one to watch
Empowering portraits of Aurélia Durand
Multidisciplinary artist Aurélia Durand celebrates and reconnects with her African heritage through her large-scale, brightly colored portraits. Ella aurélia studied art and design in Denmark and France, recently moving to Paris in 2017 after a long residency in Copenhagen. Focusing on joy and pride in identity, her work has been featured on multiple book covers and other collaborations. Aurélia’s work has also recently been exhibited in both Paris and London.
Tell us who you are and what you do. What is your past? what is your thought?
I am a French multidisciplinary artist. I paint on canvas, murals and basketball courts, illustrate articles and books, write books, create images for campaigns and animate short videos. I have worked with many prominent international brands over the past six years, from The New Yorker to Nike to Google. One of the books featuring my art is a #1 New York Times bestseller, “This Book Is Anti-Racist.”
What is your work trying to say? What are the main themes you pursue in your work? Can you share an example of a job that demonstrates this?
My work has a distinctive style. I paint to celebrate my African heritage through proud and empowered colours. I depict unknown black figures surrounded by vivid colors and patterns. I paint positive and peaceful messages. There is no specific piece of art that shows my artistic intentions, everything I have done so far shows my intentions. I use books to teach young children how to take action against racism, I encourage dances to connect with my African heritage, and I use African-inspired patterns on wax textiles to reconnect with my African roots. I am an “artivist”, which means that my work conveys peaceful messages about multiculturalism.
Can you explain your process to create a work from start to finish?
I usually doodle in a small sketchbook, draw on my computer to play with colors in Adobe Illustrator, and then trace the drawing onto my canvas with a black pencil. Then I start painting with colors.
Who are your biggest influences and why?
I studied art and design at different schools of fine arts in France and Denmark. I have studied the architecture of Jean Nouvel, Le Corbusier and Zaha Hadid, the product design of Etorre Sottsass, Hella Jongerius, Verner Panton, Vitra and Olafur Eliasson, the paintings of Picasso, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Kerry James Marshall, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, and photographs by Malick Sidibé, David Lachapelle, and Platon. Traveling through different countries, such as the French Antilles, Scandinavia and the United States, has also influenced my work.
How do you comment on your work on current social and political issues?
It’s not that my work comments on current social and political issues, it’s more that I’ve lived my entire life feeling like my story didn’t matter because it wasn’t part of the primary culture in which I lived. My mom is from the Ivory Coast in Africa and she didn’t teach me about her culture. With my art, I reconnect with my African roots: I try to fill in a missing part of myself. And today, more and more people are doing the same thing I am, trying to reconnect and tell more nuanced stories about where we came from with pride and joy.
How do you expect viewers to respond to your works? What do you want them to feel?
I hope viewers will be encouraged by my use of colors. I use yellow and orange as eye enhancers, and that’s why people looking at my work feel like they’re getting a shot of vitamin D. My characters’ body expressions are dynamic: they add vibrancy to my work just like the colors. I hope people feel inspired to move and joyful.
What are some of your favorite experiences as an artist?
People want to hear my story and how I became an independent artist and developed my style. They invite me to speak in front of people about my work. It’s amazing and funny that not too long ago, in my bedroom, I was struggling to pursue an art career. At first I was looking forward to speaking in front of a crowd, but after doing it many times it’s what I like the most. Working alone in my studio pushed me to share more with people. I lack sociability in everyday life, so I enjoy sharing my experiences with the public, especially young aspiring artists.
Do you prefer to work with music or in silence?
Neither. When I paint, I listen to podcasts, especially audio fiction. I listen to exciting immersive stories produced by QCODE or on Audible or Apple podcasts. Some stories have anywhere from six to nine twenty to fifty minute episodes, and there are different genres from science fiction, horror, comedy, thriller, and more. Listening to stories without seeing images stimulates my imagination. When I look at my paintings, I can tell what stories I was hearing while I was painting. I recommend it!
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