Matt black backgrounds, tubes and bridges linking different platforms and creating labyrinth-like worlds that seem to grow out of the dark. Eloise Oui likes to rely on the same ideas which characterise all her paintings and yet each one of her artworks is unique, representing a universe of its own with tiny little details scattered all over them. Behind every detail, the 25-year-old artist sees a hidden story that needs to be unveiled and discovered, a conception of art which she has preserved from her childhood.
Growing up in Leeds with two very artistic older sisters, Eloise has been involved in art ever since she was a little child. At the time, she was very close with them and used to copy the two older girls who did a lot of collages and drawings.
After her interest in art was sparked so early in life, she went to Leeds College of Art where she started doing oil paintings at the age of 16. But painting didn’t keep her interest for long and she decided to look at other ways of creating art.
During her studies at Wimbledon College of Art, she worked a lot with print, time-based media and also experimented with performance and video art.
“I never stick to anything for a long period of time, but I usually come back to things. I have only just rediscovered painting now and I am really enjoying it although I don’t do oil paintings anymore. Now, I use Gouach because it gives you this sort of matt colour finish. I have started doing a lot of black backgrounds recently and I think the colours sort of pop out of it. It makes these worlds look like they are coming from nothing “, Eloise explains pointing towards the large painting hanging on the wall behind her.
The artist has created many drawings and paintings that follow the same basic principles. They all show platform-like, slightly surreal worlds that are surronded by a black pond they literally seem to grow out of. This impression of organic growth also relates to her way of painting which is quite different to what most other artists do.
“I usually paint without properly planning it out. I just start with an idea in my head and then I let the painting grow, which probably isn’t the best way to do it because then I make mistakes. In the end, it will go in a totally different way than what I wanted in the beginning, but when I look at it afterwards, the painting as a whole makes a different kind of sens to me”, the young artist describes her way of approaching a painting.
It is different elements and different ideas she picks up at several moments of the painting process that will slowly grow into each other on the canvas or board. Her painting “Time Lines: Birth, Jazz, Mountain, Death” which shows an arrangement of different buildings all connected one to another by tubes is a perfect example of her current way of painting.
“I wanted the buildings to look like machines, but ones that you can actually live in. I connected them through tubes, always asking myself where they would go to. Like in the other paintings, there are a lot of ways to get to places, like ladders, escalators, bridges or weird tubes. I like that motive of a labyrinth. A lot of times, in the dreams that I have, you get around in strange ways like human tubes you have to get into and you will be swished to different platforms”, Eloise says about how her dreams feed into her artworks.
Having created all these tube links in between the three sections of the painting, she realised that they all merged together to one coherent story. Without any concrete intention to do so, she had made a painting that represents the story of a human life, composed of birth, life and after-life. They are respectively represented by the stork-inspired bird, the living machine with the jukebox and the swimming pool symbolising leisure time and the ghost goats high up in the mountains.
Although this story isn’t necessarily obvious to other people who might interpret it in totally different ways, it’s the story the painting tells for her when she looks at it. For Eloise, a good painting is one telling many different stories through a myriad of tiny little details.
“When I was younger, my mum’s friend had a lot of pre-raphaelite paintings with all the little details in them in her house. Back then, I thought a good painting was one that would be in your house but everytime you come past it, you would get more use out of it. I think that’s why I put so many tiny little details in my paintings”, she relates this childhood experience to her recent artworks.
In fact, a close look to her painting “Time Lines” reveals how many little elements are hidden in the painting, all lending themselves to having whoever looks at them imagine all sorts of different stories. At least, they do so for Eloise.
“For example, the windows in the tall yellow building. While I was painting them, I started to imagine stories in my head about what these characters were thinking and what world they were living in”, she says with excitement.
Although the painting is now finished and hangs on one of the walls of Brighton’s Studio 45 as part of the current exhibition, Eloise would like to add more and more details to it, filling it with more stories that come to her mind during the painting process and that are one of her main inspirational sources, as are the books and texts that she reads.
For instance, she says that it was a piece of writing by Walter Benjamin, where he describes a piece of paper that he has lost and which depicts his life as a diagram where all the people he met are represented as tubes, that inspired her to do a first series of drawings called “Hot Tub City” which she then developed into her painting “Time Lines”.
Apart from her readings, the young artist draws a lot of ideas from whatever catches her attention when she walks by. “When something catches me, I make sure I stop and take the time to draw it rather than just let it go by, or at least I take some notes on it. I have archives of artistic notebooks back home so that I can go back into them and relive that moment and get ideas from there”, Eloise says pulling a little notebook out of her bag.
The artistic notebooks she keeps are just one example how writing and painting go hand in hand in Eloise’s case. Having done a lot of conceptual writing during her time at university and being especially fond of poetry, the versatile artist sees a clear link between her poems and the paintings she does.
“It all comes from the same mind bank. I write about things that I am drawing in a descriptive way and put them into a poem. I often use a formular called N+7 which means I replace every noun with the seventh next noun in the dictionary. A lot of times, the phrases that I have come up with while doing that have inspired a drawing or I ended up adding it into a painting”, she says.
Although she has already produced quite the collection of artwork ever since she rediscovered her passion for painting, the young artist has only done two exhibitions so far. The current one with the Friendly Gang at Studio 45, and another one at the Artist Open Houses last year where she was part of the artist collective called “Dreamliner Artsclub” who exhibited their works in a transformed motorhome.
Plannings for her next exhibition are already under way. It will probbaly be another group show with the Friendly Gang later this year. Eloise is even thinking about producing a little film for the occasion, trying to keep her artistic creations as varied as possible.
Already involved in doing commissions, the 25-year-old would love to be a full-time artist at one point in the future although she is quite happy with her current part-time job at the Duke of Yorks.
“I do really enjoy working at the cinema. When I had other jobs in pubs or cafes, I have often wished I could only just make art, but it’s nice to keep one foot in reality and in everyday life for inspiration and just to talk to people. I think if I was just doing art by myself all day long in a studio, I would get a bit mad”, she admits with a little laugh.