Kindred Spirits

Words Whitney Bryan

If you scroll through the candy-coloured cubes of the artist, Evita Flores Instagram page, you’ll eventually come across an image containing an almost post-punk Marie Antoinette figure, underneath is the caption;
“Happy to be cooking up a lil something special with living doll Colette”
The ‘doll’ is Punk Marie herself or better known as the artist, Colette Lumiere. The caption not only sums up the crystal clear admiration Evita holds for her interviewee, but the certain whimsy only Colette’s world inspires.

It’s this world Evita (who Colette endearingly calls by her social media handle, Playground Angel, throughout their talk), and the few kindred spirits that exuberantly go by, ‘The People of Victory’, are trying to preserve. With a kick-starter fund that would permanently emblazon Colette’s curated powder puff installation (better known as The Living Environment), into the long lasting legacy it deserves.

Along with the cause, in this conversation, the two artists discuss the importance of creativity in these times, the femininity inherent within it, and the true power of embracing identity.

Colette Lumiere. Detail of the living environment 1981. with Colette aka Justine of the colette is dead co. Wearing one of her beautiful dreamer uniforms.

Evita Flores. The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes. Oil on canvas.

Evita Flores: Dear Colette, let me start by saying what a delight it is to converse with you about art and life, you’re a personal art hero of mine!  How have you been doing during this pandemic? I hope well.

Colette Lumiere: Thank You, Evita, please don’t kill me! Ahahah, you know what they say about having a hero! I can tell you THAT AT THIS MOMENT I HAVE THREE LIVES … in Berlin, Germany. In NYC, and as we begin this conversation, in Maine near the water where the sun rises very early!

EF: That seems like a lot of moving around, especially for the times we’re in! I also noticed you’ve had your hands full with archiving your life’s work which appears to seem like quite the challenge. Are you on your way to completing the process?  Any interesting surprises you’ve uncovered, forgotten treasures or artworks?

CL: Yes, I’ve been keeping very busy—with preserving my legacy! Archiving and preserving my life’s work, especially, ‘The Living Environment’.  When I returned from Berlin this summer, I was confronted with starting anew amid this pandemic! I was overwhelmed with the reality; the extra burden of having to continually preserve the fragments of the legendary, ‘Living Environment’, as well as my large-scale museum works. I began destroying some early works as I could no longer be responsible for them.  At a certain point, I began reaching out to a few friends and associates, letting them know of my dilemma. I even shared through social media.  A couple of individuals heard my call and came to the rescue! First by urging me to stop the massacre of my work; then making some helpful suggestions.  Now I’m in the middle of resolving this ongoing challenge!  I’m facing the same problem in Berlin but am determined to come out victorious.  It’s interesting being your archivist.   I rediscover works I have forgotten and all the events surrounding them.  An artist’s life has always fascinated me, almost as much as their art.  Knowing about an artist’s life circumstances adds another dimension to their work—like unravelling the mystery behind the alchemy. 

EF: I’m happy to hear you’ve stopped destroying your work, and that your tribe is coming through for you! 

I discovered you in what seems rather late in my art practice, it was a catalyst, but also a bit depressing that I hadn’t discovered you sooner!  But the universe knows when to present new things to one’s world.  For me… the environments you create, like you, slumbering in a Fiorucci window display, tugged at my heartstrings. Discovering your work felt like the girl in me who attempted to create forts for herself and her dolls matured most elegantly.  It seemed quite rare to see how you gained respect from the art world by celebrating yourself through fashion, femininity and sensuality, way before the era of social media.  It’s also apparent many of your ideas and styles have been used in celeb culture.

CL:  It gives me pleasure to see you’re well-informed Evita. As far as discovering me a bit later, I wasn’t aware of Yayoi Kusama or Frida Kahlo till long after I had already acquired a reputation.  It’s so uplifting to discover another kindred spirit! Recently there has been much synchronicity and magic! A couple of nights ago it happened! I conceived!
I was seated at a kitchen table in the East Village with two new friends, ‘My Angelic Team’, eager to come to my rescue in helping me find a solution to my storage tribulations, which had reached its peak. During our conversation, I expressed that I had been longing for a new persona. I felt Lumiere had run her course, not that we can ever have too much light!  But I felt something new was calling to help us out of this darkness.  The name of my dear friend Victoire always rang true for me! However, to use it I felt I needed to have her blessing, so I contacted her, and she immediately approved. Victoire these past weeks has been a great source of encouragement and inspiration and was very persistent in convincing me to stop destroying my work! While I was explaining this to my friends one of them googled the name Colette, and lo and behold we discovered its meaning, ‘People of Victory’.

