Your upcoming exhibition at Grand Hyatt is called Windows to the Soul – why choose that title?
I actually did an exhibition in Kuala Lumpur with that name. A gallery owner suggested it to me. I loved it immediately because it represents exactly what I try to express in my paintings – the life and the journey of the people through their eyes. When I meet somebody for the first time, I focus on the eyes and the information that they convey, which is very often different from the words that are said.
What can you tell us about the pieces that will be featured?
I am doing a screen. I use my painting as a psychological session. When something happens to me, I translate it into a painting. Of course, day after day, my mood changes and I add new colours and details. At the end the result is very clear to me, but hopefully not for everybody.
How would you describe your work at this stage in your career, and how do you think it has evolved?
I lost a lot of time painting trying to please people. I was trying to prove that I could do the ‘real’ thing. Now I leave the ‘mistakes’, if they look nice or important to me. It is funny, because I give painting lessons during which I teach my pupils not to make mistakes, just because I feel they are not ready to overpass them. One day you suddenly realise that you are telling something through them, and it is a nice feeling.
You admit to being influenced by where you live – you were born in Zaire, educated in France, and have lived all over Asia with your husband. Do echoes of past locations carry over into your work?
I lived a long time in Africa and in Asia. You cannot be the same after that. They are very strong continents with a whirlpool influence. All the time, when move country, I have almost five months of observation time. I feel the colours, the mood, the light… My children are teasing me about what I always notice compared to them. It is out of frame, very often.
How have you seen your work influenced by Arabic culture? Have you looked at any other Arabic artists’ works?
I try not to miss any exhibition I am able to see. I love the writings, and the calligraphy in Arabic countries; they are sumptuous. I go very often to the Islamic Museum of Art to look at the old Qur’ans. In Malaysia the Islamic museum was also very beautiful, although it was smaller. I saw very nice pieces from local artists too.
Something that has been apparent in your works has been the bold use of colour, and more recently texture – is this an accurate description?
I like to stay monochromatic, but in reality my reds are very different from each other, for example. I really want to emphasise the subject by reducing my use of colour. I am obviously a colour maniac. When I visit a new country, my first goal is to collect papers, or the rough materials. They are the base of my artworks. I already know what I will paint on top of them, but they guide me, and very often change my mind. Because of a nice texture or a beautiful line, I sometimes reconsider my entire work.
When you create a new piece, how do you approach it, and what ideas stimulate you?
My eldest daughter and myself are crazy about photography. After a trip, we are flipping through our pictures and I select a few for my next artwork. Sometimes I already have an idea of what I wish to paint and take pictures to get the right position.
What inspiration do you take specifically from Doha?
I must admit that it’s a little too early for that. I am still discovering the country. Doha lacks in colours and it is a huge change from the countries that I have been to. The light is not as sharp either, therefore it is a totally different atmosphere. But the falcons and the men dressed in white may be my next inspiration.
How would you advise people to approach your work?
I am very clear about art. You are either touched or not. It should not need any explanation, and should speak for itself. You want them on your walls because they are ‘talking’ to you. There is no value in an art work kept in a safe. It wasn’t the painter’s wish.
Growing up in France, do you think you have been influenced by any French painters?
Of course I have. First I studied them in history of art. Secondly I continued my studies in Paris and they have such beautiful museums there. I also love Italy and its numerous museums, and they are not far from Provence where I have my house.
As someone who is influenced by place, is there anywhere you would like to visit to see where it may take your work?
Definitely India. But you need to be ready. The eyes of the Indians are strong and powerful. They are alive. It is something I miss here. You cannot really glance at somebody, otherwise you look impolite. Women sometimes let their eyes tell you stories, whereas men never. Or maybe I haven’t been here long enough yet to understand.
Isabel’s exhibition will be held from March 24-April 3 at the Grand Hyatt Doha (448 1234).