Art, Science And Urban Landscape

Mag North learns about the unique perspective of artist Florence Blanchard
Colin Petch
June 29, 2023

Florence Blanchard is a French painter, muralist, and screen-printer, who began writing graffiti in the early 1990’s under the moniker, Ema. Blanchard spent 10 years in New York, where she graduated with a PhD from NYU in molecular biology, and now resides in Sheffield, producing small batches of intricate limited edition screen-prints and paintings from her home studio. Her work is directly inspired by both of her experiences working as a scientist and writing graffiti. Abstraction has allowed Blanchard to have a more personal take on the same creative energy that fuelled her practice since the beginning, her shapes now have a similar role to what her letters used to do, providing a frame for experimentation with colour and composition.

The shapes she paints represent imagined molecular landscapes, where particles float around fluidly, and the viewer is given this imagined ‘microscope’ to observe the world from a different angle. Her artworks aim to magnify what the human eye can’t see. By offering a window into this imaginary molecular world, she intends to question our idea of visual perception. Taking advantage of the versatility of fluid molecular patterns, her work conducts visual studies on the fluidity and structure of our surroundings - the unfamiliarity's of which aim to confront viewers with a startling and insightful window into the fabric of the universe.

Florence Blanchard in her studio
Florence In Her Studio

Florence: “I spent many years looking at the structure of various living things through powerful microscope lenses. This has permanently affected the way I see the world.”

Blanchard was born in Montpellier and began creating graffiti in the early 1990s under the moniker ‘Ema’. It was only after her graduation from NYU that she began translating her studies into large-scale public murals, combining her work as a graffiti writer with her discoveries as a scientist.

She credits painting graffiti for her technique in colour and composition. Though she began painting graffiti in the nineties, continuing when she moved to the U.S. - making a living as a painter never occurred until she sold her first paintings in an exhibition in New York ten years ago. Now her practice is primarily painting, with a focus on water-based inks and acrylics to lessen the impact on the environment and her health.

“My work is inspired both by graffiti and science. In graffiti, letters are just an excuse to play with shapes and colours. Over time I got rid of the letter element and started concentrating exclusively on colour compositions. With my background in science and with a specialty in microscopy I can’t help but imagining abstract molecular landscapes as If viewed through a powerful microscopic lens.”

Florence Blanchard Steps Mural, Newcastle Quayside
'Steel Jungle' Newcastle Quayside

Among Blanchard’s recent commissioned public installations are ‘Steel Jungle’, a stepped mural on the Quayside, Newcastle which reworks the colours of the city’s iconic Tyne Bridge. As well as ‘Bounce!’ a large-scale mural covering Site Square in the artist’s home city, Sheffield where she owns her own print studio.

“My most recent [mural] is a 1000 sqm floor painting commissioned in 2020 by Site gallery at Site square in Sheffield. I loved working on this project. The square was a neglected concrete outdoor public space, which already had some elements of design. It just needed a splash of colour to offset these elements and the result was amazing.”

Florence’s work will feature in the Infinite Nature exhibition later this month in Oslo. The show features a line-up of four international artists showcasing varying mediums and techniques. Each artist has approached the subject of nature in radically different ways, yet all touching on our relationship with the natural world, and what connects us all.

Bounce. Side Square Sheffield
'Bounce' Sheffield

When it comes to these larger projects Blanchard finds a freedom and ease in selecting colours, often drawing upon the palette already present within the space to inform the mural. Using photoshop to prepare mock-ups before actualising her vision, she works to find a balance between her own creativity and the client’s expectations. The shapes within Blanchard’s prints, paintings and murals offer a molecular landscape that encourages the viewer to imagine the piece from a microscopic view, inviting them to observe the world from a different angle. At its heart, Blanchard’s work seeks to question our idea of visual perception.

“I painted my first really big [mural] in Hokkaido Japan in 2014. It was a self-funded project on the side of a building in rural countryside. The people I dealt with couldn’t get their head around the fact that wanted to paint the whole building and wouldn’t let me hire a cherry picker. I was offered all sorts of man-made contraptions to help me get as high as possible, but none got me to the top. So I had to politely try and show them that wouldn’t work, until I finally was put in touch with a cherry picker company.”

Florence Blanchard artwork

For ‘Infinite Nature’, Blanchard will exhibit a series of paintings and prints that relate directly to public commissions she has undertaken, celebrating the relationship of art, science and the urban landscape. Also featured in the exhibition line-up are new works by four of RedHouse Original’s most successful international contemporary artists: renowned international snowboarder turned artist, Danny Larsen, as well as originals and editions by Schoph and Thomas James Butler.

Images: Florence Blanchard