Dédé: Beneath the Surface
In My Veins
Tears of Gold
Maps of Tomorrow / Untitled
I Spent All of the Love I Saved
Frostbite: A Year Full of Decembers
Maps of Tomorrow XVIII
What drew you towards abstract art?
That is a tough question for which I have no real answer. When I started painting, long ago, my art was hyper-realistic and figurative. I spent hours and hours drawing and painting the same eye or hand or animal over and over again to make it as real and perfect as possible.
I really have to laugh when I look back and think about the fact that photorealism was once my biggest goal in art. But then I stopped painting for many years and when I came back to it, in August last year, my style had changed completely. I didn’t even try to paint the way I did before, but followed my instincts instead. It’s a little ironic because before that I didn’t care about abstract art at all, but as I started painting again, I realised that the abstract offers me many more possibilities when it comes to expressing my emotions and connecting with myself. Figurative art never did that for me. Back then it was all about painting things I saw or things that I thought were pretty. Now I paint things I feel. Painting something pretty isn’t a goal at all anymore. The funny thing is that I spent so much time learning how to paint and draw, but all I learned back then is useless for the way I paint now. I can’t fall back on old techniques or knowledge, but instead have to learn a lot of new things and develop techniques on my own to be able to create the way I do now.
Your colour palette often centres around reds, crimsons, umbers and other natural-world or earthy tones. Is this an aesthetic or conceptual choice?
I love colours. I really do. I love bright red and all shades of purple and bright blue. But it feels like the longer I paint the smaller and more monochrome my palette becomes. And not only do I use fewer and fewer colours, but also more and more natural and earthy tones. It’s not a choice at all; somehow, it just happens.
As my palette shrank down to tones of earth and leather and wood and stone, texture become a more important element in my artwork. I guess it all started when I began to mix my acrylics with soil and herbal essences and ground stones from my ancestors’ lands. When you look at my Instagram’s timeline you can see how the strong colours slowly vanish and how those earthy and neutral shades take over. And that is a very surprising evolution for me, because in the same way I didn't like abstract art originally, I also didn't like neutral or earthy colours, but here I am, years later, happily painting monochrome and abstract pieces.
There is a rather sanguine quality to some of your work. Paintings such as Afterglow and In My Veins seem to go beneath the skin and excavate our fleshy, cellular existence. What led you to focus on these images?
I think it stems from the fact that a lot of my art is related to physical experiences. The body itself as well as its components - such as skin, bones and tissue - play a major role in my work, as a lot of the emotions and experiences I process through painting have the body as a catalyst, the result of which is this very organic style.
Do you see art as transcendent and above the mundane world, or do you see it as part of and a reflection of this world?
I would love to see art as something transcendent, something out of this world. Maybe it is like that for other artists. But my art is very much rooted in the soil of my experiences. A lot of what I paint is based on things I’ve been through, whether it’s something as serious as abuse or something as mundane and worldly as a break-up. So, in my case, art is definitely a reflection of not only the world at large but specifically of my very own world and how I see and experience the people and the life around me.
Where did your artistic journey begin?
I come from a rather artistic and culturally-invested family. I started writing and painting very early. I can remember that, at the age of four, I used to glue numerous sheets of paper together to create a huge base to paint on. I drew and painted a lot of crocodile-esque lizards, or rather crocodile-like humanoids that were half lizard and half knight. They were generally in full armour, running around with swords and riding on tortoises and other lizards. By then, my mother had already decided, in her mind, that I would become an artist. She enrolled me in early art education and, for many years, that was my life. I was painting non-stop - in art class, regular class and in my spare time. I started to exhibit my art, at first in group exhibitions, and then on my own. So, I didn't really choose to become an artist myself, but I liked the attention that I got from it.
I was badly traumatized by this point as I went through sexual abuse for years. At one point, I just couldn't produce art anymore. I didn't want that attention anymore. I was suffering from an eating disorder and didn’t want to see or talk to anybody unless I had to. I stopped painting for almost two decades. To be frank, I never missed it and I honestly thought that I would never paint again. But then, in 2021, I started to dream about creating a painting. These dreams were so realistic that I even knew the title, Maps of Tomorrow, and so I got up one night and started painting with what I had to hand. I thought this would be like a kind of exorcism - that I would paint this one painting, finish and then forget about it again. The problem was that, although I finished the piece, it wasn’t the painting from my dreams. I had painted a piece called I speak from the inside. After that, I decided to do one more, which then led to me painting on a regular basis again. The difference is that painting now really fulfils me. I can feel it doing me good. For years, my therapist encouraged me to paint again, to paint in order to process. Not only did I refuse, but I really despised the idea… and then it turned out that doing exactly this was to become an important part of my convalescence.
Who are your most admired artists and why?
I suppose I don’t really have any. I love spending hours in museums and galleries and I also love discovering new artists, but there is no one I look up to or admire in quite that way. Something I noticed a while ago is that often art that is completely different from my own style makes me the happiest and fascinates me the most. Some artists look at other people’s art and compare it to their own or try to spot a technique in it that they can use in their own work. That isn’t what I’m looking for when I look at art. When I go to see an exhibition, I don’t want to think about my own work. I want to dive into that other artist’s energy and experience it fully.
Due to living with PTSD, a part of my mind is constantly inhabited by rather bleak images and grim feelings. Even when I’m happy and relaxed, when something triggers me I have flashbacks or else face brutal images and emotions associated with what happened. Because of this, I enjoy it when I’m faced with something that mutes that part of me for a while and enables me to just dive into the spirit of the artwork.
Dédé, the artist behind Atelier Dédé, is an abstract painter and writer based in Europe. His latest essay, Second-Hand War, is part of the anthology, The Mutagens, published by Cultural Arts Collective.
Find and follow Dédé on Instagram: @Dan_Dan_Paints