Malika Favre on the interplay between negative space and erotic art – and a new exhibition based on Parisian cabaret institution Crazy Horse


Digital Arts | 29 November 17

Stunning new work by the artist and illustrator, who talks to us about her new exhibition of artworks based around a dancer lit using geometric patterns and shapes.

Desire is an emotion that underpins a lot of illustrator Malika Favre's work, and her latest series of artworks for Outline Editions taps into that directly. Rendered in Malika's iconic style of patterns of simplified shapes and surfaces, Le Crazy is based on a dance show called Désirs (Desires) at Parisien cabaret institution Crazy Horse.

The inspiration for the show happened almost accidentally. Growing up in Paris, Malika says that she wouldn't have visited Crazy Horse – whose audience is primarily formed of tourists - except for a personal invitation from one of the dancers, who saw distinct similarities between the design of the show and Malika's work.

"So I went, not expecting anything really," Malika says, "and it was just like absolutely amazing. I was expecting something a little bit more like cabaret, kind of old school - maybe a little bit kitsch. But actually it was absolutely stunning and I loved the art direction. The lighting especially was incredible. At the end of the show I was very excited - and I wanted to do something based on it.”

The Désirs show features female dancers who move slowly, while patterns of geometry are projected onto them in striking hues of blue, red and white (a colour palette that Malika has made much use of in previous work, as well as of in Le Crazy of course). The hard lines of the projected shapes contrast with the of the dancers – while the use of darkness and light, shape and negative space allows Malika to, as she puts it, “explore the different ways in which the body can appear and disappear."

You can see Crazy Horse's promo video for Désirs below.

Malika started working on Le Crazy three years ago, but as commercial work mounted up, she had little time to work on the project. Six months ago, she says, she decided she needed to finish this. She'd already created a series of sketches, "so I had to edit it down and make it into a coherent series.”

Le Crazy features 11 prints inspired by the show. Only one is drawn directly from one of the Desirs' routines - which shows two dancers in bearskins, when the show takes imagery from our side of the la Manche, observing that its colour palette works just as well for the Union Jack as for Le Tricolore. The rest show dancers in a series of poses, following a routine.

Désir's routines - like much of Malika's work - have a defined narrative to them, though sometimes this is often suggested rather than explicit and sometimes somewhat obscured. But for Le Crazy, Malika wanted to created a series that worked more like cinematic framing of scenes. Some are establishing shots, others move closer.

"You have close-up and super-close-up [compositions] and then you also have full body [works] where it's more actually about the lighting and the set around them,” she says. "So it does tell a story – but you can view them in any order.”

Playing with negative space is a technique that Malika is well-known for, and one that makes the viewer actively use their imagination to decode the imagery – and rewards that action with the pleasure of knowing you’ve revealed what is hidden. It’s a similar to the underlying principles shows like Désirs – as well as much of erotic art – which eschew the explicitness of pornography to ‘leave it up the imagination’. This again requires more work from the viewer, but the experience is more sensual and rewarding.

"I always use negative space in my work because I always try to limit the colour palette and try to draw as little as possible,” says Malika. "But when it comes to erotic work specifically, this is where negative space is extremely important because it allows you to stay on that fine line where it's more about the imagination of the viewer. That's where the mystery is.

"[In Le Crazy] you're seeing the bodies moving through dots or lines, so you don't see the whole body. Your brain recreates the full body in motion and I found that extremely sensual. I think it's a little bit magic, as well. It allows viewers to form the piece, because the piece is not complete without their brains finishing it.

“It draws people in in a interesting way – and it's a very good challenge for me. I find it's an interesting exercise to make it all work.”

Alongside the artworks, Malika has collaborated with London's oldest signmaker, Kemp, to produce large-scale neon signs based on them (you can have a sneak peek in Malika's tweet below). These have the same playfulness and use of negative space as the works themselves, but have a glow that links more directly to the the show’s inspiration than a flat print.

Malika has long collaborated with craftspeople in other mediums. She’s currently also working with a Paris-based fashion designer applying her artwork style to embroidery on leather, and an animated version of her recent cover illustration for the New Yorker magazine (below) was hugely popular on Twitter last week. Even with a medium like animation that she knows well – before going freelance Malika was directed animation through at Nexus and at much-missed design studio Airside – she prefers to work with specialists who work full-time in the medium.

Malika feels that the simplicity of her use of line, shape and colour should be matched by unfussy animation and short loops – forming what you’d describe more as a GIF than an animation. So for all of her other animation work, she works with French animation Mathieu Maillefer.

“We've worked together for years and he understands exactly that I want to keep things very simple and very subtle,” says Malika. "I've [collaborated] with animators where it didn't work because they were just adding too much movement or taking it too far and it was losing its essence.”

Collaboration helps to keep things interesting. One of the dangers of being known for a particular style is that clients often want you to replicate what you’ve done before. While you can actively choose to not continue to do specific forms – Malika decided some years ago not to avoid commissions in what she describes as her “glamorous lady” work from her early freelance days – if you’re a ‘known brand', you still need to produce work that’s recognisably yours.

“Keeping things interesting can be really hard because the reality of the commercial industry is that you get commission for something you've already done,” says Malika. "So the only way I can keep pushing my work is through [collaborations and] personal work like this series.

“It's something that I don't really pressure myself too much about, however, because I see my work every day – and I know I'm actually the first one who will getting bored of what I do."

Le Crazy is on show at Outline Editions gallery in Shoreditch, London until December 3rd. You can buy works from Outline Editions for between £250 and £500.

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