Interview of Paulina Spucches
"I'm lucky to be doing a job I love"
- Paulina Spucches -
Clouée : Hello Paulina, can you tell us about yourself and your study ?
Paulina: I started my work as an illustrator two years ago, after a DMA in illustration at Auguste Renoir high school, where we did children's illustration, comics, engraving... I chose comics because, with the regular practice at school, I realised that it was what I liked best.
In my second year, we had to do a diploma project, which for me was a first version of my comic book about the photographer Vivian Maier. I presented the project to Steinkis editions, and it was a hit! This first book came out in November 2021.
How did you become an author?
I think it's linked to the readings that have marked me. Reading comics and graphic novels, and enjoying the experience of reading, made me want to do it myself. These are the things that made me want to tell my own stories.
Where do your artistic influences come from? Do your Argentine origins and culture influence your artistic approach?
There are many influences. I watch a lot of series and films, which is something that inspires me a lot.
My Franco-Argentine double culture brings a lot to my way of being, more than in the themes I deal with. I often reflect on the fact that, since childhood, I have had the impression that my head is elsewhere. There is a part of me that is there, in France, and another in Argentina. And I feel the opposite when I go to Argentina. By dint of always having my head elsewhere, I have built up quite a large inner world. I have a rather reflective, introverted personality. And it is important in the author's profession to like to be with oneself, to like to think alone. There is a certain amount of solitude that you have to appreciate.
It is through the story of Vivian Maier and this graphic novel "Vivian Maier, on the surface of a mirror" that we discovered your work. A work full of finesse, feminism with a warm and colourful atmosphere.
How did the desire to tell the story of Vivian Maier come about?
I discovered Vivian Maier at an exhibition three years ago. It was when I had to find a theme for my degree. At the time, I was quite lost, but I knew that I wanted to work on the trace, on what one leaves behind, especially in a family context. I'm quite interested in this theme of the family: the memories and stories that are left behind and especially what ends up being forgotten. By chance, I went to this exhibition on Vivian Maier, whom I didn't know. And I met a character who crystallised all that: a woman who constituted herself through all the objects she accumulated, all that she captured. She can be recomposed from all this, and it's fascinating. It's the myth of the artist who leaves you a trunk with all her treasures, it's incredible. I was also inspired by the technicolour world of the 1950s. I was already imagining myself doing a project with colours like West Side Story.
When I discovered this photographer who captured the New York of the 1950s, I wanted to put her pictures in colour, but especially this woman.
We discover the work of this woman just before her death. You deliberately choose to draw a free and independent woman. Choosing this woman and her life shows your sensitivity and your commitments. What does this story say about you?
It is a figure of an independent woman in a particular context. It's interesting to see that throughout history it seems that things were determined in a certain way: there's this idea that during the 1950s, women didn't think, they were housewives. There are elements that define a period of history, it's recorded in our minds. We forget that feminism has a long history, and these independent women figures are not something new. During that period, in a very strong social straitjacket, Vivian Maier is a figure of a free woman. This is what really made me want to talk about her, because she still represents us today.
It is also a question of transmission. Vivian discovered photography through a friend of her mother, a professional photographer, Jeanne Bertrand. Then, Vivian Maier passed on her passion to Gwen. Who passed on this love of drawing and the desire to make it your profession?
There is this idea of sisterhood and transmission in the story. We all have our "Jeanne Bertrand" in our lives. There can be a multitude of people who influence you, who help you to build yourself. This is the case for me. For a while, I wanted to go into cinema (there are many similarities between comics and cinema...). My mother's influence was very important for me, because she always showed me a lot of films. But there are also teachers who have given me ideas and the desire to create.
One of the characteristics of your work is the use of gouache and watercolour which allows you to play with colors and emotions but also to bring a certain authenticity to your story. Can you tell us more about this choice and your style?
I am sensitive to pictorial art. My first love of comics was always authors who work with paint, like Brecht Evens for example. I realised how much you could tell a story through colour. Watercolour and gouache are techniques that allow me to communicate a lot of emotions. They bring mistake, which you can only begin to master with time and experience. I like the idea of taking the risk of making a mistake, there is an irreversible side to it that sets up a game in the drawing. If you make a mistake, you have to be cunning and find a way to make up for it.
What do you find most fulfilling in your work?
