In Painting and Identity, Tiffanie Delune finds her light

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Her paintings are bright and vibrant, evoking feelings of vivid dreams and arousing joy and sheer pleasure. This is the best way I know of to describe the colorful and mixed work of Belgian-Congolese French visual artist Tiffanie Delune. His images tickle our childish sensibilities while spontaneously inviting us to reflect on the play of light, shadow and the movement of our inner lives. No wonder, as Delune is a woman who intentionally lives a life of intimacy with herself, her work and her environment. In March, the 32-year-old self-taught artist took her 4-year-old son, left London, where she had been since 2017, and settled in Lisbon, Portugal. She was drawn by a longing for the sense of closer community that a smaller, more southerly town could provide. I spoke to her through Zoom, one bright spring afternoon last month, with sunlight pouring down on one of her radiant six-by-five-foot paintings hanging behind her.

“As a creative person, natural light is very important to me. I struggled with that in London. Here I find it so refreshing to wake up to the light or the sun. Very early like 6 or 7 in the morning and I’m already very energetic, eager to start my day, ”she says.

Delune keeps her mornings as sacred time. She avoids all social media and news during the early hours of the day. Before her son wakes up, she gets up to do yoga and sketch out what’s left of her dreams, or what came to her for a work in progress, after a night’s rest. Her practice is fueled by a particular attention to her inner life, to what she has intuition and to her external environment. She describes her way of making art as “navigating between her shadow self, yet full of forms of light, movement and energy”. This in turn informs her self-awareness and social responsibility practices, as she firmly believes that in order to be a better person in society and to do genuine work, you must first have a better understanding of yourself.

“We have to recognize our light, but we also have to understand our shadow. Most of the time, what lurks in your shadow is actually what you want, aside from any outside pressures you may have experienced, or even your own fears. Owning my shadow self meant acknowledging that I am an artist, something I tried to deny for years.

But accepting a more authentic version of herself also meant understanding her past history and heritage.

“I had to understand the stories of my parents, where they came from, the collective trauma that I carried from my family, but also on a broader level, even the colonization by Belgium of the Congolese, understand what they were doing, how it affected people. . “

Tiffanie Delune, What I learned from the seas, 2021.

All of this personal work has had a big impact on how she creates large-scale, animated works that dance between abstraction and figuration, and boast themes of identity, man’s relationship with nature and a rewarding femininity that promotes self-acceptance. .

Delune was born in Paris, France, to a white French mother and a black Belgian-Congolese father. In her story, her childhood was marked by trials and traumatic experiences that often left her feeling like her innocence had been stolen from her.

“We were poor. My mother left us when I was little and I grew up with my father in an HLM. We were evicted from homes, I slept in motels and all kinds of places, even living in an abandoned house. My love of colors comes from who I am as a woman today, and from all of my travels to places like Egypt, Nigeria, Indonesia and the Caribbean. I see all of these bright colors everywhere, in the buildings, in the food, in the way people dress. And I have the impression that we sometimes lose that in western cities, where everything is coded and made to be perfect and identical. But even before that, much of my attraction to bright colors in my work comes from my past, feeling so much heartache and sadness and lack of joy in my childhood.

Delune is self-taught, and when she started painting she felt like she wanted to go back to that childhood, but in a way that could fill her with experiences that she didn’t have. She naturally expressed it through primary colors, eventually learning to mix and blend tones and undertones to communicate nuanced feelings. And yet her instinct for mixed media, mixing textures like feathers and flowers and yarn and paper with acrylic and oil paints, comes from the brightest parts of her childhood which she remembers with gratitude. .

“My father has a very cheeky childish energy about him. He always drew on napkins and random things, and that’s where I first encountered art, through him. And even though we had no way, he insisted that we had a public library card, and also that on the weekends we had to grab our bags and go exploring and check out things. He hated the idea that we just stayed in our quarters.

Her father implanted in her a sense of curiosity and a willingness to try things even when she didn’t think he had what it took. She laughed at the memory of how every Wednesday she went to the library and picked up craft and art books, and tried to replicate the crafts without having the necessary items.

“I would come home and try to be content with what I had, to be playful and creative with cardboard and whatever materials I could find. Because my father encouraged him. He taught us to be resourceful and told me, “We don’t have the list, but it’s okay. Do something else. It’s not the same thing, but it is.

He taught her early on that it’s okay when you don’t have all of the things you think are needed to create your vision. You just stay curious and work with what you have. The lesson stayed with Delune, feeding her imagination on what was possible if she remained open, curious, and creative in life. But it still took years for her to find the courage and confidence to practice the art professionally.

“You know, even with all of that, I knew that I couldn’t afford to go to art school. In addition, I lacked self-confidence. So I became discouraged from pursuing art. I knew this was what I wanted to do, but instead I got into advertising.

She spent ten years in advertising. Then, in 2017, she gave birth to her son and, when she returned to work, she realized that she was “the most miserable” she had ever been in her adult life.

“Having a child is like a mirror, and I was like, ‘I’m going to tell him that he can do anything and be anyone and that I’ll support him, but I’m not doing it with my own. life “. What message would I send him? I had to stop making excuses for myself.

Abstract painting of pair on a boat

Tiffanie Delune, Feelings will come find you, 2021.

When she finally started painting, she had to learn to find her visual language and trust her voice.

“I was only using paint when I started, but it was so flat and didn’t reflect who I am. Something was missing. Then one day I was like, ‘You know what? Drop the rules. . Let go of what you think art should be and just do whatever you want to do. So I basically came back to that little girl in her bedroom when I was a kid who was thinking, ‘Oh, that’s a material. interesting. I could put it here and put it there. I started to think again about being resourceful and not always thinking that I needed the best canvas or the best paint, to focus on what’s to be done. inside of me. It was the playfulness I took from my father. I remembered his encouragement to be bold and to try things.

In less than two years, she joined the London-based Ed Cross Fine Art Gallery, and has since exhibited in London, Paris, Lagos and Los Angeles, and her work is part of the private and permanent collections of the Gandur Foundation for the Art in Geneva, Switzerland, and at the New York Presbyterian Hospital for Women and Newborns. Delune is especially proud of its diverse collector base, as it understands that this means it sparks different conversations between a wide range of people. With her own rich and diverse ethnic and racial origins, she understands herself as a multi-faceted being who can be at home anywhere while having a strong sense of identity.

“When I was young there was no one around like me, yes, mixed, but my skin looks like a white person and my features look like a black person. And I grew up with my dad who is black, so we always got questions from people, like asking if my dad was my dad? It was difficult on the part of the two communities, white and black. The characters in my paintings are black, white, orange, blue, green and more. Because the conversation I have through my work goes beyond skin color. I want to approach beauty as a whole. When I do the work, it is above all for me. But I also think about how I want many types of people to be affected. It’s important for me to open up different types of conversations, and I feel like this happens when my work touches different types of people.

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