Interview with two strange dogs

by Niccolo Borella

A brand new graphic design studio named LADODO, will open its doors in the centre of the Porta Romano district in Milan. The founder, a young Belgian expat, conceptualised a remarkable idea. She decided to use her studio not only as a reception and working area but to annex a small design and art gallery to it as well.

To fire of, LADODO chose to showcase a project she collaborated on with the visual artist Elisabeth Noels. The result, a series of paintings, was created especially for the event. The Belgian-Flemish duo calls themselves DO_EL, an acronym of both their names. DOEL is the dutch for GOAL, TARGET or PURPOSE of life.

Curious to hear more about it, I set up a conference call with the two charming ladies. After bending technology to my will, we were able to have an open-hearted conversation, while not only the auditive but also all visual senses were satisfied.

Talking “senses” carries me right to my first question:

Elisabeth, how would you describe your work to a blind person?

Elisabeth: TIME is invariably an invisible guideline in my oeuvre. Invisible, because I don’t want to depict the course of the time, but I am very much fascinated by the past. It ain’t the facts and dates that interest me though, I am charmed by the aesthetic of days long gone. In my personal perception, the historic aesthetic standards always beat today’s. I am extremely attracted by the grandeur of the inter-bellum until the fifties and sixties; the period my parents and grandparents grew up in, the scenery of the stories I was told and which I absorbed, almost as if I’d experienced them myself.

My fascination for the past lies in this narrative aspect which probably trickles through into my paintings and illustrations. Don’t be mistaken, my work is not retro, (that sounds so very 2009), neither traditional not old fashioned. (thinks,…)

It is nostalgia for the past which gives my work a certain roughness, silence and seriousness. Also when I mix the pigments I tend to use shades that aren’t necessarily fresh or dare i say “free-of-engagement”. I like to work with colours that I call timeless; deep black, brown, blue and faded dirty blended colours. These are the colours of my hometown Antwerp. Think blue stone and cement, grey skies and steel. This colour range is typically know as Belgian and Flemish colour palette.

How did you manage to make a series of paintings as a duo?

Dorothé: Elisabeth is the great executor in this story. I discovered her particular style when we attended the St. Lucas Art college in Antwerp. Our aesthetic common grounds have always been the base of our unity, also after getting our master degrees. She was the first artist that came into my mind for the LADODO opening exhibition, as I needed a project that I felt very strongly about. That’s how I found myself collecting adaptable images on PINTEREST, even before I discussed a possible co-lab with Elisabeth.

Elisabeth: I tend to use pictures as the main inspiration for my paintings. This time it was not different. However all compositions are the result of a continuous dialogue. I moved back to Antwerp after spending two years in Milan, but Dorothé still lives there. So thank god… for the internet.

Dorothé: At first sight, it might not seem the case, but technology does play an important part in this story. The fact that the pictures used for this series were found on the internet - as opposed to in an old box – makes the depictions socially relevant to me. I think the variety of all the stages-of-being of the image, make the pieces fascinating.

Elisabeth: Isn’t it noteworthy that some of the picture I used were shot 60 to 70 years ago. They physically "existed" as they got developed and printed in a dark room and collected in photo albums. Then, half a century later, somebody decided to scan them and put them on the net.

Dorothé: One could say some images matured for over 60 years. After catching my eye, they got pinned, hearted (pinterest’s answer to FB-likes), cropped, edited and provided with typography. Elisabeth also prints a digital copy before breathing new life into it. She exclusively uses oil paint, the most traditional medium of all. An oil painting does have an iconic status to my personal state of view. It is the absolute summit of being for an image and in this case also a huge compliment to the original photographer.

Elisabeth: Exactly, a photographer shooting away in the forties could never have imagined his actions leading to such consequences. I call it pure science fiction. In fact what I created is a stretched out snapshot of time. When observing these paintings, you are able to imagine what preceded and what will happen afterwards. I also deliberately chose to portray people that are unknown to me. Sure they don't stay anonymous for a long period of time. I totally lose myself in my own fantasy world during the painting process, even thought the original image is not necessarily the result of my own imagination. I make up stories. I invent plots and twists in order to really make the characters my own. It’s a liberating act. Identification is also a major thing when I aspire to make an appealing painting. This is when ART really happens to me. See, some characters in my paintings are even interrelated.

