Behind The Art: An Interview with Adeline de Monseignat

Adeline de Monseignat standing beside her recent work, Penelope's Wheel (2017)

Adeline de Monseignat standing beside her recent work, Penelope's Wheel (2017)

Adeline de Monseignat is a Dutch-Monegasque visual artist who lives and works between London and Mexico City.  Having started out as a painter, for the past seven years, Adeline has largely focused on creating vast organic, geometric sculptures through the medium of stone carving.  We were delighted to meet her in the run-up to her new exhibition, “O” at Ronchini Gallery, London. 


1.     Are you an early bird or a night owl?

I would consider myself more of an early bird… It’s interesting how over time you can change with these things.  I used to be a night owl and work till very late because it’s a time of the day when no-one disturbs you, you can really concentrate… but it would mean then that I would wake up much later and I feel today, at my wise age (having turned 30!), I actually enjoy waking up early and getting things done really early in the morning so that emails and all the admin stuff is our of the way so that I can then concentrate on making for the rest of the day.


2. Are you a tea or coffee person?

Coffee. Every day.  About 2 or 3 a day… usually 2!  It’s interesting, these categories… because you’re either tea or coffee or bath or shower or cat or dog… People are usually one or the other.


3. When did you first feel your calling to create art?

It’s quite a recurrent question… I’m often asked this… and I find it quite a difficult question to answer just because I don’t think there was ever a starting point… I think it was always part of me. I’ve always carried it within… from the second I was born.  I’ve always been the kind of person to be very curious about small details and materials and as a kid my mum told me that I would always be very quiet… Not shy. But quiet and curious and I would always wander off on my own, say on the beach and try to find little things and touch materials and try to understand the world around me through its materiality.  So it’s just the way I’ve always been subconsciously… And of course you make conscious decisions…such as I started painting as a way to express myself, for a long time…

I was a painter for 7 years and then I decided to leave that aside for a bit and then I travelled and went to New York and Berlin and made lots of artist friends and got to know galleries and it really opened my horizon as to what I wanted to do after my BA… I studied language and culture so lots of literature... It was a fairly new degree at UCL at the time and they gave me a carte blanche to pick and choose different courses in different departments so I got to study Film, French, Italian and Dutch literature…Anthropology…. It was very broad.  And I spent one year of my studies in Milan as part of an Erasmus programme. I studied design and architecture at the Polytechnic there, which was also really really interesting.  All in all, I did this degree because it was something that was very broad and didn’t close any doors but I still wanted to study art.  It was still very much in my gut instinct. So I started my Masters at City and Guilds in 2010, I believe… And the interesting thing is that I applied to the Masters as a painter and by the time that I got accepted and started my year, I had become a sculptor in the space of a summer through travel and opening up my eyes. I had started experimenting and just got more and more drawn to the 3D rather than a 2D surface.  And I haven’t gone back since! I haven’t touched a paintbrush since then but I feel really happy expressing myself through concrete objects.  There is a joy in transforming a material from one thing into another.  The whole process is very hands-on.  It feels like it is part of the world and part of you… It challenges your body physically…

Stone carving is a very physical activity… and it challenges your senses. When you’re stone carving, all your senses are numb. It’s a little bit like meditation… you’re concentrated on one single thing and that is making.  You have earmuffs on in order to block out the sound, you have a mask on your eyes to protect them and you have a mask on your nose so as not to breathe in the dust.  You are completely closed in! You even have protective gloves and you are really in your own little bubble. And really there is just one single focus for hours!


4. Can you remember the first piece of art that you ever created?

I can’t actually… that’s interesting!  And because I’ve always made stuff as a kid, when is it actually considered art and when is it just drawing and expressing yourself? Who decides what becomes art? I don’t know… I was always always drawing… Taking my sketchbook everywhere… I remember sketching horses for hours and then when we were really young, myself and my sister set up a little business making hand-drawn cards!  Good wishes cards – all hand-drawn and we would sell them in my father’s office and his clients would buy them and this was the first time I sold anything I had made, so to speak… I was probably around 7 or 8.


