Interview with Ami Imaginaire, France. June 2022
Among many artists who target big walls and huge projects, Ami Imaginaire is someone who approaches the street art work through small details and treats it as a micro-universe…we had opportunity to collaborate at the crossover between street art and textile handcrafts some years ago – visiting various places in Serbia and collaborating with many multidisciplinary teams and other street artists – that helped us test our work in different fields apart from classical street art/wall painting practices, to meet traditional crafts associations, youth collectives, hand weavers, etc. Few years later, we reached out to try to sum up these experiences and have another insight into the personal sensibility of this nice person – thank you Ami for taking time to answer our set of questions 🙂
VP: Can you explain us, how did you get your name, Ami Imaginaire? What it means to you personally?
AI: Ami imaginaire is French for imaginary friend. I have a fondness for this concept, I think it is wonderful that children have this somehow instinctive reflex to invent themselves a friend when they feel lonely or threatened. When I began street art a few years ago, I thought about how challenging the time was (and still is) economically, politically, socially, and how depressed people seem to be. I decided to bring something positive, joyful and friendly for them to see, and to become, in some ways, an imaginary friend myself.
VP: What makes people invent imaginary friends, do you have an explanation or a guess?
AI: I guess they come from loneliness or maybe in an attempt to feel less powerless in life struggles. I thought a lot about the fact that inventing an imaginary friend is considered weird or even a mental illness. Of course it can be in some cases. But isn’t it also a proof of self-love? I mean obviously an imaginary friend is invented by you, it’s your creation, he/she/it IS actually you. And he/she/it is kind, helpful, funny – all those qualities YOU are. So what if we thought of it as a kindness people want to show to themselves? That doesn’t seem so insane anymore, right?
VP: We met some years ago in Belgrade and Novi Sad when you took part in our residency program. How did the visit to Serbia affect the way you approach your creative process and your career? Did anything change for you after this journey?
AI : My stay in Serbia left me wonderful souvenirs! It was my very first residence abroad and I had a great time. Discovering new people, a new country and a new culture was very fulfilling, and to be able to work fast on murals was quite a new experience too. The major change for me was that it gave me more confidence in my art and my process, I felt very happy and this feeling has nourished my inspiration afterwards.
VP: What was the highlight of your stay, something you will remember forever or at least find a significant detail worth remembering?
AI : There are several! I remember a night in Novi Sad spent with Vlad Palibrk who organized the residence, and the Austrian artist Skirl. We went to a very typical Serbian restaurant and had a great time talking about art, love and relationships. This talk was very deep and meaningful, it touched my heart a lot to share such sincere feelings with fellows artists I barely knew two days before. Art has this magic power to gather people and I felt super lucky to live that.
The other moment was in city of Nìs, I was there to paint a panel during an soirée event in a super nice bar, the atmosphere was very cool and it was my first time ever painting in the dark, quite a challenge but such a great time!
VP: Soon after your visit to Serbia, Covid era has started. How has this affected your worldviews and your art practice, now when we look behind us at these two dynamic years? What has changed on the street art scene specifically, after this rupture in regularity of reality?
AI : I won’t lie, Covid has been (and is) very tough. 2020 and the lockdown was very peculiar and induced a lot of anxiety for me. I felt the urge to work and create, it was almost vital, but couldn’t leave my flat to go to my studio, so it forced me to try new techniques. As spray paint wasn’t possible in my apartment, I learned watercolor, and tried to be as serious as possible in my learning process. But I missed the streets a lot, sharing my art freely with people is the cornerstone of street art. I decided to put online free coloring pages for kids and adults, one every day. It was a great way to continue sharing something free and soothing.
Since then, I haven’t been pasting a lot. I had time to reflect on my artistic approach and decided to change it : quality over quantity. I now paste a lot less than before, but each piece I want to be 100% sure of. It takes more time, but it makes me more confident.
VP: Between galleries and street – where do you spend more time, in which context?
AI : Since Covid, I have essentially been working in studio and not much in the streets, as I said above. I worked a lot for galleries too because let’s be honest the economy is complicated, I had to secure my income if I want to be able to continue my career. I miss the streets, though. Hope to be able to go back as soon as possible.
VP: We met you together with Polar Bear, you two were also partners and friends in life, apart from your art practices – how do these two fields interact and influence each other in your case, if at all?
