Behind the creative:
Aurélie Garnier is a French illustrator whose works represents the powerful and daring women she sees throughout her life. Abi Gordon, from our inhouse Creative Team, talked to Aurélie about what #MeToo meant to her, and how design can be a force for politics.
“For All About Women 2019, we chose to explore power,” said Abi. “From women in politics to the new voices of feminism, we look at the theme of power and how our speakers use it in their everyday feminism; the composed tenacity of Julie Bishop, the cool and calm candidness of Sohaila Abdulali and the unleashed rage advocated by Soraya Chemaly.
“In our search for an illustrator who could represent the complex multitude of thoughts, feelings and ideas of female power, we chose Aurélie Garnier, a French illustrator whose work is full of sass. She is unafraid to explore and represent all sides of women; conveying fury, silliness and sexiness with an air of absolute freedom. On top of this, Aurelie’s use of bold colours leant itself to the vibrant nature of the event. As she is also a passionate feminist, we were excited when Aurélie accepted the commission. The collaboration enabled us to not only create some beautiful work, but also get a fresh perspective on the given topics from a new voice.”
This conversation has been translated from French by Bénédicte André and Nicolas Gronier.
How did you become an illustrator?
I have always drawn, since I was young. My mum told me she found a story I wrote when I was in primary school where I explain that I don’t want to work in a farm because farms stink (I come from the countryside!). After I finished school, I studied Fine Arts for a year in Caen, and then Applied Arts for a couple of years in Paris. These were more about graphic design than illustration, and after a little more studying I went back to Paris where there were more opportunities in graphic design.
After working with a few large advertising agencies, I needed to reconnect with an approach to illustration that felt more authentic and personal. I went to Norway and Denmark to refocus, and learnt a lot from their graphic design cultures. I got a bit homesick so went back to France, and started as a freelance illustrator, starting in print media. On one hand, I could sometimes get so bored by my work in graphic design, which could seem repetitive, and now on the other hand, I get so passionate about every new illustration work.
From briefing to execution, what does your creative process look like?
Usually, I try to identify three key words in the piece I need to illustrate. They become the foundations of my research before I land on the final idea. When the idea is more or less locked in inside my head I share it with my client, with words or sketches. I adapt. Most of the time clients contact me because they enjoy my style of illustration, so they usually have faith in the final result.
Illustrations from All About Women 2019 for 'Feminism in the Arab World', Tina Tchen and 'Man Up'
What are your thoughts on how #MeToo took off in France?
I think the movement has allowed people to finally speak their mind. If women felt scared to speak up, it’s not the case anymore. The growth of #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc is only the verbalisation of an angst that has been going for too long. It is a big no being thrown in the face of some men who have been getting away with everything. I realise now, after seeing the facts and with a bit of shame, that I have also faced situations with a kind of conventional acceptance—I’ve been chatted up in the street, experienced plenty of wolf whistling. Without questioning the status quo of male-female relationships, I was infuriated by these behaviours but believed in this common idea that it was just how men are, that it was somehow normal. But it’s not men in general; it’s really about certain men who need to be reported, or at least educated.
Does feminism actively influence your design?
My preferred subject has always been women. My personal work is around sensual and sluggish women who smoke, laugh, drink, and have sex. I like representing women as selfish, as prioritising their pleasure above anything else. Being a woman is first being yourself, it means being strong, fragile, cold or welcoming. I represent women in the way I see myself as a woman—accepting my contradictions, my desires without necessarily comparing myself with men.
'Modern Love'. Source: aurelie-garnier-illustratrice.tumblr.com
Do you feel the field of graphic design is able to tackle feminism as well?
I am lucky to regularly collaborate with the LGBT publication Well Well Well, where illustration is central to their style. I recently created a poster for them about the iconic faces of feminism. For me, like literature or cinema, illustration must serve an idea. It makes me think about the work of my friend Delphine Panique, who is politically engaged and creates comics. I am a fan of the idea that women take back the power that has been illegitimately taken away from them. I like the idea that nowadays women can call themselves witches and that we shake all the conventions that have been created by god knows who.
Do you feel that the visual representation of women has shifted as more female artists and illustrators have their work seen?
Without a doubt! Reading this question, I can’t stop thinking about the work of Robert Crumb. I love how in his work he mainly focuses on an image of women being an object of pleasure—robust women with strong legs who are a fantasy for Crumb. And I also admire the work from Hellen Jo, whose heroines are all bad girls who drink, fight, spit, love each other…this is new.
Illustration from All About Women 2019, 'Women in Hip-Hop'
Tell us about some women who have inspired you in your life, and why?
Although I’m an illustrator, I’ve been inspired by a lot of writers too. Obviously, Simone de Beauvoir, reading Le deuxième sexe led me to reconsider my role as a “passive” woman. I immediately loved the truth and sincerity of Carson McCullers’ novels, and I see some of the swagger and rebellion of her female characters in my illustrations.
The designer Eileen Gray is my goddess of modernism. Her and Charlotte Perriand…actually, I realise that female artists have always interested me like Sophie Calle. I have known her and loved her work during my studies and I have attended all her exhibitions, like you would go on a date. To me, she has given a new voice to female artists. I also think about Vivian Maier, more discreet but very deep…it is endless. I am going to sound cliché or like a teen, but sometimes in a situation where I feel weak, I tell myself: what would Beyoncé do? It is stupid but she embodies a kind of contemporary superwoman and she gives me the strength to act when I can’t find it in myself.
Who are your favourite female illustrators of the moment?
Apart from Delphine and Hellen who are by far my favourites, I like the work of Nine Antico a lot for her style and the subjects she picks. She usually follows groups of girls and explores their friendships. Coney Island Baby is one of my favourites. In another genre, I also like Marjane Satrapi’s and Zeina Abirached’s books. Both of them talk about being a woman in today’s world with sensitivity and without dumbing things down. Persepolis and Broderies have left a mark on me with their self-mockery. Zeina’s Le piano oriental moved me when she talks about family.
What’s been your most satisfying commission so far?
Without being zealous, I really believe that the commission from the Sydney Opera House is an important milestone in my work. And there are a couple of reasons for that. First, it’s a great honour to export my work overseas and to work for such an institution. But also, serving a cause that I care about as a woman. It is an opportunity to use my little hands and give more visibility to this issue. A double benefit!
What’s next for you?
I have a project with women working in cinema (a bit of “glamour” to sell the article). A comic about this woman’s life. The idea is there and the motivation is, too—a work in progress.
You can see Aurélie’s illustrations all across the All About Women festival. See the program and get tickets to the talks, panels and discussions happening Sunday 10 March 2019.
Stories from behind the curtain
Go Backstage and discover more from the people, shows and stories that bring the Opera House to life.
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