The light switched on at that very instant! Laboratoire Lumiere morphed into, ‘People of Victory’ and ‘Colette Lumiere’ into ‘Colette De La Victoire’: Friday the 4th of December, 6:47 pm! A new persona is like a birth on its way! I have been longing for it and in an instant, it all came together! So, my dear Playground Angel, since it’s with that name I first became acquainted with you through your Instagram, be the first to know, aside from those involved, of this new birth! As far as the destruction of my work what’s done is done, but there is hope for what remains and there is plenty! Back to your last comment… I did gain notoriety and respect early on, but I also encountered a lot of opposition! But let’s save that for the script! aha  

Colette Lumiere. Detail of Installation “There’s a mermaid in the attic” PS1 MOMA for #40 exhibition 2016 with work “Love in the Closet”

Colette Lumiere. “Displaced” Collage. Mixed media. Berlin 2015.

EF:  How perfect and fitting your new persona is given the obstacles you’re conquering, and the times we’re in! Also, what a lovely way to pay tribute to a friendship. I look forward to seeing what, ‘Colette De La Victoire’ will bring this coming new year. 

CL: Thank you! I’m very excited as well! It’s still in the cocoon stage! Looking forward to witnessing and sharing its evolution! 

EF:  Yes! Well, Happy Birthday to Colette De La Victoire!  Definitely on the agenda is to spread the word of the ‘Living Environment’ kick starter. So, if I may peek behind the curtain. Can you speak to what the process is like in creating your personas, installations and environments, what ignites these works? 

CL: My process of creation is very organic and can be compared to any birth: first conception, the embryonic stage, the birth; then the evolution of any persona or ideas that manifest. ‘Victoire’ like ‘Lumiere’ and all the others feel a bit alien and uncomfortable at the beginning, then they begin to feel at ease in their skin. The persona evolves; reaches a stage where it begins to fit like a glove; the mission becomes clearer, a body of new artworks manifest; then I usually begin to get restless for another persona, but I can’t force a new birth.
Any new persona is usually inspired or influenced by the general climate of the planet as well as my circumstances. As far as developing the idea central to my installations, I described that process in the seventies with these words.
“I create a landscape and become part of it”- (Jeffrey Deitch catalogue for Lives exhibition fine art building, 1975)

It’s an equally organic process. I never know in advance where it will lead. I feel possessed during the creation of new work and hate any kind of interference.  This is why I called my ethereal nomadic atelier, ‘Laboratoire Lumiere’. As in the process of alchemy, I need focus, and outside influences are not welcome. However, those on a similar wavelength can participate in my process. When one has had a long career; has achieved international notoriety for decades, but not yet reached an equal position in, ‘the art market’, one has their hands full, as you expressed earlier. I feel fortunate that my angelic team appeared just in time, ‘The People of Victory’ (who prefer to remain anonymous at this time). They initiated and created the kick starter campaign to provide a temporary solution to my storage dilemma. I couldn’t stir enough motivation to do it on my own.  As concerned as I am about preserving my legacy— recognising the importance of this early pivotal work, I do not wish to be encumbered by my past. 

I feel I did my part in conserving this fragment of art history; it’s time for me to let go and let others share that responsibility.  I’m more compelled to moving forward with my art and life! 

