When asked what inspires her work, Flore Chemin responds by stating that it’s somewhat of a difficult question to answer. Between themes of “grief, absence, lying and monstrosity”, she says, it’s mostly varied as to where she finds her influences – the specificities are hard to pin down. Her references can come from anywhere, like family secrets, Paul Grimault’s films, Peruvian Chicha (the deep purple beverage made from dried corn), “Fred’s comic books” or the psychedelic poster hung up in her parents’ bathroom. “One thing I know for certain, is that all of this mixed together has a funny taste,” she adds, citing how she’s drawn towards the work or people that address the heavier topics.
On the contrary, she’ll occasionally find the absurd and literal elements more appeasing: “characters like those you find in Italo Calvino’s books or Katsuhito Ishii’s films, sculptures by Thomas Schütte, Gillian Wearing videos, the Facteur Cheval’s palace, Heidi Bucher’s cast houses… and Hal, the boy’s father in Malcolm in the Middle. I feel he’s a good embodiment of this sideways, almost cross-eyed way to look at the world.”
This multifarious attitude is explicitly directed into the process behind her illustrations. For example, Flore works by herself in a little room that she describes as being a “big mess”. It’s a chaotic environment, but you know what they – the messier the room the more creative the person, right? Well, Flore seems to think so, as the chaos seems to trigger ideas quite regularly. “My desk is often so cluttered I have to work on the floor, on a pile of books or an end table,” she says. “When I can’t find the right tool, I just grab whatever’s on hand.” Then if she gets bored, she’ll head from one project to the next, letting her inherent impulsiveness and risk-taking be the guide. After completing a few pieces, she likes to let them sit for a while; allowing some much-needed time to think about the work at hand.
Flore’s subject matter flits between delectable landscapes, animals, objects and people. Everything is considered and well thought out, reflecting a craft that’s been nurtured since childhood. From the very start, Flore has always been an avid drawer, first viewing the medium as a way of escaping the world. And, in doing so, she’d build underground spaces full of swimming pools and trampolines – “super luxurious spas where my exhausted and deformed characters could finally relax,” she tells It’s Nice that. “Like for many kids, it was a way for me to shape an inner world which was much more exciting than real life.”
Escapism still prevails throughout her artful scenes, wherein a delectable use of colour transcends the viewer into specific scenarios, like “soft grounds, runny landscapes, grotesque and unsettling beings”. She adds: “My work, like my sources of inspiration, is disparate. It’s hard for me to find my place between art and illustration, the world of printing and the world of art shows. So I keep myself in the middle ground and try to set new boundaries.” In 2019, this became apparent as she started work on a book with three writers, titled Par le Soupirail (Through the Basement Window), and edited by Magnani. The plan involved Flore working on on the imagery with a narrative, which were then used as a base for the writers to tell their stories. New concepts and journeys were given to her work, which she found “unexpected” and, of course, exciting.
Another project saw Flore collaborate with video director Martin Carolo on a video for musician Arthur Chambry, a piece that was adapted from a fanzine she created in 2017. The result was “miles away” from the original drawing and looked a little “disconcerting” in her eyes, and it’s soon to be printed in the next issue of Lagon magazine. Then there’s a further collaboration between herself and brother Damien, who has Down Syndrome. “He’s always been fascinated by works of scientific popularisation, specifically on environmental disasters,” says Flore, detailing how her brother makes copies of entire books. “A lot of my own paintings are immersed in a happily apocalyptic atmosphere. I realised my brother and I shared the same obsession for the end of the world.” As such, the book mixes both paintings and excerpts of her brothers’ texts.
The future is looking more than fruitful for this illustrator, and she currently has a bundle of different projects on the go. One includes the album design of Vivian Allard’s next DP, Plus petit que 3 (which translates to “lower than three”). Along with previous collaborator Martin, a few short videos will also be in the works. Otherwise, she’ll spend most of her upcoming time head down on two new books that are set to combine both her drawings and paintings. The first will be published by Fidèle editions, and looks at a detective travelling to a strange island. The second is a comic book following the character Emil, a “little lady” in a desperate search for her ID. “It’s going to be lively, full of colour, choreographed and sometimes very slow and contemplative. Like a slightly depressing musical. To be continued…”
Flore Chemin: Micro-Climat, 24 pages, painting, pencil, Fidèle édition, 2021 (Copyright © Flore Chemin, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.