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Conversation with the artist, July 2023

Mathilde Le Coz - Your work in painting revolves around two main themes, one relating to floral representations, the other to portraits of women. Where does your interest in these two themes come from? What did you start with? 


Lea Simhony - I started with floral when I practiced portraiture with photography. A friend suggested that I approach the portrait also in painting (he told me that I was afraid). In painting, I was not there yet, I did not know how to go about it. The floral is in a sense easier because we are less into psychology - this theme allowed me to master painting as a medium. When I felt ready, I started to paint two portraits of women, invented. I still lacked a bit of technique but it allowed me to develop an approach that went through feeling, interiority. Right away, I only represented women, even if they are quite androgynous. 


MLC - So in your portraits you only paint women - they all seem to have a very strong personality, they often wear extravagant clothes. Who are they ? 


LS - I have a fairly complex history with women, some have been sick, all have been strong, important. It is their stories, their struggles, their sufferings that I lived with them and through them that I wish to represent - I am inspired by their lives, their faces. It's not a face in itself, it's the idea of ​​a woman, complex with a strong character. Sometimes this idea is inspired by a particular woman, like Uta, who was a friend of my mother and died - I paint her from memory. Sometimes, I am inspired by photos but for postures, shadows. I paint the expression, the feeling, the interiority rather than a face or the portrait of a particular person. Clothing is important, it is interchangeable - you can get into someone's skin with clothing - it's a second skin with which you protect yourself. In my work, I give a lot of space to clothing but also to ornamentation.

MLC - The spaces in which you plant your characters are also invented. Sometimes they are barely suggested, sometimes they take up the geometric patterns of your floral compositions, sometimes they seem metaphysical or enigmatic - can you tell me about these backgrounds, these decorations? 


LS - What I really like about painting is that you can take what you want and stick a figure in it. The background allows me to express a feeling - which the photo did not allow me to express - it allows me to concentrate on the figure. It is sometimes made up of shapes and/or combinations of colors, which often work as a duo or trio and they are the ones that set the mood. I play with these colors, these geometric spaces. It is not a setting in the narrative sense, it is harmonious but does not tell a story: it is a woman waiting, seated at a table or on a sofa. I like that the background remains abstract. 

Lea Simhony, Sans titre, 2023, huile sur toile, 73 x 116 cm.jpeg

MLC - These women often look at the viewer, sometimes they even seem to be posing in front of the lens and perfectly aware that their portrait is being taken. It reminds me of fashion photography… 


LS - That's really it! I am very interested in fashion and I started with fashion photography before moving towards art. When I made friends pose, I systematically asked them to look straight into the lens. But this link with photography also comes to me from the cinema, I am very interested in actresses, women in the films of Pedro Almodovar or Gena Rowlands in the films of John Cassavetes for example… They are iconic figures who reflect a certain role in society, we give them clothes, we place them in a setting. Sometimes I am also inspired by the world of parties, music, an environment in which I live a lot with my friends: these women are ready to go out! With painting, I can combine my personal history, my experience with women, and the fascination I have always had for cinema, fashion, etc. It is a medium that allows me to mix all these things.


MLC - You also have a rather particular way of presenting your work - you prepare backdrops that can receive your paintings. What is this display for? Why this recourse to exceeding the limits of the chassis? 


LS - It's completely taking up space. For my diploma, I used photographic backgrounds, I wanted to make photography and painting communicate through color and form. I wanted to create an immersive experience for the viewer. Nina Childress told me that I could have painted the walls but at that time, it was the link between photography and painting that interested me. This is an idea that I was able to develop later, with my collective, by creating a mural. There is also obviously a link with the decoration, an industry in which I work in parallel. 


MLC - Can you tell me about your way of working? How do you proceed?


LS - At first I made preparatory sketches, now I use what I learned in photography and work from montages. I have an image bank with collection fabrics, postures, spaces, etc. And sometimes I will create computer montages with these elements. But this montage remains a base for my inspiration, it serves me to represent an idea, a feeling, I don't try to stick to it. 


MLC - Can you tell me what your references are? 


LS - In painting, it's Kai Althoff, a German painter who didn't have much success in Germany. He works on space, bodies, patterns, he goes so far as to add fabrics to his canvases. There is also Xinyi Cheng, whom I discovered at Lafayette Anticipations, I like how she treats the human figure and places it in a setting, her treatment of colors. For the films, it is Pedro Almodovar (also for his sets) but also Rainer Werner Fassbinder for the female figure. For the floral, there is the work of Claire Basler. From very classic and obvious, there is Modigliani, with his way of painting faces in very little volume, Matisse for the fabrics and the size of the decorations, Bonnard, Vuillard and all the Nabis… They are artists who have hit when I started.

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