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Like a prayer

· Isabella Ducrot tells of her “sacred bandages” ·

You are a painter with a French name but you are Italian. What are your sources of inspiration?

I’m Italian but above all I am Neapolitan, which makes a great difference. For me this means that great importance is given to destiny. It also means that things happen naturally, and not by force as in a predetermined plan.

So if I’m to speak of inspiration, I have not had any; for me things happened naturally. I did not take drawing lessons or do fine-arts. I didn’t know that I knew how to draw. What was most extraordinary is that awareness of this came to me after I was fifty. Previously I did not really believe that I was made for painting and even less that someone might appreciate my works. The idea that I might one day publish books and, especially, be exhibited in an art gallery, all this was completely unheard of, unexpected, unbelievable!

The artist in the poster for the exhibition

Do you remember any event or a click that triggered your new route?

The trigger was quite simply life. After I reached the age of fifty there was a kind of combination of events which let things happen naturally. The most extraordinary thing is that when I began to produce works, people appreciated what I was doing and told me so, which for me was unbelievable.

What were the subjects of your first paintings?

I very soon used fabrics because I had collected materials for years and this fired me with enthusiasm. It was first of all the colour of fabrics that interested me and then it wasn’t long before I realized that I was fascinated by their structure. For a fabric contains a “hidden spirit”.

What does this mean, a “hidden spirit”?

We all of us wear clothes made of cloth and we never think about its structure. The material itself even hides it. For example, with velvet or satin, or again with silk, we do not see their structure; now, if it didn’t exist there would be no fabric. Therefore I gradually came to understand the symbolism of fabric as a very old and primitive human creation. And I juxtaposed the symbolism of fabric with life, with thought, so that it would become one. I understood all this without wanting to, and still today it fills me with surprise and wonder.

You have done a lot of travelling in the East and in the Far East and some people say of you that your art is a form of religion. Can you explain this?

For my new exhibition I used “Buddhist” fabrics. They are the fabrics that pilgrims buy to drape sacred statues and are thus an object of religion, like prayer. In Tibet there are fewer flowers than there are in India, which is why Tibetans give the gods something made by human hands rather than flowers. These pieces of material contain the religious thought of the people who offer them, so I used this perception of things by linking it to a representation that I consider as prayer: namely, repetition. For I think that repetition is found in all the world’s religions: there are litanies and supplications. Therefore on the Tibetan fabric, which in a certain manner is sacred, I endeavoured to convey in drawing these repetitions which are an integral part of all the prayers in the world.

What does repetition remind you of in your art?

Beauty. When I was in the East, I realized that these repetitive motifs were not only decoration as they are for us in the West, but I felt that they were also a sacred hymn, music that resonates. I was totally seduced by this repetition of motifs on these fabrics.

Moreover in this way I began by drawing red balls in a repetitive fashion and this was a source of great joy to me, because this way of painting is not a logical discourse. One might say that repetition conceived like this is close to a form of prayer.

Is it on the basis of repetition that you discovered prayer?

Yes, absolutely. I associated it with what prayer is in the world. Indeed many prayersare not dialectical. I tried to reflect and to imagine how prehistoric men and women began to use their fabrics, what their first, fundamental reason had been for working out such a complicated technique as the production of their fabrics when they were beginning their settlements. And I said to myself that this went beyond the simple fact of protecting themselves and that it had to do with religion. In fact, as soon as a person mounts a loom and fulfils him- or herself in weaving on it, at the same time, simultaneously, one can say that he or she “extracts” the spirit of the fabric. Here “spirit” means something that exists thanks to the fabric, it accounts for the whole difference of fabric from paper. Paper accepts the spirit when a person writes a poem or something else on it, but fabric transforms the matter itself, the fibres and the texture. One can say that fabric has a sort of soul. In Tibet I came across a true prayer. It is a thanksgiving prayer that comes from a family which must undoubtedly have been wealthy because it is on silk, marvellous to see. And it had involved collaboration and an interweaving between the production of the fabric, so to speak “mounted” on the loom, and prayer, which also rises. They are both composed at the same time. I saw a true connection between the word and the fabric. In a certain way fabric is the closest thing to what we are as human beings: flesh and spirit.

Catherine Aubin




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 17, 2020