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INTERVIEW WITH ELSA ROUY

Female artist redefines what's pure, divine, and taboo.

THE INTERVIEW WAS DONE ON

07 SEPTEMBER 2020

S.M
"Tell us about yourself."

E.R

"What would you like to know?"

S.M
"Like a general background story will do. Where are you from? What was it like growing up?"

E.R

"I’m lucky to have a really loving and supportive family now and while growing up. I’m from a working-class town in Kent, in England, I lived there my whole life. There was never much to do there to keep me occupied so I would draw and watch movies a lot when I was younger, I moved to London when I was 18 to start university. I’m grateful for growing up there as it gave me a realistic outlook on things but I can’t really see myself ever going back, I think I knew that when I left."

S.M
"Did you start painting at an early age?"

E.R

"I’ve always loved art and making things; I remember painting when I was a child, my nan would draw me barbies in dresses and I would color them in. In my teens I stopped painting as I wanted to do fashion, then I decided that wasn’t right for me, I was always drawn to textiles so I started making embroidery art, I then felt this was limiting so I painted on top of the embroidery. The majority of my first year of university I made embroidery, by this point I was terrified of painting- ironic really as I did a course called painting- however after feeling caged and limited once again, I started painting straight onto the canvas, this was just over a year ago and it took a while to get comfortable, whenever I get comfortable now I switch something up. I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner, it felt liberating."

Photograph taken by Layla Kosima

S.M
"Perhaps your interest in fashion is connected to your more recent latex-wearable works? Tell us more about your recent work, are you trying something new?"

E.R

"The latex suits definitely have some link to my interest in textiles and clothes, to say they’re not would be to deny the obvious. The latex suits are an experiment, I made the first one to use up excess latex from previous projects, then it naturally developed from there. Making them have informed my paintings and visa-versa, I like to think of them as sculptures that are linked to, but separate from my paintings, becoming stand-alone pieces. They’re tangible, something you can wear/hold, very different to a painting, there’s always that imaginary border with painting- you can’t touch, you can’t stand too close, I think the suits break this. Despite their differences, the themes tackled are very consistent with the paintings. I really want to explore the latex more, make more ambitious pieces, maybe a latex dress with a baby inside a pregnant belly, I think that would be good."

S.M
"What’s your studio like?"

E.R

"Non-Existent. I had a studio at university but due to COVID, I haven’t had one for a while. I have my bedroom and that works well, it means that I have to keep things organized which I don’t usually do within a studio and it’s also a challenge, I think that if I can still produce work in limiting conditions it means I will be better equipped with facing similar challenges in future."

S.M
"Any Daily rituals/routines?"

E.R

"Wake up, have a cup of tea."

S.M
"Who inspires you? Or What inspires you?"

E.R

"Life, humor, illness, bodies, anime, my own reality, my daydreams."

S.M
"Your work contains very graphic sexual content. What's the story?"

E.R

"I wouldn’t say graphic is the right word as they’re not realistic representations, rather sexual depictions of non-sexual emotions, in my work I like to tackle emotions of unease, guilt, excitement, humor, and disgust, I think that by providing the viewer with scenes of a sexual or bodily nature, in essence, confronts them with these said emotions, albeit not always as everyone sees art differently, but that is definitely the aim. I would also say that on a personal level using and appropriating the human body just seems to resonate with me as it feels like I am reclaiming something that I have definitely felt disconnected from in the past. My choice for depicting them in a sexual nature? The shapes are fun to paint, and I will be ironic again, but also because I have very particular anxieties around sex."

S.M
"When you say “disconnected”, what do you mean? Is it like being detached? Or something else?"

E.R

"Yes detached, when I was younger, I was too involved with my body while my mind was also not connected, I didn’t feel like myself, I felt like it was quite hard to feel connected to who I was again."

S.M
"Would you say that this feeling is a product/result of living in the current modern society?"

E.R

"Yes and no. Maybe? Life is very fast passed, so many distractions, how are you meant to keep up with yourself haha."

S.M
"The fluidity of gender identity and sexuality, or perhaps identity in general, has become more and more apparent in this particular era. What's your view on these non-abiding elements of our identity?"

