Claire Courdavault

claire courdavault

When the body and Nature intertwine...

As soon as I forget about time, different spaces open up that take me into a kind of saving trance.”


How did you become an artist?

The first time I thought it I must have been five or six years old and, when I discovered Picasso’s paintings, I told myself that I was going to do like him. But I had been warned that draughtsmen were people full of talent who were dying in Montmartre! I continued with a Baccalauréat in applied art from the second, where drawing was just a means of representing ideas, an interesting but quickly frustrating dimension. Later, while I was unemployed, I started producing again using mixed techniques on vinyl. After several years I finally got a trigger, and I had my first exhibition in a hairdressing salon that had a gallery upstairs: it looked more like a party with friends with my works around!

Drawing people in the subway, always having a sketchbook on me, I also found my first studio. This allowed me to meet several Street art artists such as Alex, NoRules Corp or JBC… The studio allowed me to enlarge my formats, but I also did artistic programming. It’s by finding a wall for Alex that he invited me to paint with him.

lysistrata Urbex (collaboration avec Katset)
How did you adapt your work, going from small surfaces to give it a new dimension in large format?

I think the period when I painted that first wall also corresponds to the period when I developed my graphic style. I increased the sizes, without too many difficulties of adaptation, using the support as it was. It was when I moved to much larger formats that it took on a technical dimension. The question then comes rather from the change of tools.

I work on any surface: from sculpture to engraving, from glass to wood. It all depends on my intentions and the different projects. The wall is just a support but it is the strongest because it engages the whole body in the line. With my accumulations of details, I work on graphic hypnosis. My line becomes a dance, something very physical. The dance becomes a trance. That’s why if I want to lead people into this state, the wall works well because of its size.

La Source (collaboration avec la Luz)

an organic work

Getting into one of your drawings requires taking the time to decipher it. Your historical and mythological influences are reminiscent of South America.

In the beginning I told stories with elements that added up, then as time went by I added to these symbols motifs from my personal mythology. They come from all over the place, working essentially on feelings to recreate mixtures, especially the skull which, if it refers to Amerindian traditions, is also part of our vanities. The fresco in the Rue des Maronites was very much inspired by this South American culture.

There is an organic dimension to your work, particularly through its improvised part, which recreates a connection between the living and the surrounding world.

Nature is the first star of my work. It is very important to connect spirituality with Nature, because in my opinion it has no meaning without it. I position myself as a feminist, and I came out as a witch two or three years ago. We live in the city in a trashy and violent environment. The disease of concrete affects us all and street art is one way to cure us of that. These interventions, these freedoms that are taken are good and serve as an outlet. It is for this reason that I include Nature everywhere, in order to conjure up concrete. Apprehending this entity takes many different forms depending on the moment, on the symbolic, like choosing different plants or elements for a particular remedy.

Gardiennes , la Goutte-d’Or
You talk about tattooing, as a way of apprehending the medium and making the work inseparable from the material.

For me it’s a way of listening to the medium, of hearing what it has to say, how it wants to be treated, what tool to use: it’s a question of fusion. It’s about listening to the history of the place, the history of the people who live there. The tattoo is an ornament that has a ritual dimension, and so does my drawing. If I paint this character, it’s as if I’m with him, representing him.

You work on very different themes, from spirituality to sexuality.

I’m an absolute fan of Japanese prints from the Edo period. I wanted to pay homage to the shunga because I wanted to deal with eroticism: by mixing the drawings together, it created an erotic tapestry that was called the canvas of pleasure. But when I draw clouds or smoke, they are also often inspired by Japanese prints. I also look a lot at African masks.

Toiles de Jouir , hommage aux shungas
How do you introduce an erotic dimension to your work?

In my opinion, the direct line has an erotic charge in itself. I would be interested in working on very small details, mixing shungas into my frescoes, which would take on a hypnotic form, much more erotic than displaying porn. For three years, I organized exhibitions at the Jardin d’Alice, where artists were invited to work on this theme, which was too poorly shown. Everyone has easy access to degrading content. We are facing a societal dichotomy, linked to body norms: what is imposed on women and men to be sexually attractive is crazy. Art’s answer to these questions is very interesting because bodies are not smooth, but are all the more desirable.

The spiritual character of creation

What is the place of performance in street art?

The practice of street art includes the idea of performance because it induces the idea of going beyond one’s limits. When you compose a fresco in a wasteland, each line counts in the present moment, you don’t follow a preparatory drawing. If the line is missed the work will not be great. Although there is no one there, it generates tension, even if it is different from the tension felt in a public space. But finding the balance of the line in the midst of passers-by can be just as delicate.

Rise (work in progress - photos Nicolas Gzeley)
By working you aim to go into a trance state – that is to say, to put yourself out of your mind.

By working I reach modified states of consciousness, states that can be reached in many different ways. My drawing acts on me as a meditation. The drawing takes hours, but as soon as I forget about time different spaces open up that lead me into a form of saving trance. The subtlety is to manage to share this feeling. When you create in the street you create an incredible nakedness. It’s very long, many people come to talk to you, enter your body space. Maintaining a form of connection between the public space and an inner state is a process that takes time to be measured. I think it also involves the accumulation of details, the repetition of gestures. A bit like the monks who make mandalas for hours before destroying everything.

