Divine women. Mirrors and more mirrors. Interview with artist Francine van Hove

Divine women. Mirrors and more mirrors. Interview with artist Francine van Hove
Isabel del Rio

Interview. Today, on Yareah Magazine, Hyperrealist artist Francine van Hove, currently exhibiting at Alain Blondel Gallery in Paris: “Interrupted Readings.”

By Isabel del Rio

I.R.- Hi Francine. A great honor to interview you. From the very moment that I saw your paintings, I was in love with them. You know, I only remember few other works that have impressed me so much. Precisely, one of them was that marvelous essay by Robert Graves: “The White Goddess- A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth.” Are you trying to paint the White Goddess of the Mediterranean Sea and Celtic mythology, the Mother Nature and beginning of everything? Or at least, are you trying to catch her eternal femininity hidden in your ‘divine’ women? What are your innocent ladies hidden?

Divine women. Mirrors and more mirrors. Interview with artist Francine van Hove

Encore un peu, 2013. Oil on canvas, 38 x 61-cm. ©Francine Van Hove

F.H.- Hi Isabel. Nice to hear from you.

I’m glad that you like my work. Thank you for your attention. It will be my pleasure to answer your questions.

But first, I’d like to make two remarks : I don’t belong to the hyperrealist school. Hyperrealist painters work after photos. It is not my case. If you want to put me into a category, you can say « realist painter ». I work before real models, real objects, real landscapes, real young women. When I am trying to represent a bowl of tea of coffee, I take a bowl in my kitchen, I make tea or coffee that I pour into my bowl and this bowl, this very bowl filled with tea or coffee, poses for me. Same method with the grass I am willing to paint: I bring all my material to my garden outside, my canvas, my paint and palette, my easel, my bottle of turpentine, etc. And same again with figures of course.

Second remark, I’m not an intellectual. I’m not fond of theories and philosophical issues at large. I’m rather a literary person more familiar with poetry, novels and bios of poets or novel writers.

Divine women. Mirrors and more mirrors. Interview with artist Francine van Hove

Lire tranquille,-2013. Oil on canvas, 50 x 130 cm. ©Francine Van Hove

Let’s get to your questions now.

I don’t know if I am trying to paint the White Goddess. I never heard about Robert Graves and his essay before I received your mail. Excuse-me. All I can tell you is that my vocation as a painter comes from my admiration for certain works of Mother Nature and my frustration to be unable to express my feelings about Her divine achievements. I have already written how it started in the past and I can say it again. Memory: I am a little girl on holiday in Antibes in the South of France. I see the sea for the first time. I realize the splendor of it. Everyone around me seems to enjoy the spectacle and be completely happy with it. But personally I’m not: I have a lump in my throat. I feel too lowly, weak, small and narrow for this beauty. I feel unworthy of it. Then, a few days later, I see a painter on the beach, and I discover how wonderful his painting is too, the phenomenal surface of dark blue water on his canvas, the sky a lighter blue, the red pine tree trunks, the green leaves… I’m struck by an idea: What if I, like this artist, could capture beauty on canvas? Re-create it? Then I would be truly happy and finally my anguish in the face of beauty’s mystery would go away. BEAUTY’S MYSTERY. life’s mystery. That’s how it began, with the frustration of not being able to feel the same joy than others felt when watching the sea. My aim as a painter is to experience the greatest happiness possible before a beautiful view, that of the daylight streaming through the windows of my old flat for instance, or that of a beautiful young woman of today reading one of my favorite books or enjoying a coffee and a piece of fresh French bread, feeling at home in my studio while posing for me, sufficiently relaxed in my company to have the gestures and movements that are natural to her. For here lies the most important thing for me to capture and represent in my paintings, apart from the beauty of the sitting: the mystery of my model’s INTIMACY which is also all women’s intimacy.

What do my models hide? Their deeper ancestral secret which is their intimacy. They may give the impression that they are hiding something but they are naturally and simply feminine, poetic and reserved.


Un matin, une lettre, 2013. Oil on canvas, 54-x-81 cm ©Francine Van Hove

I.R.- How about mirrors? Your paintings are full of mirrors… or books or portraits or reflections (what is the same). From Van Eyck to Velazquez and Picasso, mirrors and reflections have been a great topic in art. Some artists have used them to demonstrate their great technique, others to paint themselves on the canvas, but others (I’m thinking about El Greco) to explain a complete philosophy about synchronicity and parallel worlds. What is your objective?

F.H.- Mirrors: they allow me to paint several figures from one model at a time. Also, by turning around the body or the face of this single living model, I am able to retrieve the third dimension of her sculptural beauty.

As you mention it, the use of mirrors in painting has multiple interesting aspects. Let’s first consider that mirrors are very often the only witness of women intimacy… It is the way that women all use everyday to show how they look and who they are to themselves, to represent themselves and create an image of themselves that they sometimes work on with as much demand as a figurative artist.

I.R.- Of course, your artistic technique is absolutely difficult and the result amazing. Hours, days, months to get the painting finished, that is part of the Hyperrealism movement. Does art always requires so much effort? I know artists who solve the artwork in few days. What do you think of this ‘cheap’ art selling (sometimes) at high prices?

F.H.- I guess you are referring to some contemporary artists. I don’t know what to say, except that in painting, in general, the speed and the level of precision in the execution don’t necessarily mean good quality. Look at impressionnism, Monet’s snow landscapes or Renoir’s “Chemin montant dans les hautes herbes”.

Personally, I am pretty slow in my painting process, that’s true, as slow as were my « colleagues » from centuries ago, before the revolution of the photography, before modern art and contemporary arts. I am slow… like the Flemish and Italian painters from the XVIth century for instance, and, I assume, like your Andrew Wyeth. Fortunately, I’m able to live correctly from my art, which is, I know, very luxurious nowadays, at a time when the overwhelming dominating of the so-called contemporary art is the very antithesis of mine.

I.R.- How about your next projects? Are you going to paint men in the end?

F.H.- No, Isabel, I will not end up painting men… The reason why I only paint women is that, as a woman who has been as young as my models, I have the feeling that I can understand them from inside, I can understand their movements and attitudes, their concerns and their dreams. My understanding of men is totally from outside. However, it’s happened to me to paint portraits of men, but only portraits. The only condition that I have imposed on my male models was that they pose several times, for several hours each time. In the contrary, I always try to avoid painting portraits of women.

Congratulations, Francine. Enjoy your days.

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