Dorothé: Oh, I didn’t know that. Have they got names? John, Elsa? (Ironically) Do they have an affair? Could be an interesting approach for one of your ingenious short stories!

Elisabeth: I will keep it in mind (laughs)

The paintings are not just images; all paintings have text incorporated.

Elisabeth: This aspect is completely new for me. I’ve always associated typography to my job as a graphic designer and kept it separated from my actions as a painter. At this point one can interpret the paintings in two different ways: reading the text or reading the images.

The contemporary and unsophisticated language is a choice we made very consciously. We wanted to create a thrown back into the present, like a slingshot into our image-consuming society. You really sense Dorothé’s influence here. She is the most widely obsessed by contemporary culture, trends and fashion.

Dorothé: By inserting contemporary slang into a clearly less recent images, we created surprising anachronisms. The language does contribute to the pop aspect of the pieces. I strongly believe it is our duty as designers to create images that bear witness to the era they were conceived in. I love pop culture. A graffiti tag on a deckchair from the forties is a funny mind fuck to me. The greater the contrast, the bigger the smile on my face.

Elisabeth: The potential fun level was decisive in the selection of the images. For those who open their mind to the paintings, they are not only a beautification, but also have a high entertainment value. I do not pretend to produce art that raises questions, but creations that make you forget about the questions for a while (smiles).

Why did you chose for ATTENTION CHIEN BIZARRE as a name for the exhibition?

Elisabeth: Dorothé came up with this. It is a suggestion to the cliché of the artist as an odd bird, and it refers to the women in all their incomprehensible appearances on the other hand. Besides that it also looks cool on the window display. It is a quite a paradox to ask for attention and immediately add that entering the gallery is at your own risk. Irony is an important feature in this project. I think Dorothé calls it “arty-shocky, if I am not mistaken (laughs).

Dorothé: As for the French, it just sounds more sexy than English or Dutch.

I can’t help but notice that mainly women are portrayed in the paintings and the few men are not always exposed favourably. Are you inspired by the feminist movement?

Dorothé: There is absolutely no political message in the paintings. I am not a feminist even though I am conscious of the fact that I am, with all advantages and disadvantages, A WOMAN.

Elisabeth: I do recall you saying you would like to have a penis more than once?

Dorothé: Now you are embarrassing me (laughs)!  That is in fact my favourite farce... Than again who knows, maybe our lives would be easier? Women have the reputation of thinking things over way too much and being far too emotional. Men are more impulsive, by nature and I must admit in a certain way I am jealous of them.

Elisabeth: I easily get carried away by my emotions but always try to use my femininity to my advantage. I feel free in my comings and goings and I hope to transfer that philosophy into my paintings. We might not not be the strongest but surely are the smartest sex… which is a scientific fact (laughs).

Ladies, what will the future bring?

Elisabeth: This exhibition is quite a milestone for me. It is the first time I show my work outside the Belgian territory. I hereby declare the doors of my career wide open towards Europe and secretly hope to get some positive reviews on my work. Let’s see, I wouldn’t mind having my illustrations published in international magazines, as I also make commissioned work.

Dorothé: That would be very nice indeed! The intention of the gallery space is to give an opportunity to artists, illustrators and designers to exhibit their work in an informal way, despite the fact that Milan is an important design metropolis. My ambition is to create a small but stable platform which has the ability to boost the careers of third parties. I believe it is important to be given the facility to keep developing a personal handwriting as a designer, especially after you wind up on the often very compromising job market. I also aspire - clearly in modest way - to put my home country Belgium on the map as a creative paradise. My roots are very dear to me.

But the future will inevitably bring long working hours for both of us and rigorous quests for new customers that want to rely on our designer skills.

LADODO graphic design and such
Artpearance n°1:
by Elisabeth Noels featuring Dorothé Lenaerts Aka DO_EL
from 8 mei till 15 june 2015.
Via Muratori 11
20135 Milano