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Meeting with Sophie Fontanel, writer and journalist


Meeting with Sophie Fontanel, writer and journalist - illustration 1

Journalist for iconic French magazines, author of 14 novels (the 15th is just out), and quirky influencer with over 180 000 followers on Instagram, Sophie Fontanel inspires people throughout the world thanks to her love of elegance and her uncomplicated approach to life and fashion. This August, Artsper invites you into her poetic universe, to learn about her relationship to art, culture, and social media, among other things.

Artsper: Fashion journalist, writer, icon… your schedule must be fully booked, do you give yourself time to make new artistic and cultural discoveries?

Sophie Fontanel: I jump on every single possibility to be in contact with art. It can be an exhibition, or the way in which my imagination is stimulated by listening to a radio show about art, a radio playing jazz, this music which is abstraction, or a Google search sending me down a rabbit hole of references. 

Instagram is also a wonderful way for me to discover painters, artists, by going from one post to another. I am always surprised to realise that certain people look down on what isn't a direct and majestic contact with art - in a museum or a gallery. Indeed, nowadays, the opportunities to encounter art have been multiplied. Moreover, I always carefully avoid closed circles. These private clubs bore me. They always encourage snobbery, selfishness, and a feeling of superiority that I find quite laughable. The art world is full of people incapable of being artists, but nonetheless quick to judge the world around them - and specifically to judge whether others have the right to even appreciate art.

I try to remain a free thinker, tolerant and welcoming. It is also because of social injustice that I was able to start life with a certain knowledge of art and culture. I was lucky.

Meeting with Sophie Fontanel, writer and journalist - illustration 1
Meeting with Sophie Fontanel, writer and journalist - illustration 1

Artsper: What is it that moves you in art?

Sophie Fontanel: What a question! What moves me in art is that, sometimes, it can be a solution to everything, a replacement to everything. My main problem in life is that I am moved by art considerably more than by anything else. I think that I prefer the novel that I am about to write about a disillusion, in which I'll try to make it beautiful and monumental, to the actual love story that inspired it.

I don't want to come across as someone who thinks that human beings are not emotionally touching, but I can't deny that the first thing that comes to my mind every time I meet someone is elevation. As if I was already preparing a book. In some ways it is a little dreadful. I have been looking in vain for a man on this planet who would let himself be 'poetised' without feeling diminished by it. It can be quite difficult for artists to find a partner, except when they are already so rich and prestigious that their 'words count for double'!

Artsper: You are known for taking pictures of yourself, associating them with well-phrased ideas and posting them on Instagram, would you say that selfies have become a form of art?

Sophie Fontanel: Let's say that for me, the selfies that I take are truly work. They're a form of research. It is on purpose that I balance their narcissistic tendencies by hiding my face in every picture. It is also on purpose that there is repetition, on purpose that the place and poses of the selfies always remain the same. 

It's almost fashion, it is a whole world. 

I always thought that fashion photography had something to do with art. The model's pose, its codification, its evolution, and the relationship to perfection, to poise… that means something.

By playing at being a model, when this couldn't be further away from the truth, I made a dream come true. But I didn't do it for myself (or at least not only for myself), I made this dream come true for all of those who would be watching. This entire story is one of links and connection. 

Moreover, selfies have been a form of art from the start. They deal with self-portrait, idealisation, risk - indeed, there is always the risk to be mocked when representing oneself. I actually think that if some people don't take selfies, and hate them, it is because they well understand that they do not have the talent necessary to take them.

I would also like to add that these selfies that I take come from very far. I am one of these people who, sometimes, can't see themselves in the mirror. I believe that there is a name for that. I looked for myself again and again, and ultimately I was able to make something appear. If that's not art, I don't know what is!

Meeting with Sophie Fontanel, writer and journalist - illustration 1
Meeting with Sophie Fontanel, writer and journalist - illustration 1

Artsper: Do you think that social media have changed the way we view art, like it did for fashion?

Sophie Fontanel: I believe it did, for the reason I stated before: there are so many things we can access. What I find funny is that at the end of the day there are still relatively few artists who accept to get involved with social media. It is not considered a very serious business, and there isn't much money to be made in it, at least at first glance. Moreover, artists sometimes watch over every single one of their artistic production as if they were cold hard cash. 