The chance to do a job that you love. Drawing helps to channel me. I can go in all directions in other artistic fields. I play the violin and I often lack patience... Which is not the case with drawing. It's funny because I can spend hours on it without any problem, it's very fulfilling and stimulating.
What is the step in the creation process that you like the most and the one that is the most complicated to achieve?
I really like the research... struggling to find the composition, crossing all the references that come up. It's the part that costs the most emotionally, but I like this emotional investment in creation, even if it can be tiring. And then, of course, I like to paint, I listen to music and podcasts at the same time, that's what I prefer.
And the one that is the most complicated to do?
(Silence)... The most complicated... what I like least.... Maybe the technical part of the drawing... no, actually I like it too.
Do you ever feel that your drawing is finished and that you have no more touches to add?
Sometimes you can never say that your drawing is finished. It's hard to pinpoint the moment when you say to yourself "I'll leave it like that, it'll be fine".
How do you feel when you are faced with that famous blank page? How do you overcome the doubt and anxiety?
I haven't had the blank page yet (laughs...she crosses her fingers). If I don't have an immediate idea, I read, watch a film or a series, without feeling guilty. I draw from stories so I'm always sensitive to that. I also like to write a lot so if I'm not drawing, then I'm writing.
Can you tell us about the emotions you feel when your drawing is finished and when you feel that it doesn't need any more touching up?
A lot of satisfaction and pride. For my first comic book experience, it was months and months of emotions. Even now, seven months after its release, I'm still reeling from it. My Vivian Maier comic was done in 8 months, I didn't sleep much and the sleep catching up is still going on today.
When I held my book in my hands, it had a crazy effect on me. When you open it, it cracks, and it smells good. The craziest thing is when you see people you don't know coming to a signing. At my first signing, I always asked readers, "How did you hear about the book?" because I figured no one was supposed to know.
What are your work routines? What time of day are you most inspired/ or most productive?
This is my chaotic side talking, but there is no routine for me. First of all because I don't like routine. So my days are changeable. Of course I prefer productive days in the morning. It makes me happier to get going early, but sometimes I work at night depending on the project.
The documentation in your comic is well balanced. How much importance do you attach to this research work?
I'm not a historian, but I like this approach. I learn a lot about historical periods that I don't know. There is, right away, a feeling of responsibility, not to pass on anachronisms or preconceived ideas. And so I find out as much as I can, but at the same time I don't want to lock myself into something very rigid because that can close off the story. In my comic book, you can see very clearly that the New York I represent is far from the real NY. It's very fantasized .... Just the colours used say a lot.
In any case, I really want to take care of my research for each future project, everything that is the construction upstream, and then let the story decant and emerge.
The atmosphere of each city is capturable and realistic: the frenzy and frenetic pace of New York, the unpredictable and luminous Chicago, the simplicity and rural nature of the French village of Saint Bonnet en Champsaur. Did you go back to Vivian Maier's footsteps to immerse yourself in her story?What place do you give to travel in your work as an author?
Yes, I looked at a lot of images of these cities, I watched series like Mrs Maisel and other films to get an idea of the atmosphere of the city of NY. When I could travel, I did it but only in France. It was complicated to go to the US with the virus... I visited Saint Bonnet en Champsaur, Vivian Maier's village, and her childhood home, in Saint Julien. When you are in the place, when you draw it, you inevitably become more impregnated with the environment.
This fascinating story of Vivian Maier is about this "trace", as the work of this talented photographer wasn't known until after her death. Currently, she is considered one of the greatest street photographers of the 20th century. But she chose to live anonymously, just for herself, a free, solitary and independent woman for her whole life.
What fascinates you most about this woman? A few words about her work and her view of society? What is your favourite photograph?
Ah, it's hard to define... but I would say that there are a lot of adjectives to describe her: independent, eccentric, free... I find her endearing because I've talked about her and seen her documentary. She has always been turned towards the other, wanting to capture faces so much, wanting to collect so much... There is both an almost methodical concern for documentation on her part and at the same time people said of her that she did not have an obvious relationship with the other. They wondered whether she was interested or just wanted to accumulate...
I think that when you look at these photos, you see people smiling, she was certainly in interaction, so contrary to what we think, attached to others, to the human.
My favourite photograph is the first one I saw at the exhibition... the one of the four women on the Empire State Building. In fact, it was the first photo I drew in watercolour that evening on my way home. I had imagined the scene. That's the one that immediately came to mind. I was touched by the image, even though it's certainly not the best composed, the most original, but it's what really got me into the project.
