Johanna Tordjman was working on the third act of her exhibition series, “Pastèques & Paraboles,” when France asked its citizens to stay home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Paris-based artist was in the planning stages of the photo shoots that would eventually be made into paintings, so initially, she found herself frustrated with little to work on—and little painting supplies since her studio was too far away to get to.
But she quickly became resourceful, putting out the call on Instagram for her community to send photos of themselves at home in confinement. She’s been painting on small canvases and her iPad the intimate scenes that she’s received.
Whitewall reached out to Tordjman to see how she’s doing, how she’s staying connected and inspired (including dreaming about how her days could be going), and to learn more about the new work she’s creating.
WHITEWALL: How are you doing?
JOHANNA TORDJMAN: I’m quarantined home alone in Paris, so I’m trying to keep myself busy and have a routine. Everyone’s safe around and that’s the only thing that matters to me right now. I have a home, family and friends to call, so I can’t really complain about social distancing as I’m lucky enough to be able to do so.
WW: What are you listening to, reading, watching?
JT: I’m really into Burnaboy these days. Also, my manager sends me her own playlists weekly, they’re called #beenlazy, #youareloved or #sorrywereclosed, and it’s always a good catch!
Regarding the reading, I really can’t focus on something right now, I don’t even read the news.
But, I binge watched so many shows! For the good vibes, I watched The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; the not so good vibes, Unorthodox, but really beautiful; and I cried so much on the Turkish movie that everyone’s talking about Miracle in Cell N°7.
WW: What are you cooking?
JT: I’m so proud of my Chakchouka, a Northern African dish, where I’m originally from. I’m also pretty good at salads. I cut raw stuffs and mix them altogether. As you can imagine, I’m really not a good cook, but I’m improving!
WW: How are you staying connected?
JT: We’re so lucky to live in an era with all these devices that allow us to stay connected with the outside world.
I’m FaceTiming my family almost every day, my grandma has it too, which is amazing. Giving and receiving unexpected calls. I usually am a text person but I find no problem staying on the phone for an hour straight.
With my family, we started this weird thing, as no one has nothing new to share—we all stay home and do pretty much nothing super exciting. So, we started to share how the day could have been. For example, yesterday I hopped on a tourist train around Montmartre with my friend Sarah and we had an ice cream on the Sacré Coeur stairs. My grandmother drove to the Eiffel Tower (she doesn’t have a driving license) and did not get out of the car, she’s so cute.
Creativity at its best, huh?
WW: Are you able to find the time to create and work in your studio?
JT: I’m not allowed to reach my studio as it’s more than one kilometer away from my home, but I’m painting from my living room, I’m running out of paint, brushes, and canvas, so I’m painting small size formats. It’s really different from what I’m used to, but it’s challenging, as well. I started using the iPad to paint digitally, even started learning how to make animated paintings.
It’s really a huge part of my day, I’m painting everyday for something like five hours—sometimes less, sometimes more. But that really is the only thing I have left from my “before quarantine” life. I’m super lucky to be passionate about something and to be able to practice from home, even if it’s not my usual practice, it’s still the thing I love doing the most on the planet.
WW: How are you staying inspired and hopeful?
JT: I was currently working on the third act of my show “Pastèques & Paraboles.” I was prepping the “shooting” stage so I have nothing to work on to make that show progress. I felt pretty frustrated about it on the first day of quarantine, and I immediately felt the need to express my feelings about this special situation, and I was also really curious about how people would manage this time in their home.
I’m always painting stories and the one we’re going through is a big one. So, I asked my friends and Instagram base to send me pictures of themselves during the quarantine and started documenting it on canvas, and now iPad. I only have a portion of the society pictured cause still many of us don’t have access to the Internet or tech devices and I cannot go out to meet them unfortunately.
My community is keeping me hopeful, I miss my family very, very much, and I keep them in mind. Patience is the key, but I know it’s for the best so I’m just hoping that everyone is going to stay safe and soon we’ll be out breathing clean air, watching the trees bloom, eating ice cream on the Sacré Coeur stairs ,and hopping on a tourist train in Montmartre for real.
Stay safe everyone.