Nonetheless, I am convinced that miracles can be done with social media. All the hatred that can be found on these networks should make artists want to respond and ward off this hatred. 

What's perhaps even more important, and I witness it everyday, is that social media enable a connection with the people who appreciate your work. They allow you to speak to that audience directly. Refusing to connect with these people, who want to feel closer to what they - very movingly - accept to admire, seems almost criminal to me, in addition to it being such a pity for the artist. This vision of the remote artist living in his or her ivory tower - I'm sorry to say so - is completely outdated.

The possibility of this new link between an artist and his or her fans, oddly enough, gives the former an even more godly position. But it is a form of 'applied godliness', just like we talk of 'applied arts'. Sometimes, cynics comment on one of my Instagram posts and write things like 'of course, you and your worshipers…' And it is clearly meant pejoratively. But I don't see it that way. In my mind, these people who accept to 'worship' my work, and part of who I am, are neither idiots nor people who got played. Instead they are a new kind of enthusiasts, from a new era: they participate to the artistic production. If I had been able to do the same with Françoise Sagan, Barbara, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Leonard Cohen… if I had been able to 'follow' them and get to know a small part of their everyday life, I would have gained so much.

Artsper: Who are your favourite artists?

Sophie Fontanel: It changes every year. Currently, I am obsessed by the painter Sorolla. He prefigured everything that Jacques Henri Lartigue would become. I also really like Sargent, I believe it is because of the clothes. I also like Louise Dahl Wolfe, sharpness as a reply to to our mountains of approximations. If I could own one expensive artwork, I would like to have a Canova bas-relief. Because I couldn't believe being able to access such tenderness.

I also really like Rico Gaston, an African-American artist, and the way he manages to capture the aura of those he admires. Finally, I am obsessed as well with Jean Depara's photographs, which captures this Congo where people were so modern, and danced all night as if they were the entire New Wave by themselves. And the flip-flops on their feet. The grace of it all.

Artsper: What are your favourite cultural spaces?

Sophie Fontanel: The musée du Jeu de Paume, for its human size. The Louvre which I know by heart. The archeological museum in Athens. The Lascaux and Chauvet caves (their reconstitutions). The architecture of the Gulkenkian Foundation in Lisbon… The costumes at the Warner Bros. Museum

Artsper: You inspire several generations, is there any advice you would like to give women today?

Sophie Fontanel: Try to free yourself from fashionable ideas. It is great to be an environment activist and a feminist, it is even vital, but it cannot be the entirety of your culture. Yoga cannot be your entire relationship to what's sacred. Read, read. Listen to music. Read talentuous authors who don't think like you do, read Paul Morand's Journal Inutile. The world is not limited to like-minded people. Listen to what men have to say. We cannot build a world while making the same mistake that they made: despising the other. 

All of this may sound very far from art, but it isn't. Human beings, through art, express their lust for power, but they also confess their weaknesses.

Without our weaknesses, we wouldn't be strong women.

Stay soft.

Their favourite artworks

Jonathan Huxley, Black stuff, Drawing

Jonathan Huxley

Black stuff, 2014
9.8 x 15.7 x 1.2 inch

$ 1,842

Pierre Cherix, Free spirit 1, Photography

Pierre Cherix

Free spirit 1, 2017
15.7 x 11.8 x 0 inch

$ 221

Dominique Mulhem, L’Orchestre de l'Opéra, d’après Degas 1870/2018, Painting

Dominique Mulhem

L’Orchestre de l'Opéra, d’après Degas 1870/2018, 2018
51.2 x 38.2 x 1.2 inch

Sold out

Miquel Wert, While we waited for the water spirit, Drawing

Miquel Wert

While we waited for the water spirit, 2019
35 x 46.9 inch

$ 3,807

Cécile Colombo, Josi, Lulu et Yvonne, Painting

Cécile Colombo

Josi, Lulu et Yvonne, 2019
31.5 x 31.5 x 0.8 inch

$ 1,781

Tracey Adams, Lumenis 44, Painting

Tracey Adams

Lumenis 44, 2017
24 x 24 inch

$ 3,668

Laurelle Bessé, Hublot sur mer, Painting

Laurelle Bessé

Hublot sur mer, 2019
19.7 x 19.7 x 0.8 inch

$ 798