Japanese artist, Ayako David-Kawauchi has lived in France since 1986. Using just a piece of burnt wood, charcoal, the simplest of tools, she manages to create a personal universe such as in her exhibit at the Detais Gallery. An absolute success.
Before becoming an artist, you were involved in textile design. How did you go about the transition?
Ayako David-Kawauchi: I always wanted to be an artist. My mother had loads of books on the Impressionists. In my father’s desk drawers, there were paintings by François Boucher that I would secretly look at. I collected etchings by Hiroshige or Hokusai on packets for cooking Ochazukes, I’ve always had a taste for images. When I arrived in France, I met a boy for whom I was somewhat of a muse. He wanted to become a painter but after a while, I under-stood that it was me who wanted to become the painter. I started drawing at 40 years old. I set myself a target of working until 45 and if it didn’t work out, I would stop. It was a huge risk, my children were 11 and 8 years old at the time. I was drawing all the time from 9am to 6pm in workshops across Paris.
After how long did your work become so personal?
Straight away really. I was very shy and always hid away to paint still life. One day, I took a large sheet of paper, 2 metres by 2 metres, and I had to draw in front of everyone. My shyness had to leave me, but it wasn’t a problem. When I was at Arts-Déco, teachers forced me to use charcoal and I always considered this as some-thing which was the drawing itself.
Your drawings are above all of living models. How do you find them?
It really depends on what I want to do. I sometimes ask neighbours, friends or even strangers in the metro. Once, there was a woman walking a dog, I really wanted to draw her dog, not really the woman. She came to my place, and then I to hers. The models have an enormous inﬂuence over my work. I adapt my style to them a lot. When I try to work from photographs, it’s really not the same. A model is always in motion, it is like decompositions of movement in the style of Étienne-Jules Marey, like during an earthquake.
What is it like when the models pose?
They are like genuine psychoanalytical sessions. At the very start, I talk but then I do not have the time to reply as I am at work. I like strangers, as I am waiting to see just what is going to happen. People I know talk to me about their daily life. I want to know what is happening to them. Sometimes, people can be unpleasant, untrustworthy, but at least some-thing is happening, that all fuels the picture. When the session is over, the picture too.
Where does the symbolism come from in your pictures?
Rather strangely I had a Protestant Japanese upbringing, I know the Bible thanks to catechism. I believe in the collective subconscious. Things come to me on their own. Recently, for instance, I asked a young girl to pose with a mirror in an attic. I didn’t immediately think about the symbolism of the ephemeral, it came to me afterwards. In my head, I do not have a lot of language or reference to the his-tory of Art, I believe that the collective sub-conscious runs through my pictures. I think like that, if it is a response.
Why have you stayed with charcoal and not paint?
Well that’s my dream. For a year and a half I have been trying but it is not quite perfect. I think that I have a stylish view of realism, like my favourite painters such as Giotto, Piero della Francesca, Schiele, Dix, Balthus, Käthe Kollwitz, Lucian Freud. I am more sensitive to paintings which represent difficulties of existence. When I was small, we gave a lot away to people with difficulties, this made me more sensitive I feel. With my way of talking and the fact that I like to laugh all the time whenever possible, people see me as a happy person, but I don’t see it this way.
What would be your wish?
To continue. It is really difficult. You need a good mind, and to constantly fuel it. In life, there are accidents all around us, and weak-nesses. Love is important. Painting, drawing, this is fuelled by love. You need to cry, laugh, drink, eat and have solitary time. I like to stay with people, but staying alone to see what hap-pens, it is really interesting.
What is special about the exhibition you are putting on at the Detais Gallery at the start of the year?
The exhibition is on the theme of love. I hired a professional model who chose a partner and I asked them “What is love?”. States of mind, pauses. We began by reproducing stills from ﬁlms. It was a little like cinema at the start and then things happened.