Even in a choral vision, women retain identity and character. Mathilde Renes tells us about it

Italiano (Italian)

Translation by Marina Dlacic

Since 1997 Mathilde keeps a textile diary of her days, which she embroiders with an immediate and ironic narrative ability. Faithful to her personal style, her women appear to sing freely with sharp color contrasts and lines. She uses fabrics and threads to tell us about everyday life, leading to a more intimate and social message. I was conquered by her immediacy and her prolific work. Her tenacity and commitment allow her to maintain a close relationship between art and every day real life.
We had recently published a spotlight on Mathilde that prompted us to ask for an interview to get to know her better. This is the link where you can find more pictures of her art:

Mathilde we have published a short article about you in anticipation of this interview. We found your art very interesting. Simple and empathetic. How immediate is your thinking regarding the work execution?

ad 1  Often an idea/theme pops up, and the next step is to pick some textile and threads which are available in my atelier and I start, and during the creating process it goes its own way. I seldom make a design in advance, usually I start immediately ‘drawing’ with black thread. But sometimes I have an image in my head which requires special colors or material and then I try to get these special materials and start when I have them. For example, the big project I’m working on at the moment, The Big Choir, I was thinking about it in advance, wanted it a bit in the bright and pastel colors of Klimmt and Schiele, yellow, orange, blue, pink …. so i focused on getting all sorts of textile material in these colors.
To answer your question short: very immediate.

Yours is an artistic path that started from a classical background: oil paintings and graphic works. How was the transition to textile art? How did it happen?

I was always fascinated by textile, i loved and love all kinds of textile material, fabrics, wool, wires, etc. When I was a teenager I sewed my own clothes and did knit a lot. Seldom however I added some textile to my paintings and it never came to my mind to use only textile in my art, till in 2012 I started knitting the subjects of my oil paintings, as statues. Women as usual. Also I started knitting vases and meanwhile discovered in my closet a lot of embroidery material I had inherited from my late aunt and the idea came up to try to embroider something. As a start I used a topic from my illustrated diary, which I did more often for my paintings or graphic work. It appears I loved to embroider, so soon I was hooked. It’s also very handy (practical): you can embroider everywhere and take your work with you, or embroider when you watch tv or sit in the sun, or when you drive to France or Italy and sit next to your husband.

Lisa Minelli, Copyright Mathilde Renes

Sigaret, Copyright Mathilde Renes

How do you maintain the spontaneity of thought?

I haven’t the slightest idea … it is there, i can’t help it. It keeps coming in my head and I love to create! So I work very intuitively.

In your secondary or otherwise different artistic path, take a cue from the daily events to create larger works. How do you choose them? What are the criteria?

I’ve always (since 1997) walked two paths in my work. The daily illustrations in my diary with the drawings about my own life. The subjects of these illustrations I sometimes used as an inspiration for my etches or paintings, but next to these subjects there was always the other path with more universal women

subjects which actually was the main path of my work. And so it still is. In this main path I like to portrait images of women because I love the beauty of women with their clothes, heads, shoes, their posture. And I do like to put some humor in my work, and joy. And I like it to make people wonder what’s the story of these women.
Accidently last year I did walk a little bit a third path, partly autobiographical too, to use flowers, especially roses as a subject. Because I love my garden in which I have around 80 different roses I took some pictures in spring and it occurred to me to use the development of my roses in my textile work. So I took a lot of pictures during the season and made a whole series with roses. But of course there came some universal and self portrait women subjects with roses too.

Me and my roses, Copyright Mathilde Renes

All that jazz, Copyright Mathilde Renes

Do you miss working with traditional painting techniques? How do you draw on your previous experiences in textile art?

I don’t miss my oil painting and the traditional techniques at all, although in my illustrated diary I do draw and watercolor nearly every day. I’m so fascinated by textiles and the different techniques you can use and the surprising effects sometimes appear! For example i have developed a technique of using pictures, printed on transfers, ironed on fabric and combined with embroidery, applique of different pieces of (maybe used) fabrics and paint. The pictures are for example images of my own previous work, (oil painting, gouaches, drawings, knitwork) or pictures of closeups or the back of my more recent embroideries which gives very special effects and results. And the last year project “all my roses” was also partly created with pictures on transfers. It makes me so enthusiastic to be able to continue constantly from one work to another.