5. Where do you find inspiration?

In every-day life… On my travels… One way for my partner and I to escape our studio (otherwise we are such workaholics! We would stay there forever!) is to plan trips around our interests, which are rock formations.  So for instance, last August, we went to Scotland and we went to Staffa Island and saw Fingal’s Cave, which is a basalt hexagonal rock formation and it’s just this island in the middle of nowhere and it’s absolutely gorgeous! So these are the types of trips we take because they’re very linked to our interests, our practices and our fascination with rocks… and the natural world and how it forms… Geometrically yet organically, with minerals. 

Of course, inspiration is also informed by my practice already – pieces I’ve done in the past… By making… I find inspiration through the simple process of making… while I make, an idea can come to mind… There are specific moments where I feel freer to think and get ideas, for instance, I really enjoy taking a flight for that.  I find the plane is a space where everything is switched off, you are completely disconnected!  And I wander off in my mind and love this time. I always need to then have my sketchbook with me because that’s moment that I am just in total silence and can sketch away and get ideas.


6. Do you listen to music while you work? If so, who or what kind of music do you listen to most?

It depends what sort of work it is… But I tend to prefer silence.  I used to listen to a lot of music while I worked but these days I prefer just working in plain silence or listening to podcasts.  I find silence very soothing. We live in a world that’s so full of sounds and noises and music everywhere you go. I mean we’re in a café now, there’s music playing and I really enjoy music but when I listen to music, I want to listen to music, rather than have it in the background.  Silence allows me really listen to my thoughts and follow my thought process and what it is I want to do next and how this informs the next move from the previous one. It drives my partner crazy because he loves music and podcasts and so we have to negotiate because we often work in the same space.  One day we’ll have a podcast and the next we’ll do silence!

If I do listen to music, I really enjoy classical music.  It may sound cliché but I guess it puts you into a more meditative zone…


7. What is your favourite colour and why?

I would say, grey… Why… I don’t necessarily know… But because of all its different shades, it can recall nature… It’s a very abstract thing to describe.  What I can say is that I’m not necessarily drawn to very bright colours and I find the use of colour in my work very difficult – it’s a subtle thing.  I am more drawn to natural earthy colours!

People sometimes assume I’m an earth sign but I am actually an Aquarius! And my moon is in Pisces and my ascendant is Scorpio so I don’t have any earth in my chart.  I had my very good friend who is an artist and astrologer, Madeleine, do my entire chart and she said that is unbelievable to be a sculptor with no earth in my sign. And it's the same with my partner.  And she told me that she imagined that “you are a sculptor because you need to reconnect with this one material that you’re lacking in your sign and so you have a huge curiosity towards it because it’s almost so alien to you that you want to make it part of you…” And not only do I use very organic and mineral materials but I’ve also used literally earth and soil in some of my sculptures so there is a huge significance to this… It makes sense!  I did find it super interesting…


8. Do you have a muse or role model?

They vary.  I’ve always said I find the sculptor, Louise Bourgeois’ work really interesting because she’s the only artist that ever made me cry.  She passed away a couple of years ago and I always regret not having met her.  She’s always very honest in her approach to her work and with her intentions… Her work is very personal. She didn’t have the best relationship with her father and I can relate to that to some extent and I find that even though she puts all of her vulnerabilities and weaknesses out there and she talks about what’s most fragile, she has huge amounts of strength that is felt in her installations and in her sculptures which are very strong.  She manages to work with all sorts of materials.  She knows how to weld, stone carve and she does everything herself.  She had an assistant, Jerry G, who worked with her for the last 30 years of her life and I had a long chat with him and I asked him if he ever helped her to make her work and he said “Not at all.  Louise never wanted any of us to touch her work.  She did everything by herself until the last moment!”  I think she was 99 when she died and working until the last day.  I hold her as an incredible example of someone very inspiring.  She was very authentic and you can feel that in her work that she put everything in – body and soul.


 9. What is your most important work tool?

I would say my hands.  I have often thought if anything were to happen to my hands, how would I manage?  But then one will always find a way. You know, Matisse couldn’t manage with his hands anymore towards the end.  I think he had arthritis and that’s when he started to do cutouts, for which he is hugely known. So that’s how a strength came from a weakness! 


