View Artist Statement
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Gallery Direct Interview with FRANCINE GRAVEL|
Francine’s work will take you into a magical world that drifts between reality and total illusion, a place where you played as children and now often yearn to re-explore as an adult. With her vivid imagination and philosophical insight, she captures a world that is peaceful and
happy yet full of mystery and intrigue.
Most successful artists, like yourself, explored art at a very early age. Could you tell us a little about your earliest memories and who encouraged you to paint or draw?
My earliest memories bring me back a long time ago when I was just a toddler. We had a chalk board in the kitchen in the small three room apartment my parents were renting. In that little corner I started my dreams. I remember I loved to draw faces and I drew and drew and drew a lot of them. Sometimes the face took the whole blackboard and I would giggle inside because I new it was not real but it was fun to exaggerate the proportions. I sometimes drew a very little body below the chin of the face. With time the faces became more and more detailed and expressive. There was no pre-school where I lived and my parents could not have afforded to send my older sister or me to it. After the war their budget was restricted as it had been during my life with them. I was very fortunate that the lady downstairs did not like children because my mother had to keep me very quiet and I was not allowed to run or drop things on the floor which would have prompted the landlady to bang on the ceiling. So my mother found a creative way to keep me occupied by giving me challenges that required only a table and my highchair to fulfill my curiosity. So for each birthday and Christmas I received from my dad lots of his recycled office paper to draw on the back and my mother would also provide me with crayons and coloured pencils. For me these were the nicest presents I could get. I was always excited to open these new presents and start using them. Eventually I got some charcoal (fusain) in grade four which made me feel very grown up and this encouraged me to draw even more portraits. Colour chalks followed and later on water colour and gouache until the end of high school. I was once offered a paint by number landscape set on a board with small paint jars with its own instructions, etc. but I did not find it very satisfactory. I was sure this was not real oil painting I did not like the result. I much preferred doing my own thing.
At what point did you decide to pursue an education in the arts.
I decided to pursue my art education in grade two. One day my mother was invited to the school for a parent / teacher interview. Somehow I was present and I heard my teacher mention to my mother that it would be very good for me if I could go to the Saturday classes given for children at the École Des Beaux-Arts of Montréal. This is when I found out about the school of my dreams where one could draw and paint all day. This became my major goal, I wanted to go to that school. I received much encouragement by that teacher. She gave subjects for drawing which were challenging for me and I grew to love her very much for this. I remember one particular drawing that she had suggested to the whole class. I felt the subject she gave us restrictive. Being a very shy child it took me a lot of courage to get up and go ask her if I could put the brush, mirror and comb which she had given us as subjects on to a dresser and she agreed so I returned to my place and drew a dresser and did put those objects on top of it and it just happened to be that I had done it in perspective. It could very well be the reason she had called my mother because it was a bit unusual for a grade 2 student to do this kind of drawing. This incident is still very clear in my mind. At that particular time, there were also a few other situations which come to mind where she had used my drawings as main features in displays. That made me feel proud and somewhat humble as I did not think that they were so good as to be displayed at the time, although in grade 3 and 4 there was not too much emphasis on the part of my teachers about my ability as did my grade 2 teacher.
When I started grade 5 I found a fan in my new teacher. Because I was living away from school I had to bring my own lunch and as I was the only student requiring this special treatment, my teacher who was also staying for lunch in school accepted that I would have my lunch in class as long as I kept my desk clean. She realized that I had much abilities in drawing because I was already using my fusain to make 8.5 x 11 reproductions of passport size portraits of other students for which I was charging 25 cents. This money was helping me to have the funds to go to the film presentation at school that my parents could not afford to give me. We could say that these were my first commissioned works. In order to protect them from being damaged I would envelope each one in waxed paper before giving them to my 'clients'. I had no idea that some special fixative existed at this time. This teacher noticed that and after a while she asked me to fill a big portion of the blackboard that was on the back wall of the class so I could do all sorts of drawings for occasions like Halloween, Christmas, Valentine and Easter, etc. These were my very first large drawings because I could fill the whole blackboard with my coloured chalks. She would at times leave them on for several weeks before erasing them and then I could start all over again.