Your textile diary is a bit like a social network: you express emotions and experiences with other people. How do you relate and how do you decide what to publish?

Human connection counts for me. I have a big circle of (close) friends around me who are very important to me. But I’m not the social type who is constantly involved with humanity. I’m more an artist working in her own space.

New shoes with aunt Gree, Copyright Mathilde Renes

Breakfast in bed, Copyright Mathilde Renes

Front and back. Symbolism. In front a clean image and behind an intertwining of wires that connect. How important is human connection for you?

About the contrast between the front, neat, side and the back, confusing, side of my work. Here it comes to symbolism, but not on purpose. I start with the front of course and do like clear lines and images, but then comes as a surprise the back side with all the intertwining of wires indeed and often appears to be much more interesting! There you can see the other (black?) side of people, neat for the outside world, confused or worse inside. Or connections between people, madness, humor, chaos etc. which I like a lot. Showing both sides of the work is often the best way to present it, so I do hang it up with a stick or frame it between two plexiglass plates.

The red choir, Copyright Mathilde Renes

The Red Choir, back, Copyright Mathilde Renes

Your subjects are almost exclusively female. Is there a specific reason?

I nearly always pick women as a subject of my art. First of all I often make a kind of self portraits, then the reason is obvious. But the main reason is not because I don’t like men, but I love the appearance of women, the beauty, the attitude, performance, inspired sometimes by images from art, advertisements or movie posters. And now and then I use the connection between people as a subject, for example in my series Close encounters.

I never promised you a rosegarden, Copyright Mathilde Renes

One of your most important themes is the choir. Choral images, figures that evoke an absolutely not solitary but common song. Why?

The choral theme has started just from the image of a choir from my illustrated diary, about a concert at my children. I did use the diary drawing , as I did more often as I explained earlier, to make an oil painting. About a year ago I happened to see the diary image and was intrigued again and decided to use it in my textile work. From the start I was kind of hooked! I loved so much the image of singing women that I kept going on. And it appears that you can vary infinite, and got the images of the back as a present which added the “connected” theme to my work. So indeed from solitary to community.

The communicative aspect I do like a lot, in the current project which I’m creating on request  in the context of a large art project, I’m creating a lot of very individual unique women who eventually become a big unity in a choir, singing their common song.

Spring choir, Copyright Mathilde Renes

Spring choir, Copyright Mathilde Renes, back, Copyright Mathilde Renes

Can you tell us about your future plans? Will this Covid-19 emergency somehow affect them?

The future … Because of Corona a lot of projects are postponed a year, for example the big choir project. So that includes the singing women theme is not over yet ( it was supposed to be ready the 18th of may). I was kind of working to a climax, but now I’ll continue working on that. But it’s also likely something totally different can come up. I recently got a new sewing machine, so I’m experimenting with machine embroidery now, which I never did before. So who knows which will come up!

Besides that I’ll probably continue with the “connected” theme, which I started recently, connections in all sorts of ways, also with vintage material with memories. It is not unlikely at all that corona influences these

Emanuela D'Amico

English version Mi sono avvicinata al quilting nel 1992, da allora ho frequentato diversi corsi in Italia e negli USA per approfondire le tecniche del patchwork, passando dai disegni tradizionali o geometrici alle tecniche artistiche con cui posso esprimere la mia creatività. Insegno le tecniche base e avanzate dal 1998. Ho fondato la Scuola Romana Quilting nel 2015: e dal 2014 organizzo a Roma la mostra di ArtQuilting: ArteMorbida. A partire dal 2018, con la collaborazione di Maria Rosaria Roseo e altre colleghe/amiche abbiamo iniziato la pubblicazione di ArteMorbida Textile Arts Magazine. Oggi ArteMorbida è anche, finalmente, una rivista cartacea. Parola d’ordine: Divulgazione!