the pop-tastic painter duo remixing lindsay lohan and courbet
A new show in Paris explores the work of Ida Tursic and Wilfried Mille.
Serbian-born Ida Tursic and French-born Wilfried Mille have been partners for over 15 years, having met at art school in Dijon, France. Deep-diving in the Internet's bottomless trove, they seek out media and fine art iconography to print, paint over, and repurpose with textural smudges, globules, and streaks to emphasize artistic materiality.
Their exhibition of all-new oil paintings in Paris, "Elizabeth Taylor in a landscape, painting nature's beauty and the caress of the smirking sun over the mountains," is also the title of one of their many pop culture portraits. In their world, contemporary figures mingle seamlessly with art history icons, which Tursic and Mille appropriate and reinvent with equal panache. Featuring not just Elizabeth Taylor, the exhibition also samples the Sex Pistols (with "a beer, a whiskey and two apples"), Paul Cézanne, Nikola Tesla, Honoré de Balzac, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, and William S. Burroughs ("in pink with his favorite gun"). A triptych of Bettie Page paintings are "like the three graces," which double as a paradigm of how pop culture icons can perpetually be recycled, both aesthetically and conceptually. While their show at Almine Rech was being mounted, the pair spoke about working as couple, cataloguing messes and mistakes, and their gamut of pop culture idols.
How did you start as a duo in the first place?
Wilfried: We were part of a collective studio while studying in Dijon; we each had a wall in the space. At one point, we didn't know who did what, we became fused. At the beginning, we argued a lot—it still happens. Each tableau has a certain amount of resistance behind it.
Ida: We've learned you have to let the other do their thing, sometimes, and just trust the other person. It enables us to do things we didn't expect.
Wilfried: We don't have the same way of doing things. She is very tidy, and listens to the radio; not me. But we make it work [laughs].
Ida: At the heart of it, regarding the paintings, we know more or less what we want. That's why it functions—because we're usually in agreement on the result.
How has your work together evolved?
Wilfried: At first, we painted images in a straightforward way, though I hate very photographic hyperrealism. In the studio, the documents we worked with would get damaged, discolored, and dirty, and it started to change the way we worked. Rather than making a simple portrait, smears would turn the work into something else, almost a still life. It was no longer just about a face, but the material, the process. We're implicated in the notion of the portrait, the landscape—and the paint itself.
Ida: We also have a database of stains and smears; we stockpile them.
Wilfried: Our way of working is to keep everything that's trash, everything accidental.
Ida: Paint palettes.
Wilfried: And after that, we collage the composition onto paintings.
Ida: Sometimes to the point of obliterating the image.
Why this attachment to pop culture figuration?
Wilfried: They're people we like; it's a pantheon. Sometimes it's really about the image we find almost more than the subject—like the Elizabeth Taylor image, for example. We've constituted a huge database of photos, and we take photos too. We divide them into all kinds of categories: spankings, Marilyn Monroe, etc. We adore Kurt and Courtney. There's also a friend's dog, and Marguerite Duras. There's Ingres, pouting.
Ida: There's Courbet. There are quite a few painters, actually. One painting is based on one of the last photographs of Rimbaud, which is very damaged. The painting is on wood, which we burned. The extent of damage to the image made it feel very Dorian Gray—and the Dorian Gray reference is recurrent. In fact we have Oscar Wilde, over here, with his lover, also a bit damaged. The stains of paint impose themselves on the image; they have a power over it.
There's Iggy Pop and Michel Houellebecq—we loved the contrast of the decorative interior against their personas. Lindsay Lohan, making lasagna, from an Instagram photo! Baudelaire painted by Franz Kupka, Kazimir Malevich on burnt wood. Duchamp with a pink heart, Matisse and his dog, Picasso with oversized hands, Nietzsche with an erection. And Cicciolina [a Hungarian-born Italian porn star and short-term elected politician] pissing. We needed someone pissing.
Wilfried: A lot of other portraits are not included in this show. Andrei Tarkovsky, David Lynch; lots of figures from cinema and music.
You mix contemporary and classic quite casually; why this balance?
Wilfried: It's like with painting: you have to know what came before. It's part of art, anyway. Our first step is always about deciding whom we want; the second step is falling in love with an image, and then: making ours.
And you have a portrait of Walter Benjamin, a very charged political and artistic figure.
Wilfried: He's done on the original screen for printmaking, on the matrix; we liked utilizing the object used for reproduction as a means in itself. If it were printed, it would be a negative. Benjamin was very conscious of his changing epoch, and the reproductivity of industry. And that's happening today with the Internet, and with images.
'Elizabeth Taylor in a landscape, painting nature's beauty and the caress of the smirking sun over the mountains' is on view June 2nd-July 30th, 2016 at Almine Rech Gallery in Paris
Text Sarah Moroz
All images courtesy Almine Rech Gallery and the artists