Apocalipse Now
Jérôme Sans

JS: How would you define your work in general?
MW: The first definition that I can think about is that I’m a painter. No matter how I work, even when my production leans toward installations or drawings, I’m always thinking as a painter. It is at the core of my work not only because it is the medium through which I create images, but also because it is deeply connected with my own life and my research. Painting is the spectrum that covers it all.

JS: Your paintings and drawings display many characters. It is really one person or just a landscape. In the weird, I would say it is a Burlesque ambiance, an intersection of cabaret, dance and theater. What kind of spectacles or scenes is it about?
MW: It is about allegories. It automatically brings movement to an image, but it’s mainly about the characters. I am very attracted by figure that comes from other images, from the history of art, or even from a bigger spectrum of the history of images. I research cartoons as well as old manuscripts. In those faces, it is the weirdness that attracts me, and which is connected with the “cabaret ambiance” you mentioned. I look for the trashy atmospheres and weird expressions mixing the idea of pleasure and happiness in the same face. Mostly, I also discover or meet those characters in the process of making them.

JS: What kind of allegories are they?
MW: The idea of allegory is always connected with an atmosphere or a feeling. I am currently working on the allegory of fear. I look for a lot of images and manuscripts of the Apocalypse because I am interested in bodies in situations of fear and also in its connection with the images that church put it in our minds. It is like making a universe out of allegories.

JS: The fear you mentioned is your generation’s fear of the world you are facing?
MW: I think it is impossible not to relate the fact that I am working with images of fear and Apocalypse to the idea of Hell built in our mind in times like the ones we are living through now. I was researching into this before, but it stretched out to the contemporaneity when I started to make the paintings. Since the [Covid-19] pandemic, I have been living much closer to my work. I developed a close relationship between myself and the images, even in a physical way. I often slept in the same place that I painted. It is like developing a subconscious imagery.

JS: Do your paintings play with the aesthetic of excess? What does this excess mean to you? Where does it come from?
MW: I cannot exclude the way my brain works. You wouldn’t believe how many times I started painting, having planned to do something and it ended up completely different. I build images by making mistakes again and again and incorporating them into the works. The excess is connected with that. When I create a hand, I learn how to do it and I will do a lot of mistakes to get there. Eventually, I end up with three of them instead of one. There is also a connection between the themes. If I am talking about Apocalypse, fear or Hell, the subject is not simple, or clean. Therefore, I end up doing dirty images in terms of the plasticity of image.

JS: This excess comes almost in a Baroque way, with figures, forms and matter covering all the surface of the canvases. What is your relationship to Baroque?
MW: I relate to the drama that Baroque brings about. I relate to frescoes in Renaissance churches for example. I am attracted to the simultaneity of images, with a lot of things happening at the same time. That’s also how I get attracted to an image. With regard to Baroque, I cannot exclude the research I carry on its light and drama. As an artist, there are a lot of things that catch my eye and then reappears transformed.

JS: What do you think of the way you handle the space in a canvas? How do you relate to the traditions of “all-over” and action painting?
MW: I see the idea of all-over painting not as an abstract way of thinking, but rather as a kind of greed inside the canvas that goes beyond the frame. Now that I think and talk about it, it might be the reason of the excess. There is a feeling that I need to put at the same level of intensity in every part of the canvas and all over it. That’s why I end up with such sugary-acid images with a lot of strength and colors. In action painting, I am also very attracted to the size of the works. I am a painter comfortable with big canvases. There is a matter of feeling that the body is smaller than the painting in terms of scales but also in terms of feeling. I find it more comfortable to work on a big painting than on a small one. That’s partly where I look for this greed that animates my work.

JS: It looks like your paintings are kind of performances in which you contrast your own body with those you represent.
MW: Yes, along with that is the idea of gesture. It is like a choreography. In many cases, I used both hands to make a painting or to create strange lines.

JS: You paint to the very edge of the canvas, as far as you can go. Why?
MW: Sometimes, I do define a framework for myself. But then I break it. My process of expanding the area of the painting while I paint is a way to create an extra image that I couldn’t make in the bounded area of the canvas. I’m attracted to the idea of an extra canvas or a canvas being almost like a mirror for the viewer. If I can paint progressively more all the way to the wall, it has to do with anxiety, in a good way. Not exactly me, but my work needs to spread around, like smoke.

JS: Your relationship to space goes beyond the canvas itself and also extends to less conventional supports and formats, such as pillows and curtains. Sometimes, there are even some knitted parts in your paintings. Why such a wide range of registers and sometimes strange combinations?
MW: There is something connected to the themes that I work with. When it comes to paintings, I feel that I set up scenes. I am also attracted to humor in paintings. I made the pillows because something was missing in the paintings and I wanted to break them. I work with images that can be super idiomatic in terms of ideas. Classical history of art can be very dangerous in that way. It is one of the ways to transgress and avoid contemporary judgements upon a young artist dealing with those types of images.

