Florent Manelli, the French artist painting LGBTQ icons opens up about what it means to be queer today, artists on his radar and the influence of Andy Warhol on his work.
YOUTH and ROLEMODELS
You’ve mentioned that when you discovered Andy Warhol’s work it inspired you to become an artist. Was it a piece in particular, or what inspired you exactly?
I discovered Andy Warhol’s work on my classmate’s agenda when I was 13 -14. It was the pink Marylin and it was my first love at first sight. I went home, I typed “Andy Warhol” on Google and I read articles, biographies, observed his works for hours. Andy Warhol artwork (like those of many other artists – Keith Haring, Picasso, …) have the chance to live beyond museums and to be accessible to all. For 15 years, I have read dozens and dozens of books, seen several films (about him or directed by him) and discovered all the philosophy hidden behind his art and his character.
Was there a formative experience growing up which influenced you’re coming out?
My grandfather’s death. I simply realized that I was going to die one day too and if I did not take my life in my hands, no one would do it for me. I was tired of lying to my family, my friends and to myself.
What do you think it means to be queer in society today?
Being proud of your difference, of what you are, not being afraid to get out of the “norm” and most of all talking about being queer, LGBTQIA + rights, knowing your rights and the history of the movement. Define yourself as queer without being aware of current issues and struggles for LGBTQ +++ people is, in my opinion, meaningless.
What advice would you give to your adolescent self?
Be patient. Love yourself. Be strong.
Free weights or yoga?
YOGA (I started this year and I feel so much better!).
” I like faces close to the limit of sadness with hollow cheeks and square jaws.”
You moved to Montreal in your early 20s, was self discovery or pure adventure the motive and how has that experience influenced your art?
I left Paris in 2013 to do an internship in Montreal, to see the country and discover other things. Paris tired me and choked me. I settled into a big flatsharing where I met Elena, who became a friend. She has been singing for years, she is an incredible artist who encouraged me to express myself through drawing. I felt free to start all over again in this city where I didn’t know anyone.
I started drawing a lot, like a need and a feeling of having smothered it for too long. I continued, my style evolved over the months, I did my first exhibition in the loft in which I lived just a few days before leaving Montreal and the energy this city gave me, I brought it back in my suitcases to France.
As a creative or entrepreneur there’s a lot of highs and lows throughout your career, what drives you everyday to wake up and pursue your artistic goals?
I need to express myself by drawing, it’s vital for me and I can’t control it. I also want more and more, with my creations, to raise awareness about LGBTQ fights and history.
You’ve gained international praise for your portraits. Why do you almost exclusively focus on male portraits and how do you choose a subject?
I can’t really explain this ease I have to draw male faces rather than feminine. It’s probably because of the sexual vision I have for men that allows me to transcribe my emotions in a sensitive way. I find all women beautiful, fascinating in a sense, of course, but my artistic feeling is different with them. My homosexuality and my experiences as a gay man are a huge part of my creative process. Faces fascinate me. We are all different, each of our facial features makes us unique. Portrait is a perfect subject for that. I like faces close to the limit of sadness with hollow cheeks and square jaws. I find my portraits in magazines, on Pinterest …
In October last year for LGBT History Month you did a series of portraits of historical LGBTQ figures. If you were going to do a series of contemporary LGBTQ figures who would you love to illustrate?
There are some contemporaries figures in my series (Bamby Salcedo, Mykki Blanco, Hamed Sinno…) but if I would choose some portraits to add, I would draw Laverne Cox, Ellen Page, Frank Ocean and unknown LGBTQ figures who are fighting everyday for their rights (Benoît Kédé, Frédéric Martel, Ottavio Marzocchi…)
“My grandfather’s death. I simply realized that I was going to die one day too and if I did not take my life in my hands, no one would do it for me.”
What have you learnt about yourself this year?
That I don’t have to find myself in situations that I don’t choose, I learned to say no quite simply.
Are there any artists or creatives that inspire you or make you excited for the future?
Yes a lot ! Artists like Carla Fuentes, Ricardo Cavolo, Chloé Wise, Luke Austin… I love their work !
Do you have any future projects that you’re currently working on?
I am focusing on LGBTQ figures and men portraits. I would love to see my LGBTQ series of 20 portraits exhibited in Paris or in France and create a small book with them too.
What would you graffiti on the back of a toilet door?
An eye. To keep an eye on everyone coming in these toilets.