March 22, 2013

Spotlight: Justine Hourdeau

If you can't read the banner, it says "one step closer to death."
Are you in love yet?

When looking through Justine Hordeau's work, I'm torn as to how I'd describe it; some pieces are illustrations of everyday girls with hilariously dark commentary sketched beneath while others are of mutants and eerie animal-human hybrids. I eventually decide on "delightfully creepy," and Justine seems pleased; while at first glance, her illustrations and prints are sweet, the satirical blurbs accompanying them hint at something much darker. But don't get carried away, she isn't shooting subliminal messages at you - the captions partnered with the sometimes spooky images are just so true and applicable to reality that you can't help but wonder if these cat people Justine depicts are roaming the streets outside her home.

Justine Hordeau is a French illustrator and printmaker who currently lives in London, where she studies art. She draws with a pronounced precision, creating imaginative illustrations with some of the funniest commentary I've seen in ages. Her comic book, Florence Farr and the Order of the Golden Dawn follows the late actress and her interest in the occult; but Justine re-imagines this bizarre tale and has Florence attending parties with ancient Egyptians, making moves on the god Osiris and getting hopelessly played by Anubis. Sound hilarious? It is. I fell down the rabbit hole of Justine's wonderfully imaginative brain and asked her some questions about her sense of humor, historical interests and favorite animal-mutant-superheroes.

THE LE SIGH: A lot of your work seems to be inspired by history and/or trips to museums - what is it about historical imagery that inspires you to reinterpret it with your own style?

Justine Hourdeau: I do love going to museums, especially natural history/zoology ones, mostly because I really enjoy drawing from life and also becuase I find them to be a wonderful source of inspiration. I feel like art students nowadays tend to focus their attention mainly on modern/contemporary art, and it's a shame because there's so much to learn from more classical paintings, mythology or even science museums. The fact that I've been studying art history for a little while now probably has something to do with it too. I started making quick sketches of the artworks my teachers would show in class, and it became sort of a habit. I find drawing from a painting strangely relaxing and I really enjoy the idea that I'm making an old artwork being "alive" again by redrawing it wtih a sort of modern twist, even if it's just a quick sketch that maybe ten people will get to see.

TLS: If you could live in any time period, what would it be and why?

JH: At the risk of sounding horrendously cliche, I think I'd definitely go back to the sixties so I could be able to follow The Doors around. My answer to this question could easily change though, but it would still definitely be linked to a rock band/artist I've always dreamed of seeing live. 

TLS: Your comic book Florence Farr and the Order of the Golden Dawn is so fantastic and hilarious, and even though it's based on real figures in history, it feels incredibly fresh. Where did your interest in this strange tale come from and how did it transform into this awesome makeshift comic book?
JH: Actually, it all came from a uni brief our illustration course was given last year! We had to run a biographical project on a given (more or less) historical figure, and I got Florence Farr at random. When I started doing my research on her, I quickly ended up on the Order of the Golden Dawn Website and I instantly knew I had to do something with it! I obviously chose to focus more on the cult part of her life, which is far from being the only interesting thing she did; but it was too visually interesting for me to be able to focus on anything else. I've also always been fascinated with Egyptian mythology since I was a kid, so it felt like the perfect excuse for me to draw tons of Egyptian gods. Again, I decided to make them a tad more modern, as I often do, not only with the whole storyline, but also with the form, by making it into a Risograph printed graphic novel (which I have to admit, is mainly a choice I amde because of my personal taste). I've always believed that art is a huge communication force, and that you can always make things way more appealing by making them visually interesting; turning an obscure story life Florence Farr's into a modern looking, humorist comic book was a way for me to help create curiosity, and I do hope is makes people curious enough to research about her life!

TLS: What about printmaking drew you towards wanting to learn about it and eventually earn a degree in it?

JH: With printmaking, it was just love at first sight. I might sound a bit cheesy, but the first time I saw an etching, I actually fell in love - the way it looks, the process, the whole environment surrounding it; even the smell of inks! Everything about it was appealing. I always knew I wanted to study art, but when I found out about this degree, I knew it was what I really wanted to do. And even though I turned to illustration afterwards, I still think that if it was actually possible to live from printmaking nowadays, I would just open my own studio and spend my days making prints.

TLS: Your illustrations of girls, mutants, families, most things really, are often accompanied by witty commentary that make for an even more interesting viewing experience. How would you describe your sense of humor?

JH: Cynical – that's probably how I'd describe it. I've always had a pretty bad, twisted sense of humor. I grew up listening to Coluche and Pierre Desproges (two famous French comedians with a very dark, satirical sense of humor) and I guess it probably influenced me a lot! I'm a narrative person, and I definitely think that words have a huge complementary role to play in my work.

TLS: The decapitated horse, mutant family, the parade scenes, are at first endearing and then upon closer look are much darker. You live in London, which can be quite dreary, but what inspires these sometimes twisted images?

JH: I think most of these images coe from a long love for dark humor and twisting reality! Most of my work is actually inspired from events happening in my life, or people I meet. It's just visually twisted to a point where you probably couldn't tell where it was coming from, unless you spend most of your time hanging out with me! 

TLS: If you could be a mutant, animal-superhero hybrid, what would you be?

JH: I think I'd choose to be one of the weird cat masked kids I seem to draw over and over. There must be a reason why these guys keep coming back in my work, right?

Check out Justine's site here; the fun ensues.

Written by Molly Morris