ARTIST INTERVIEW- Justine Formentelli
Could you introduce yourself and your practice?
I am a French artist who spent most of my life abroad. I grew up in the Caribbean, the
island of Reunion and Morocco. When I was 18 years old, I moved to the US where I
studied Illustration and Communication Design. After travelling a year around the world
and living in Switzerland for a few years, I settled in London with my husband and two
sons. My work used to be figurative and narrative for many years. Five years ago, I
decided to get an MA in Fine Arts at City and Guilds of London Art school in order to
redefine and contextualise my practice. As a result of this deep exploration, I reinvented
my own personal language which is based on abstract gestures and nature inspired forms.
In my latest work, I often describe a single form which is inhabited by a variety of
components. Each of these element relate to our inner world or private realm. I am interested in unveiling what is usually concealed: the contents of our mind, what lies under our skins and behind our words.
I use characteristics and textures of nature to try to describe intangible things such as
emotion, thoughts, memories, moods as wells as things we are not even aware of such as
generational transmission, forgotten memories and buried trauma.
While exposing this personal geology, I aim to investigate what are we made of and how
this inner architecture shapes our perception of the world.
There are recurrent shapes and marks hinting at a personal lexicon, a kind of made-up
language that could possibly be decoded. Movement is very present and often the
compositions seem to be in motion or on the verge of change. The aqueous quality of the
paint and the transparency of the layers gives the feeling of a perpetually evolving situation
between becoming and undoing.
What led you to the materials you are currently working with?
Currently I am using paper, wooden and dibond (an aluminium composite) panels. For my
sculptures, I have been mainly using wire, papier-mâché, paper clay and plaster strips.
These are easy to access materials that I can work with in my kitchen. My current studio is
too full of paintings to accommodate the 3D pieces.
For my paintings, I enjoy slick surfaces that magnify the imprint of the brush and
emphasise the ragged edges of dried puddles. I compare the experience of painting on a
dibond surface with gliding on an ice rink. The smoothness amplifies the swish of the
I add different mediums as well as a fair amount of water to my acrylic paints in order to
increase its fluid and transparent qualities. I also use gels to thicken the paint so I can use
it like a heavy impasto. What interests me is the contrast between different textures and the
parallel between this diversity and the sometimes contradicting parts or feelings that we
are made up of.
How important is colour to you?
I grew up in places where the light was strong, the vegetation lush and the clothes bright
and I think it has had a lasting impression. My work used to be be very saturated in
colours. I now try to be more subtle and work with a larger range of tertiaries and
incorporate more greys. I guess the English weather has finally found a way in my palette.
Often, I work with one colour and its opposite so I can experiment with the tones in
between. I particularly enjoy the combinations of greens and pinks.
Lately I have been incorporating a lot of white space. I joke that gesso is my best friend as
I am constantly trying to reestablish pristine patches of the original ground.
In this piece as well as all the others from this series, I wanted to create a space
where one’s interiority meets the external world. I have been interested in investigating the porous border between the boundaries of our body, our mind and
what surrounds us and how this frontier is always moving.
I purposely left more negative space than usual or ‘air’ as I wanted to create a zone
of exchange and room for elements to circulate.
There are things that traverse us (moods, fleeting states, thoughts) and others that
leave marks or residues (sometimes unbeknownst to us) such as certain events, a
particular sentence told at a certain time or a memorable experience and this whole
process is how our personal geology gets slowly built. There is a constant
thoroughfare of elements passing through us and at the same time there is the
imprint we leave, the ripples we make in the world. If we are bound in one body and
mind and yet can expand in our consciousness and in our relationships with others,
I am curious about the blurry boundaries of the self. I also always wonder about the
unique substance of an individual. Is it just a sum of parts sliding around in
accordance to diverse factors (external or internal) or is there a kernel of singularity
somewhere in the whole that will remain unchanged? What does it mean to be
What is your workspace like, do you have any studio essentials?
It is crammed with a lot of materials, many paintings, a few art books and spiky
plants by the window that I often forget to water. I share the studio with another painter and we each have a working wall. I like to have the whole series I am working on hanging on my part of the room. I see my pieces as relatives of a family. The more they are, the better. It
is also a way not to be precious and not to be scared to mess up.
Studio essentials: headset and good podcasts (my current faves: La grande
Librairie and The Daily), my glasses so my paintings don’t look blurry, a kettle in
working order and good snacks.
Lastly, who are some of your favourite contemporary artists at the moment?
Recently, as I have explored making 3D works, I have been looking at the organic and
surrealist works of Matthew Ronay who carves wooden assemblages reminiscent of body
parts and botanical elements. I am also very fond of the powerful and almost totemic
sculptures of Erika Verzutti. Her pieces have a rough and tactile texture and allude clearly
to her process of making. (I recently saw some of her pieces in an excellent exhibition “Of
the Surface of things” at Alison and Jacques gallery).