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Art Talks

Painting the House: a conversation with artist Félixe Rives

Words Anoushka Z. Sansom
Interview Félive Rives

#077

Félixe Rives is a French-Australian artist who is currently completing a Bachelor of Fine Art at UNSW Art & Design in Paddington. Félixe’s desire to deepen her connection to the Sydney art scene led her to join 107 Projects in 2021, first as a volunteer and then as a casual. Originally a painter, her practice has more recently broadened to include elements of performance, sculpture and installation.

Félixe describes The Bathroom – currently displayed in 107’s Window Box Gallery – as “expanded painting”. Inspired by her experience of the Covid lockdowns, the work presents a new perspective on the home – both comfortingly familiar and eerily dystopian. We spoke recently to Félixe about what drives her as an artist, how her practice has developed and the ideas behind The Bathroom.

“paint is still an essential material to my practice… A sculpture or performance can still be considered a painting in some respect depending on the feel, the texture, the use of colour and paint …”

Your work The Bathroom, currently displayed in 107’s Window Box Gallery, is part of a larger series centred around the domestic sphere. Why have you chosen this focus?

I think this focus came to my attention due to lockdown, as we were all stuck at home I found myself looking for interesting things to notice and see within my house. The first idea of this work was simply to show the interesting reflective characteristics of particular surfaces in the house such as: oven, microwave, shower doors and tv. I wanted the audience to notice them as a new perspective on the home and how our home could be expanded through the reflections. Then it became much more than that through the processes of making the work and the action of painting.

One of the more unusual elements of this work is that it is painted onto perspex. Why did you choose this material?

I used the perspex so I could recreate those reflective surfaces in the paintings, then I started thinking about how to capture these ideas. In the end the underpainting becomes so much more interesting as the light can shine through the painting due to this perspex material. Perspex is one of my favourite surfaces to work with nowadays.

Felixe Rives, Revealing the artist (performance still), 2021, art installation (perspex piece, mixed media), performance where the audience was invited to erase the surface to reveal the artist portrait. 

You mention that the underpainting became an unexpected fascination for you as you created the work. Could you expand on this thought?

As I started painting on the clear surface I realised that both sides were interesting in colours and compositions. By flipping the work the audience is able to see the first stroke of the artist, a more raw, real representation of The Bathroom. In doing so the artist reveals their process of making the work to the audience. In flipping the work, the underpainting becomes the overpainting; this creates a dystopian version of the home which pushes the home beyond a truth and within our imaginations allowing other points of views.

“Who would have thought that a painting with a toilet can be so interesting?”

You began your artistic practice as a painter – how does this influence your current practice?

Even though I have been moving away from painting mainly, I think paint is still a primary essential material to my practice, I love block, bold colours and acrylic paint is so diverse and easy to use. Even if I don’t mostly stick to a 2-dimensional surface anymore I could still put most of my art in the category of expanded painting; a term I have studied at university which was described as challenging the limits and definition of painting. A sculpture or performance can still be considered a painting in some respect depending on the feel, the texture, the use of colour and paint and its presentation.

Why have you chosen to move away from painting as a primary practice?

It was just something natural that happened I think as my ideas and concepts became more complex and meaningful I felt the need to choose mediums that worked best to convey my message rather than keeping to what I know as the only means of communicating. I also started thinking of incorporating myself, the artist, in the work. I wanted my voice to be heard and I didn’t want to hide behind a painting.  I have done some acting and dancing in my youth and although I have never been very good at either, I think it laid down the grounds for my shift towards a more performative practice.

“My audience changed, where I used to think I needed to make works for the art world, collectors… during the lockdown my audience were just my neighbours, people that didn’t know much about art but were happy and curious to learn and experience it…”

Felixe Rives, Painting your body with my body: Pint (Image still from performance), 2021,  video captured performance. 

How do you see the pandemic and social-distancing impacting artists such as yourself whose practice involves physical presence and a direct connection between artist and audience?

I think it’s very hard, but people make do with what they have, although we were in lockdown it didn’t stop me from doing performances for the people that were around me.  My audience changed, where I used to think I needed to make works for the art world, collectors, art lovers and people that actually took the time to visit galleries. During the lockdown my audience were just my neighbours, people that didn’t know much about art but where happy and curious to learn and experience it. I think that was so important, actually being aware of the community that is close to you and showing them what you do as an artist taking part in that community was actually very rewarding. There were also people that didn’t expect to see some art. I made artworks from outside of my window to be seen by people around without asking them if they wanted to see it or not. I learnt that no matter what the circumstances you will always manage to have an audience if you look hard enough. Bringing art to the local community, bringing it outside simply the artist community has become quite important to me.

“…actually being aware of the community that is close to you and showing them what you do as an artist taking part in that community was actually very rewarding.”

You mention in the artist’s statement for The Bathroom that humour is a key part of the work. Could you expand on why you believe humour is important in your work?

I think painting a simple interior brings a sense of absurdity to the work, especially the bathroom painting. Who would have thought that a painting with a toilet can be so interesting? By simplifying the colours in the work, it brings a cartoonish look – something more cheerful and positive to the lockdown.

As we have already noted, the work is part of a series. Do you have plans to exhibit this series of works?

This series has already been exhibited in March this year at Airspace Projects in Marrickville as part of a group exhibition called 32211St. One of the works was sold and found a home in Italy so I wouldn’t be able to exhibit the full series in a show again. 

Keep up to date with with Félixe’s work here.

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