Frame 61

Clémence Hémard-Hermitant

Frame 61
Clémence Hémard-Hermitant

"Clothing has always been for me such a huge factor in how we perceive each other..."


Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practicing artist and where did you study?

I was born and raised in London but my parents are French. I left for Paris when I was 18 to learn more about my identity I guess. I sort of had a bit of a non-conventional path. I studied psychology for a year to realise I wasn’t cut out for it. I then enrolled in an art school called Lisaa and did my foundation there. They had a very strict teaching and that’s really where I learned to look at things and learned to draw, I had all these great chunky sketchbooks filled to the brim with drawings and things I’d collected. It was a great year but for all sorts of reasons I didn’t continue with the Arts and ended up doing a BA in Languages.

It took me 7 years to come back to London and make undoubtedly one of the best decisions of my life, I started a BA Fine Art at University of East London. That was in 2011, and I’ve been a practising artist since. UEL provided exactly what I needed as a mature student, fantastic facilities, workshops and tutors and I was able to put into practise all the skills I had learned in France. It just felt like everything clicked, and I no longer had to search for what I wanted to do in life. I graduated in 2014 and have had a studio in the Bomb Factory Art Foundation since.

Conversation, 2017

Conversation, 2017

Raymond, 2016

Group Picture, 2015

You make sculptures using clothes, clay, doll houses... they have a ghostly quality about them. Could you talk about your works and what your process is?

I’m never too sure how I feel about the word ‘ghostly’ as I associate it with something scary rather than tender and somehow that’s not the intent. There is a logic though in them giving that feeling as a lot of my work is about the past and what’s left behind. My mum comes from a tiny village in the South of France whose entire population has gradually disappeared. I’ve always been fascinated by that and also hugely nostalgic of not having known them, my grand-parents, and all these characters who I’ve met through the stories I’ve been told. A lot of the fabric I started using came from there, it’s funny how clothing and objects and even rooms hold traces of people. It started with me re-using the fabrics to appropriate them, it was a way to connect with these roots that I have and to express these things I could feel.

Gradually the work evolved to a larger scope, it’s as much about the past, as it is about memory and physicality of loss. Recently it has been a lot about ageing. Not mine as such, but the ageing process in general and the precarity that goes with it. Clothing has always been for me such a huge factor in how we perceive each other, and as my own grand-father aged, or during my drawing project in old people’s home, I realised how an un-buttoned pyjama bottom or a stained top became the difference between being judged as mentally fit or not. As times get tougher, I’ve found I see more and more people walking in the streets looking very uncared for, the solitude and isolation so obvious. These are elements that I try to tackle in my work by using humour and an empathetic eye, as it’s a means for me to give them a second life outside of the brutal reality. 

The Villagers, 2015

The Villagers, 2015

Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?

My studio is in Archway and I share it with a fellow artist. We are both sculptors and have had to make do with the limited size of what we have. I tend to be more productive in the morning and just get there and get cracking. I’d say my studio is like my little world, there’s sculpture everywhere, shelves with weird looking objects, drawings all over the wall. I feel like it’s really my own space to be myself in and that is so liberating. I tend to work very fast, produce a lot and move on. I like to use a lot of different materials, plaster, clay, but also drawing and collage are huge parts of my practice. It has always been about getting it out of my system, whatever is there just needs to be said, the more affected I am by the subject matter, the more intense the pieces. The studios are also great in the sense that we have a community going and I’m now friends with the other artists which makes it warm and homely. We’re soon to have a kiln which is a very exciting aspect as I’ve been making unfired clay sculptures since graduating and I’m quite looking forward to firing some!

What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?

I went to Paris to see an exhibition on Serguei Chtchoukine’s collection of art works. It was one of the best exhibition I have ever seen. There were some absolutely stunning Matisse paintings, that I had never seen before  such as ‘Red Room’ or ‘Spanish woman with tambourine’. The fabrics he chose to paint, the patterns and the colours really resonate in me. I look at his paintings, these mundane looking scenes of a table or a window and I feel comfort, like I’ve just come home. There is a southern aesthetic, almost as if you can hear the ‘cicadas’ out of the windows and smell the lavender.

The other artwork that I came across recently and that  struck me was Anthony Green’s ‘The Life and Death of Miss Dupont’ at the Royal Academy. It’s only one room in the Tennant Gallery, but it’s fantastic. It’s an ode to his mother and her life after having divorced his father and met Stanley, the lobster monger new boyfriend. It’s full of humour and so tender, it also mixes drawing, sculpture and collage, so I can relate to that a lot.

Memory Box, 2016

Labeaume, 2017

Nostalgic shopkeeper, 2016

Where has your work been headed more recently?

I recently finished a piece that was shown at The Place Theatre as part of a dance collaboration. The sculptures were rigidified fabric which became like shells or carcasses hinting at what used to be. It was a challenging task to put into a choreographed piece and I felt the need to move away from that once it was finished. I’ve been working since on a new body of work relating to windows and washing lines. I feel quite affected by the recent political outcomes, globally but also closer to home being 100% a product of cultural mix it’s hard to comprehend feelings of patriotism or pride in belonging. 

 I’m interested in how mixed cultural identities express themselves, what we take on from our parents, what we pick up from other cultures. The washing line has always been a strong symbol in my eyes, I can still remember the neighbour’s face when my mother came out and started hanging her laundry, he was so horrified. At the same time, it is also a symbol of class and of habits, where one is on the social ladder. The windows become like private scenes into someone’s intimacy and at the same time frame the work. The figure is barely present in these, it’s more about triggering the imagination with an empty cupboard and drying laundry. The work is pushing the boundary of collage, drawing and sculpture as the pieces are 3 dimensional and include objects and items of clothing. 

How do you go about naming your work?

For certain pieces it’s obvious to me, and that tends to be when it’s associated to a character. Ginette, Roger, Marcel, all become part of my environment and their names just come as the character builds. ‘Raymond’ for example was one I hesitated with, as there no longer is a body in the trousers and the image is heavy enough. I felt though that it added to the image, and honoured him more than made it morbid.  I find it harder sometimes with more abstract pieces as I’d rather not give away too much and let people make out what they want. I did a whole series of etchings of revolutionary grand-mothers, ‘Interstellar Martha and Super Ivy’ the title was a way of reinforcing the humorous message I wanted to give which was of strength and rebellion. It’s a fine balance between adding an extra narrative to my pieces which already have a lot and completely off setting the viewers initial opinion. Sometimes the title just feels better in English or in French and that can be tricky as they don’t always translate well. I use a lot of surnames and they are always associated in my mind with one specific country. 

Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?

I’ll be showing my new body of work on the 11th of May as a solo show at the Bomb Factory Art Foundation. It’s a tricky space as the walls are very high but it’s an exciting challenge. I’m looking forward to getting the pieces out of the studio and really playing with scale and medium. This is a great opportunity to show how drawing and sculpture can interact.

All images courtesy of the artist
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