Meeting Pauline N’Gouala was an act of sheer serendipity. One day, my favorite bookstore in Paris tweeted that it would host the premiere of a young artist’s new painting series, which centered on LGBT icons. I was intrigued, and keen on interviewing the artist. I met Pauline in the studio where she worked, right next to the bustle of St Germain des Près, and we’ve kept in touch since.
So what’s the deal with you and the arts? Do you remember when you first came into contact with art, and how did that relationship evolve ? Like, was it a calling you felt from the very beginning, or did you have a revelation at some point?
I’ve been drawing ever since I was five - I used to copy my favorite cartoon and comics characters. I remember visiting Claude Monet’s house when I was very young, around four, and being really attuned to the beauty, the energy that exuded from this place. I later went back there again with my mother who never imposed anything on me but helped me discover museums and artists. She’d noticed that I liked drawing, so she bought me all kinds of paints and materials like charcoal and hard pastels… I had a lot of freedom in my childhood, I’d go play with my friends outside, I was really energetic, I did a lot of sports, I needed to move. Drawing and art in general allowed me to have a kind of space where I could channel all this energy while retaining my freedom. I liked to share what I created - putting it on display or giving it away as a gift.
What and who has influenced you, broadly speaking, in your art and in your life?
The first oil portraits I did were of Amiri Baraka (formerly known as LeRoi Jones) and Frantz Fanon, and I’ve also done two portraits of James Baldwin, always out of admiration, inspiration, and the desire to pay tribute to those people. I had the opportunity to see I Am Not Your Negro recently and I’ve been learning so much more about Baldwin and his commitments. His novel Giovanni’s Room really moved me, it was so captivating. It’s not always easy to be queer or queer and black in 2017, so back then…
Jazz influenced me in terms of the models I choose, and when I paint, I listen a lot to artists like Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, or Miles Davis. By painting people like Basquiat, Keith Haring, Modigliani, or Frida Kahlo, I wanted to show which artists have influenced me through their work or their life (or most often the two combined). How have all those people influenced my life? They’ve given me the strength to be who I am.
What does it mean for you, to be making art in France, in Paris, today? How does not being a man, or straight, or white, change your experience?
Being an artist today in Paris has become an act of activism, I feel, which I integrate to the need I have to express myself. I’m a political artist and that’s a structural part of my life. I’m not a part of any organization or group, but I do collaborate with movements and events like Paris Black Pride, and I have my work showcased in places like La Mutinerie Bar (that exhibition ran until May 12). So not being a man, or white, or straight - none of this is an obstacle for me. It’s my source of strength. I’m black, lesbian, androgynous, and I’m proud of that.
How do you see the future?
As long as I have things to say, I’ll keep on painting. I see a bright future ahead, because I’m fundamentally an optimist. With painting, you never know what might emerge in terms of production, or events and opportunities. It’s all unpredictable, and that’s the beauty of it.