One to Watch

Aurélia Durand’s Empowering Portraits

Multidisciplinary artist Aurélia Durand celebrates and reconnects with her African heritage through her brightly colored large-scale portraits. Aurélia studied art and design in Denmark and France, and recently relocated to Paris in 2021 after a long residency in Copenhagen. Her work which focuses on joy and pride in identity has been featured on multiple book covers and other collaborations. Aurélia’s work has also recently been exhibited in both Paris and London.

Tell us about who you are and what you do. What’s your background?

I am a French multidisciplinary artist. I paint on canvas, murals, and basketball courts, illustrate articles and books, write books, create visuals for campaigns, and animate short videos. I have worked with many prominent international brands in the past six years, from The New Yorker to Nike and Google. One of the books that features my art is a #1 New York Times bestseller, “This Book is Anti-Racist.”

What does your work aim to say? What are the major themes you pursue in your work? Can you share an example of a work that demonstrates this?

My work has a distinctive style. I paint to celebrate my African heritage through proud and empowered colors. I depict unknown black figures surrounded by vivid colors and patterns. I paint positive and peaceful messages. There is no specific artwork that demonstrates my artistic intentions, all I have done so far shows my intentions. I use books to teach young kids how to take action against racism, I animate dances to connect with my African heritage, and I use African patterns inspired by wax textiles to reconnect with my African roots. I am an “artivist,” meaning my work conveys peaceful messages about multiculturality.

Can you walk us through your process for creating a work from beginning to end?

I usually doodle in a small sketchbook, draw with my computer to play with the colors in Adobe Illustrator, and then trace the drawing on my canvas with a black pencil. Afterwards, I start painting with colors.

Who are your biggest influences, and why?

I studied art and design in different fine art schools in France and Denmark. I have studied the architecture of Jean Nouvel, Le Corbusier, and Zaha Hadid, the product design of Etorre Sottsass, Hella Jongerius, Verner Panton, Vitra, and Olafur Eliasson, the paintings of Picasso, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Kerry James Marshall, Kehinde Wiley, and Amy Sherald, and the photographs of Malick Sidibé, David Lachapelle, and Platon. Traveling in different countries such as the French West Indies, Scandinavia, and the United States, has influenced my work as well.

How does your work comment on current social and political issues?

It’s not that my work comments on current social and political issues, it’s more that I have lived all my life feeling my story didn’t matter because it was not part of the primary culture I was living in. My mom is from Ivory Coast in Africa and did not teach me about her culture. With my art, I reconnect with my African roots: I try to complete a missing part of me. And today more and more people are doing the same thing as me, trying to reconnect and tell more nuanced stories about where we come from with pride and joy.

How do you hope viewers respond to your works? What do you want them to feel?

I hope viewers get energized by my use of colors. I use yellow and orange as eye boosters, and that’s why people watching my work feel like they get a shot of vitamin D. The body expressions of my characters are dynamic: it adds vitality to my work as well as the colors. I hope people feel inspired to move and joyful.

What are some of your favorite experiences as an artist?

People want to listen to my story and how I became an independent artist and developed my style. I am invited to speak in front of people about my work. It’s impressive and funny as not so long ago, in my bedroom, I was struggling to pursue an artistic career. At first I was anxious to speak in front of a crowd, but after doing it many times it’s the one thing I love the most. Working alone in my studio pushed me to share more with people. I lack sociability in everyday life, so I enjoy sharing my experiences with an audience, especially young aspiring artists.

Do you prefer to work with music or in silence?

Neither. When I paint, I listen to podcasts, especially audio fiction. I listen to thrilling immersive stories produced by QCODE or on Audible or Apple podcasts. Some stories are about six to nine episodes of twenty to fifty minutes, and there are different genres of sci-fi, horror, comedy, thriller, and more. Listening to stories without seeing visuals stimulates my imagination. When I look at my paintings, I can tell which stories I was listening to while painting. I recommend it!

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