Dior are reinventing the Dior Lady bag again, and this time the selection of artists is as exciting as it is diverse. Here we chat to French-born Betty Mariani, who marries modernism with traditionalism, creating art, and a unique lady Dior, that is inspired by street art, abstract expressionism, and classical techniques.
Born in 1993, Betty Mariani has already come into her own as an artist, focusing largely on the texture and ‘movement’ of her drawings and paintings. For Dior, the young Frenchwoman has combined modernism and traditionalism, employing compelling colour-splatter techniques and a complex, multi-layered texturing that makes her bag appear to ‘have lived in some way’. The idea, she says, is that it looks as though people on the street have been constantly adding to it. As once a graffiti artist and an abstract expressionist, Mariani is constantly innovating, embracing an aesthetic that is impossible to pin down.
What do you make of your frequent comparison to the street artist Banksy?
Banksy is an artist who was the starting point of my passion and my interest in street art. He’s totally fascinating. I admire him immensely. But my work is still different. I think that, generally speaking, when we talk about street art, we talk about Banksy. Maybe these comparisons speak more to the people making the comparisons.
Can you walk us through your typical design process?
After I visualise my painting, I try to represent it with different sketches. Then I choose a range of dominant colours with which I create the background. Spontaneity and emotion provide the rhythm and movement of the painting. There are a lot of layers of paint and materials on my canvases. I am constantly searching for reliefs, irregularities to the touch. Then, if I have decided to add people or characters, I will create collages or drawings.
What do you consider your central theme?
It may be cliché, but life. Anything that touches me from near or far. The characters, the staging, the stories told. Likewise, people I have met, events that I wish to share.
Are you self-taught?
Yes, and in a certain way I’ve always been very proud of that. As a child I already had more ease in drawing than other children. From drawing to painting I learned everything by myself. Later, I learned tags and graffiti, too.
Is art learnable in the same way that Spanish or algebra is learnable?
For me, the key to learning is passion. Passion can make you learn, overcome, discover, or love a lot of things. Whether it’s playing a musical instrument, making a film, writing a book, or learning a language.
To what extent is your work defined by spontaneity and instinct?
Despite my colour range, I never know how my flows, spots, or reliefs will appear. It provides a unique aspect for each canvas. The idea of not being able to reproduce the same painting twice is very interesting. To let emotion, instinct, and gestures take over is really good. The non-calculated dimension is fascinating!
How did your childhood affect your artistic outlook?
I live in the suburbs of Paris so when I was a kid I used to go to museums all the time. The Louvre made a big impression on me. There I discovered art history. Then there were more modern museums like the Centre Pompidou and the Musée Picasso, which both taught me a lot. These visits, and my passion for art have made it possible that today I can be inspired just as much by a fourteenth-century Madonna as by a Picasso painting or a sculpture by Damien Hirst. Having been able to discover several artists, currents, and epochs very early on, I was not stuck on a particular movement. I was able to be attentive to other art forms and to broaden my areas of inspiration.
When did you know art was your path?
I am fortunate to have always been supported by my family, friends, and even teachers. Everyone kept telling me that I was going to end up in this direction, but I didn’t want to believe it. It always seemed like more of a dream than reality. Despite everything I continued to draw and paint for years on the side. Then, in March 2016, my first exhibition took place, and I sold my first paintings. At that moment I thought to myself, ‘go throw yourself into art, or you’ll regret it. If you have the opportunity to follow your passion, don’t hesitate a second!’ From then on, my future was set.
How does your youth affect your artwork?
The advantage of being a young artist is that I can only progress when it comes to the development of my technique and ideas. My motivation has been reinforced by a few successful projects, which have given me confidence in myself and my work.
Do you think of yourself as a part of any school or style?
Oh no, not yet. I don’t want to be classified in a category for now. That will come as late as possible, I hope. I have the feeling that if I’m a part of any style or school, as you say, I won’t be able to move. I don’t know. Maybe in the next few years my paintings will be completely different. So, wait and see.
Who are the writers, artists, and philosophers, to whom you look up to?
I admire the longevity of the French street artists Blek le Rat and Miss. Tic. I love Jean-Michel Basquiat, I envy his creativity. He had such an intense and rich but short life. It is very impressive that he left behind more than two thousand works by twenty-seven, when he died. There are so many other artists that I appreciate too, from Jackson Pollock to the sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle, even Sandro Botticelli and Henri Matisse.
Although influenced by street art, you also revel in abstract expressionism, what’s the result of this combination?
I have always been attracted by abstract expressionism. It is an artistic movement which has, for me, something enigmatic and fascinating. While experimenting, I have found a balance between these two movements, which has been important to me in finding a personal style. The backgrounds of my paintings are inspired by abstract expressionism, in order to emphasise the materials and the colours, which are fundamental. I give a lot of importance in textures, to the volume of the paint and the movement of the artwork. Gestures have also been an integral part of abstract expressionism, just like in graffiti art. The gestures of an artist give a rhythm or a drive, a music to the created work, which is what one finds both in graffiti as well as in an abstract painting.
What drew you to collaborating with Dior?
When I was invited to participate I didn’t believe it at first! It’s such an incredible project, but it has also been a real challenge for me. I am very proud to associate my work with this mythical house. It’s a great proof of confidence that Dior has offered this opportunity to me, especially at my young age. Dior has done a great job and the savoir-faire of the house is just undeniable.
What was behind the idea to create a bag that is at once chaotic and traditional?
I wanted something that would contrast with the elegance and sobriety of the Lady Dior that we know so well. I wanted to give the bag a dose of youth and freedom. I love the idea that tags, stains, drippings, and not very clear designs might be found on a couture bag while keeping the emblematic codes of the Lady Dior, like its cannage pattern. The mix of the two offers a unique vision. I love it!
How did you use the textures of your re-imagined Lady Dior to tell a story?
The textures were very interesting to work on. The goal was not to have a smooth, flat surface. I wanted irregularity to touch, a relief, in order to give a certain depth to the visual aspect of the bag. The idea was that the bag has lived in some way, like a canvas with several layers of paintings or a wall in the street to which, over time, there might be added collages, drawings, tags, etc.
Were there any surprises in the process of turning your artistic vision into a bag?
I was pleasantly surprised by the freedom Dior’s team gave to the artists when it came to the construction of the bag. We had carte blanche to really create the bag that we wanted and that corresponded to us.
Were there any technical challenges when creating your bag?
The only challenge was, perhaps, finding the balance between classic and modern style, which was very important to me.
Is there a certain emotion or idea you’re trying to convey with your bag?
The image of the woman represented on my Lady Dior is, for me, the depiction of a strong, independent, and creative woman. My wish is that all women who carry my bag will feel these different emotions. Moreover, the artistic direction of Dior is directed by a woman currently, and I think that, subconsciously, that influenced the emotions I wanted to transmit with my Lady Dior. Like a little wink!
What’s next for you?
To continue practicing, experimenting, exploring, exhibiting, and collaborating. The art world is full of surprises. I hope to be able to discover them!