A mid-generation artist, Virginie Pringiers grew up in a family of collectors, and studied trompe l’oeil, cinematographic arts, theatre-set design and the renovation of cultural artifacts. Her artistic practice grew as the time passed by, yet it flourished to full extent after she started inserting different cultural codes of the environments in which lived in the last couple of years. That is how Pringiers managed to establish an authentic painterly practice based on a combination of different references from art history, spanning from avant-garde movements and expressionist cinema to Rauschenberg, Basquiat, and Cy Twombly, Asian historical context and sci-fi imagery.
The careful combination of color schemes, characters, slogans in Chinese or Singlish (Singapore English) shows the artist’s efforts to construct unique and socially charged works. Although they seem to be dark and dystopian, they are actually humorous, witty, and explore the effects of cultural diversity.
In an exclusive interview, Virginie Pringiers talks about her artistic practice, her motifs, and inspirations.
Widewalls: Let’s begin with what’s perhaps a cliche question: how would you describe your artistic practice?
Virginie Pringiers: The idea is to be able to create on a canvas everything that moves me. My artistic practice does not stop with painting. Collecting objects, hunting for old newspapers and magazines, painting, scratching... screaming and laughing too – it’s all part of the process. My canvas must be decorative, I will always imagine it in a trendy and fashionable interior surrounded by cool and stylish décor.
I want the viewer to fall in love at first sight when they see one of my paintings and then, like any relationship, discover new details every time they take a closer look.
I like the idea of showing who I am in my work. There are enough details that each person will have a different idea or impression of the personality of each canvas - just like it is in real life, where the impression you have of one person can be, and often is, totally different from the one seen through the eyes of somebody else.
Widewalls: A number of influences is notable, from Expressionist cinema and the Russian avant-garde to Rauschenberg and vintage Japanese propaganda posters. Your recent works practically evoke the feeling of nostalgia. They can be perceived either as the 1980s music cover art or the underground aesthetic of the 2000s. Referentiality and appropriation are legitimate strategies, but what do you think makes two-dimensional artwork entirely contemporary?
VP: I really appreciate your question and I am very flattered that you have understood or felt where my influences are coming from. What you are referring to is exactly what I love in art, what I am looking for in an artist that interests me and especially what I like to paint or express.
Now in my 40s, I am part of a generation who experienced all these influences in everyday life during the 80s, 90s, and 2000s, without imagining that they would one day become "vintage" and hyper fashion today. The nostalgia you are referring to is certainly a good word for describing what I paint. However, when I start a new painting I never focus any one of particular influence, I basically just paint what I would like to see on my wall, inspired by what is going on around me.
I think that a truly contemporary work will reflect the world in which the artist evolves, what they are living and experiencing in their day to day life, how much they are impacted by different events all around the world, sometimes without realizing. Every era knows major events that change our lives to varying degrees. And that's why I think my work can be identified as contemporary.
I use old pictures to convey a message corresponding to our times. Sometimes it can be more than just a message – sometimes it’s a cry of victory, of frustration, of battle. The large Chinese words in my paintings, often call for a dream of a new life, an escape to another planet or a rally as we are always stronger together.
Widewalls: Could you tell us about your creative process?
VP: Before starting a new painting, I have to have/source the raw material. These can be old pictures found in flea markets, pictures cut from old magazines or just small items that I have collected during my various trips.
Once I have the scenario of my painting and its main character, I can start to invent a whole new context around him so that he becomes a hero. My hero!
Some paintings will have a lot of collages, others more typography. Often, I have to say to myself "OK, now stop or we won’t understand anything anymore."
I particularly enjoy seeing what reappears after I have scratched through some of the layers on my pieces. I also like to varnish my paintings, mostly because I love the shiny effect of the varnish which brings out all the different layers and tones. It is also a way to finish my work, freeze and seal in all my ideas. Once varnished, I do not add or remove anything.
Widewalls: My impression is that, in general, the Asian historical context hoovers through your work, and since you were recently based in Singapore, which has a turbulent geopolitical past, do you have a need to articulate that or...?
VP: It's true that I was very interested in the history of Singapore. Such a young country with such a broth of different cultures, with populations who cohabit for a few decades on an island despite the differences of language, religion or roots, that managed a transition from the third world to the first world in a single generation.
Whatever can be said about Singapore it is an example of living in harmony putting forward our origins and our past. It was in Singapore that I discovered very beautiful and popular Chinese neighborhoods, so interesting to explore. More than the historical context, what inspires me most is the contrast between Chinese rustic markets and modest art fairs in the midst of extreme modernity. I love the rigor of Chinese uniforms, the kitsch of movie posters, the red that we find everywhere, the writing that is art in itself, the completely zany television series or magazines, the vintage toys, the gadgets that are useless.
All this can be found in an environment that infinitely calls for innovation, be it technological, architectural, fashionable or otherwise.
Widewalls: Do you find any form or social or political engagement in art mandatory?
VP: Art can express feelings from moments of great happiness or utter distress. These moments can lead to a commitment for building a better place, a more equal society, a fight for change, for us and our loved ones. I think that everyone has a personal battle to lead.
I have two children, a little boy, and a little girl. My little boy has Asperger’s Syndrome which manifests as difficulties in social interactions and situations. It's obviously something you do not expect or want to happen – but it does. He has taught me to have a different view of the social norms. The norms which are completely distorted by our society who put aside people who do not fit in. Who or what is normal? Since then my husband and I have to fight every day to get him accepted as he is, at school or in the day to day activities, we understood the importance of getting together and talking about it to stop this taboo of being “different”. As I already mentioned, together we are stronger!
In the end it will be what the public perceives that matters. It's not always what the artist wanted to express, and actually who cares? I like the idea of writing in Chinese. For those who can’t read the characters or understand the meaning, they can imagine what they want and hopefully see a little something of themselves, their fight, their goals, their feelings, and their achievements.
Widewalls: What are your future plans?
VP: My family and I have put our expat life aside and are now back in Brussels, a return only for me actually as my husband and children have never lived in Belgium. We are in the process of renovating an Art Deco house in which I am planning to build a superb workshop.
I will restart my business "Yeah! It's Moonday" which was started in Singapore. I give new life to old furniture by renovating pieces in a new and creative style, with trompe l’oeil techniques. These are fun pieces for clients looking to include novelties and curiosities in their decor.
In parallel, I will continue to search and discover new places in Brussels that always keep me in perpetual artistic awakening. We are fortunate here in Brussels’ with its rich culture and heritage, while also being at the center of all new trends in Europe.
More than anything, I will continue to paint, inspired by the richness of this city and the others I will visit, hopefully making myself known by the Belgian and European public. I hope to be able to touch people with my art by including the trinkets I have stored during these last years of fantastic adventures! A little bit of my life on a canvas.
Featured image: Portrait of Virginie Pringiers. All images are courtesy of the artist and Addicted Art Gallery.
By Appointment Only, Singapore