Agathe Singer Paints Lush Worlds of Flora, Fauna and Free Spirits
The Parisian artist on how botanical artists and couture houses, from Rousseau to Schiaparelli, inspire her enchanting works.
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Given the cosmopolitan elegance of Agathe Singer’s subjects, the Parisian artist’s collaborations with global brands including Gucci, Sephora, and Atelier Cologne seem only natural. But Singer also celebrates the creature comforts of home and garden, particularly the sort that saunter past on four legs or curl at your feet. Her whimsical depictions of cats celebrate their reigning spot within the animal kingdom — from leopards in otherworldly jungles to equally mysterious house cats — as well as the quirks that make them unique. Singer reminds us that all cats are individuals and should be treated (and painted) as such!
I love your homages to [post-impressionist painter] Henri Rousseau, particularly the dense, almost textile-like foliage of your jungle scenes, and you’ve also mentioned Matisse as a point of reference. What are some of your other influences (artists or otherwise)?
I have rather diverse influences. I love the illustrations of botanical artists. I look to artists like Alex Katz and David Hockney for their bright palettes and the joyful energy I find in their paintings, especially their portraits. I also like the painter Paula Modersohn Becker and the strange look of her female models. I take a lot of inspiration from couture houses like Gucci, Schiaparelli, and Patou for their beautiful use of color, as well as younger designers like Ester Manas whose inclusive designs highlight the beauty of all bodies. I love fashion editorials and magazine covers where everything is so theatrical — the clothes, the styling, the poses...how bodies and clothes tell a story.
Your own work has a vibrant but spare, understated sensibility. I’m curious how your design sense translates to your studio. What objects inspire you?
I just moved into my studio after working for almost 10 years from home, and at the moment it’s still very much a work in progress. But the first things I brought in are some pieces from a Parisian ceramic artisan I love, Laurette Broll: my water jug, palette, and some dishes and pots. These handmade objects are inspiring and comforting to me. Also, we’re lucky to have a balcony and I can’t wait to create my own tiny jungle outside my studio this spring.
While delicate, your subjects radiate strength. I’m thinking of your illustration of a woman whose bandaged hands suggest she’s preparing for a boxing match. What do you imagine she is thinking?
This illustration is inspired by the French boxer Sarah Ourahmoune! It was part of a series of portraits commissioned for the book The New Parisienne by Lindsey Tramuta, portraying inspiring Parisian women from all different fields ranging from sports to activism. This portrait was the opening illustration of the chapter about “The Disruptors,” and she’s definitely ready to fight!
I love your renderings of cats and of women, and especially the two together. Why are you drawn to them as subjects?
Cats were my first subjects when I started to paint again some 10 years ago. Leopards, panthers, and tigers were my favorites initially, because they naturally inhabit the jungle scenes I enjoyed painting at the time. Those animals represent something very mysterious, even magical. They’re simultaneously elegant and full of strength. They’re dangerous but at the same time, they’re just bigger cats! Sometimes fuzzy, sometimes furry, perhaps a bit chubby.
When I started to paint house cats, I wanted to create an imaginary feline family for myself, each member with his or her own particular look and personality. I love when people write to me or send me pictures because they recognize their cat in a painting. I was not comfortable at first drawing human portraits, and I only started to paint women much later.
Do you find an affinity between female and feline bodies?
I think I see more similarity in the way I paint flowers and women. But women and cats are connected in terms of their complex relationships, which I like to play around with. The cat is the companion, the comforter, the totem, the shadow.
Do you have a cat, and if so do you have a story about them? (My previous cat Boobie was a “wobbly” [CH] cat, and I once put him on the counter and he rolled right off! He was fine but I felt so terrible.)
Oh, it sounds like you had a lovely cat! Growing up in the countryside, we used to have cats living in our garden, but they were not allowed in the house unless it was a very stormy day. Still, they were “our” cats; we used to give them names and my parents cooked for them. We had Pink Nose and Grey Nose, Alphonse, Moufle et Pantoufle (Mitten and Slipper)… At some point we had about six cats living with us and it was so much fun for us kids. When we were away on holidays the cats reverted to being wild, and once we saw one killing a rabbit for his dinner! They are innately fierce hunters, but they also can be the clumsiest and sweetest furry things of all.
Cat Kron is a writer and editor covering art and culture for publications including Artforum, Art Review, Cultured, and Contemporary Art Review LA. She has a novelty sweatshirt with an Edward Gorey illustration of a tuxedo cat lying on books and the caption “books. cats. life is good,” as well as her own tuxedo named Batty, whom she shares with her husband.