The Beautiful and The Surreal: An Interview with Reine Paradis
French surrealist Reine Paradis talks the dangers of guerrilla shooting, a new documentary about her process, and advice to young female artists.
In an overwhelmingly vivid sky, a scantily clad woman in a fluorescent orange skirt and heels, dangles from a wire. Under the same infinitely blue setting, an identical woman enjoys a picnic on the edge of a city billboard. This is the surrealist work of French artist Reine Paradis, who inhabits the central figure in each image. Her two most recent photographic series: “Midnight” and “Jungle,” offer an introspective narrative across imaginatively ethereal and chromatic landscapes.
Like Charlie Chaplin idly falling through the clockwork terrain in Modern Times, Paradis’s photographic works all possess a subtle slapstick humour. We as the viewer stumble across this character traipse and fall off-track within this surreal landscape. As if someone has frozen a film, each image feels very cinematic. One’s own imagination is left to finish the narratives that Paradis has opened.
Paradis makes visible the surrealist connection between the real and the imaginary, the conscious and unconscious by the harsh contrast in colours. Her images combine Klein blue with atomicly charged oranges and greens, creating a setting beautifully idyllic as it is oppressive. Viewing her images certainly are a massage for the eyes.
These single narratives are evidence of the dangerous extent Reine Paradis goes to, to capture an image. It is incredible to hear that these images are really photographed. Paradis’s guerilla style of shooting has led her into some very risky locations, a subject that has become part of an award winning documentary by Carl Lindstrom: “Queen of Paradis.” In one scene, the film shows Paradis shooting on the middle of a runway, before yelling to her photographer that a plane is about to land. It is testament to the incredible extent Paradis will go to, to obtain the image that has been lingering in her imagination.
When was the moment you realized that art was your future?
I think I always knew it.
Your images evoke an idyllic world that combines reality and imagination, do you draw from a real a location you see as idyllic?
For each scene, the process is the same: First I imagine a scene, then I create a maquette that I use as a reference throughout the whole process. I design the props, costumes, and origamis, then I shoot the scene in a real location. Because I imagine all the scenes before shooting, it’s often challenging to find the real locations. Sometimes I have to spend a lot of time scouting before finding the perfect location. It’s a big part of the process.
What do you want viewers to think and feel about your images?
We all perceive the world that surrounds us very differently and I love that each viewer perceives my work in his or her own way. I do not want to impose anything on the viewer.
Could you say something about your relationship to the vivid colors you use – Yves Klein Blue, neon green and bright orange. What is your attraction to each color and how do they relate to one another?
I have always been drawn to intense colors. I use the blue for the natural elements such as the sky, water or the grass. Then I use the orange or the yellow for everything that belongs to the world I create which interacts with the real world, ie. sculptures, costumes and so on.
The images feel very cinematic, do you see yourself branching off into moving image?
Yes, I am actually working on a new film project. I am very excited about it however I can’t talk about it at the moment. Top Secret!
You grew up in the south of France before moving to LA, did this have an effect on your art?
Yes, I think a lot of my inspirations come from the first 10 years of my life in France. It has definitely had a direct impact on my work.
You place yourself as the central subject in each image, what was the reason for that choice?
The fact that I stage myself in my work adds a performance dimension, which is essential. It is a necessity for me to ‘live’ the scene in order to transmit the original vision completely.
You’ve mentioned as part of your process you begin by ‘imagining the scene’, where does that inspiration come from?
All my projects question reality, so I think everything that surrounds me is a source of inspiration. I am naturally drawn to bright colors, very simple shapes, toys, minimalist architecture and the light in California.
Tell us about your most recent exhibition “Midnight”, what does that title evoke for you?
For my latest photo series “Midnight” I wanted to create images that looked as if they were shot under a full blue moon. The photo series takes us on an introspective journey across a symbolic and chromatic world, exploring reality and the limit of imagination.
In “Midnight” you displayed your preliminary drawings and storyboards alongside the finished images, how important is sharing that process with the viewer?
I believe for any kind of project the process is part of the finished work so it feels natural for me to share part of it with the viewer.
An award-winning documentary about your work called “Queen of Paradis” was released this year, was that a collaborative piece by director Carl Lindstrom and yourself?
Yes, the film follows the making of my latest photo series Midnight as Carl and I embark on a dangerous and surreal road trip across the United States to complete the series. It’s an all-out adventure and an intimate story as well.
You have a guerrilla style approach to finding the right locations for a shot, how complicated/dangerous has that been?
I traveled across the US to shoot my latest series “Midnight”. Some of the locations I was looking for were not easy access. For example the “Billboard” scene was shot on top of an actual billboard on the side of a very busy road in California. It was really risky and intense to climb on top of it to install the whole scene and even more difficult to get the shot just right… All without getting caught.
What is some advice you can give to young women in the art world?
My advice would be to trust in yourself and your art, no matter what age you are. Always be persistent and never give up. And perhaps most importantly; always do things in your own way.