AI : Being partners has influenced my art practice a lot, being able to talk about my process and share thoughts and doubts with Polar Bear was great. I learned stencil by watching him doing it, and he could always come to me for advice knowing that I would be brutally honest. Creative stimulation going both ways. We had a show together just before covid, only collaborations where we mixed our styles, it was a great experience.
VP: Would it be easier to have a partner who is into something totally different, eg finances, banking, public administration, whatever?
AI: What an interesting question! I really don’t know. Depends on personalities more than occupation, I guess.
Put two artists together, and you’ll find creative emulation and understanding, but there’s a risk for it to become competitive or a battle of egos. Put an artist and a banker (for example) together, it might work, opposites attract, but I guess maybe there would be a lack of understanding/empathy in both ways. I really don’t know! For my personal case, I think I’ll always be attracted to creativity and sensitivity, I need to share that with a partner above all, and I need someone who’ll understand/tolerate my way of life, too.
VP: What are the essential qualities important for a success of an artist in your opinion? Is it a skill, imagination, network of friends, social status, family background, education, communication abilities?
AI: I don’t know. A bit of all that, except social status and family background, I’m really not sure they’re important at all. Good for you if you come from a supporting art-loving family, but I don’t think it’s crucial!
Essential qualities in my opinion would be work, patience, honesty, open mind. Success is a very fragile thing, it comes and goes. You can’t rely on that. What you can rely on is the sincerity of your process, including success and failures, that’s what builds a career. Some things work, some other don’t, but as long as you’re being true to yourself as an artist, then there’s joy, and that’s more important than success for me.
VP: How this ideal changed over time?
AI: It didn’t, really. I’m a very idealistic person with big dreams of happiness and peace. I have no celebrity envy, I don’t care about fame or money. As long as I can put a roof over my head and fill the fridge, it’s ok by me. I haven’t even thought I could do a career as a street artist when I started, I’m still amazed by how things turned up and I’m very grateful for it. I did not have any agenda when I started because I didn’t imagine it could be possible for my art to become « something », it was not the point, I just wanted/needed to do it. Now a few years have passed but I’m still very much believing in the same values : be true, work, be open minded, and things will happen.
VP: What would be your message to aspiring young artist that is just starting, how to get noticed by the art galleries?
AI : Be yourself, do your thing, don’t copy, be sincere, try, fail, try again, learn, be humble, and most of all work hard. Don’t go to the galleries. Go to the streets. Be serious, be sincere, tame your ego, know why and what you want to share, and the galleries will come to you.
VP: You also had some experience in film industry, if I am not wrong? How did that go? Did it influence the other things you did/do in your life?
AI: I did. I worked as a director (and pretty much every job available on a shooting) for more than a decade. I directed a few short movies, especially in stop motion animation. It was super challenging and exciting, I loved the creative process in it, where you have nothing to start with, and then you have to create everything with your mind and your hands. It fitted me well! Unfortunately (or fortunately?!) I was struggling a lot to make a living of it, it was always the same story : exciting projects with no money, or money but sh*tty projects (commercials, for the main). Stop motion is so time consuming that I got discouraged of being either happy creatively but can’t pay the rent or being comfortable financially but miserable at work. I was already painting and selling my art since a few years, so I just decided to concentrate on that, which made me really happy. Those years seem like another life now, and I don’t regret any of it. What I learned from it, which is useful today for my art, is obviously patience! I like to work at my pace, if a flower or a pattern takes several days to be made, I’m okay with it, no problem! 🙂
VP: Who is your favorite artist of all times?
AI: Tough question!!! Only one artist? It’s too hard, I can’t answer that. I love too many artists. I’ll cheat on this one, and tell you what’s my favorite artwork of all time instead, ok?
It’s « Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose » by John Sargent. It’s very classic, I know! 🙂
I was lucky to see this painting several times in London, it always takes my breath away. The quiet atmosphere in this scene, the light, the innocence, the sweetness, it’s pure bliss (and let’s not even talk about the technique).
VP: What are you working on at the moment?
AI : I am working on a solo show that will happen in fall 2022 . I want it to be about evasion, travel, all the things we weren’t able to do much this couple past years. I didn’t intellectualize it much, it’s just a strong need that I have now.