Ever since she has been visually asserting herself on the world wide web from 2013, the mysterious artist Apollonia Saintclair is one of the most anticipated European artists working within sensual art at the moment. This means she is in high demand and her time is limited, which is why we are honored that she took the time for Shunga Gallery to delve deeply into her working method, influences, censorship and much more. For example, what is her fascination with the octopus and the work of H.P. Lovecraft?
1) What does your work process look like? Do you work with live models or photos? You’ve always worked digitally?
Apollona Saintclair: I usually work with a blend of imagination and photographic references, more rarely with a live model. Each drawing is a continued process, from sketch to ink, which only ends when I put the date and choose a final title. I hardly ever start a new work until I consider the one I’m working on complete; that’s why I also hate having to – usually for commissions – go back to a finished drawing, even though I see potential for improvement. Because indeed the breath that carried my work, the force of the moment, is extinguished and I believe we see the retouching. I prefer a drawing to be imperfect, but authentically encapsulate what I was trying to do at this point in time, with all the subtext, all the unsaid and intuitive things that guided my pen. It is impossible to reproduce this nexus without introducing a dose of artificiality and superficiality. As it is very difficult to have visual continuity in the grey values if I interrupt my work.
Originally, I worked in analogue, but when I discovered its potential, I practically went digital all the time. The great strength and the great danger of digital lies in its fractal aspect: it makes it possible to work on very fine details, to zoom in, but at the same time it requires an additional discipline to always keep the overview and not to get lost. At the end of the day, I continue to draw on instinct, almost blind, because the effect of a hatch is very different at close range or at a distance.
2) Does your work arise intellectually or intuitively? And how would you describe this process?
AS: For me to start a drawing, I need a spark: that I see, as in palimpsest, what an image could become and that I intuitively understand what stories it could tell. One of the directions is purely graphic: what does the arrangement of forms and values tell me? Is it powerful, eye-catching or subtle? The other is atmospheric: in what world, in what time am I? What “rings” true and where is it taking me? Finally, there is the purely narrative dimension: what’s going on? What happened before and what will happen soon after or much later? Each drawing is the search for an adequacy or a maximum tension between these different aspects, so that they merge into something seductive and elusive at the same time.
3) Why do you choose to mainly use black and white in your work?
AS: It’s not really a choice, but more of a twist … Because I rarely feel the need to add colour, except to create a specific accent. The truth is that whatever I try, I always come back to black and white – then absence always seems stronger to me than presence: it asks the audience to imagine what is missing, to be part of the picture. Kind of like H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” that no one could paint, but only imagine. I love the ambivalence of twilight, when colours fade, because this is the moment when perception begins to freewheel, when you see or believe you see the images of your fears and desires, projected by your brain, on this indefinite canvas. Black and white, by its operation of reducing reality, has that similar effect of amplifying imagination.
4) What would you consider to be the main theme in your work?
AS: I think we should rather ask an art critic to get a meaningful answer… Then I honestly don’t know, since I don’t draw according to a thematic agenda. I mainly follow my desires and I notice afterward that there are echoes between certain drawings, which speak to each other and seem to revolve around recurring topics or situations. I guess one of the commonalities is that women often seem to be the active ingredient in the stories I tell. But this is also probably a reductive interpretation, because in fact all the protagonists are mainly there because they seem to have chosen a role and behave accordingly. I believe that there are very few drawings where the protagonists are not intensely present, intensely aware, intensely decided ….
5) Do some of your works matter more to you than others?
AS: Yes, of course, but these are certainly different works than those most appreciated by the public: these are the drawings that were real challenges, which, perhaps without being the most liked, are those where I had the impression of progressing the most. Because there is no rest, each drawing is a new test, and some works are personally particularly satisfying because the bar was set very high.
6) Who and/or what are your main influences?
AS: On a technical level, certainly the inks of Moebius and Manara, although every day I still discover new artists and try to learn something by studying their work. Thematically, it is rather literature and film that allow me to imagine worlds and stories. I am fairly omnivorous, interested as much in science fiction, the noir novel as historical narratives: what interests me is to imagine the protagonists prey to their passions or delusions in a given framework. Another inspiration – in the truest sense of the word – is music, especially fim soundtracks, which give me as much the breath of spending hours at my drawing table as it creates an atmosphere that often infuses my work.
