Very few individuals can do what Isamaya Ffrench does, and even fewer can match the level which she does it on; working as a Body Artist across both editorial and fashion worlds and having had the chance to create timeless and ethereal works alongside the likes of Nick Knight, Matthew Stone and Rankin.
As we all anticipate Isamaya’s own contributions to issue VI, I did a brief interview with her in order to get a glimpse of the genius behind the woman in question.
SB: Do you have any Non-Western inspiration when it comes to the basis of your style?
IF: I love Japanese brush work! Although, I think people find it easy to categorise and distinguish between East & West when the reality is in regards to self adornment and body painting, the practice is universal. Almost every tribe, culture, clan or peoples throughout history and today have used body adornment and body painting to serve numerous significant purposes. Generally it is a celebration of identity and ritual in one way or another or to assist in a symbolic journey to a more spiritually recognised existence. Therefore, it would be difficult not to recognise, and implement in some way, all of these cultural uses of self adornment I have encountered, when making my own creative choices.
SB: Your work seems to delve within a range of textures; with visual mergings which arise with as much harmony as subtle dissonance. What is it about adding to the body, through texture and brilliant materials that you love so much?
IF: With all my artistic work, I try to capture a little emotion or add a little context to my designs and materials are a prime signifier here. They serve so many purposes during the creative process, before, during and after and ultimately are one of the most important considerations when creating something. Not only will they serve a visual purpose to the audiences reflections on the piece, they also play a role in determining the overall process of the work, as the artists creative choices will be manipulated by the materials and the way they organise themselves in relation to it. I tend to use mostly natural materials (as opposed to synthetics) as I strongly believe, aesthetically and practically, they are already pro at this manipulation business. I tend to gravitate towards those subjects bound by The six Kingdoms of nature as they are able to stand effortlessly beautiful. Why change something perfect?
SB: Was working as a body artist on such an elaborate level, as well being a makeup artist all part of a natural progression?
IF: I actually studied product design but quickly realised it was far too intolerant for conceptual thinking or exploring scientific or philosophical topics. It is objective design for the masses (often at a computer) and my work is subjective creativity for the individual.
I started with the face because I like characters and stories and the subject of identity, but these days I am lucky enough to take on an art directional approach to most of my work rather than just ‘makeup’ or ‘bodypainting’ and oversee the bigger project as a whole – something I hope to continue doing.
SB: As someone very interested in science, are the two realms of art and academia part of a complementary balance in your life?
IF: My interests are predominantly science related but there is still a strong impulse to try and slow down, capture and organise a little of life before it’s gone forever.
I spoke to my good friend Josh about our creative impulses and he managed to express our desires as artists perfectly, he said ”Have you ever experienced the sudden excitement when you learn something new and you just have to run off that minute and tell somebody about it? For the creative, the problem with that is always on how to reduce such a strong impression into its objective elements. To recount these stories as a passage of time. Freud said that he believed the point of existence was to return to a unified whole i.e. The opposite sex, I reckon beneath even that is the realisation that we’re all going to die.”
SB: Does science have any bearing on your visual work at all?
IF: Of course! I was lucky enough to interview the Head of Mycology at the Jodrell Institute of the Royal Botanical Society at Kew for a recent project on Fungi.
Sometimes I would be happy to stop at the science but I have to force myself to translate these interests into something visual.
SB: What about fixed disciplines such as sculpture?
IF: I don’t really feel that sculpture is a fixed discipline. I wrote a really lengthy answer to this about the context and placement of sculpture but it sounded really OTT. I suppose I just like making stuff and its up to you to decide what it is I do. Sometimes I don’t even know what it is I do!
SB: Traditionally in western art, female subjects are usually the main focus as far as being observed, is concerned. Are female subjects easier to work with/paint than males because of this? Do you have any preference?
IF: I find the opposite. I much prefer working with male subjects as I find I can push my concepts further. Beauty is a strange thing, you can more or less put anything on the face or body of a beautiful girl and she will look amazing, however, sometimes this can be at variance with the work as beauty can get in the way and can actually depreciate the work to the point of indifference – and the work loses its power. With men, you have to work harder to make your painting look good – they are almost like a blank canvas you can work directly on to, whereas female beauty, you have to work around.
Men are also less fussy about getting grubby.
SB: What photographer would you say has been the most in tune with your creative character? What commission has been the most reflective of you as an artist?
IF: Undoubtedly Daniel Sannwald. He is brilliant. I love everything I do with him.
SB: Do you ever work with Non-Human canvas’?
IF: Yes, I occasionally paint and I perform and dance with The Theo Adams Company.
SB: What is the creative process like in working out how a mood is to be conveyed in a shoot? How important is it for you, for a shoot to be experienced, albeit temporarily (if printed or online), as remembered, by viewers?
IF: I suppose you just have to have good instincts about the people you chose to work with and trust that they understand your direction. Conflicting ideas within a team can destroy the project so you have to make sure everyone knows where they are going with it. Sometimes you can have happy mistakes though.
I believe it is always important to live in the present. There is so much information out there, you just have to remain true to your impulses, interests and beliefs and if other people like what I do, then that is a massive bonus.
SB: What are you looking forward to the most, about Sang Bleu VI?
IF: The genius to come from 2 years of Maxime and Jeanne Salome planning…