Kim Booker, April 2018

Diane Chappalley is a London based painter who graduated from the Slade MA in 2017. Her vibrant paintings of ambiguous landscapes, simultaneously familiar and alien, appear in a state of flux. We can never truly places ourselves inside or outside of her large canvases, which is what makes them so compelling. We met at Diane's new studio in Dalston to talk over mugs of peppermint tea.

Kim BookerCould you talk a little bit about your background and how you came to painting?

Diane Chappalley: I come from the countryside in Switzerland, from the Gruyère region, a village in the Alps. I am the youngest of three siblings and we grew up with my mother. She is a primary school teacher and a musician, she has always encouraged creativity and understood the need to make things.

Blossom, oil on canvas, 90x120cm, 2018.j

Diane Chappalley, Blossom, 2018 


Oil on canvas

Courtesy the Artist

©Diane Chappalley

One of my first memories of making art was drawing the outline of a naked woman lying down with a skin coloured felt pen. I was drawing it in secret, looking over my shoulder every two seconds as if I was doing something wrong, but it was exciting. As soon as I finished, I felt the embarrassment. I think I was scared of my own thoughts, afraid of my ideas – I immediately ripped it apart and threw it away. I learned the potential of an image and how much it reveals. It sometimes says more about you than you even know.


Another key moment was seeing the painting at the Uffizi in Florence when I was a teenager. Especially experiencing Artemisia Gentileschi's work, it showed me how powerful a painting can be. Since then I knew I wanted to make art my life, but I didn't know at that stage exactly what shape it would take.


I came to London to study art because I didn't get into any Swiss art schools for my BA. Failure has always made me work harder and helped me define my conviction. I applied to City and Guilds of London Art School, I could barely speak English at the time. I was surprised to get offered a place on the BA painting course, I am still very grateful. I wouldn't be where I am now otherwise.


KB: What kind of work did you make on your BA?


DC: I was making all sorts of things, using a variety of media for all sorts of imagery. It was a constant battle trying to find the right form for what I wanted to say. For two years, I was finding alternatives to avoid making painting using only oil paint and colour. I was somehow not ready for it, it felt too vulnerable and revealing. 

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“For two years, I was finding alternatives to avoid making painting using only oil paint and colour. I was somehow not ready for it, it felt too vulnerable and revealing.”

Diane in her studio, 2018

(Photography: Kim Booker) 

KB: Could you talk about the Slade MA and what your experience was like there?


DC: The Slade was very intense! My practice developed considerably and I think the work got closer to what I wanted it to be doing. Now I am able to approach painting differently depending on what I am working on and I am also better at facing the constant artistic difficulties. I also met incredible artists there, teachers and peers - people I look up to. 

KB: How did your work change during your MA?

DC: The work is now more representational. The form of the painting has changed to be less abstract but hopefully the impulse hasn't changed. My approach to painting became more conscious - I was a very intuitive maker but now I have more intellectual doubt about intuition. I believe in being more honest with myself in the work that I make. I understand the possibilities of painting better. The work has more layers of 'meaning', they say more, even if the subject matter is often simple – I hope there is a complexity somewhere in the materiality of the paint or in the experience that the work can generate.

“I like those moments when your perception is challenged and you have to reassess what you preconception of the world is.”

Swan,130x170cm,oil on canvas,2017.jpg

Diane Chappalley, Swan, 2017 


Oil on canvas

Courtesy the Artist

©Diane Chappalley

KB:  Where do your images come from? 


DC: I work mostly from my imagination or recollection, and that has always been the case because I am trying to paint things and places that I know or recognise. Sometimes they are real, sometimes not, but they all have some sort of sense of reality. That can be in the mood or it can be in the relationship between the forms in the painting. In the process there is a constant tension between something that I believe in or recognise and then something I don’t know.

KB: Are your paintings planned or do you work more intuitively?


DC: It depends. Each painting is different. For example, in the painting I saw me seeing myself  I looked at the compositions of one of Marianne Werefkin's sketches.  She is an artist that I have returned to for many years and it made sense to take direct inspiration from her work.

My painting is about the strange sensation when you are on a train and it changes track, and there is also another train in parallel and they separate. You can see the reflection of yourself and then the other train, and you don’t understand if you are going away or not - it feels like you are leaving your own self. When I saw Werefkin's sketch I sensed this sort of feeling. Some others might change many many times, and it can often be agonising. I find myself ruining paintings after exhausting them.

