Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Your sources of inspiration include Persian miniatures, Arabic calligraphy, tribal art and contemporary painting. This is quite an eclectic mix! How did all this come together for you?
Faiza Maghni: I was born in Oran, Algeria, and now live in Paris. This eclecticism influences my aesthetics, especially the culture and traditions of my hometown, a rich Mediterranean city reflecting the influences of the many civilizations that have occupied it: Spanish, Jewish, Arab, Andalusian, Ottoman and French. All this has left its mark, whether in architecture, music or the lifestyle in general. In my work I seek to convey a certain kind of romanticism inspired by Arabic and Persian poetry, taking my inspiration from the costumes and hairstyles of the miniatures of the past which I find full of subtlety and restraint. I’m also drawn to the symbolic meanings found in tribal jewelry and have reinvented this style in my paintings, such as the giraffe-collared women in Burma and Africa that are simultaneously a symbol of beauty and a forced cruelty.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: What was your childhood upbringing like? Did your parents surround you with rich examples of culture?
Faiza Maghni: I have been drawing since childhood. My father, an amateur painter, gave me a taste for painting and drawing. I watched him work, loved the smell of ink and paper, drank in his calm and concentrated demeanor. Meanwhile my mother taught me the love of reading. She was a French teacher and had a fairly large personal library, especially of French literature. Myself being of a quite contemplative nature, this helped me further develop my taste for the arts. As a teenager, I also became interested in fashion. I drew women in costumes as I dreamed of becoming a fashion designer in Paris just like Yves Saint Laurent who was himself a native of Oran.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Costume plays an important role in your portraits. Please tell me more about that.
Faiza Maghni: Costume is the ornament. In my paintings, the ornament expresses attitudes sometimes severe, sometimes austere, other times carefree, and with still others there is a certain majesty. Often I create an exaggeration to express my own intensity. Sometimes costume can be an impressive armor and other times a kind of light and screen that hides or reveals.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: When did you realize that painting was what you wanted to do as a profession? Was there support for this from those around you?
Faiza Maghni: In my inner circle, painting was seen as more of a hobby than a profession. They started to take me seriously much later when I started to exhibit my work. If I had not decided to go live in Paris with my husband and daughters, I think I would never have become a painter. Too many family and social pressures in a country I love but one which becomes increasingly conservative, rendering it impossible to grow artistically within the absurd and alienating confines of duty and obligation imposed upon women.
I know that when I saw the first paintings of the young Baya [Mahieddine], the Algerian artist and contemporary of Picasso, who painted women so naive, wild and free,
I immediately felt a connection to the unique strength and freedom of her work. I realize now that this was what ultimately inspired me to paint, as not having attended art school, I was very hesitant; painting intimidated me.
Only after living in Paris and painting for over twenty years have I finally accepted that painting has become my job. I have painted privately for years while raising my three daughters before finally showing my work.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: What do you see when you look at a woman’s face? What is it you wish to capture?
Faiza Maghni: I look for the cracks, brittleness in her appearance or demeanor. I am very sensitive to people.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: When you are painting a particular portrait, do you start to invent a personality to go with the image? A past, perhaps? A life history that goes with the face?
Faiza Maghni: The character and the composition are voluntarily timeless. I try to create a moment of poetry out of time, an intimate and hushed atmosphere.
I paint women-children who want to keep some of this childhood innocence as they grow up. They may aspire to some kind of ‘renaissance,” coming from a serene femininity and proud sovereign of their destiny.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Have you ever been inspired by the face of someone you just met on the street or very briefly in passing? Have you ever met someone and then thought to yourself, “Ahh, here is a face I want to paint!”?
Faiza Maghni: Yes. So often, however, these people would be very surprised to see how I portray them in my paintings, because I always imagine the universe in a little dream.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Has there ever been a portrait that was too hard for you to paint? That filled you with either great sadness or longing?
Faiza Maghni: There have been a number of portraits I have painted that have given me difficulty. What I look for in the end is a form of harmony, and this is difficult. Sometimes I just give up working on the canvas for a while; I hide it for months, then just before the show, I take it out and work to get it there. In general, the final work is often something that is beyond me. The hardest part is deciding when the work is finally done and the time has come to drop the curtain. Sometimes the expressions on the faces are very heavy, but I let them stay as is because I feel they speak for themselves. I find there is always a little bit of me in these.
* * *
To view more of Maghni’s work:
Thanks to Faiza Maghni for allowing us to use her artwork to support Combustus magazine: http://www.combustus.com/13/redbubble/
* * *
- To Dance with Sound: Two Musicians Follow Stirkingly Different Artistic Paths (combustus.net)
- Matteo Marchisano-Adamo, independent Hollywood filmmaker, musician; Los Angeles, California (combustus.net)
- To Feel Again the Magic (combustus.net)