Florence Blanchard is a French painter, muralist and screen printer based in Sheffield. She began writing graffiti in the early 1990’s under the name Ema, and spent ten years based in New York where she graduated with a science degree from NYU in 2008. Her work is directly inspired by her training as a scientist and depicts abstracted molecular landscapes with a strong graphic aesthetic.
How and when did your interest in Graffiti first materialise?
I was a teenager in the early 90’s and became a fan of hip hop culture as it had just arrived where I grew up in the south of France. I loved looking at graffiti fanzines and watching old breakdance videos from New York.
Can you describe how and why you went from Montpellier to NYC and ended up in Sheffield?
My parents spent time in New York in the 70’s and although I was born in France I spent the first year of my life in the Upper East Side. Growing up in Montpellier and looking at family pictures in NY inspired me to move there later on. In my early 20’s, I managed to secure a scholarship to study molecular genetics as a PhD Student at New York University and embarked on a decade of newyorican extravaganza, during which I was exposed to all things art and science. I graduated in 2008 and after a couple of years of soul searching and American recession I decided to move back to Europe. I found the UK to be a good compromise between America and France and had a personal connection to Sheffield so I moved here 5 years ago via a short stay in Paris.
What does a day in the life for you look like?
My schedule changes all the time. I paint murals in remote locations, or I paint in my home studio for exhibitions and commissions. I also have a screenprinting studio about 30 min walk from my house, where I print editions for myself and sometime with other artists as collaborations. So every week is a different combination of doing these things in between answering emails.
Do you surround yourself in your studio with objects that inspire, comfort you? If so can share some of your favourite “things” in your studio and why you love them?
I wish! I’ve been moving around a lot, and I have not had time to get to that stage yet. My screenprinting studio is just functional with not much decoration, and my home studio is a mess at the moment. Earlier this year I managed to sand and varnish the floors so I could move my stuff into it, next stage will be to re-plaster and paint the walls. I’ll be really happy when I get to hang my collection of prints and artwork I bought from other artists over the past years.
Can you describe your thought and the resulting physical process in creating your art? Do you approach a project differently if the result is for screen-print or a large-scale exterior mural?
My process is the same whether it is for small or large scale. I like to think of the final design in relation to the support or format. As a painter I don’t do much on the computer, but I generally try to put together a rough mock up of a composition to follow for inspiration. If I run out of ideas I look at what I have done in the past and it always help.
You recently completed a mural for BIOMENBRANE – FESTIVAL OF THE MIND. Can you tell us about your concept for this project?
Because part of my work is inspired by science and microscopy I was approached last year by a group of scientists from the University Of Sheffield to work on a project for Festival Of The Mind 2016. The aim of the festival is to promote research at the university and offers funding for creative collaborations between academics and artists. They were interested in commissioning a big mural inspired by their area of research, which deals with understanding how molecules transit through cell membranes. So after meeting and talking with them about their work I decided to represent a large-scale version of my interpretation of a cell membrane as seen under an electron microscope (a super powerful microscope). I painted the mural this summer at the center of the university campus and there was a short documentary about the process projected during the festival in September.
What other work of yours, commercial or otherwise, represents a real breakthrough moment in terms of career but also in terms of creativity and learning?
It’s been a really progressive learning experience and generally the more I work, the more I get work. Each paid job is entirely different. Each time I finish a project I think I’ve seen it all now and next time it’ll be easier, but actually new challenges arise each step of the way.In between jobs I make sure to squeeze personal projects, which I self-finance. In 2014 I painted a 300 sqm wall in the middle of the countryside in Japan thanks to a good friend of mine, and that was one of my best life experience. Lot’s of good food and positive vibes, my favourite kind of project!
Tell us about how B&B Gallery came about? Had you curated shows elsewhere before you opened it? What are the plans for the future?
B&B came about in 2012 when myself and Ed Bradbury (Kid Acne) started our own screenprinting studio after finding a lot of professional equipment on Ebay. Shortly after we started renting a warehouse in the center of Sheffield (where space is deceptively cheap!). We were able to sort out a gallery at the front, where we have curated about 20 exhibitions in the past 3 years. The idea behind B&B is more about putting our skills together in a number of ways to promote our own work – a bit like a 2 person art collective – and include other artists whenever possible. I used to assist private galleries in New York and both of us have had a long history of exhibiting ourselves and we collect art. Because I am from another country I like the idea of bringing international artists to Sheffield and Ed has serious screenprinting skills so we found that one of the easiest ways to combine this together is to invite artists we like to collaborate on print editions, which we offer on our online shop. Right now we are in the final stages of organising FEATURE WALLS, an inaugural festival of murals in Sheffield. We have invited 15 artists from all over the world to paint giant artworks in the city centre from October 22nd-30th, which happens to be the same time as OFFSET!
How important are non-art related influences on how you think and produce work? Can you give an example of one such influence?
Well, as a trained scientist I spent many years looking at the structure of various living things through powerful microscope lenses. This has permanently affected the way I see the world and I always find myself wondering about scaling relationship and structure. Most of my work deals with large-scale representation of imaginary particles/molecules/elements as observed through a magnifying lens. I really like the idea that the viewer becomes one element of the painting just by standing in front of it.
Can you share some thoughts on what you are working on at the moment or planning to work on in the next few months?
I’m in the middle of finishing a mural in Kelham Island in Sheffield, where lots of things are happening at the moment. I’ll be painting another mural at FEATURE WALLS in a few weeks, and hopefully can take a break before I start working on my next solo exhibition at B&B.