At the end of this graphic novel, you give a part of yourself. There is an intimate sketchbooks, and few lines about your fulfilment and your aspirations. We get the feeling that you already know what you want in the short and long term. Is it important for you to project yourself, to give yourself goals to move forward?
Yes, I wrote a note at the end of the book where I project myself a bit. It was to counter my little imposter syndrome, like "you want to do it, to take that path, just say it!
I was just thinking that it was necessary to open up a little bit, because this project, and the comic book, are already intimate for me.
What do you have in common with Vivian Maier?
I think we are very different... After that, I would say the observant side and the look towards the other.
We are proud that you are taking part in our first collaboration on our first theme "The taste of life and the thirst for life". What did you like about this project?
What does this theme evoke in you?
I saw Clouée project on social networks and I liked it immediately, even before you proposed this collaboration. I've been following your work since the very beginning and I thought the idea of highlighting one illustrator per month was really cool. Your approach is important, especially with this profession. It's important to do long-term projects, which can last for 3 years, and this can lead to oblivion and the belief that the illustrator no longer produces anything. It's great that you want to put us forward!
I liked the theme "The taste of others and the thirst for life", obviously it speaks to us with the last two years that we have lived. I wanted to represent the contact we have with others, with the living, by putting forward ecology and feminism. I said to myself, we must represent all our ways of being with others, but also with ourselves.
My idea was to place the triptych in a timeless situation, outside of time, not really anchored in our present. It's a global theme of living together, of sisterhood, of affection in a marvellous universe with characters who appear, who come back and that we want to put them together, it can be like three boxes of a comic book. But the illustration alone also works.
We are proud that you are taking part in our first collaboration on our first theme "The taste of life and the thirst for life". What did you like about the creative process of the triptych... How did you think about it and imagine it? What is its story?
It's the first time I've worked on a triptych, it spoke to me straight away, the number 3 is important to me! In my life, things are often divided by 3. There is a logic in 3 moments. And then, in the history of art, there are also different inspirations: the imaginary Bacchanal, the Renaissance. We also immediately think of Bosch, so a multitude of influences from the history of art.
The senses are perceptible. I said to myself "what is being alive?"... It is feeling these senses, it is feeling desired. I wanted to have a strong emotional panel.
It is also to say to myself that being alive is not always with others. It's also linked to what we've been through these last two years because there's this post-confinement stress of having to be with the other, of having to find each other. As an introvert, this should not be an additional pressure. Sometimes you have to find yourself because that's just as important. I wanted to express this in this thirst for life: having a good relationship with oneself is essential.
I don't know if my triptych is a story, but there is the central event of the reunion in which you can have a moment of solitude, away from the crowd. Or that person asleep with the novel who dreams, who desires... What's interesting with Clouée is that you can choose your triptych or independently. You create your own story, I like this dreamlike side where you can project your own stories onto the image.
What is the feeling you get when you imagine your illustrations hanging on the wall in our clients' homes, becoming part of their daily lives?
It gives me great pleasure to think that people will see these illustrations, that they will speak to them, and that they will become part of their home. These are images that convey softness, so if they can be a moment of calm in a complicated day... If I have them in my room, it's because they make me feel good, they make me happy.
And what was the last thing you framed and hung?
The last thing I framed was a small cyanotype of a puppet from the film "Annette". It was la compagnie du pendu who made cyanotypes of their puppet that they called MariAnnette... It's a film that touched me deeply.
Who is the artist that currently inspires you?
There is Elen Udsin at the moment who really gets me. Beautiful, vivid colours. She's also a complete artist who does everything: photography, mask construction, puppetry. Very inspiring.
We love her too!
What is your favourite movie, a series, a comic book, a book?
Cinema Paradiso makes me cry every time I see it.
The Fleabag series, I think that's the one that gave me a slap in the face for years, I saw it a year ago and I still think about it.
My favourite comic book is Portugal by Cyril Pedrosa, which is still next to my bed. When I was talking earlier about the comics that made me want to do this job, reading Portugal was a moment when I said to myself ... frankly if I could tell stories like that... I knew I wanted to do this job.
And a book... I read a lot of the Brönte sisters. I would say The tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brönte. It's a blast!