How I Became a Painter

How to Become a Painter

Zelda Bomba is a painter presently based in France after years spent in Italy. Her work evolves in series of portraits – mostly women – endlessly revisited. Each face can be seen as unique or as part of a vast patchwork. Her vibrantly colored pop style finds its roots in counter-culture, comics, music, fashion, and street life,  all applied to the boundless exploration of identity in its many aspects. She also works in the street to communicate with a wider audience in the red-blue color code often used for road signs. Her work in public spaces is less intimate and rather draws on pop culture and iconic characters (Malcolm X, Kim Jung II, Spike Lee, Twiggy…). She may add a message as in the series Don’t Forget To Riot. Zelda Bomba sees acting in the street as a powerful and creative answer to the necessity of reclaiming the public space, too often abandoned to brands and advertising.

First, you have to know who you are. People ask us what we want to do “when we grow up from early childhood,” which is very abstract when you’re a child. Children can’t really imagine what an adult means being, so they usually answer that they will do the same job as dad or mum or auntie or uncle. I became a painter, but as a child, I didn’t have any role models. I used to read art books and magazines, I spent time watching Goya or Millais paintings, but I definitely couldn’t identify with them. Drawing fascinated me. After my art interest, I was drawn to comics with authors like Liberatore, Corben whose work is very close to the painting. 

I drew all the time, and when you draw all the time, it quickly becomes your identity. It becomes a precocious vocation, a universe where it is possible to create, copy too, a universe that sometimes doesn’t allow you to create what you want, how you want: a frustration that encourages you to try and again. This is how I felt at the beginning of my career when I was 6-7 years old. Usually, to be an artist is a precocious path. Then, you have to decide if you want to follow it or not. But generally, you’re first an artist internally before being an artist socially…

For years, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in the future. To be an artist was never an option suggested at school. It wasn’t a possibility seriously conceivable. After high school, I couldn’t decide what to do. I had no interest in going to university,  so I tried the Fine Arts School exam (Beaux-Arts), and I passed it. But I found the classes boring, not innovative, not fresh enough…So I gave up and left France to go to Rome, to have a different experience. There, I attended a fashion design course and then a comics technical skills course. It was interesting, and it helped me determine what I wanted to do: not applied arts but painting. It isn’t easy when you’re very young to really know what you want to do, even if you know you want to be in the artistic field. And to be an artist is never considered a real job! I don’t know if Art School helped me identify what I wanted, but it gave me the opportunity to meet friends, friends who were artists, and people to share my experience with. And according to my, this is absolutely crucial.

How to find your expressive language in art, your style? By jumping with both feet into life and the culture! Nowadays, pictures are everywhere, fast and fleeting. We don’t watch them anymore. We don’t see them anymore. EVERY VIDEO CLIP WAS A TREASURE when I was younger, every record sleeve, every comic book or art book. We would entirely use them visually. We would expand ourselves through them. So yes, to find my expression style, I observed and drew my inspiration from everything I liked to nurture my mind. And I worked, again and again, to search for new ideas, to be unsatisfied, to try again. Sometimes, you feel weird or alone, but the point is to find your form of creative expression. I’ve done it for years, timidly exhibiting my work in various places, mostly in alternative contexts. It wasn’t easy for me to show my work. I had so many doubts. But showing your work always teaches you something, so you have to do it, even at the start of your career!

I lived for several years in Rome, and then I decided to move to Paris. In Paris, I started to work with my first gallery, Art Factory, which was exactly the kind of gallery I wanted to work with: I liked their artistic line, their artists, their shows. In those days, you didn’t contact people via the Internet. You had to get an appointment and go and show your work to them. It was an excruciating exercise for me because I was timid and not very confident! Showing your work in a place exhibiting artists you admire is really challenging when you’re young! But the first gallery is essential because it approves your work, it gives you legitimacy, it’s an essential first step.

At that period, even if I could clearly see the difficulty of being an artist, the other possibilities, the other options seemed to be moving away from me, and I was sure that painting was what I had to do. I will skip the part about all the unattractive jobs I had during my artistic development. It was hard, a period full of doubts and questioning. So I decided to go to the Sorbonne university to get a degree, which would enable me to get better jobs (like teaching). When I got my degree, I went back to Italy, in Rome again. It was a delightful period. I worked with inspiring galleries, inspiring people, inspiring artists. I took part in great exhibitions, and two urban new pop art shows in Naples’ Contemporary Art Museum. It was all very stimulating.

Having a solid network is crucial when you work in the art field. Connections are essential. You have to show yourself, to be present, to be visible and noticeable. You have to take your place. You simply can’t only be painting in your room, on your own (as you would like to do maybe!). Art is about sociability, humanity, life. You have to go out, to see art shows, spend time with other artists, collaborate sometimes. After that period, I went back to France. I immediately found a studio, and I started a period of work and research to find a new approach and improve my work. I worked hard, and I read many artists’ lives, artist monographies, comics, art magazines-I listened to hours of podcasts while painting to get inspiration. And I started to work with new galleries in France, mainly in Paris.

But… How can I put it? All of this is important, yes. It would be best if you had time to find what you want to express, express it, and know who the people you want to reach and why. I guess it’s not easy to give advice when you’re an artist. If I want to be a teacher or a doctor, there is an academic path to follow, exams to take, internship to do… For artists, it’s different. The measure of gut feelings, intuition, meetings, choices are essential but not measurable.

I had to go through this process to reach a new step in my creativity today, at a time when everything changes, in a way we didn’t imagine, at a time where people are scared, are doubting, at a time when we don’t know where we are going. For years, I worked with galleries, preparing paintings for exhibitions, but now, all of this is less interesting for me. I want to work differently, to do different things. Of course, I still want to paint but differently.

I have decided to work outside, to do street art. I have always found street art interesting, but I didn’t really know how to be part of it. So I developed a new form of expression, always about faces, identity, with a new color code, red and blue.  To go out at night to wander about town and paste up your paintings is a very different experience from showing your work in a gallery. And I like it

These are two different sides of my job. In galleries, the audience is generally familiar with the art. They “dare” to come into an art space. In the street, I meet many people who are not acquainted with art, people who are curious about it, I meet people, and I can speak with them without filter while sticking. And I love it. It’s very inspiring. To do free art, to reclaim the street for art, to interpret the street, it’s what I like in street art.

This action in the street modified my approach, the one I want to have today. For a long time, I worked for shows, and I waited for people to come. Now, I want to go to people, where the people are, connect them with art, and develop the creative part in each of us. I had this experience in workshops or talks I gave in companies, and the result is magic. In a society that is doing badly, discovering your own creative power is a revelation (and maybe a revolution) that does good to people, gives meaning, which impacts self-esteem, and gives new perspectives. This is the direction I’m interested in today, not just a painter in her studio, more or less cut off from society, or existing in society only when you take part in a show. Today artists have to be active protagonists.

Nobody ignores the difficulties artists are confronted with, the financial struggle, among others. Working with galleries, taking part in events and shows, and having visibility does not guarantee a comfortable life. Engaging in schools, companies, or deprived areas with deep artistic beliefs and integrity seems to be an exciting possibility for artists. Especially as interactions nurture creativity, there is a big benefit for the artist when he/she goes back to his/her studio. It’s how I want to work now. Yet of course, I still do sell my art on my online store and work with galleries if I like their projects. I think a new era will be artistic, everybody deeply needs it, so we have to be ready!

Also read Working As A Senior Artist: Daniel Nilsen

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