Gallery Girl meets Safae Gounane

Safae Gounane’s paintings are colourful and comical representations of her environment. Also a comment on diversity, she takes inspiration from history, applying it to the 21st century, creating work that is clearly influenced by pop culture and modern relationships. Large in scale, Safae’s images could almost be likened to the work of George Condo, but with a younger, more millennial vibe, that you could quite literally imagine as the cover art on any musician’s album cover. At just 21, the Moroccan Amsterdam-based artist and model has already been commissioned to make paintings of Lizzo for Glamcult, and has exhibited at Amsterdam’s Lola Bae. Gallery Girl caught up with Safae to talk inspirations, humour and intimacy.

“Lizzo” Commissioned for Glamcult, acrylic paint, crayon and pencil on 100 x 80 cm canvas. Image courtesy Safae Gounane

How long have you been painting?

I have been drawing since I was very little and then started painting when I was 12 years old, in the beginning of high school. I loved working with watercolour paint and that was my first introduction. After a while I started with cheap acrylic paint and small canvases and I remember having a lot of fun discovering the medium, how to handle a brush with paint on it and how to translate certain images/thoughts onto canvas.

Image courtesy Safae Gounane

Who and what are your inspirations?

My environment is my inspiration, seeing certain people or situations happen trigger the urge to create. I also find a lot of inspiration from old archives such as old encyclopaedias; I love the literal translation, drawings and old images. Colour schemes inspire me a lot, I don’t know how to explain that, it just gives me satisfaction and makes me think of ways to incorporate that into my work. Photography also inspires me a lot in terms of composition; you can easily capture a spontaneous moment, movement and intimacy. Also when I look at old Arabic photography (vintage POC photography in general) from the diaspora I feel inspired to also depict my own people as well.

Intiem moment 2019 200 x 150 cm. Image courtesy Safae Gounane

There is a humorous side to your work, can you comment on that?

I hear that a lot! I do think that is quite interesting, it’s not intentional, but I like that it can translate that as well. I do think that funniness holds very realistic themes of life, so when people say that my work is funny I do think it subconsciously makes them think of their own life and their experiences.

City Situatie 100 x 70 cm acrylic on MDF. Image courtesy Safae Gounane

Your characters also seem to often be in intimate situations, and are ethnically diverse. Can you comment on that?

Intimacy is very important to me, especially in the image. Intimacy is not just a feeling but to me also a way of looking. How do you translate intimacy? I really love playing with composition, zooming in/out and framing. I’m very interested in the social structure of certain people; they can be friends or strangers. Since The Netherlands is very multicultural I’ve grown up with people that have different backgrounds and ethnicities. Since I am Moroccan myself and I was born in the Netherlands I was faced with this cultural identity conflict when I was very young, because the certain view on Moroccan people here in The Netherlands was/is quite negative. I do think it’s important to depict your surroundings; people have always drawn me for some reason. All these different identities fascinate me, from there out I find it interesting to pay with narrative and create my own citizens/characters.

Image courtesy Safae Gounane

What is the art scene like in Holland? 

I can’t speak for the entire Netherlands but I do know that Amsterdam has a very diverse creative scene. There are groups of people that can come together and create their own spaces. From clothing brands, photographers, directors and visual artists. These groups sometimes merge as well. Amsterdam can be quite like a village, so people often know each other easily.

“Gevecht die eindigde” 200x200cm acrylic on canvas 2018. Image courtesy Safae Gounane

What are your plans/hopes for the future?

I have been trying out video work and enjoyed it very much; I do want to further develop that. I would love to learn about 3D modeling etc. My plans are to just challenge myself with a lot of different mediums and discover myself more. I do want to create way more paintings this year and find a way to juggle between different mediums and keep myself working hard.

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer and curator. She is the founder of Gallery Girl - a London-based curatorial platform and website dedicated to modern and contemporary art from across the globe. Her work is primarily focused on supporting emerging female artists from the Middle East and the Caucasus. She has written for Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, Suitcase and Vice Arabia among other publications. Her exhibitions in London and Armenia have been featured in Vogue Arabia, The Art Newspaper, The Art Gorgeous and numerous other news outlets. Gallery Girl has also spoken in the UK, UAE and Belgium about the contemporary art scene in the MENA region, and is planning further events in London and Amman.

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