Joëlle Dubois, Visual Artist
This interview appeared first on CNTROL+F.
Our encounter with Joëlle Dubois is an excellent example of how the digital revolution made modern society more comfortable and complicated at the same time. Comfortable, as we arranged an interview and photoshoot with the upcoming artist just minutes after we first scrolled through her Instagram feed. Complicated, as this fast and interactive virtual communication ultimately shortens our attention span and leads to lack of privacy. Generally speaking, that is.
Joëlle’s Instagram feed didn’t appeal to us because she makes great selfies (we spot some, not many) or because she’s some sort of online it-girl (though we do find her very inspiring), but mostly because she’s a talented artist who paints recognizable scenes of how the average Millennial spends its free time. Watching Netflix while taking a nice, hot bath; sending sexy snaps to your new crush; Skyping with your friend who lives around the block; staying up to date with your favourite YouTubers while eating dinner alone… We’re sure you can fill in the dots. (And if you can’t; you’re probably not our target audience.)
The use of today’s technology intrigues her. As the communication between people becomes increasingly superficial, impersonal and anonymous; Joëlle feels the need to explore other, more significant aspects of life. Painting is quite an effective outlet, spirituality too: she even went on a solo-trip to India for an extensive Ayurveda cleanse. The latter illustrates her independency; no wonder strong female characters are a recurring theme in her work. As she's such an advocate of women's rights, we couldn't pass up the chance to portray her fierce appearance in Charlotte Everaert's newly opened guesthouse in Ghent...
Full name — Joëlle Dubois
Date of birth — 25.06.'90
Zodiac sign — Cancer
Where do you live? — Ghent
Describe who you are and what you do — I'm a painter slash artist slash illustrator
Favourite fictional character — Hermione Granger; I'd love to be a super smart and independent witch
Where would you like to live? — A place where it's permanently sunny
Favourite place to escape to? — Nature
You recently quit your part-time waitressing job to pursue an independent life as an artist. That’s a bold move! How do you feel about this decision?
"It’s incredibly liberating and terrifying at the same time. I get to do what I love and make a living out of it, and that’s very empowering. But there’s also this latent uncertainty that I might not be able to make ends meet at times, which causes the occasional moment of anxiety. I try to think positively, though, and have faith that the universe will help me accomplish what I truly want in life. When you believe in yourself, others will too. Up until now, I’ve been lucky to be involved in a continuous flow of projects and never even contemplated my decision once — I’ve just been so busy! (laughs)"
What has proven to be your biggest challenge so far?
"To take myself seriously as an artist. It’s great to put yourself and your work into perspective, but you also shouldn’t minimize what you’re doing. People often forget that creativity takes a lot of thought and time, too. There are still plenty of misconceptions about artists, and I find it difficult to change that image. If you want to monetize your art, you should know your worth and be able to sell yourself and your work. That poetic image of the naïve artist who can’t do business is outdated. If you’re in the process of creating art, you go into a very concentrated and deep state of mind. You’re very vulnerable in that moment. Unprotected, and easy to take advantage of. That’s how lots of artists were treated in the past, anyway. But it’s impossible to do business if you’re in that creative flow, so I’ve learned to switch my mindset if necessary. I can go from artist-mode to being my own manager in a minute, but it often takes weeks and a lot of effort to do it the other way around…"
Your last series ‘You are not alone’ contemplates the use of (social) media and technology in modern society. Does it come with a message directed at your fellow Millennials?
"Not particularly. There’s a message, of course, but it’s not my intention to finger-point. The paintings are more an observation of me and my environment. Volatility and superficiality dominate today’s society, and we all plead guilty of contributing to it. I wouldn’t say intimacy has disappeared, but it’s transformed into something else. There’s no taboo anymore, everything’s possible. The division between what’s normal and what’s divergent is slowly but surely disappearing. As a result, there’s more tolerance, but there’s also an increasing part of the population that has lost north and doesn’t quite know who or what they are anymore. With this series, I hope to be part of a counter-movement that adds more depth to modern culture.
My paintings might seem very glossy and simplistic at first, but they’re very layered when you take a better look. I paint a lot of naked bodies for example, which you can’t find on Instagram. Not 'the real kind' anyway... Instagram seems to have an aversion for everything too hairy or too dimply. The women I paint don’t have perfect bodies; their breasts are cone-shaped and most have pubic hair – I still think they’re beautiful, though! People often wonder why I paint such disturbing scenes, but you can’t deny that today’s reality is often even more disturbing. Been there, done that: haven’t we all sent sexy selfies to our high school crush or taped ourselves while making love? Intimacy is so intertwined with our digital media usage… I’d like it if my paintings would make people think about it, even for one minute."
Your paintings are like a critical mirror of how we (ab)use all forms of digital media, but you also use social media to promote your artwork and upcoming exhibitions. How do you cope with the duality of this digital age?
