La terre est bleu comme une orange
Jamais une erreur les mots ne mentent pas.

The earth is blue as an orange
Never an error the words do not lie.

(Paul Eluard)

Places des Vosges is one of my favourite places in Paris. From the centre of the green, by the fountain, the symmetry of red brick buildings gives a sense of calm and quiet pleasure. Under the arches you may discover, among many displays of strident contemporary art targeting tourists, some interesting figurative artists. I was looking at clay and bronze figures of miniature working men when my gaze wondered onto the walls of the gallery and stopped on a blue background painting reminiscent of Chagall – the oneiric atmosphere, the humanoid figures flying above the city lights towards a sun lit sky. The human silhouettes appear in pairs in many of the other paintings, and so do the words, written with a brush, incorporated in the composition.

Interdisciplinary artist Déborah Chock whose work is displayed in the gallery, wants us to read her work, literally. Most of her paintings feature phrases, words or play on words; it is not simply the title of the picture, it is part of it. ‘A person is more than flesh and blood, the physical presence’ – she tells me– ‘it is also the mind, the conscience and the subconscious. This is what I want to show in my painting, image and language - together.’

Born in Casablanca and relocated to Paris aged ten, Deborah studied law initially. Realising quite early on that this is not a good career match, she soon switched to her real vocation which was the theatre: acting, writing, directing, designing stage sets. ‘Everything to do with the stage’. She has always sketched and painted. There is indeed a sense of the theatrical in her paintings. At first glance, given the colour palette and the figures flying like in a dream, I thought of fauvism and stained glass. But Chock’s style does not belong to modern movements.

The themes of Déborah's paintings are very much those of poetry: love, identity, life, togetherness, solitude, adventure. The conscious and the subconscious. Déborah likes to emphasise her preoccupation with l'être - the being, the human being, a concept that embraces the indivisibility of matter and language.

For someone who paints words on her canvases, she is economic with verbal intercourse and a rather reluctant interviewee.

In the beginning there was the word, apparently. What comes first, the image or the words?

I think they come together. I cannot separate the two, like body and mind cannot be separated. Humans are made of flesh and bones, conscious and unconscious – as a whole.

Is that a philosophical view? I presume you disagree with Descartes’ mind-body dualism and the theory that mind and matter are two distinct things, that separate existence of mind and body is conceivable.

I dare to disagree with Descartes’s duality theory. I believe that our body and soul (or mind, the consciousness, the subconscious) are indivisible. You could say I subscribe to the more modern mind-body identity theory, that emotions are physical-biological processes in the brain.

Where does your inspiration come from?

From people. I like to observe people, I am curious about their thoughts, their emotions, the way they walk and talk. I like to listen to people, like a psychoanalyst would. I suppose I could be called a Lacanian. Humans inspire me.

You like playing with words on your canvases – creating new meaning by changing a syllable or a letter of an old saying, or combining words. The unfinished, heavy with possibilities ‘Ouvrir m’apporte’ (opening brings me…) sounds like the banal ‘Ouvrir ma porte’ (Opening my door). Or ‘Nos Meres Veillent’ (our mothers veillent) which sound like ‘our wonders’. Why do you play with words in your paintings?

I aim to translate the unconscious expression of language. Sometimes a playful change gives an old expression, a cliché, a new, possibly deeper meaning. In any case different, if not better. I put together two expressions that have at some level (maybe philosophical) a link with each other. The text, embedded in the composition, allows us to leave the canvas and come back to it. ‘Murir d’amour’ (Maturing for love) means more to many people than ‘mourir d’amour’. At other time it is an amusing game.

Bringing together visual art and poetry creates a synergy which allows me to question human nature further and express my thoughts and my emotions. Turning a noun into a verb (Elle soeuront – sisters), bringing a verb and a noun together (Nous nous approch! Ames) to form a key word (Les peaux aiment – the poems) – it’s fun!

In your show Mais je reve, you went beyond combining images with words, and added movement. The canvases move towards each other and away from the viewer, they are transformed by light and darkness like… well, like in a dream. What is the role of the dream in your current work?

I continue to be fascinated by this aspect of our mind – the way it brings together apparently disconnected fragments of images, what Freud called the dream-thoughts. I try to give them substance on canvas, but often it is not enough, I feel a need to add sound and movement. And I want the viewers to listen, to feel, to immerse themselves in the visual/aural situation, like in a dream I hope to create a synesthetic experience.

What painter had the greatest influence in your work?

I admire many artists, but cannot name a single one that had most influenced my work. As an art movement, early surrealism, with its ambition of revealing the unconscious, is probably closest to my heart. If I were to name a single painter, I would probably mention the oneiric works of Dali. Many elements of surrealism, in visual art as in poetry, continued to influence and inspire modern artists: surprise, unexpected juxtapositions, visual and verbal puns.

Are you actually a poet, as well as a painter?

We are all poets, I hope.