Anyway, I noticed that the real influence of other artists on my work is the pleasure produced by the change of scenery that their work gives me. The inspiration does not lie so much in what they transmit to me specifically but rather in the desire that they awaken to come out of myself, to explore a reality other than the one that contains me. A nostalgia for an existence different from mine. A longing for an alien future.
7) What about the influences of Japanese culture and art? Are you familiar with shunga?
AS: Unfortunately not, my knowledge of shunga in particular is totally superficial – and admirative. On the other hand, the graphic culture and the history of Japan are more familiar to me, and I am keen on this tendency towards a complexity and a refinement in the simplicity which characterizes the unique approach of Japanese art. I visited part of Japan a few years ago and one of my long-term plans is to go back for an extended period. As Japan has absorbed modernity in a completely different way than the West, I always feel like I’m in a world that is both familiar and uchronic, which is fascinating and also revealing of the future we are slowly sliding into.
8) Many of your works include animals. What’s your fascination with animals (in particular the octopus)?
AS: Animals are first of all magnificent subjects to draw, but also and above all they are totems that accompany the history of humanity. We are, whether we like it or not, animals and we have passed through the ages in their company, dictating to them in our unconscious, from Cernunos to Bambi, different statuses: from original gods we have recently transformed them into pure industrial meat or in mascots … when in fact, the image we have of them is only a reflection of ourselves and our relationship to our own animality.
And, well, octopuses are not from this world, aren’t they? I remember reading somewhere about a biologist who said that octopuses, from an evolutionary point of view, are the living things that come closest to aliens. It would certainly have pleased H.P. Lovercraft … Not surprisingly, my own access to tentacle porn was through the iconic work of Hokusai. I have always felt, watching “The dream of the fisherman’s wife“, it was an adulterous relationship, where the absent husband plays the Stooges, reflecting our own attitude of voyeur before this surprising coupling.
In my drawings, representations of sex with an octopus are not examples of bestiality, but rather the metaphor of a union with an ideal lover, multifaceted, endowed with gentleness and intelligence, ready to exalt all the wishes of his partner. The tentacle is not a phallic substitute in the proper sense, but rather an organ that is all the organs simultaneously: penis, hands, mouths, skin, tongue and bondage itself. It is not a hard, penetrating stalk, but rather a cloud of pleasure, multiple, complacent, indulgent and powerful.
9) One of your earlier works from 2013 is entitled ‘Censored by Facebook‘ (Fig.10). What are your experiences with censorship? And what do you think about it? Do you take it into account in your work?
AS: This drawing was a revision of an existing drawing when I was first censored on social media, which shocked and surprised me then. Because if indeed I am absolutely of the opinion that some of my drawings should be seen only by an informed audience, I could not understand that one should – anno 2013 – hide naked breasts. I do not want to complain about my personal situation which is privileged: I do not risk being stoned for my art and I can, with certain precautions, share it relatively freely with an audience very large. But as I am present globally through social networks, inevitably this part of my work must pass the eye of the needle of censorship, which follows the principle of the lowest common denominator. And, let’s be honest, that has never been a viable criterion for any form of artistic creation.
The subject of sexual censorship is complicated, but in short and to force open doors, it strikes me that it is most often a question of power, not of ethics. As an artist I find myself in the situation of artists during the past centuries – what a sad irony: part of my work is reserved for a more limited public, the other part navigates as close as possible to the partly frankly delusional restrictions in force on the networks. But sometimes this also generates a surplus of creativity, because it is in the essence of art to question the mechanisms of perception and to consequently try to produce works which play with and thwart them.
Ink is My Blood
INK IS MY BLOOD is a collection of currently four books with more than 520 drawings by Apollonia Saintclair celebrating love, desire and sexuality. The complete set including all mesmerizing volumes can be obtained here….!!
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