Valérie Hallier – Doodling with Petals

In Dialogue
Valérie Hallier working on the series Déflorée History in her studio during a residency with ESKFF at Mana Contemporary, NJ., 2023

Flower petals gradually became a significant element in Valérie Hallier’s artwork. Fascinated by the profound symbolism of flowers, Hallier initially struggled to incorporate them effectively into her artistic practice. Her initial approach involved photographing flowers in unique ways and settings. She also experimented with their dried components, adhering them to various surfaces. Eventually, she began to focus on pressing individual petals. Hallier discovered that working with petals was ideal for conveying complex themes such as femininity, resilience, sexuality, vibrancy, and decay. Born in Paris, France, and raised in Normandy, Hallier had a shy nature as a child. She was consumed with the ambition to draw everything in existence, a desire for comprehensiveness that continues to influence her work. Art, for her, has always been an essential means of engaging with both her internal and external worlds. Reflecting on her early art education, Hallier fondly remembers her excitement upon meeting others who shared her artistic ‘language.’

You work with a wide array of materials, many found and recycled, to create wall-bound work and free-standing sculptures and installations. Can you elaborate on your approach to these two forms of work?

I enjoy working with many mediums and materials from traditional to digital. I mostly work with recycled materials except when integrating digital technologies. With the latter, an analytical element always follows an integrative continuum that utilizes technology as a tool and object, generating an exquisite tension between the humanistic and mechanistic sense of Being. I use an atomized visual vocabulary that accumulates simple units like petals, food containers, beads or pixels as a way to translate the complexity of our condition.

A computer screen with a flower covered surface Description automatically generated
Flower Power, 2023, Imac 2009 (full HD), plaster cloth, flower petals, varnish, H: 20” x W: 25.5” x D: 8.5”

The wall-bound work involving unique flower petals techniques is a constant. It’s like a base to depart from and come back to, even though, at times I add three dimensionality to the 2D surfaces with recycled containers, beads and ornaments. But whenever I have the opportunity (space, time and resources) I like to challenge my practice with creating large immersive installations and free-standing sculptural works. My approach then is more conceptual and site specific than purely instinctive. The same themes apply but the production efforts are different. I believe the impact can be greater too. I plan to do more of these in the future.

A colorful piece of art Description automatically generated
Framed Utopia, 2022, Flower petals on canvas, recycled packaging, polyurethane varnish, 60″ x 62″ x 34″

You keep utilizing petals in many of your two and three-dimensional pieces. Can you trace the genesis of this process?

The first “Déflorée” (deflowered) installation was completed in 2018 during a residency at NARS Foundation. I used pressed rose petals to create long gradient stripes covering the two connected sides of a wall at an angle. Successive artist residencies on Governors Island after that allowed me to continue experimenting with a large variety of wildflowers I found on the island, in addition to the donated ones (Trader Joe’s) and the gardened ones (my mom sent me flowers from France) I was already using.

I later realized that both my parents had a special love for flowers, either by growing, picking and/or painting them. Since both my parents passed, this medium has kept us connected. I still have pressed pansies that grew on my father’s tomb that my mom planted, picked, pressed, and sent to me.

This amazing medium keeps on inspiring me.

Can we take two pieces of work—one two-dimensional and one sculptural— as an example of how you use petals to enhance color texture, and is there a meaning to the petal-type in your overall theme?

Déflorée Self #8 is part of an on-going series of two- dimensional self-portraits made with pressed flower petals, the Déflorée Self series is a departure from the more “conceptual” use of flower petals in earlier pieces, that either referred directly to the legend behind a given flower, i.e. the Persian Tulip’s dying princess in Déflorée: Origins Series, or that referred to the process of deflowering with roses in Défloré(e)s: Cornered and the Défloré(e)s Stories series.

With the Déflorée Self series, I collected a large variety of flowers. I started improvising with pressed petals based on their specific colors, shapes, and textures to create abstract collages that directly reflect my inner workings. My process was intuitive without any pre-conception of the resulting composition. The petals literally guiding me. They become brush strokes or puzzle pieces connecting one to another. They translated my inner states and connected me with my environment, starting with collecting the flowers. Breaking the cleavage between nature and culture, human-altered and symbolically potent, flowers in my work speak directly of our “human nature”, its carnal and finite qualities.

Eyes Of My Skin 2 depicts a young and genderless mannequin on a pedestal covered with a gradient of rose petals, wearing a VR headset covered with both petals and beads. It is a sort of ritualistic figure evoking both shamanistic practices and royal ornamentation. Looking from both the past and the future, the figure marries opposing temporalities, suggesting new ways of being. Eyes Of My Skin II is back to a more conceptual use of the flower petals—the one element symbolizing what we name “nature” in opposition to the two other elements defined as “human” (the mannequin shape) and “technology” (the VR helmet).