JS: You are quite irreverent, almost punk, aren’t you?
MW: Yes, that I may be. I like the contrasting result of treating almost classic images in twisted ways, such as transforming them into a pillow. I am not an artist that is only seeking for technical resolution in my work, neither am I looking for an image that is only a mirror of reality. I am also keen on investing things that don’t exist.

JS: Your work is clearly conveying Alberti’s idea of painting as a window to the world. A hint towards our digital world, where at the same time we have an eye on the world, it has an eye on ourselves as well. With my phone, I can see the world, but the world can look back at me at the same time. It’s a kind of a double window. Is your work a reference to that new obsession of seeing everything?
MW: The way you describe it is also the way that I think about mirrors. Mirrors are like eyes which you look at and that look at you back. A painting is not only a mirror, but almost a third eye. I like when people see in my works things that I don’t, possibly thanks to the excess that we were mentioning earlier. The window connects with the body, the size and proportions of paintings. Many times, I made paintings that literally were windows because I wanted something that involves the viewer’s body. I was recently reading a very good text about Manet. He created, almost like a joke, a frame inside the painting.

JS: All those windows are open at the same time. We all always have around 10 or 20 different windows open on our computers or in our mobile devices. It shows this excess of information we can reach and that is coming to us all the time. Nonstop information. Do you think that excess is linked to the excess of information of this digital age?
MW: When you look at a painting, there is a lot of information, a lot of confusion. You can see, you cannot see. But, for me, it’s interesting that in the end of the day it’s only oil and color powders. It is a grounding atmosphere of creation and that is also why I am a painter.

Your work also expresses the traditional idea of perspective as a key element in Alberti’s theory with so many figures that it creates a sort of schizophrenic effect, at the same time pulling us and blocking the way. It almost seems like a raw projection of one’s mind and flaws.
MW: I don’t think I could paint in a “normal” way. I know how to do it, but even when I try I create space through bodies and not true perspective. It is as if all the images were trying to get out of the canvas because they deny perspective. The materials I use, like pastels and oil bars, are also quite bad to creating illusion and perspective because they are opaque. It puts everything in front of you and creates the schizophrenic perspective you mention.

JS: Do you paint through chaos or according to a composition? How do you build things?
MW: There are several ways for me to start painting, but there is always a chaotic moment in my production. I make a big mistake and then everything starts to happen. It’s very hard for me to do a rehearsal, so I usually prepare myself to war. I leave the mess in my studio with a lot of drawings around me, a lot of images, so that when the war starts I have my weapons around me. All the guns I need. I often start with a drawing. Not a sketch, but the core of what is to come. Then it starts to transform itself to the point the draw and the finished painting almost don’t have anything in common anymore.

JS: How does this process work for you, of drawings becoming paintings or even murals?
MW: Drawings in the scale of paintings were important to me to bring all the power of drawing to its full value. I’m very attached to drawing. Two years ago, I had an exhibition meant to display only drawings. I had to reprogram my brain and created a sort of big drawing made right on the wall. The work was linked to a lot of references, such as frescos, mankind’s primal desire for creating paintings on the walls of caves, architecture, etc. It is also linked to the idea of a work that spreads around. Hence my approach to sewing. I started seeing works very close to each other and then I had this desire to actually seam them together. Last year I made a painting on a portal which was actually a combination of many paintings. It was incredible to see those elements from different times or mindsets gathered together. That is also why I would love to design sets for theater, developing this idea of continuity.

JS: Your paintings sprout from drawings you make of memories, invented situations or images related to the history of art, and they display characters in sometimes weird, often funny, but always moving situations of vulnerability. Why is that? What do you seek in these situations in which the body is decaying or deformed?
MW: There is an ambiguous magnetism in seeing bodies in those situations. In two of my latest works there can be a very erotic lecture as well as weirdness in these situations. When adding frames with monsters and gargoyles, which are figures that I have been researching a lot, it creates open narratives. The in-between of falling brings that, more like flashes than closed narratives.

JS: Your references cover a rather large period of time from the Italian primitives’ frescos to modern art and contemporary imagery that extends the field of art. Who are the artists that you feel close to?
MW: There are many contemporary women artists that I connect to. I like Marlene Dumas for the way she paints bodies and for the weirdness of the situations she depicts. I find the positions and scale of the bodies she paints really powerful. There is also Myriam Cahn, for the strange femininity that she creates and for her amazing palette. Rita Ackermann is important too, for incorporating drawing into the painting scene, which is another transgression. I am attracted to wrongness. I also connect with big names of paintings in terms of landscapes and colors, like Peter Doig, for example. Those are the names that I research when it comes to atmospheres, but when it comes to drawing shapes, I look at older things. I am obsessed with the horses of Paolo Uccello. The drawings and weirdness of images are so powerful. For a Renaissance painter that didn’t have any plastic solutions as we have now, the ones he found are very interesting. The same way, Giotto and Piero Della Francesca come to mind when we think about weird bodies and faces. In Paris, I researched many manuscripts about the Apocalypse, as well as European works from the time they first arrived in Latin America and the colonialist period. I was fascinated by the deformations made when encountering alien bodies and culture.