A thought just occurred to me now: those who participate in the preservation and rescue of my works, as well as those who enable me to continue with my life’s mission and evolution, are allies.  In a sense, they should be considered members of, ‘The People of Victory’, as you have Playground Angel, by not only taking interest in my vision but by spreading the word through social media with this conversation.
In a sense, the opponents, by that I mean those who ‘do not get it’, as well as those who do get it, but choose to remain silent are like, ‘The Bad Guys’ in the movies! But they play a role as well in this particular drama, haha.
I am clearly in the embryonic stage of becoming Colette De La Victoire.  So, it will be just as interesting for me to see how Victoire and ‘The People of Victory’ evolve, and what visions will appear to help manifest new work.
The name is my response to the sci-fi circumstances we find ourselves in globally; I do question these very unnatural restrictions on our daily life. One obvious cause of this phenomenon could very well be that we need to evolve.  For a long time, many of us have complained about the state of the world, the disrespect to mother nature, the increasing focus on wrong values. Well, it looks as if our voices have been heard, and lo and behold we find ourselves amid a painful birth! We did not realise that this would be necessary for real change to occur. And now many of us wish we could go back to a normal life!? Well, there’s no such thing as going back! I also wonder if other unknown forces are involved in creating this most bizarre situation?

I’m concerned about the increasing lack of privacy, the threat to personal freedom and the apathy of most of the population as if we have been hypnotised by our comforts. It puzzles me that those who express any doubt are looked upon as the enemy or the crazy ones…?
This brings to mind 1984, and Huxley’s, ‘A Brave New World’, ‘The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers’, and various science fiction plots that have warned us about a possible future.  I’m not one to get politically involved but I do see red flags! It has become so difficult to discern the facts from reality. Whether inflicted intentionally or not: fear, despair, anger and chaos are being spread and we must not get infected by them. I like to think that we have some say in shaping our future. Let us prepare ourselves for a new paradigm!
I believe that art has a healing power to elevate one’s spirit; it is a benevolent influence.  Even though it will take more than art to resolve this very complicated state of affairs.

Evita Flores. Babylon. Acrylic on paper
Evita Flores. Vampiric Nymphs. Acrylic on paper

That said my dear Playground Angel, let’s return to the subject at hand and a more uplifting direction. ART!
As I mentioned I have gotten to know you through Instagram. It’s impossible not to notice your persistent enthusiasm towards my art, sharing images of it with others, and in return noticing yours! I immediately recognised a soul sister, a kindred spirit.  So, let us know more about your process of creating? Interesting how in this age of social media; the use of a persona has become the norm.  It’s used as a vehicle of common expression, not just in the creative arena.

EF: Politics isn’t my strong suit either, but I relate to much of what you expressed. The idea that there is something sinister behind everything that transpired is frightening. This past year was so dark and quite the awakening. Between the pandemic, the isolation, the loss of many lives, the uproar in response to the brutal murder of George Floyd, to a divided nation at each other’s throats… I can only hope we take the lessons we need from 2020 and head into the new year with more wisdom and compassion.  Your new persona, ‘Colette De La Victoire’, is an interesting response to all the turmoil we faced—I’m here for her! As important as it is for the artists’ duty to, ‘reflect the times’, it’s also my belief that we should use art to uplift the human spirit, to reflect love and beauty.
I’m also happy to be considered an ally to ‘The People Of Victory’! It’s equally important for me to display my influences on those who’ve taken interest in my art. I’m a firm believer in giving credit where it’s due. And what can I say, your presence adds beauty to my grid!  Instagram is where most of us have hung out this past year, it’s not just a mood board. 

My process, hmmm… I feel I still have a ways to go. My twenties were complicated…riddled with all kinds of lows and obstacles in my self-discovery as an artist. For example, early on I recall feeling self-conscious about experimenting with the things I was drawn to.  At one point in art school, my nickname was ‘Pinky’, due to my overuse of the colour and subject matter, I wouldn’t mind it had there not been a tinge of condescension behind it, haha.  I think a more telling memory was of a visiting artist expressing how she consciously chose to paint in a masculine manner to be noticed by certain galleries.  I didn’t like these imaginary fine lines, which blurred between what’s perceived as feminine, decorative, and juvenile as a negative—if that makes any sense.  It was hard not to take note of some of the turned-up noses when it came

to the stylistic choices I was making.  I suppose when you’re impressionable it can be hard to shake off certain things! But times have changed a great deal, in good ways and bad, and yes, it’s amazing to see how much of this change is due to social media.  I do think Instagram is one of the best things to happen for creatives, there’s a place for every kind of artist to flourish; to discover other birds of a similar feather.  I’d be remiss if I said I haven’t benefited from it.  Our paths would never have crossed if not for it!