In 7th grade, our teacher required us to gather images for our scrap books representing the weekly theme of our Religious Study. Because I did not have magazines in my home that I could cut out, I decided to draw images instead and for the teacher it was acceptable. In that scrap book I started my first 'guilding' by collecting Aero chocolate gold papers which we were given as occasional treats. For our Home Economics classes I did mainly drawings of vegetables instead of making collages from magazines.
In grades 8 and 9 I did religious drawings for the nuns and once a nun commissioned me to paint one for her so I used a mat cardboard approximately 30x 36 for a gouache painting which she kept in her class room.
Then I moved and transfered schools and in that new school we had drawing classes in a studio and a special teacher for fine art. That teacher was kind of strange and asked me to draw more freely. She did encourage me and a couple other girls in the class to go to the Saturday classes at the " École des Beaux-Arts de Montréal" I was then in grade 11 so I decided to go and the next year I was accepted at the Beaux-Arts to start their full-time program. I was one of the youngest students when I started in first year. The age requirement was usually 18. I was 17 and there was only another girl my age accepted at that time. The school had a marvellous program during that period which developed both the observation and the imagination of the student in all the techniques. Classes would alternated from observation one week to imagination the next. It was the most complete and stimulating creative program I have encountered. It was very demanding. We started 100 students in the first year and only 25 stayed through until the end of the four year program. Not all of them graduated. I did and I am proud of it. I love that period of my life. There was so much to learn and I still get inspired by the ideas that were presented by the dynamic teachers I had during those years.
After receiving my diploma in painting with option in printmaking in 1966 I continued my studies at night in printmaking as well as continued taking the courses of Psycho-Pedagogy for teaching Fine-Arts that had started in third year as night classes until the end of the school year in 1967, I then received my diploma in Psycho-Pedagogy and obtained my " Brevet d'Enseignement du Québec". Those studies were several nights per week plus Saturdays. It was required to assist the Fine Art teacher in order to acquire the diploma. I did the full time teaching as I was finishing my last year of pedagogy. This demanding time prepared me very well for the demand I have continued to use during the last forty years. I continued to study more to improve myself through following the program in the book of the natural way to draw from Nicolaides. I did all the exercises in that book. I did continued to draw from the figure as much as I could. In 1969/70 I went to Belgium Academy of Fine -Arts in Antwerpen where I continued to study printmaking. Back in Canada I also went to the University of Calgary as a special student for a year in printmaking and painting. I had applied for the BFA program mainly because I could use their presses to continue working in printmaking that I loved.
After you had completed your formal education did you become a fulltime artist?
I almost became a full time artist following my graduation at École des Beaux-Arts. I did teach for one full year on a full-time basis while I was still finishing my study in pedagogy. After that year I decided I wanted to know more and did continue to study on my own in printmaking and lithography with Pierre Ayot and did further my study by following several workshops as well as experimented with colour in painting on my own. I learned all I could about the techniques of the old masters and applied my discoveries to my own imageries.I took a correspondence course in photography in order to take professional photos of my works. By the way I am still learning. I did also a few workshops occasionally. With this experience and total immersion in English, I was able to teach painting for adult education for the School Board and also taught adult education classes at the Calgary College of Art for one full year in both drawing and printmaking. I also did teach painting at the Summer School of the Art in Penticton for three summers in a row. Before the last summer in Penticton I was teaching in Montréal, Québec at the Concordia University in 76/77. My last part time teaching was in drawing at UBC on a part-time basis in 1978 in the fine art department. I met my husband Dr.Dale Reubart musician pianist, composer in 1977 at the Penticton summer school and subsequently I made the move back West. First in Vancouver until his retirement in 1986 then Mabel Lake until 1998 and now we are in Kelowna where I live and work full time as an artist painter and printmaker. I continue to study languages and other techniques I need to improve in arts and writing. Poetry is another form of art I have explored and practiced off and on for many years.