Danza de Vision
In such a rich construction, how do you manage to move from a personal practice to a universal feeling?

I never told myself that I was talking to everyone. If you walk fast without stopping, you don’t notice my drawing. I don’t wonder if my work will please everyone. It’s a real research I’m doing so that people can get lost in it, which involves losing myself in it. This hypnotic side also comes through the multiplication of curves: I don’t do many straight lines.

Report to the street

Do you feel that street art is part of a pre-existing artistic trend?

As I have a passion for the history of Art that I could study, I know these currents. For the first time it’s a worldwide movement, without limits, impossible to catalogue, with a multitude of different rules. By painting on the walls in the public space I am part of this history, but it was also important for me to make my weapons as a vandal to really be part of it. I believe that an artist is a researcher, not someone who applies a recipe.

Circé Blason Serpent
How is it different from working on the street?

Creating in the street is both political and militant, art is free and everyone can benefit from it. It is also possible to tell people’s stories, which is a form of sharing with incredible interactions. In June 2018 I painted with Katjastroph the front of a social café in the 18th arrondissement of Château Rouge. We went to talk with the regulars of the café, which was created for elderly people with an immigrant background. They told us about their lives and we pieced together a story from there. It was for them that we were painting, and we wouldn’t have put our respective worlds first.

S’éveiller à l’âge des Six Reines (d’après les slams des enfants de l’école Pasteur sur l’égalité filles-garçons cité Floréal St Denis - photo GFR)
What is your relationship to time in relation to your works and to the ephemeral aspect of Urban Art?

The life span of the works is very varied. The Goutte d’Or fresco should last between three and four years, depending on the works they are going to make, and for the moment it has not been tagged. The one in the social café should last as long as possible, it is varnished and protected. But I know that for an exhibition a fresco will sometimes last two days, and I’ve already had the opportunity to repaint it in white myself. I have no problem with it disappearing. I believe that there is an almost magical relationship between a room and a place, and that the energy released at the moment of creation remains within the walls. The tags are thus incredible forms of energy that remain preserved in the places where they are placed.

What does size change in composition? Do you think about the drawing in advance or do you keep a spontaneous dimension?

It really depends on the production settings. When it comes to contracts generated by communities or when people have a right to see, I do real research and composition work upstream. I do extensive preparatory drawings, to the scale of what I’m going to produce. There may also be consultation meetings with the inhabitants. However, I always keep a margin for improvisation, because even a precise drawing can, once enlarged, see its structure and details evolve. I also let things take over when I’m there. Improvisation is very important in my work: if everything was in focus, it would excite me much less.


How important do you think the vandal is?

I came to the urban arts in a roundabout way thanks to encounters that made me interested in the whole movement. I discovered graffiti thanks to friends and their experience, and I thought that to be able to understand it from the inside, I had to work as a vandal myself. It was a time when I was always walking around with a Posca on me, writing a lot of feminist messages. It was more the message that spoke to me, I was less about lettering than drawing. The lettering led me to work on my own handwriting, which is now written on the walls.

Vieille Femme la Mort
What does vandal action allow you, what doesn’t your “official” practice allow?

Vandal action allows me to search and catharsis. I had to create a new character for myself because it wouldn’t have worked with my blaze. I needed a name that was directly related to my signature and with which I could allow myself to do what I wanted. This new character is called Circe, after the magician. I think it’s funny to take Circé’s clothes and body to go and write sex in the street. It’s a very precise feminist positioning, against the culture of rape and patriarchy.

This way of venting one’s anger by claiming a territory from which one is rejected is a very strong political gesture. This catharsis of anger can be found in many different arts, but I think it has really been able to save people. Circé can be found in this means of action: it is my graphic response to the “Throw your pig out” movement, and allows me to take over public space in a faster and more radical way.

Circé is also a woman who is totally in control of her actions.

She is a magician and transforms things. In relation to my work, she illustrates my desire to create a kind of heritage that gives back space to women. It is sporting for a woman to paint in the public space. The vandal allows me to paste erotic drawings while in direct line I would not have finished getting bored. Sex is everywhere in advertisements, but when it’s a woman talking about it it becomes political.

Heart Beats
What are your differences in the representation of women on the street and in the workshop?

When I work alone I have no censorship, whereas in the public space I adapt to the place. When I painted a thirty-metre-long fresco at the Goutte d’Or in connection with the women of the neighbourhood, I first asked them what they wanted – colour. I proposed a frame with powerful female representations that gave them naivety. In particular, I drew the goddess Kali, in a very “calm” representation. The women of the neighbourhood chose her because she is the protector of battered women. I didn’t try to show bare breasts – which often happens to me in my studio work – because it’s not in the culture of the neighbourhood, it would be too strange for people and the aim was not to offend them. That will be the role of Circé and his collages.

Is this a freedom you grant yourself or others?

Both, because I also have demands in my work as a visual artist; however, when I glue the energy is not quite the same as that released during a direct drawing. In the end I realize that I had set myself some rules, but I created a new character just to be able to deviate from them. This new blaze allows me to go stick while in the rest of my practice I prefer the gesture that gives more magic.

You can find more informations about Claire Courdavault on Facebook and her website.

Pictures: Claire Courdavault / Nicolas Gzeley / GFR

Interview recorded in march 2019.

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