Clémence Hémard-Hermitant’s develops lovely paintings and sculptures that explore the power of memory and place, which at first glance reminded me of groupings of meaningful items throughout one’s life, collected into boxes and portrayed through plays on shadow and environment, how our memory “frames” people and experiences throughout our lives. Find more at the links below!
Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I live and practise in London where I am originally from. I left when I was 18 to study in Paris, amongst other things, I did a Foundation in Arts which then lead to me (many years later) applying for university in London. I came back to London at the age of 25 and studied Fine Art at University of East London and to this day that is one of the best decisions of my life! I’m a very multi disciplinary artist and UEL was fantastic for that as I was able to learn as much about printmaking as I was about sculpture.
I graduated in 2014, and moved into my studio at the Bomb Factory Art Foundation in Archway when it opened in 2015.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
I have always been drawing, since being a child. The foundation year in Paris pushed things a little further, I started to realise I could actually take this seriously but the response around me (family pressure – would I be able to live from it? what future would I have?) put me off for a couple of years and questioned my confidence. When I returned to London to do a BA, I knew this is what I wanted to do, and I haven’t questioned it ever since. I have a part-time job that provides my financial stability to enable me to create art and as precarious as life may be, this is the path I am happy to follow.
What do you like most about working where you do?
The really nice thing about our studios is it’s like a little community. Being here from the start means you know everybody and you can build friendships. We have started doing Crits every first Tuesday of the month, as we’re all in the same boat and sometimes need a bit of feedback or critical analysis of the work so we don’t stagnate too much. We have charity status so part of that is also to give back to the community, so we run events, workshops etc, that’s an element I find stimulating, it makes you part of a community rather than isolated (which is what is happening more and more in cities such as London).
I’ve also just moved into a bigger studio (which I share with another artist) but that in itself makes me so excited to come in.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
I have always been fascinated with what we leave behind, memories, the power of objects and places. The work initially stemmed from where my mother comes from, a tiny village in the south of France whose entire community was never replaced. I have worked a lot with fabrics, clothes, objects from that time that still seem to carry such presence. That’s the beginning of a thought process, my practise then moved on to other elements linked to this such as aging communities, the aging process in itself, isolation and solitude.
I collaborated with a dancer last year and she choreographed dance with my sculptures on this very subject and we performed at the Place theatre which was an eye opening experience. These all seem like heavy subjects and it’s more about instilling humour and tenderness within the art in order to de-dramatize it.
In the last two years I have developed my drawing and particularly my oil pastel drawings, the narrative themes are still there and still talk about communities but the use of colour and the energy that comes through has been a new development and I am exploring this at the moment.
What is your process like?
I work very fast which explains the amount of work I end up with. I tend to come into the studio and work on what I fancy that day, some days I can go through an entire notebook of oil pastel drawings and other days I’ll be doing printmaking.
I always feel everything is tied together, they all live in harmony in the studio next to the sculptures.
I would say I approach sculpture in a different way mainly because of space issues – I did a 9 weeks residency at the beginning of the year (thanks to Bow Arts) and was able to create a large body of work, around 20 sculptures which I then showed in a Shadow play installation. It was discussing the history of the Docks and the past population that had inhabited the area and was inspired by the book ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ by George Saunders. I am currently working on plaster fresques, a way of pushing my drawing process into a 3d shape. I have been looking into medieval churches and the way they used to use this as a means for story telling.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
At the minute I am really into symbolism and the history behind old representations. I read a lot, and I have been very inspired by Emile Zola’s Rougon-Macquart books (around 20 novels which depict the lives of 2 families during the Second French Empire). The description of the characters, their struggles through poverty and the divide in society seem very contemporary.
In terms of artists, I’ve been interested in Laure Prouvost whose show at The Palais de Tokyo in Paris I really enjoyed. Her work on her grandad building a tunnel and the way she combines these different mediums really resonated in me as well as her play on cultural identity (French-English). Big fan of Francis Upritchard too, her humourous characters and pots are great.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for art?
Being part of performance artist Dean Todd’s take on the medical and health institutions. It involved being blind folded and lying on a hospital bed which was whizzed round corridors until you finally ended up in a dark room with strange things happening.
For my own personal art – I’d say having to accept silly jobs (such as taking bets in football stadiums) in order to be able to finance my studies.
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
I work for a sports app part time doing very administrative tasks. I’ve purposely chosen to do something completely unrelated so that when I come to the studio my creative energy is full. I’m not always sure that’s the best way, as the job can be tedious and unstimulating at times but I have found so far that it has worked.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
I have been surrounded by strong women artists (welders, sculptors etc), and that’s been very positive.
I am happy I didn’t let other people’s doubt creep too much into me, I would never be doing this today if I had.
Is there any piece of advice you would offer to others?
