and character?
I have always painted figurative paintings. I’m not so interested in abstract, just for me it’s a way to construct a narration and I can’t do that without figuratiation. I think I always work with characters, but the representation of the body is really loose and idealized, almost archetypal. It’s not a woman, it’s woman in general, and I don’t feel I want to represent real bodies actually. There is a really big distance between me and the representation of bodies. I think I am really maybe afraid of painting people who look like actual people. It looks like dolls, actually.
Do you draw from any of your own personal experiences, and are you thinking about yourself within these works?
I think that they are really linked to me, but I don’t want to see these links so I try to hide them a bit. There is obviously a link between me and my work, but I try to keep a distance with that. It’s why I don’t search for clues and because I have a feeling that if I do that I will start an auto-psychoanalysis, so I don’t want to do that at all. I hide myself in the paintings, but they are paintings and they are speaking bthemselves.
Can you talk about your color palette and the way you use color?
It comes naturally, but I’m sensitive to pastel colors, like flat colors, or colors with white inside. Maybe it’s to contradict the strongness of the subject, and I often use color to soften the work and make it more gentle or peaceful. Really non-aggressive colors.
How are you thinking about the surface of your painting and how you approach the formal aspects of painting -- your mark making, materiality, etc.?
I think I start to do it with drawing. I construct the images by making a few drawings for each painting and things become more precise. I use the drawings and I make a frame on the canvas to reproduce the drawing, though it’s never exactly the same. I started to draw just in black and white, so the color is really supplied through the painting. I don’t add color until then, so color comes after the initial idea. I just did an exhibition with just the drawings recently. I normally don’t show them, so it was interesting to see just the black and white works without my usual flat colors. It changes things actually -- even when it’s the same scene and the same composition, it changes a lot when it becomes a painting.
How are you thinking about your sculptures and how you developed those in your practice?
I’ve been making small sculptures because I don’t have a large oven to cook them, so technically it’s all small works. I like making the finger sculptures because it’s real in the sense that it’s the same size as a person’s actual finger and there’s something disturbing in that. The sculptures are often linked to the paintings. Sometimes I’ll make a piece by itself, but I think the ideas come through the drawings and paintings, and it’s usually the same process to make the paintings and sculptures. And they’re also thinking about the space between real and not real.
How are you thinking about the scale in your paintings and drawings?
I try to make the scale 1 to 1 with the real thing. Figures and people are close to the real size, so I make somewhat big paintings. There’s something really natural and practical for me to work in this size.
What is your studio practice like?
Almost everyday I paint. I’m kind of maybe strict, so I work like someone who goes to work normally. I try to do a classic schedule, like 10am until 6pm, but I don’t work late at night in the studio, I try to do everything during the day.
What are you working on right now?
I recently worked on remaking a really classical painting. It was The Venus of Urbino ; it is an oil painting by the Italian painter Titian. It is a really interesting composition, so I worked to remake the same composition, but also changed a few elements. I wanted to rework it because the original showed a naked woman and it was very cliche representations of women. It’s the first time I’ve tried to do something like that. It was really ambitious and is a realy new work. I’ve also been working with diptychs, and connecting the diptychs was an idea because of the symmetry between them. I also like the idea of showing parallel world. I’m interested in astrophysics and theories of quantum physics, so I also try to incorporate that. And I also like the diptych for the confrontation of these similar worlds.
Do you have any frustrations or challenges right now in your practice?
I think I would like to have more opportunity to incorporate installation stuff with the painting where I could really explain the elements of the paintings and construct a more complicated narrative. I don’t have the opportunity yet, but I would like to soon. I’d like to construct something with the object and the paintings.
What is influencing you right now, who are you looking at, and what are you bringing into your practice?
I’m listening and reading a lot of different stuff, but it doesn’t seem really linked to my work. I love science , so I listen to a lot of science podcasts and also a lot of podcasts of testimonies from normal people. I also see so much on the Internet and on Instagram -- there’s almost too much information to understand how its influenced me or not. I think we are a strange generation for all of that. Things are going super fast and we are nourished by so much stuff and have access to all the information, so it is a bit scary. In paintings it’s like you have to take a big moment to see the same image, and you have to really be concentrating on the same stuff and it’s really different from our lives in terms of speed and with painting you have to be really calm and patient when you paint, and concentrate to see just one thing.
Are you thinking or sourcing your images from anywhere?
I have a collection of images that I’ve seen or found that I sort through and see if ideas come or images appeal to me. The images are a mixture of really strange and really basic. It’s stuff I’m seeing and collecting, almost at random sometimes. It might be a study of colors or sometimes it’s just an image or a composition.