"Let’s face it: it’s almost impossible not to use social media these days. I even dare to say that’s it’s an inevitable part of your job when you are self-employed. It’s an easy and cheap tool to promote your work and reach a bigger audience. I’m not anti-digitalization, not at all. Social media is a wonderful tool to create more awareness; just think about #metoo, the hashtag that helped highlight the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment worldwide. It also plays its part in changing people’s mentality and breaking stereotypes, like eating meat and accepting transsexuality.
But there’s of course the other side of the coin: we’re bombarded with images of perfect people leading seemingly perfect lives, we don’t have any privacy anymore, we’re flattered when a certain picture or tweet gains lots of likes… Social media ultimately flattens us as human beings. I try to use it consciously, but I’m not immune to its addictiveness. I’m only human, you know. (laughs)"
American author and entrepreneur Sophia Amoruso once said: ‘Don’t compare your hustle to their highlight reel’. As we strongly encourage more honesty on the world wibe web, can you tell us what has been your shittiest moment so far? And more importantly: what did you learn from it?
"I’ve had plenty of shitty moments, so I really can’t pick one! (laughs) I obviously banged my head against many walls throughout the entire process of distinguishing my own style and the message I want to share with it, as do many others. At my lowest point, I was ready to give it all up. The art world is quite a competitive world and it’s easy to compare yourself or your work to someone else or what they make. But I’m quite stubborn and competitive myself, and this has played in my advantage… If life decides to throw some misfortunate events and failures at you, just accept and deal with it. Take a step back, breathe and ask yourself what truly happened and how you can prevent this failure in the future. Every failure is a chance to learn. The best you can do is enjoy the ride – because with failure also comes success – and don’t let it turn into a paralyzing fear."
Is there a social media trend you wouldn’t miss if it’d disappear?
"Ever since ‘Big Brother’ first broadcasted, famousness has been democratized. First there was reality TV, now we’ve added social media to the mix. What you do doesn’t matter anymore; you don’t have to say something intelligent or do something significant to become famous. Everyone can become a celebrity and those who want it, can acquire it fast! I’m both fascinated and appalled by this trend. You recognize yourself in these new kind of celebrities – as they’re so ‘normal’, they’re like a mirror of our own behavior – but watching their stupid behavior on TV also makes us feel very comfortable. Superior, even. We’re safely watching them from afar and soothing ourselves by thinking things as ‘luckily we’re not like them’ or ‘we’re quite normal compared to them’. Honestly, who’s guiltier: the people who share every minute of their life with the (online) world or the ones who watch every minute of someone else’s life? Let's hope things shift towards personal development again soon."
Whose work do you admire?
"So many! I admire Frida Kahlo, Paul Gaughin and David Hockney for their incredible use of colour, eye for detail and brutal honesty. Frida’s surrealism is mind blowing. I’m also enormously inspired by fellow artists as Jonas Wood, Margaret Kilgallen, Andrea Wan, Stefhany Lozano, Mark Whalen, Gina Contreras, Lubaina Himid, Ishii Nobuo, Jamiy Lalowe, Bryce Wymer, Naudline Pierre, Maria Melero, Desire Marea, Angela Dalinger, Brecht vanden Broucke and so on – the list is endless. My paintings are also inspired by the traditional Japanese ‘Shunga’ art; erotic images realized by traditional woodcut techniques. I especially like how they depict the fingers and toes: completely cramped, you can almost feel the intensity of action. The work of Toshio Saeki evokes something in me, too. His illustrations show the duality of erotica: both its perversion and mystery."
Mens sana in corpore sano. Why are spirituality and health so important to you?
"It’s easy to forget the importance and healing power of nature when you live in a city and are surrounded by digital tools 24/7. With services as Deliveroo and Netflix you’re able to survive and entertain yourself for days without even leaving the house. Painting is a very slow and intense activity – you’re very aware of what you do and how long it takes. I like how contradictory the subject of my paintings is to the way i perform my art itself. I love the feeling right after an intense painting session, which often feels like I’m in a higher state of consciousness. I’m always looking for ways to recreate that feeling in my daily life… Yoga, meditation and a healthy eating habits help me to stay in touch with my inner self."
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
"My longtime boyfriend Mathieux once said: “It’s better to paint a bad painting than no painting at all”, which I interpreted as to be patient, don’t overthink things and just keep on painting. Practice makes perfect. Inspiration doesn’t always come naturally; it takes a lot of training. My dear friend and fellow artist Tja-Ling Hu also told me to not care about public opinion or pleasing the audience, but to create things that I like about subjects that excite and inspire me, if only me. Her words resonate with me daily."
Do you have any plans for the (near) future?
"Besides a few national and international exhibitions and a few collaborations, I’ll just go with the flow. Let’s see where life takes me!"