When you first started painting what kinds of images did you paint and what medium did you use?
I first wanted to become a portrait painter. I did my first commission of five oil portrait paintings in Torhout, in Belgium. I did a few more commissions of portrait through the years. I always enjoy doing so. It is a nice challenge for me. As a professional artist I used primarily oils and water color and pastels in portraitures and life drawing. I did a lot of drawings and paintings from imagination as well using those mediums. I love pen and ink and did a lot of studies in most mediums.
What mediums have you worked with throughout your career and what is your medium of choice?
I used most mediums. I worked mainly in printmaking until 1981 experimenting and learned using all the techniques, etching, engraving, drypoint, aquatint, lithography on stone and plates including silkscreen, wood engraving and lino and wood block printing while I was also painting with all the mediums I could find as well I explored watercolour, gouache, tempera, acrylic and oil. I felt I needed to grow in my painting before presenting them to the public. I had my first one woman show of printmaking in 1967. I had my first show with some oil paintings around 1976 but I really started to show my oil paintings seriously in 1981. I love the oil because of the richness of colour one can obtain and the life you can express with it. So it is one of my medium of choice.
What experiences have most influenced your choice of subject matter?
All my life I loved to use people as subject matter and music has always been a great influence in my life. My mother always had classical music around me. She sang and played the piano and I fell in love with the violin wich I only learned to play in my forties. I could really say that my subject matter grew with me, even the animals I have used in my works. I learned to draw from my own pets and at the zoo. I love to work from live model of all kind. Eventually they become transformed in my work.
During your career, who or what has given you the most inspiration?
I have been inspired by everything I have experienced: studies, travels, books, people, nature and all that I lived and live.
What has been your biggest challenge during your career as an artist?
I have had many challenges, it depends if you mean on the professional level dealing with Galleries is a great one. Preparing for shows is always a great challenge. Everyday life is always a challenge. The biggest challenge has been and is to have arrived where I am at and will continue probably to be so. Life change is the biggest challenge of all. That is what is exciting there is always renewal.
What role do you think your emotions play in the creative process?
Emotions bring the spark of life in my work and have always been very important for me to express.
What is your ideal working atmosphere?
A peaceful and quiet atmosphere is most of the time what I need. I work in silence and when I have completed my basic composition I then allow myself to listen to music or acquire other knowledges such as study Spanish or other languages and other programs that stimulate my imagination while proceeding on the various stages of my paintings. In the last stages I need silence again to complete the painting. I prefer working on my own. I do not require a crowd, I am always self motivated. I can work with other people around me but it is not the best for me.
What has been your biggest success during your career?
The recent nomination I just received last November in Montreal At the Museum of Fine Arts was for me one of my biggest success. I received three medals two gold and one silver.
Here is the list of my prizes:
Title: Academician + Gold Medal + Certificate " Ambassador National + Gold Medal + Certificate " Artist of the Year 2007 + Silver Medal + Certificate + Trophy La Bourse Denis Beauchamp ( Multi-Art ) + Certificate
It was nice to visit with my family , I had not seen them for over a year an half. Seeing how proud they were with all my success was very comforting to me. It made me feel very good.
I had been rewarded a few times in the past having received an honourable mention in Monaco, having been chosen for the Calona Wine Label and also chosen for the Royal Mint of Canada in 2001 amongst others.
If you were to give an artist just starting out in their career some advice, what would that be?
The most important advice is to be oneself to accept yourself as you are and to work to the best of your own ability at all time. To continue to improve yourself with determination with persistence, persistence, persistence and always doing your best and not get discouraged. The source of your inspiration is within yourself and part of your uniqueness. It is not in following fashion. It is in following your heart that you will succeed. You are totally responsible for the artist you will become as well as the person you become. Learn as much as you can and keep on learning. It is never too late to find yourself.
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