The on-going series of multimedia sculpture Eyes Of My Skin challenges the patriarchal hegemony of vision in our Western culture by bridging the usual hierarchical silos that separates technology, humans and the “natural world”.

A collage of a statue and a painting

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Left: Déflorée Self #8, 2022, flower petals and varnish on canvas, 36” x 48” – Right: Eyes of My Skin II, 2023, mannequin, Virtual Reality helmet, flower petals, varnish, glue, beads, jewelry, H: 58” x W:18” x D: 12”

The work I have seen strikes me as made of many narrative particles that come together as an abstracted entity. You also said that you find affinity with the Surrealists’ automatic drawing. How do you see this relationship between storytelling / abstract form /automatic drawing in your Déflorée History Series?

The Déflorée History series evolved from the original Défloré(e)s. I used doodles found in my notebooks and random papers. I like the obsessive quality and the revealing potential of the non-intentional drawings we repeat over and over without apparent reason. Surrealism is a big influence in this quest to channel the subconscious, particularly with the Déflorée History series that recounts the different stages of my sexual life. I was interested in revisiting specific periods, some ecstatic, some traumatic, with the approach of mixing abstraction and symbolic/automatic drawings, to recreate personal narratives around these crucial moments where letting go of control was at stake. The process matches the subject matter.

Beyond Surrealism, various cultural references transpire in my recent mixed media series, from Indian miniatures to early medieval paintings, showing stylized and symbolic characters among ornamental patterns without perspectival points.

Two art pieces of artwork Description automatically generated with medium confidence
Déflorée History Childhood 1A & 1B, 2023, flower petals, medium, ball pen, paint markers, 36″ x 48” each

You also curate and manage an art venue at Westbeth. How do curatorial and artmaking relate to each other?

Yes, in April 2024, I became the elected Visual Chair for the non-for-profit organization WARC, that runs most artistic and logistic aspects of The Westbeth Arts Housing community in the West Village of Manhattan. As the new director of The Westbeth gallery, an iconic venue that has had it’s heydays in the 80’s, I have big plans. The venue has tremendous untapped potential that can benefit the Westbeth community as well as the art community at large.

It has been amazing to start curating shows there. The first one last July was Unnatural Processes, a group exhibition that asked the questions: What is “Nature”? What is “Natural”? Eight visual artists were featured in the exhibition: Aston Philip, Christina Massey, Jean Foos, Katherine Bennett, Linda Loh, Roxane Revon, Tessa Grundon and myself. A great variety of mediums and processes were all centered around new ways to visualize and interact with our environment: virtual, real, or re-created.

Curating this first show came surprisingly “naturally”, like an extension of my own practice on a larger scale and in dialogue with other artists. Since then I’ve managed several shows, working with curators , artists and institutions like The Whitney, each experience unique and enriching. I am learning a lot and acquiring a broader understanding of the contemporary context art organizations are able to evolve in. It is a difficult and challenging context but the Westbeth gallery is an exceptional opportunity to invite diverse practices and push some boundaries.

What are you working on these days?

I have just completed a series of mixed-media wood panels, using similar techniques described above with re-arranged doodles and flower petals, called Infinite Drawing Therapy. Each of the current 8 panels work together like puzzle pieces, to create a large mural. I will continue to add on as I go.

I am also finishing the Déflorée History Series for a solo show this summer and next, I will be working on interactive mixed-media sculptures involving body parts made of recycled materials, clay, flower petals, beads and electronic components such as Arduino controlled LEDs. Each sculpture will stage a different combination of natural, technological and human symbolic components. They will be working together in unusual ways, switching around the codes and functions attached to a particular subject, material, or technique. I can’t wait!

A colorful artwork on a surface

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Infinite Drawing Therapy 00, 2023, flower petals, medium, ball pen, paint markers, 30″ x 24”

About the artist: Born in Paris, France, Valérie Hallier came to NYC with a Fulbright Scholarship and graduated from the School of Visual Arts in Computer Arts. Early multimedia work received prizes at ACM Siggraph, SCAN Arts Symposium (PA), Ars Electronica and Anima Mundi in Brazil. Her artwork has been shown internationally including at NARS Foundation, A.I.R. gallery, SOMArts (CA), the ESAM (France), Liverpool Independent Biennial (UK). Valerie worked on public art commissions for the Drawing Center and LMCC (NYC) and was chosen for the first BRIC Biennial in Brooklyn. The pubic art project, ScreamNow: Inside/Out, was presented at Art Electronica’s Telluric Vibrations. Artist residencies include LMCC Swing Space, Pioneer Works, NARS Foundation, Trestle Art Space in Brooklyn, Harvestworks, West Harlem Art Fund, 4Heads on Governors Island and ESKF Foundation at Mana Contemporary in New Jersey. Hallier was recently the recipient of a Contemporary Art Foundation grant and a MAAF (NYSCA & WaveFarm) grant.