10. Is there a specific place where feel most productive?

Not necessarily a place but maybe more circumstances… So being in the right frame of mind… Such as being in an airplane as I mentioned earlier. I suppose that’s more to do with a productivity of the mind rather than being productive. Once you have an ideal studio set up, of course that is the perfect environment for one to think of possibilities to make.  At the moment, there is a bit of frustration because I am between two studios.  One I’ve just left and the other is in the process of being made and undergoing works at the moment.  So yeah, I can’t wait! To be back in the studio to make and where there are all the tools you need…

What I’m doing at the moment is drawing the desk for the new studio in Mexico City, which is going to be 7m long.  And drawing the desk is giving me huge satisfaction because I am just imagining being there and having one space to be making standing up and one space to be sitting down, either doing research on my computer or drawing or making my CAD drawings and there will be another space, which will be more of a display so when clients come around they can look at my prints and my sketches…. So I’m planning the flow and that’s where I’m finding some satisfaction for the time being.


11. What piece of work are you most proud of?

Always the last one. The most recent piece encompasses all of the things you’ve learnt from the previous works so even if you still think there’s work to be done in certain aspects, that’s great because if you’re 100% satisfied with it, there’s no point in making anything else.  So I think it’s a good thing to be hard on oneself and not to be satisfied and carry on making.  And to be proud of one’s mistakes because they are actually as important as accomplishments - they teach you so much more!


12. What are you currently working on?

I have an upcoming exhibition at Ronchini Gallery in London in July.  The opening is on July 5th and it will run until September 15th.  It is a solo show, called “O” because it is all about cycles – birth and death and rebirth and beginnings and it focuses on three different myths.  Two Greek characters and a film – Penelope who waited 20 years for Ulysses to come back and I made a piece consisting of 12 frosted hand-blown glass pieces in which lights go on and off all around.  It’s like the rotating wheel that we encounter on our digital screens nowadays, which dictates our way of waiting and notions of patience.  And back then, Penelope had to wait 20 years, which seems like a very long time.  And there are 12 pieces to reflect the 12 months of the year, the 12 moons…. It’s all about the time passing by.  It’s called “Penelope’s Wheel”. This was first shown in a little church in Italy.  The only way to see it was through a little window and so you watched the time passing by… And a church is a place where you ask questions or you pray for someone.  Time almost stops in a church, whether you are a believer or not… I’m not necessarily a practicing churchgoer but it's a very reflective space.  And this church is very near the sea, which had a nice link to Penelope and the tides and the moon and the cycles.

The second installation consists of huge pieces, there are three of them but I am going to have bronze versions, which are smaller pieces called “Demeter “  and she was the goddess of agriculture and the fertility of the earth and the story said that she started the cycles of the seasons because her daughter was taken by Hades in the underworld and she had to make a pact with Haddis to get her daughter back and he said that she could have Persephone back for 6 months of the year and the other 6 months she’d come back to him in the underworld and so this marked the start of the seasons – the summer and the winter.  And so there are haystacks, which are symbolic of the agricultural world and there are seedpods that can open and spread life.  Again, there are 12 panels.

And then the 3rd character I am exploring in this exhibition is the character of the sculpture.  This is a short 5-minute film – it is a surreal piece about a marble sculpture that comes back to life and has a yearning to go back to her roots - her mother, who is the mountain; personifying the mountain as the mother.  And so she goes back and crawls back to her mother’s womb.  It is a performance piece and I performed as the sculpture in the context of this marble quarry and reconnected with mother earth, with her point of origin.  She reconnects through touch and immerses herself in the wood.

So these are the three female characters that I am exploring throughout the exhibition and these marble sculptures emerge after the film so it is all about bringing warmth to the cold sculptures and introducing a crease as if it were flesh so it is quite carnal…

None of the works have been shown in London or in a gallery and I am looking forward to presenting this exhibition very much.