I saw me seeing myself, oil on canvas, 1

Diane Chappalley, I saw me seeing myself, 2018 


Oil on canvas

Courtesy the Artist

©Diane Chappalley

I was recently in Hong Kong for a residency and everything was strange and visually stimulating - I had never been to Asia before. It was 35 degrees and extremely humid. There were typhoons, everything would go white and you couldn't see anything. I associate white landscapes with being cold, like in Switzerland, but in Hong Kong it is really hot. I like those moments when your perception is challenged and you have to reassess what you preconception of the world is. So I made a painting in response to that sensation.


KB: Could you describe your working method? Do you work through one painting at a time or have a variety of things on the go?


DC: The paintings overlap but in my mind there is usually only one painting.  When I paint I’m messy but I always clean the studio when I leave. So I can come back the next morning and I see clearly what I have done the day before.

KB: How do you build the surfaces of your paintings? Are there many layers?

DC: Different surfaces allow me to do different things. I like what you can do while painting on rabbit skin glue on flax, how the paint gets absorbed. On the other hand I also use the reflectiveness and vibrancy that you can get through layering colour on oil primer. I pay a lot of attention to surfaces and use the properties of primer and material to achieve different feelings.

KB: What mediums do you use? 

DC: I use oil paint with linseed oil or a turps alternative. Sometimes I make very obvious and blunt brush marks, other times I need to not be there, so that the brush becomes invisible. It's a process of getting rid of the hand when I paint. It’s almost as if I need to reach a certain stage in the painting where it has to go so far that I won’t be able to do it again, or that I just don’t know how it has been made. 

Stump, oil on canvas, 130x170cm, 2017 20

Diane Chappalley, Stump, 2017 


Oil on canvas

Courtesy the Artist

©Diane Chappalley

There is often something you can’t see. It’s like something exists outside the work. You can’t see into things. There are no windows into the house, no windows on the train.”

KB:  What are you trying to say in your work?


DC: I don’t know if I can say what I’m trying to say, but I can say what I’m trying to do. I want each painting to end somewhere I didn’t expect it to end. In each work I need to have overcome something, and finish the painting in a way I did not anticipate. And then I’m trying to make paintings that are about paint as well as being about the subject. But maybe I want them to be more about paint. A Hodgkin painting is very much about paint but it’s also about something else that's to do with sensation but which nobody has been able to describe. That fascinates me. At the National Gallery, there is an incredible Vuillard painting - La Terrasse at Vasouy, it's huge and it’s impossible to understand the logic of this painting (it's a dyptic). It blew my mind each time I saw it. It’s just paint, but then it’s also a scene of people having lunch in the garden. Somehow I want my work to do that - to be about paint, its illogical logic. But I am not there yet, so I keep painting. 

KB: How do you push yourself within your work?


DC: Trying different things - in terms of the formal aspects, colour, composition. And then the way I paint. I often force myself to apply the paint in different ways and then see what that does. Repetition is important but not when it gets too comfortable - I'm constantly trying to counter that. You asked me what I’m trying to say earlier, I want to create a work with the sensation that it's not quiet settled, an ambiguous space that has an uneasiness. But then I’m also looking for a certain silence. So sometimes the paintings will finish because they kind of shut down. 

KB: They do have this perspective that draws you in as a viewer, and because you don’t put other people in the paintings there is this sense of isolation.

DC: That’s true. There is often something you can’t see. It’s like something exists outside the work. You can’t see into things. There are no windows into the house, no windows on the train.

KBWho are your painting heroes?

DC: Marianne Werefkin, I came across her work a few years ago in a museum in the Italian part of Switzerland and I was amazed by her work. She is from Russia and she came to Switzerland at the end of her life. She was in love with the Impressionists and she was part of the German Expressionists. Her work contains layers of perception. I really relate to that. I think my painting comes from this history of painting. Howard Hodgkin also - part of my MA thesis was about him, trying to understand through his process how his painting can exist beyond meaning. In his work there is  a transparency in how he made the paintings. When I look at them I can tell which brush and which gesture he used, which one came first; although the process is blatant, it is always unexpected. Then there is his use of colour! I can't even talk about it. 

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Diane in her studio, 2018

(Photography: Kim Booker) 

KB:  What are your plans for the next 12 months?

DC: I have a residency at Unit 1 Gallery, which will conclude with a group show. I’m making two large works for that. I also have an exhibition at Chalton Gallery. After that I have my first solo show at the beginning of July 2018 at HSBC. Enough to keep me busy!

KB: Do you have any advice for recent graduates?


DC: Just keep making. What matters is making the work - recognition might never come in the way that we want anyway.