I'm so excited about today's interview with mixed media artist Michele Landel! Michele is an American artist living, creating and raising a family in Paris. I find her work captivating and I think you will too. Enjoy:
So many artists (myself included) dream of living in France. How did you and your family end up there? How long have you been there? Is it as romantic as it sounds?
My husband is French and American. We met in NYC. He took a job in Paris and I came along. I think our original plan was to live in France for 2 years. We’ve been here for 12.
I love living in France for lots of different reasons and Paris is beautiful. Sometimes it is very romantic (warm croissants, beautiful museums, long walks) and sometimes it is just life (dentist appointments, traffic, lines). Ido try to take advantage of the city as much as I can and remember how I am lucky to live here.
I think for a lot of artists, there's a tension between feeling called to be an artist and the pull to have a "sensible" career. Have you always known that you're an artist? How has your art career evolved?
Up until a year ago, I have always had a“sensible” but meandering career. I have a BA in fine arts and art history and MA in art history. I moved to NYC in the early 2000s for a curatorial internship but then got a job in event planning and then with an architecture firm...Most recently, I was doing freelance marketing and communications for French start-ups. I always made art, but was afraid to call myself an artist. About two years ago, I started focusing more and more on art and less and less on my freelance career. I still feel the “sensible” career pull, but am really trying to ignore it.
You have a very distinctive style. I'm fascinated by the layering and textures. Can you talk a bit about your process? How has your work evolved over time? What are you working on right now? What's new or different about it?
Since I was little, I have loved paper. I started sewing on paper about six years ago. I don’t remember any more why. I was punching holes and hand sewing layers together. Then two years ago, I spent a week studying with Val Holmes, a British artist, who teaches artist workshops and has a B&B here in France. It was amazing! She taught me machine embroidery on paper and how to burn paper and how to make paper. It really changed everything for me.
Lately, I have been trying to deal with more personal issues in my art. I just finished a series called Postpartum and I am now working on a new one called The Perfect Darned Home.
Are there certain themes that show up in your work over and over again?
Houses and buildings, probably from my earlier career in architecture. Women, I took a lot of feminist art history classes. Circles and holes, probably a push back against postmodernism.
What is your studio practice like? Do you have any rituals or routines that help you get into the creative zone? Do you ever get creative blocks? How do you get unstuck?
I drop my kids off at school in the morning and go for a run. This is often how I get unstuck too. I run 20-30km a week. I try to be in my studio from 10am-4pm four-days a week, but honestly this rarely happens. I do try very hard to make something everyday, even if it’s just with a postcard that arrives in the afternoon mail and bits of paper from my desk.
The book, “The War of Art” has had a big influence on my studio practice.
When I am burning paper or working on my laptop, I listen to podcasts, such as the Jealous Curator and How I Built This. When I am sewing, I listen to Q2 Music radio out of NYC. I found that modern classical music goes really well with the thump, thump of the sewing machine.
I really love your postpartum series. Can you talk a bit about what that series means to you?
I wanted to juxtapose idealized domesticity with the isolation and loneliness that can come with motherhood. I have three beautiful young children. I also had four miscarriages, struggled with infertility, and suffered from prenatal depression. Many of my friends and family don’t even know that I went through this. I think a lot of women suffer quietly while trying to appear perfect.
I cut these women out of modern paintings and Photoshop them into impossibly minimalist interiors from design magazines and books. The women are semi-translucent, over-lapped and repeated so they (hopefully) appear to be in dialogue with themselves. I also ripped, burned, and then sewed the images back together to represent both the fragility and strength of women through the paper itself.
Are you a full time artist or do you also have a day job/side hustle? If you do have a day job, does it tie in with your art practice?
This fall, I am teaching two-classes to forth-year students at a communications school in Paris. It doesn’t really tie into my art practice but it is fun. The students are dynamic and smart.
Let's talk about work/life balance. How do you balance family life, studio time, business and time for yourself?
I don’t really. This is a constant struggle.
Who (or what) are your biggest creative influences?
Feminist artists influence me. Artists I follow on Istagram and things I see walking around Paris inspire me. I am really motivated right now by the Thrive Studio Mastermind group, which is how we met, that I recently joined.
What does being an artist mean to you?
For me, being an artist means saying something visually and having it connect with others. Sometimes I have a clear idea that I want to express and other times it is just an image or idea that I need to get out. I love exploring texture and movement and seeing how far I can push it with paper.
If you could give your 20 year old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Call yourself an artist. Stop being afraid.