Agathe Toman and the art of drawing

A protean art artist

Interview by Frédérique Seyral/ translation by Emma Adams

We met up with Agathe Toman, a young French artist; the perfect opportunity to discuss her work (which we love!) with her.

What has been your educational and professional journey?

I did a high fashion styling course in Paris before moving to the south-west almost 8 years ago. I started out as an apprentice in the surf industry and then I worked for 4 and a half years as a stylist.

What techniques/materials/tools do you use?

I mainly use a black biro on white paper for my illustrations. Acrylic paint on paper or canvas and also for the surf boards that I design for Adrien Toyon. I often use Posca felt tip pens on all other materials that are not paper.

Your work is very graphic and uses practically only black and white…. is it a given work constraint or is it personal choice?

My work is exclusively in black and white. I started to add some gold leaf to a couple of the surf boards for Adrien, but that is something very new. It is absolutely not a work constraint. I don’t think that an artist puts certain constraints on themselves, in order for them to express what they wish to transmit. I’ve always seen the world in black and white and I’m sure that will evolve and change one day. It has been the case a bit with my choice to use the gold leaf, but I would never force myself to use colour simply because I have been asked to – which has been the case a number of times. The authenticity of my work would be completely in question and my message would no longer have meaning.

Which artists influence you? What do you like, what is your taste in music, poetry, etc.?

I wouldn’t say that any artists, technically speaking, have influenced me. Obviously I admire and appreciate a large number of artists, be they dead or alive, but they do not play an important role in my inspiration nor do they influence my work. The people I surround myself with and those who are very close to me have at one moment or another influenced my work. Those people, without even realising, will inspire an entire exhibition and even mark certain ‘stages’ in my creative process, such as working with white paint or with gold leaf.

As for music, I have a very varied taste, from the Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys, all the way to Lil Wayne and 50 Cent, or Lana Del Rey and Bob Dylan. But as long as I’m working on a particular project, like the one where I made 59 drawings for the Contemporary drawing exhibition in Paris, I will listen to the same music for weeks in order to put me in the mindset for that specific project each time I get to work.

In your work, there are recurring themes of flux, chaos and waves. Can you tell us more about that?

They are projects that I developed for exhibitions about a year after my own exhibition in Saint Jean de Luz, or from the exhibition at Helder which was in collaboration with Celine Hamelin. To be honest, my subject always stays the same, it is only the metaphors and the illustrations that I change-up. My past experiences, my present life and my emotions are, without a doubt, the subject matter of each one of my creations.

Surfing and skating are things in which you invest in, what role do they play in your work and in your personal life?

Indeed, I’ve been investing in surfing for the past few months with the surfing pro Adrien Toyon. He contacted me last year to decorate one of his surf boards, and here we are, now doing board number 8… and counting! It’s a different kind of material and it means that I’m learning new different things about my techniques and thus I’m going further in my creative process.

Adrien trusts me and lets me do as I please, that is what led me to recently use gold leaf. I’d been pondering about using it for some time already, but I’d not yet broken the colour barrier yet. I did it on the surf boards and now probably I will use it on my canvases or drawings. This type of collaboration is really stimulating both for my work and my creativity. It forces me to push myself, to try new things and to bridge gaps that I wouldn’t usually dare to. All of those things significantly cause my art to evolve. It is a job where you are frequently alone, so as soon as someone collaborates with you, no matter for how long, it adds a new dimension.

Some of your work, which involves circles, reminds me of the work of Richard Long – who used mud. How important is spatiality, shape and movement in your work?

The circles represent my most important illustration work. I would say that in reality they are moons. With time I deformed each one to such an extent that each person can see whatever they want, and that is exactly what I am after. I put out an image and then the viewer can do what they want with it. I’m told quite often that my work is abstract while still staying figurative, which is quite surprising to me. I must admit that it makes me happy though. Each aspect has great importance in my work and even if just one of those aspects isn’t how I hoped it would be, the piece will be ruined and I will refuse to display it. I don’t display half of the pieces that I actally make to tell the truth. When I designed for the Contemporary drawing exhibition (in Paris) and had to do 59 drawings, a good 20 attempts ended up in the bin.

Can you tell us about some of the collaborations that you have done?

The latest important collaboration that I’ve done is with the shoe brand VANS for the launch of their customizing platform in Europe. My collaboration with Billabong will come out this spring.