Focus talks with French artist Laurence Causse-Parsley at her Waterloo studio

This week we dropped into Laurence Causse-Parsley's studio at the Make Space studios to have a chat about what it's like to have a career as an artist.

Old skin, new skin, mixed media on canvas, 100 x 100 x 4 cm

When did you realise you wanted to be an artist?

I had worked a number of jobs including consultancy and market research, and always in my spare time I painted on the side. In 2003, in India, I decided to have a go at putting on an exhibition of my own. I’d been painting for a long time and I thought, what the hell? I have to give this a try otherwise I will regret it. So, I walked into a gallery that I knew and they said they had three days available between two of their exhibitions. I did that exhibition, and never looked back.

 

From which artist’s work do you take the most inspiration?

I love Rothko! I was very sad when the Tate Modern took down the beautiful room they had dedicated to him. To me he is the pinnacle of abstraction.

In terms of portrait paintings, I love John Singer Sargent and Lucian Freud. It’s the way they don’t just paint the person, but they paint their soul. When you go to the BP portrait awards they tend to display very realist, true to life portraits. The craftsmanship is amazing, but it is cold and there is no atmosphere. With Freud and Sargent you feel the personality of the subject, and the character of the artist in the energy of each painting.

When did you sell your first artwork?

I must have been 12 or 13; I was in Nice in a charity exhibition raising money for an African appeal.  I painted a lady in a boat on a river with a beautiful jungle behind it.  It was sold for 15 francs to the guy who was organising the art fair. He still has it and is very proud of it.

What has been the most pivotal moment in your creative career thus far?

It’s hard to say, because I started in Asia and for 10 years I developed my reputation; it was really nice. When I came to London I was starting all over again. I had no contacts in the art world. I didn’t study fine art, so I didn’t have any curators or teachers to contact to try and get me going.

From there the most important thing was deciding on having a studio. When you have a studio suddenly you have serious expenses and you need to cover them. So, now you have to consider yourself as an artist who sells. I had to redefine myself as an artist.

What do you think the hardest thing is about being an artist?

Crans and Seagulls, mixed media on linen canvas, Tritych 100 x 74 x 4 cm

The hardest thing is to remain faithful to what you want to do. I firmly believe that if you work to try to please people you will lose yourself. Sometimes it’s hard because what you paint might not be the subject or mood of that time. When you go to art fairs you see there are trends in art, as there are trends in all industries, so evolving is a necessity, but consciously evolving to remain true to yourself.

There are thousands of artists with immense talents and very few will succeed in a commercial sense, but you still want to give it a shot. You have to be a bit crazy because you understand the downfalls and yet you still give it your best.  You can’t be naïve and think if you keep working you will get there – you might never get there. This can be hard.

What advice would you give to someone starting a career as an artist?

What I used to lack, and what is important is a kind of meta-speech about what you are doing. It is so important is to be able to conceptualise your work. When you talk to institutions and curators they will ask you for this kind of theory about your work. Painting, print making or whatever medium you work in is not enough. You have to have these thoughts organised around your work, they help a lot if they are present and if you keep developing them.

My second piece of advice is that if you have any contacts from studies, keep them alive, go to see curators and tutors. They can help you think about your work from a different perspective.

You talk about conceptualisation of work, what strategies do you have to help your “meta-speech”?

I didn’t study fine art as such, but the way I was brought up was always involved with art, so I read a lot and I go to a lot of exhibitions. I use artist’s text, interviews, and art films to feed my own understanding of my work.

Research into other artists is very important to contextualise your work.  For example, now if you think about the subject of urban landscapes, which is what brought Focus LDN and me together at The Art of Regeneration; I enjoyed my research and discovered artists such as Caiilebotte who painted Paris and its regeneration in the 19th century under Hausmann, and in England, the Northern school of British artists with the likes of L.S. Lowry in their big industrial towns.

By researching other artists you will realise that your idea is not that original, but what is original is that you are an artist in the 21st century in London, and your personal narrative is interacting in the city of today. That is what makes your work unique.

I think I have progressed tremendously since being in London, but there is still so much to be done.

Laurence will be exhibiting in Human Nature this October 6th - 16th at the Espacio Gallery.