You will probably get many rejections (we all do) and probably more no’s than yes’s when applying to things – but persevering is key.
It’s not an easy journey, there is a lot of uncertainty and risk attached to it but it is definitely worth it and at the end of the day it’s a way of living that is very rich and stimulating. Something I find hard to do sometimes but believing in yourself, at the end of the day if you believe in your strength and why you’re doing this you will carry on no matter what.
What does it mean to you to have a “community?”
Yes, communities in general are so important. You have each others back, you can care for each other, and as societies we seem to be moving away from this which seeing the issues we have such as, amongst other things, solitude in the ageing population or the disengagement of our young people feeling isolated and misunderstood, is the worst we could do.
In terms of art it’s essential – it’s the way you can bounce off each other, have stimulating conversations but also relate to others. It’s also a way of having a ‘network’, people you build artistic affinities with, and will over the years have shows together or make things happen.
What is your studio like?
Seeing as I’ve just moved into a new studio it’s quite nice and not too full (yet) but otherwise it tends to be busy, I need to feel like I am in my environment, so my sculptures and drawings are everywhere. This time though I have kept 2 wall surfaces free so I can work on new things.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode or mindset to make your work?
I work during the day, 3 times a week and sometimes over the weekend. I’ll listen to a lot of music, I love the ‘discover’ playlist on Spotify as I get to discover new musicians based on what type of music I’ve been listening to.
I have been listening to the ‘Guilty Feminist’ podcast which makes me laugh (and sometimes we need it!) and art podcasts such as Gary Mansfield who interviews artists. I also listen to French radio France Inter as they have great programs that really make you think about things.
How significant has attending art school been on your practice?
How important is an MFA is the big question – I’m constantly in this dilemma and don’t have the answer.
I feel like an MFA seems to open up doors, you meet new people through your year but also people with influence come to degree shows and are supposed to make things happen for you. However there is this notion that not all MFA’s are equal, RCA, and RA being the ‘trending’ ones with a certain type of artists being selected, which makes me wonder if I have the energy to return to that type of course with younger people, with the formal setting you have in education. You can’t talk about MFA’s without mentioning the big financial question. The fees are so enormous it becomes a huge investment in your future, and who can guarantee it will change your life? I feel that if you find you are stuck in your practise, always making the same type of art, studying is fantastic (my BA was fundamental in my development as an artist and I would never be who I am now as an artist without it) and if you feel the need to be challenged an MFA is good. I just feel that the art world now seems to look negatively towards those of haven’t done one, as if it validates you in some way.
If I ever was to consider studying again and if it was to be in London, I would probably go to City and Guild, they seem more down to earth with a good mix of students (age, background, race etc).
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
How do you get out there and get the work seen is what frustrates me the most. You have to be the full package – the artist of course, but then able to build your website, sell your work, organise shows, write, network etc until someone maybe at some point changes the course of things for you.
In our studios there is a huge range of artists, some extremely successful some less so, but either way the truth is there will never be that stability throughout your life. You can have a very good year, exhibit, sell and then have a lull. The art market is an investment game it’s about how you fit into to it and who will want to invest the energy into you.
How would you define “success” in art?
Full success would be something like winning the Turner Prize – but on a realistic level, success is being able to exhibit often, preferably through a gallery that will represent you (I quite like Kate Macgarry’s gallery, small number of artists but feels like they’ve got a good balance). You can’t not mention money – is success being able to live off your art? Possibly. Does it mean you’re less free to create what you want? Possibly too. I haven’t found the answers to these questions yet…
At my level ‘success’ is when I get a positive response from someone who I don’t know who has been moved by the work and felt something. It’s a way of connecting through our sensitivities without speaking.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
I was very happy with my degree show (might sound like a silly thing but it was one of the works I was really proud of) – then I did a solo show last year which was a good exercise. In terms of exciting things it would be the collaboration with Ellen Johansson the dancer I mentioned previously, that was really stimulating, it was exciting to see something I had made being interpreted by someone from a different artistic field and then performed on stage with sound and lighting. Finally the residency at the beginning of this year was great because they had many applicants and it was rather nice to be chosen! It also opened up quite a theatrical element to my work which I need to explore more.
Are you involved in any collaborative or self-organized projects?
The studio feels a bit like we are – I often run the life drawing workshop we had and am keen to participate in projects we have such as working with the schools in the neighbourhood.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working in parallel on a new series of drawings and plaster carvings (they tie in together).
I am also planning a collaborative exhibition with another artist on the idea of ‘home’, with all the political uncertainty and current state of the world I feel this is particularly relevant.
Anything else you would like to add?
Actually yes, I really like your content and the work you pick. It’s commendable to be doing this by yourself (from what I understand) and give people the opportunity, so thank you!