As I began to cocoon out of my twenties, my point of view strengthened. I truly adapted to my sea legs when I started to insert myself in my work.  Also, something I think is so instrumental in evolving is to look and study other artists.  I have all kinds of artists to thank from the likes of you: Francesca Woodman, Kiki Smith, Marlene Dumas, Henry Darger, Ferando Botero, even gems from childhood like, Hans Christian Andersen, the list goes on! Part of my process is to just play with what’s at my disposal, inspiration comes in many forms and randomly, too, like a favourite song playing unexpectedly.  Once I’ve had an epiphany, I just open up my treasure chest, play dress up and curate my spaces. I do what’s necessary to set the scene.  It all comes out through my exploration in figurative paintings which I view more as personas, and these fairy tale worlds.  At the moment, however, I’m more fixated with creating my style of fallen angels, nymphs, and or fairies, so those are two series that have my full attention.  Not everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s ok, as you expressed in the end, we all have the ‘bad guys’ in our life’s movie, but they truly pale in comparison to the art angels that surround us.

CL: Thank you, Evita, for sharing your personal experience of self-discovery. Mine was different, but I still relate to some of the things you mentioned.  Interesting your different influences, I’ve had mine as well, but those include a different cast. More important for me in this discussion is you pointing out the role of social media.  To think that it did not exist for most of my time s as an artist is something to ponder on!
I do find it astonishing to discover that in this new century you had struggled to find your identity! You mentioned you graduated from The Art Institute of Chicago in 2008, and that it felt like it was still a no-no to be a girl who enjoyed being a girl! That’s crazy! I was once a guest professor and lecturer at The Art Institute Of Chicago in 1987, long before you attended.  I’d like to think it helped change this kind of male attitude continuing to prevail! We could both elaborate and exchange further on our experiences dealing with that subject, but it would take us volumes! Ahahah! 

Colette Lumiere. “Justine Goes To Hollywood” ” Foto performance 1981. (The Beautiful Uniform Series 1980 – 1982)

Evita Flores. Polly Pocket. Oil on Canvas detail.

Colette Lumiere. ‘The Lion Queen’ Mixed Media. “Lumiere’s adventures in Zulu land II”.for “The Eye Never Sleeps” festival, Poland 2019. Central Gallery

I’m relieved to know that our paths did eventually cross, as well as with the other artists and inspirations you mentioned, and that now you’re feeling more at home with being yourself.  As far as I’m concerned, being that I reached that plateau a long time ago, I find myself in a different stage in the process of self-discovery through art. In life, as in art, I believe we are all growing and evolving, like climbing a ladder, one revelation at a time; new insights reach us when we’re ready!  Occasionally encountering the right influences can help accelerate the process. I know I’m very eager to come out of this cocoon!  But I also realise this imposed pause in our lives gives us a chance to contemplate. Despite the uncertainties, we are facing I remain optimistic. It seems that The Beatles were right decades ago when they sang. ‘All You Need Is Love’ as well as ‘Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s’, ‘Make Love Your Goal’.  It is, after all precisely what the sages, the poets, the prophets, the artists, have been expressing as long as we can remember. Being a product of the ‘flower child’ era, as well as the emerging punk movement, I’ve somehow embraced both.  The punk in me is resisting uttering these magic words, but here we go:

“Love, compassion and gratitude.  Let us remember to express those in our actions and our art whenever possible, in this new year and forward”.  

So, my dear Playground Angel, thank you for sharing with me. Decades, centuries, time and space do not separate us after all when we have a common dream. 

EF: Here’s to the new year, new revelations, new creations, and solutions. ‘Love is all you need’. 

CL: You mean, Love & Art is all we need!

Evita Flores. Bunny Girl. Oil on canvas.

Colette Lumiere. “The Portrait Painter” one of the room installations of exhibition “Lumiere Occupies The Lowen Palais”
Berlin Foundation Starke / Lowen Palais . Berlin. 2015