The surrealist drive | Karine Rougier

A descendant of none other than Giuseppe Cali, French-Maltese surrealist painter Karine Rougier is establishing herself as an up-and-coming artist of some worth, having most recently exhibited at the prestigious VOLTA art fair in New York. She speaks to TEODOR RELJIC about the creative direction of her work and how Malta continues to serve as an influence

Karine Rougier
Karine Rougier
Details, 2016, Oil on wood, 30 x 30 cm, Courtesy Galerie Dukan
Details, 2016, Oil on wood, 30 x 30 cm, Courtesy Galerie Dukan
Sous nos pieds, 2015, Oil on wood 30 x 30cm. Courtesy Galerie Dukan
Sous nos pieds, 2015, Oil on wood 30 x 30cm. Courtesy Galerie Dukan

What kind of memories do you have of Malta, and would you say they’ve shaped your work in any way?

I have beautiful memories of Malta. I specially remember my grandmother Giuseppina Calì, who was a person full of love. We used to spend every summer in her house in Sliema (Old College Street) where each wall was covered by family paintings. Her husband was Guido Calì who I sadly never met but thanks to my mother who talked so much about him I could know more about his beautiful personality... I used to spend a lot of time in his studio, which was a room full of treasures.

This space was magical for me as a kid, because I could feel his presence in every object. I loved to spend time there, looking at boxes full of images, his brushes and easels and admire his paintings – especially a big unfinished one representing the sea.

Malta memories: drives on small roads bordered with stones, the beach with all the family, little bread rolls from Belleview Bakery in Mellieha filled with tuna and tomato paste which my Nanna used to make, also enchanting moments starring at Giuseppe’s paintings in churches, laughs and plays on the roof with my brothers, and the sound of people talking Maltese, so beautiful...

We are all coming back this summer to celebrate my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, so once again the island is connected with love to me.

Of course, all those memories have shaped my imagination, such as Malta’s position in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, crossing so many cultures!

You have quite an idiosyncratic style, which appears to blend various genres and elements – surrealism, perhaps, being chief among them. How did you develop this style, and why do you find it such a suitable conduit for you?

I get my inspiration mostly from my travels, but also from artists as Félicien Rops, James Ensor, Frida Kahlo or Max Ernst. My childhood spanned across Malta and Ivory Coast, my father had been director of the Alliance Française in Malta and then was appointed as a school director in the Ivory Coast, still at that time my family and I were spending whole summers in Malta. All those memories modelled my spirit and made my imagination ready to be attracted by magical and surreal worlds.

There are no borders in my works and I love to mix references, for example to associate Japanese patterns with Indian gods and Inuit drawings. This is a suitable conduit for me because everything is always open to transformation.

When I start a painting I never quite know how it’s going to end up, and I love this sense of playfulness and risk: each day at the studio is different, and I truly appreciate this aspect of the work.

What would you say are some of the most significant lessons you’ve learnt, on your road to becoming an artist?

Always listen to your heart. Believe in your dreams and stay true to them. Being an artist can also be very tough. You also need to sustain your confidence. I share my life with an artist and we choose this way of life, because freedom is precious. Doing what you love to do is fortunate, and I feel very lucky about this!

How did you find negotiating the business and marketing side of the art scene? 

When I was still studying, I had the chance to meet [gallery owner] Bertrand Baraudou, who invited me for an exhibition in his gallery in Nice, and I ended up by working with him for 11 years! Thanks to him, everything started on the right track, and I met many collectors, people who are now following my work for many years and providing precious support.

What was it like to exhibit in New York? What are some of the most important and affecting things you can take away from the experience? 

Exhibiting in NY was so exciting. I made my way there thanks to Sam Dukan – whose gallery represents me. This city has an amazing energy, and I was immediately drawn to it. The experience was euphoric – I sold all of my paintings and met so many interesting people! An important thing is to make time to meet people – sharing your art and perceptions is important during these trips.

What’s next for you?

The first order of business is holidays with family and friends, to get some new inspiration. After that, I’ll be heading to an exhibition in Neuchatel next June, March 2017 in Paris where the gallery Dukan is opening a new space, and in October 2017 in Milan. I also hope to show my paintings in Valletta come 2018, when the country will be serving as European Capital of Culture. That would be a great experience! 

Painting on page 29: Dans le bleu, 2016, Oil on wood, 27 x 35 cm, Courtesy Galerie Dukan