Delphine Alphonse's Technicolour Dreamscapes
Delphine Alphonse is a dreamer. Inspired by the cultural blends of her French Caribbean roots, she’s fashioned that same fusion into a mixed-media personal paradise celebrating black womanhood – pushing to the forefront imagery she wished she’d seen as a child, escaping into a world of colourful fantasy. Calling on a host of aesthetic inspiration from Alice in Wonderland to anime, Delphine has hypnotised us with her heady collection of hair heroines.
Talk us through your work process - how do you get started on a piece? Where do you like to work most and why?
My identity as a woman and person of colour is the basis for my creative process; I’ve used both photography and painting to explore these themes, and right now I’m interested in placing the black woman in places we’re not used to seeing her, creating new stories with different aesthetics.
As well as my life experiences and those of people close to me, beautiful images from a range of sources all unite to form a subconscious image database in my mind – the imagery evoked by ancient mythology, classical art and Japanese anime films really spark my imagination. I work at home and usually begin each piece with a face – it could be the face of a model, someone with interesting features, or simply a face that conveys a particular emotion. Then I build a world around the character.
Tell us more about faces: there's something really unique and distinctive about the way you paint facial features. Are any of the subjects in your collection inspired by real people you've met? Is there a hint of your own face in some of the portraits?
I work with models and auto-portraits, and I use my own face a lot in my work when exploring issues of identity connected to my own experiences. If I’m the model I like to alter my face and can barely recognize myself in the finished work – it often looks like a totally different person, so I’m surprised you noticed that!
We adore your use of colour and geometric patterns included in your depictions of afro hair - what inspires you to depict hair in this way?
I’ve been drawing women with big hair in different geometrical shapes for the past two years, taking cues from Klimt’s visual codes with the patterns I use. As I child, like a lot of little black girls, I wished I had the straight, silky hair glorified in shampoo adverts – it’s all we saw on TV, and I think it had a profound impact on our collective psyche!
When I was a child, I would have liked to see more images of women who look like me on TV, in films or ads. If those images did exist, they usually showed black women in an unflattering light. So for me, creating images of black or mixed-race women today is a bit like a therapy, making us visible, reminding the world that we count. Now I want to show the beauty of kinky curly hair, adorning and showcasing it like a precious ornament.
Some of your paintings have a dreamy surreal vibe – where does this come from?
I’ve always had a childlike curiosity, allowing myself to dream and fantasize about a world where anything is possible; fairy-tales, myths and children’s stories inspire that dream-like quality in my artwork. Michel Ocelot’s animations and Miyazaki’s anime create a universe of beauty and wonder without limits – I’m a big fan of their work.
What is your background? How does this tie into your work?
My parents are French Guianese. I was born in France – I don’t speak creole and I’ve never lived in French Guiana, but I was lucky enough to visit several times in my childhood. Being there was a real discovery in terms of culture and identity. I fell in love with the natural beauty of the country on sight; through art, I aim to reconnect with that culture and make it my own in a way that fits with who I am.
There are people from all over the globe in the Caribbean, and French Guiana is no exception: Indian, Native American, African, European… this mix is reflected everywhere: in the faces of the people, the language dialects, the food, the fabrics, the music. This mix and blend is so interesting to me, so life affirming – my own mixture of materials and experimentation with patterns channels that creole fusion and all the great things that come out of it.
How does the city you currently live in influence your work? Are you influenced by other locations you've lived in or visited before?
Some people can’t get their heads around the fact you can be French, live in France and have black skin! In France, I have to explain my blackness; in the Caribbean, I have to explain why I don’t have a local accent – feeling misunderstood has definitely influenced me to create my own world on paper!
When I’m craving some artistic escapism, a walk through the gardens of the Château de Versailles transports me into the dream world of the Queen of Hearts’ palace in Alice in Wonderland. Paris is my go-to place for new art exhibitions. And I recently got a real buzz from visiting Iceland – there’s so much to learn about its legends and myths, plus it has an incredible landscape.
What's your favourite aspect of your own work and why?
Art is my language, my most natural form of communication. It gives me the opportunity to express myself in the most authentic and in-depth way – whenever words fail me, these pictures I create put across exactly what’s going on in my head. I like how open and heartfelt my work is, and that there’s a piece of me in everything I do.