Q&A with Joel Lorand

Interview by Isabel Cuenca

The 2014 Texas Patron of the Year exhibition, One of a Kind: Artwork from the Collection of Stephanie Smither, currently on view in the Front Gallery at Art League Houston features work from over forty “outsider” artists from around the world.

Born in Paris, Joel Lorand began drawing at the age of 8 or 9. Although he wanted to go to Art College, he instead began a career in 1978 as a pastry chef/ For many years he did not draw anything, until two months before the birth of his son, he once again took up the pencils and resumed the creative process. To start with it as merely a hobby, but the need to create soon began to completely take over so in 1997, decided to leave his job and move his family to the country. "I trully believe that a superior power has given me a real force, which all true artists posses," said the artist. "A force, which can influence matter making as it passes from the invisible world to the visible world."

1. The thing I love about Sainte Bertille is the facial expressions within the piece. There is tension there that is very captivating. It is as though time stopped when the creature is about to impart judgment. Can you talk about the mysticism and the representation of the spiritual dimension?

If there’s a spiritual dimension in the drawing, that’s great, since all artwork should have a spiritual dimension. If that dimension is missing, it’s not even an artwork! I am definitely a mystic, but an agnostic mystic despite my Christian upbringing.

2. I am attracted to your work because of my background as a Filipino. In Philippine mythology, we have a creature called a “Manananggal.” At night this creature’s top half detaches from its lower half, sprouts wings and eats fetuses in the woman’s womb. Is reading about folklores and mythologies from different cultures a part of your research process?

People who discover my universe are convinced that I must have a firm grounding in the cultures of ancient civilizations, but that’s not the case. I never travel, and I don’t have a library at home full of books about indigenous arts. My inspiration comes from inside myself, as if I had a long story to tell. This story is already written inside me. I just have to draw it out of my subconscious.

3. I noticed that a lot of your work is symmetrical and balanced, especially Sainte Bertille which is currently on view in the One of a Kind exhibition. Is this deliberate and how do regiments or systems play a role in your work?

It’s true that my work is identifiable for its symmetry, but I also have asymmetrical drawings. I noticed that it’s easier for me to do a drawing about one main figure and to complete the composition around this figure. As if the character at the center of the drawing were the most important and the other elements were secondary.


4. Your work is heavy on detail and very precise. Is your work, or your process meditative?

Definitely, but it’s also hypnotic. The drawing has to captivate the viewer. It’s a certain kind of power over another person, like a shaman or a magician.

5. Visually your work has elements of the metaphysical, the fantastical, and the strange. Are you creating a narrative, like folklore or playing with pre-existing mythology?

You’re right, my work allows for different readings, multiple levels of comprehension. If there’s a mythology in the drawing, that wasn’t really my intention. It’s more the result of an unconscious process. My drawings are loaded wtih symbols and the symbols are universal. They can speak to anyone in the whole world. I am a universal artist in that sense, in the true meaning of the term.

6. What is the significance of scale in your work? For instance in ancient Egyptian art, larger figures represent pharaohs and small character represent the masses. Is this true about your work as well?

Perhaps these large main figures are a projection of my self, that is to say, I am at the center of my universe, and perhaps of the universe more broadly. In a way, I myself must be an "idol," always in my own subconscious.

7. One of the reason why I’m drawn to your work is the marriage between the human and natural elements; roots and vines intertwined around humanesque figures with bark-like skin. Are you making a social or environmental commentary or critique?

I believe so. It is possible that my drawings have en ecological dimension. Perhaps like a warning about a world that is dying or else a new consciousness that’s about to come into being (another kind of human).

8. You mentioned in one of your statements that you started drawing again two months before your sons birth because you needed to give birth to something. Sainte Bertille and some of your other works consists of figures within figures. There is that impression of nesting, or keeping something within a womb that is inherently present in the work. Can you speak more about this desire, how it materialized in your process and the end product – your drawings?   

I think that it’s a metaphor. Everything is born and dies. It’s the universal law of the living. The earth is a womb and the cosmos is the largest womb. That does not provide an answer to the question that everyone asks themselves: Where do we come from or where are we going? And that does not cast doubt on the idea of God and faith for the majority of humanity.

9. How do you feel about being described as an “outsider” artist?

I don’t feel any which way about it, since society needs to put people into categories. It’s true that I’m an autodidact, but most importantly my work does not follow the norms of fine art schools. Beyond that, my drawings are too “disturbing” to be trendy or fashionable. And that’s for the best!