Born and raised in Venezuela, the renowned painter, sculptor and designer Bernadette Despujols stretches and breaks all barriers of conceptual art. The artist works in a variety of mediums to explore concepts of intimacy, identity, and sexuality, viewed solely through the female lens. Since her graduation from CalArts in 2010, Despujols’ career has taken large steps towards extraordinary recognition. The unapologetically bold depiction of the female body and representations of the male gaze in everyday life situations, attracts the viewer to converse directly with the uncanny. Be it either by weaving synthetic hair into a chair of her own design, covering latex inflatable dolls in concrete, or even by bringing a painting alive with bold, textured strokes on canvas; the spectator is placed face-to-face with the age-old objectification of women in a contemporary context. We had a chance to look into Despujols’ upbringing, formation, and background. Read below to learn more about this fascinating creator.
Bimbo Chair 2, 2017, Synthetic Hair, Wood, Canned Seat, Variable Dimensions, Courtesy of the Artist
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, and how did art first come into your life?
I was born in Barquisimeto, Venezuela; a small city about an hour away from the coast.
I have always been interested in art, since I was a kid. My grandmother Celina Despujols is a literature major has always been very supportive.
I studied architecture at the Universidad Central de Venezuela where I graduated with honors and taught architectural design for a year before moving to the US to pursue my MFA at CalArts. It was after I finished my MFA that I started to pursue my career in a serious way.
Love Doll 13, 2018, Concrete and Latex, 23 x 13 x 12 in., Courtesy of the Artist
Has your work always taken on the style it currently embodies?
Not at all, my work has changed a lot over the years.
It was around 2015 when I started developing my practice referring to gender and femininity, and a whole body of work grew from this research.
I hope my practice continues to grow and change over the years.
Nude 7, 2019, Oil on Canvas, 40 x 30 in., Courtesy of the Artist
What’s your process like? How do you begin a work?
My sculpture process is very straight forward. I think I have an architect approach to it.
I think about a piece that I want to produce, I create sketches or digital collages, then I find the materials and go on to create it. Most of the time, the final piece is very similar to what I had in mind.
To create my “Love doll” sculptures for example, the process is always similar but the result is different every time. The consistency of the concrete mix, the type of concrete, the weather… So many factors are involved in the sculpture turning out different and unique every time.
As for my painting process, it is very different. I work from photograph references; but the painting changes a lot as I work on it.
I never know how the final piece will look like, I am never fixated to the image of the reference or to a preconceived idea of how the painting should look. So it is a very free process that takes its own course.
Headless 1, 2, 3, and 4, 2018, Leather, Plastic, Synthetic Hair, Variable Dimensions, Courtesy of the Artist
Walk us through a day in the studio.
I normally arrive to my studio in the morning and start working on something right away.
I find that the process of creating is very cyclical, the more you create, the more you work the more you want to keep going. If for any reason I stop working, it becomes harder to get back on track.
So even if I feel uninspired I try to work on something, like prepping canvases or getting supplies.
I Chose To Be A Mom Chair, 2019, Wood, Foam, Paint, Plaster, Variable Dimensions, Courtesy of the Artist
From where do you draw inspiration?
My inspiration comes from many places: daily life, memories, readings, references, research, but mostly conversations with colleagues.
For example, Sigfredo Chacon has been a mentor to me in Miami, and a big source of inspiration. Before the pandemic we used to meet for lunch at least once a week. I took a lot from those meetings and our conversations… hopefully soon we can go back to normal life and meet in person again.
Deborah Castillo and Rafael Rangel are also two good colleagues that I speak with on a regular basis, especially when I feel stuck. Back in 2018 when I first moved to NYC, Deborah helped me in many ways to direct and question my practice.
I find it crucial to have conversations with colleagues in order to challenge your practice. These types of encounters are what grounds me and inspire me the most.
Florencia Alvarado with Kero Keropi shirt and Adler vase, 2020, Oil on canvas, 24 x 20 in., Courtesy of the Artist
Tell us about your relationship with sculpture. Have you other preferred mediums of craft?
My background in architecture brings me to include a lot of designer furniture into my practice, as well as construction materials such as concrete, building blocks, sealing foam.
Yes, I have other crafts, I am a painter and also an architect. I could not commit my life to creating only sculptures, or only paintings, or only being a designer… I find balance in being able to move between those fields. Knowing that my passion is to create new things, in any of those fields.
Nude 4, 2019, Oil on canvas, 26 x 24 in., Courtesy of the Artist
What larger questions do you believe your work asks?
I would say the larger question my work raises has to do with how gender defines our roles and experiences in society. The intersection of perceptions of women by themselves and society as well as the changing nature of intimacy in contemporary life.
What norms, what habits, what fears or entitlements have been constructed in our society around our bodies.
Love Doll 10, 2017, Concrete and latex, 24 x 17 x 23 in., Courtesy of the Artist
Does your work reference any Art Historical movements?
I would say it references a few movements, when it comes to painting I am very influenced by Lucian Freud and the London School, as well as post expressionism and Egon Schiele. When it comes to sculpture I am more influenced by Louise Bourgeois and conceptualism…
At large I would consider my work feminist… as most of my work references gender, particularly the female gaze and the female experience.
Nude 1, 2019, Oil on Canvas, 36 x 24 in., Courtesy of the Artist
What’s next for you?
In 2020 I was invited to participate at Salon de Jóvenes con FIA in Venezuela, which is a very important exhibit and price in the country. Because of the pandemic it has been postponed indefinitely, but I am really looking forward to being able to go back and show my work.
I have only shown my work twice in Venezuela and I didn’t have the opportunity to see it in person. I have not been able to be back for the past 3 years. It would bring me so much joy to go back and show my work in Caracas.
Venezuela is a very chauvinist country; abortion and women’s rights is not even a subject to discuss. Abortion is not only illegal but punishable in Venezuela, so I believe showing my work can be beneficial to raise some awareness and open conversations on gender and women’s rights. I am very optimistic due to the resent news of Argentina becoming the first mayor south American country to decriminalize and legalize abortion. I am hopeful that this “trend” will spread throughout the continent.
Bimbo chair 2, 2017, Synthetic hair, wood, canned seat, Variable dimensions, Courtesy of the Artist
At the end of each interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love and would like us to interview next. Who would you suggest?
I would love to suggest my colleague and friend Rafael Rangel, and Deborah Castillo