13. Do you look at the work of other artists?

Yes.  I know some artists are quite categorical and don’t look at the work of other artists so they can focus on their own practice but I think there are moments in time when I prefer to look at the work of other artists and other moments where I prefer to focus on my own. When I’m at the stage where I’m really focused on making, I’d rather focus on my own work and that is not the right time to go to other exhibitions. But when I’m at the stage that I’m at now… About to launch my own exhibition and my own work is more or less ready, I’m open and it’s a good time for me to see what others are doing.  I think that’s so important, especially because I am an artist who wants to collaborate with other artists, I want to keep a dialogue open… For sculptures especially, It’s very much to do with collaborating, helping each other out… The way I met my partner in fact was actually through the Royal Society of Sculptures.  We haven’t had much time to go to the meetings recently because we’ve been travelling but at the time, we met regularly to discuss each other’s projects and how we could help each other out.  This was when I brought up the thing that I wanted to learn stone carving. Being a sculpture really feels like you are part of a community and to go to a friend’s opening is the best support you can give them.


14. What do you think makes art good?

Authenticity and honesty.  Of course, I think it needs to be balanced.  For me, I would say a good artwork needs to have the three pillars of good technical abilities, honesty and interesting research and something interesting you want to say.  If you feel that the piece isn’t saying anything, for me something is missing…


15. What other contemporary artists do you currently admire most?

So many, it’s so hard to single them out! However, the ones that come to mind are Noguchi, Martin Puryear, Pedro Reyes, Susana Solano and Holly Hendry.


16. Do you have a favourite city to visit?

Well everyone should come to Mexico City!  It’s a really interesting place to be right now.  Four of my friends have recently left London to live there.


 17. Name your top 3 holiday destinations:

I would say The Lightning Field.  The artist Walter Maria built the Lightening Field as an installation but there are little cabins that you can stay in… I think there are 3 and you can book it through the DIA Art Foundation.  It’s in New Mexico in the U.S.A.  So that would be one of them.

The second one would be somewhere in Italy… I want to say Scotland also because it was just such a beautiful place to explore! Fingal’s Cave… You have to stay in Oben, where you can drink delicious whiskey and then you can take the boat to Staffa Island to visit Fingal’s Cave for the day.

And I think the third would be… Oaxaca in Mexico, which is where all the artisans are… They make gorgeous textiles… They work on tiles… They blow their own glass… It’s amazing.   It’s the artistic heart of Mexico

That’s where Frida Kahlo’s style came from in fact. Because she had an accident at 19, she had to wear a corset to support her spine and she couldn’t dress normally so she started wearing the Oaxacan outfits which are those very wide skirts and beautiful embroidered loose tops and dresses, which suited her perfectly.


18. What is your favourite gallery or museum in the world?

The Anthropology Museum in Mexico is absolutely amazing.  And I do love the Tate Modern… There is so much there and the new wing is very cleverly built because it feels like it’s always been there.


19. How would you describe your fashion style?

Practical! I love my jeans.  Denim is great to weld in because the sparks don’t burn through.  I have a great denim jacket that I wear in the studio and I think the denim has a special coating but even my jeans never get burnt.  Denim is particularly hardwearing – I mean I think that’s how denim became fashionable, it was created for workmen…  I have days when I have to go to an opening straight from the studio but there’s nothing better than just my studio outfit! I’m not the type to go back home and change… They can take me as I am!


20. What is your most treasured possession?

That’s a hard one because although I make objects I am not very attached to material things.  It’s not a possession at all but what I treasure the most is my friendship with my mother and my sisters.  So that’s my answer!


21. If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?

I always wanted to be an astronaut – I was always looking up at the stars – maybe a childhood dream.


22. What advice would you give those wishing to pursue a creative path?

To go for it! Just leave behind fears… It’s very easy to be set back by fears… When you’re in a job with a boss telling you what to do, you have fewer fears because your goal is set by someone else and you know exactly where it starts and where it ends. When you’re your own boss, you have to find the solutions yourself and some days are full of fears because you don’t know where things are going to go or if it’s going to work out and I think in order to do it I think it’s important to just keep trusting the process.  Every failure will lead to a success.  And that’s all right.


Adeline de Monseignat’s “O” exhibition is on at Ronchini Gallery, 22 Dering Street, London W1S 1AN from 6th July – 15th September 2018. The opening will take place on Thursday 5th July from 6 – 8pm.

Discover more of the artist’s work on her website and Instagram account.