JS: Those works, as well as your own production, also encompass eroticism and sex. How do you relate to this kind of imagery?
MW: In terms of art and visuality, it is something that I am attracted to in a very simple way: It is what I like to see. I also feel that there is something very important with being a woman and producing erotic images which are not commanded by the culture of sexism. The fact that I am a woman and that I can produce erotic images speaks for itself. The idea of eroticism can also be introduced by the way that you see it rather than by the specifics of the scenes. The experience of excess, colors or the lack of perspective, and even those painted portals that you have to go through – all this is a kind of erotic relation with images. It is not only by painting sex scenes that I can establish an erotic relationship with the image; there are many other ways to develop this idea. This one is quite an important topic for painting.

JS: It is also about voyeurism, I think. We access information from all around the world and we become voyeurs of other people’s lives, following them day by day, during all their activities. Your work seems to express itself beyond this voyeuristic tension. Do you agree with this position?
MW: Even for me there is an excitement to apprehend what is going to come up on a painting. It is a kind of voyeurism directed to my own work. It is also a day-by-day discovery since nothing is really planned beforehand.

JS: We could say that today, beyond sex itself, one could think of every image as pornographic in the sense of obscene or indecent, as private life is fully on display. How do you see the difference between sex and pornography? Where is the line one should not cross?
MW: I feel that pornography was never a subject in my work, but painting, and images in general, as a mirror. The images I bring into existence can be open to many narratives. I relate much more to the idea of eroticism, as both an image and an experience, through painting. Pornography and eroticism are all references I chew up, swallow down, and then throw them up in the form of painting. You can catch glimpses of this and that, but I reach for something mixed and assertive.

JS: The images that you convey also cross traditional history of art and popular imagery, such as caricature. When I look at your work, I recall Satyricon, the ancient story by Petronius, as well as its contemporary interpretation by film director Fellini, a story where the body is at the core of human madness, and this madness is at the core of one’s humanity. How does your work tackle these issues?
MW: Last year, I had the privilege to go to the Fellini museum in Italy and for the first time I saw a huge publication of his drawings. It was incredible. He drew his dreams all his life and from there all those crazy images were created in cinema so as to talk about how funny and tragic society is. I relate to Satirycon’s atmosphere a great deal – this idea of non-site and chaos.

JS: Your representation of bodies deals with bodily matter, flesh, in a very organic way, while exploring the clumsiness and humoristic value of facial expression. How do you approach organic animality and human nature?
MW: Animals appear almost always in the middle of my images. I feel that I really like the similarities between the animal and human bodies, even displaying the latter in more bestial situations. In all the images that I research, animals are always there. I am obsessed with horses in painting, for example. They have always been there and they will always be there. It is part of that universe. When it comes to the fear of the end of the world, we talk about monsters that are often a fusion of animals and humans, for example, with horns, which is a frequent element in these representations.

JS: In the gap between the scatological and the romantic, your images are not made to shock. What feelings do you think they trigger?
MW: There is this relation with ambiguity. Originally, I had some paintings playing with the repulsive scope of images, but always recomposed with warm colors, drawings, nature around it. I really like when you get stuck in an image without knowing why. It is similar to romance: for those who are outside, it may seem obvious, but when you are inside, it gets confusing. It’s interesting when you come in from a door and you get out through another. You open a door filled with beautiful colors to face a repulsive image, and everything mixes together.

JS: As a woman, what does it feel like to speak freely about sexuality?
MW: Within the painting world, it is normal. There is no rule. Every time I try to define something, even when I start to think that my research is about eroticism or sexuality, I find a way to break the definition. The answer to that is freedom. I can say whatever I want, it will always be a speech about being a woman. Even if I made an abstract work or composed a text or whatever, I will always be a woman that carries a necessarily political non-male vision.

JS: Do you consider yourself as a feminist?
MW: Yes, of course. That’s the only option I have.

JS: How do you see the future?
MW: If the images that I research mean a forecast: I see drama. I don’t know for sure, because it would be anachronical, but I think that we are facing a crucial moment, like the plague in medieval times, or, more recently, like World War II. Things have changed a lot in the last 10 or 15 years. Looking at those images, I can also tell that history has cycles. The way that we experience change, feeling that the Apocalypse may finally be coming, we are just repeating things that I saw in manuscripts from the 13th century. However, painting is a way to deal with all that. It materializes a moment. Painting synthesizes. It can be wrong, but there is always something mystical about it. It is also a way to go against, to transgress. When photography appeared, we professed the death of painting, but it didn’t come. Despite photography, we are still attracted to paintings.