Updated: Nov 16
Stephanie Arpels is a French painter based in New Delhi, India. After running her own successful business for a while, she decided to become a painter. Painting is her way of expressing her emotions and the emotions she sees in others, particularly women. Painting is also her way of coping with a chronic illness that has been affecting her life since she was a teenager. In this interview, Stephanie talks to us about her journey and how painting is an outlet for her emotions.
You weren't always a painter. Does painting represent a common thread in your life or can we speak of a different chapter, of a departure from the woman you were and the life you led before this official transition took place about 10 years ago?
This transition happened when I met my husband, at which point it felt like a new chapter was opening. At that moment, I realised that I had to find a way to express the emotions that were buried inside of me. It was part of the process I wanted for this new life. Before becoming a painter, I had my own business and was entirely focused on my customers. I literally had no time for myself.
How does your art help you feel understood?
When I was a teenager, I felt misunderstood so I found art to express myself. I just instinctively expressed my anger in whatever medium I could find. I started by painting the walls of my room black and wearing black clothes that I designed myself. I also added some white and red to show my anger and frustration. It was my way of letting my parents know that I was unhappy.
What do you manage to express through painting that you can't express in any other way?
Painting allows me to express myself more deeply. It allows me to express the unknown, things like what I imagine is the world after death. My illness has brought me very close to death, which is partly why this is an important subject for me. And expressing this allows me to heal at the same time, as well as provides me with an escape.
"In Between," representing doors and paths
Some of the important themes in your painting include “paths,” “doors” as well as women. What do these mean to you?
The “paths” and “doors” that I paint represent access to the world that I imagine after death. These themes represent hope and a solution, a safe place and a way to heal.
Looking at women, the way I see them is, they give life. They play so many roles and therefore are unique in that they are several people in one. But despite changes in mentalities, women are still not considered equal to men and struggle to find their place.
Indian women in particular inspire me. Their spirituality resonates with mine. I feel that their spiritual power enables them to endure their lives and gives them the strength to support their families. In a way, my job is to pay homage to the beauty of these women, I admire them. I observe their inner beauty, which feels like suspended in time and space.
How does your chronic illness influence your art?
Painting alleviates my suffering. For me, painting is to exist, painting is to be in good shape, it is to fight against this disease with which I have had no other choice but to live with since my adolescence. Painting is hope, it gives me energy and it carries me. It is like a balancing act.
Over the years, I find that I have been able to express my emotions in a clearer, more structured way. I use more texture in the painting and it feels more precise.
"The Rescue" (plein le dos)
One of your paintings that particularly touched me is the one you call “plein le dos” (which could be translated as “fed up” and is entitled "The Rescue"). What does this painting represent for you?
This painting is difficult for me to look at. It is the painting that took the most work because I just could not get it to look the way I wanted. The painting is about my journey with pain, it is about the questions that I ask myself like: “How can I put up with this pain? How can I accept this condition? Why is this happening to me?” And beyond my own pain, this painting is also about all the women who are fighting pain, who are in pain. It’s both about my pain and other women’s pain.
I have many other paintings that are close to my heart. For instance, at the moment I like to look at my landscapes like "In between" or "Path to a New World" inspired by Ladakh. I also like to watch the installation of my Indian women "Walking Women", acrylic, collages and resin installation
If you weren't an artist, what would you do?
I wish I could heal others. I would have liked to have powers to make the world more stable, more balanced, fairer.
You can find more of Stephanie’s paintings here.
You can also follow her on Instagram.