Our Featured Artist: Camille Chastang

Camille Chastang is an artist living and working in Nice, France. She studied applied arts and fine arts, and recently spent six months on a residency in Paris at the Drawing Factory, as part of the Drawing Lab programme.

Drawing is the starting point of her practice. She tends to question the hierarchy between genres and genders and thinks about drawing as a way of being. Thinking about the status of sketching and sketchbooks in contemporary art is also a key part in her work. Through drawings, writings and reading, she tries to deconstruct the power relationships between different art practices and the hierarchical values between subjects.

“In my opinion, subtle work can be powerful. Because my work can be perceived as meaningless, powerless and nice, people are less suspicious.”

 

We met Chastang while she was at the Drawing Factory in Paris. Before reading the full interview, give the video below a watch to see her in action and learn more about her incredible work.

 

Can you tell us a bit about your background and your art practice?

I’m a young artist starting my career after studying in both art fields, which helped me shape my artistic and theoretical practice. My art practice is mainly drawing, but I also write, make ceramics, screen print, design patterns and create installations.

Did you always know that you wanted to be an artist? How did you start out?

Since I was a child, drawing has always given me pleasure and I always knew that I loved creating things. My mum loves to tell people that when I was a kid I kept saying “when I grow up, I want to be a drawer!”, so I’m glad that it’s now my full-time job, but it remains difficult to make a living out of drawing.

 

Do you remember the first art material you were given or bought for yourself? What was it and do you still use it today?

Believe it or not, but when I was a kid, I was given a Winsor & Newton watercolour set. I still use it today and I love it!

 

Do you have a favourite drawing material? What do you like about it?

In order not to get bored, I often change my drawing techniques or materials, so it depends on my current "art mood". I currently love drawing inks and I’ve been using Indian Ink for quite a long time now.

 

When we spoke at The Drawing Factory you mentioned literature and the role it plays in your practice. What are you reading right now and how is that cropping up in your work?

I recently read Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? by Linda Nochlin (1971). Thirty years later, she wrote a response to her own essay. At the end, she says: "Today more than ever, we must be aware of what we (women) managed to achieve but also of the dangers and the difficulties that are waiting for us. We will have to use all our tactical intelligence and all our bravery to be sure that the voices of women are heard, that their work is looked at and commented. It is our goal for the future." This quote reminded me that I shall always try to give a meaning and a purpose to my work and that I do not work in vain but that have a tiny part to play in how things and people could change.

Can you expand a bit about your exploration of images that are traditionally considered "high" art versus "low" art, and what interests you about this hierarchy?

I’m interested in the hierarchy between genres and genders and how it's portrayed through written art history. I try to understand how we were taught to look at images and judge them as good or bad, high or low, considered as art or not. This is not just a question of artistic taste but also of patriarchal construction and sexism. I often draw images considered as too low, too feminine or too naive to claim that they could be linked to something else.

 

Your subject matter includes text and images, and you shared that the text is often feminist or political. How do the images and the writing relate to each other?

I love that my work has different levels of understanding. I draw images that could be seen as naive or unpolitically pretty. The use of text brings a new level where I try to explain how these images could in fact be political.

You describe your work as a "trojan horse" – can you tell us what that means?

In my opinion, subtle work can be powerful. Because my work can be perceived as meaningless, powerless and nice, people are less suspicious. Once I have their trust and attention, I can then convey the messages I want. It is also a way to protect myself from people who could find my work too feminist – I can choose what and how much to unveil and to whom.

 

Where do you find reference materials for your large floral works – are they from books, life, or imagination?

I never draw from imagination! The large floral drawings are drawn after real botanical drawings made by women artists (from the 16th to 19th centuries). I find works in botanical books and online.

Tell us about your love for postcards and how you find working across a range of scales, from the very small to the immersive environments you create on the walls?

When I draw, I tend to look for a good balance between contrasts of shapes, colours and scales. I love contrasts and I would say that it is what defines the way I work – I even listen to heavy Celtic metal music while drawing flowers!

Everything starts with my sketchbooks, which are rather small, and working on a big scale is like composing my own environment. A huge part of my work is to find out how all my different drawings can live together. I want to debunk this hierarchy which assumes the bigger the better. Small drawings are as important as big paintings.

 

Do you have any go-to tools in your studio that are special to you? How do you use them and why?

My favorite tool ever is my Indian Ink pencil. I use it to draw everything!

What was the best piece of advice you were ever given, and do you have one piece of advice to share with an artist just starting out?

I would say to be benevolent and to stay close to your friends. I would advise any young artist to work hard and stay brave!

Are there any current or upcoming projects that you are happy to share with us?

I’m drawing a few large wall drawings early this year, in Marseille for a group show and another in Paris for my very first solo show in an art gallery. It will be exhausting but also very exciting!

 

To learn about Camille Chastang and see more of her work, go to the Drawing Lab and follow her on Instagram here.

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