E.R

"I recently got a message on Instagram actually that I found some kind of humor in and also left me feeling slightly jarred, they wrote ‘ are you trans… or just your artwrk’, there was something about it that was invasive as it was asking about my identity and they did not know me, so why do they feel like they can just ask me personal questions, is it because of the graphic content of my art? I did not answer, however, there was something very comic about the question, is my artwork trans? As if a painting, an inanimate object can have a gender identity. Following my crappy anecdote, I would say no my artwork does not have a gender identity, at least not one I assign it, the viewer can do what they wish with what they see; I paint bodies that represent how I feel, the fluidity of a person, the fluidity of a situation, the fluidity of emotions. I believe that everything in existence is fluid and completely interchangeable and to hold it to a specific way in which you think it should behave can be toxic and damaging to you as a person and society. I do believe that everyone has a choice to embrace identity or not, this can be gender or social, but acceptance is key (other than the rich who pretend they are working-class to look 'cool'. Not cool.)"

S.M
"I love your answer. Acceptance is indeed very important. In this extremely diverse world we live in, what sort of role do you think artists should take?"

E.R

"I’m not too sure, bring new ideas, re-use old ones, social commentary, political ideas, promote acceptance? Probably just make people feel something towards an object."

S.M
"Some of your work, like 'Venus of Shit' mixes the divine, the erotic, and feces. What are they trying to say?"

E.R

"Although not as much as in the past, bodily fluids, especially shit are still taboo, they’re either used in horror or comedy -except for fetish porn, in each of these depictions they’re disconnected from the body/ from the human, but I think in essence bodily fluids are what connect people in an unspoken way, we all experience bodily fluids, we all experience issues with bodily fluids- bleeding, illness, infection- trying to ignore these is a reach for purity/ divinity, an attempt to disconnect from mortality. I guess my aim is to not just normalize bodily fluids but in a way beautify them, making it ok to be human and not a god. I think that’s why I'm so interested in breast milk its such a huge symbol of divinity, as with mothers themselves, perhaps like shit, mothers are disconnected from the human, but rather than a symbol for mortality become a symbol of divinity. Breast milk and shit- two sides of the same coin."

S.M
"This answer really changes the way I look at your paintings. It’s amazing to finally know some of the contextual layers of the painting. In your journey of exploration and experimentations as an artist, what do you see in the future?"

E.R

"Currently, I am working on a series of works that include babies, much more focus on breastmilk and shit rather than sexual body fluids. I don’t want to give too much away about it but it's linked to the concept of the ‘divine’ mother and the perfect child and slightly warping this into something humorous and perhaps freaky. It's drawn from personal feelings towards babies and from watching mothers around me feel like they are failing because they are not constantly this unreal expectation or what a mother should be and that they are in fact, human."

S.M
"Definitely something we're looking forward to. 2020 has been a pretty dark year, bush fire, COVID-19, the explosion in Beirut, police brutality, etc. What’s your experience so far?"

E.R

"I have had a lot of positives during this year; however, it was a very dark year in general, COVID exacerbates this. Although I don’t think the events that have happened have been particularly darker than previous years, I think that COVID despite all of its nastiness has just removed personal distractions so people are thinking about things for longer, a bit like removing a frosted window from a dirty bathroom- the smell was there before but it was easier to ignore, now it’s been revealed its all we can see. But now some of us are working together to start to clean it up.  "

S.M
"The art world has been changing a lot during the lockdown period, especially towards the online digital world. What's your view? "

E.R

"I think it’s really positive, it’s become much more accessible and proves that people can overcome physical challenges, I have been part of some really exciting online exhibitions and it gives you something to look forward to, especially with the access to view international exhibitions so easily and for people who even before COVID had difficulty leaving their homes. I think it’s fun, project it on your wall, turn your bedroom into a gallery, very sci-fi haha. Although, I have to admit nothing beats seeing physical artwork in front of you."

S.M
"If you could go back in time, what era would you like to explore?"

E.R

"A period of time pre-human. I think I would like to go back to maybe some times in the Paleozoic era so that I could see the early evolution of life, but not at its earliest, I would find the species that existed and their differences from today’s interesting."

S.M
"Tell us a secret."

E.R

"Would you believe me if I said I don’t have any?"

Photograph taken by Layla Kosima

"Breast milk and shit- two sides of the same coin."

"I do believe that everyone has a choice to embrace identity or not, this can be gender or social, but acceptance is key"