The art of painter Tifenn Python, born in France, was influenced more by being raised in Tahiti. Her painting “Le Renard” is part of her show at Ghostprint Gallery.
In the age-old argument of nature versus nurture, Tifenn Python's artistic life could be considered equal parts. Born of painter Henri Python and sculptor Isabelle Gilbert de Vautibault, she grew up with role models whose lives were devoted to creation, with art projects constantly in progress.
The parental influence moved beyond the home to school, where Python recalls her mother teaching pottery to her pre-kindergarten class — which made her inordinately proud. It spanned another generation watching her left-handed grandfather, René Python, continuing to paint with his right hand after he lost the use of his left side because of a stroke. All of this was enough for the young girl to take brush in hand.
"My first serious attempt at art was to actually paint on top of one of my father's paintings," she says, recalling the brio of a 4-year-old. "I thought the portrait he was working on needed a nose, which he hadn't gotten to at that point. The painting is still hanging on the wall with my nose."
Born in Haute-Savoie, France, Python moved with her family to Tahiti and Greece, where she grew up on a boat. After stints in Canada, China and New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina displaced her and her husband, she makes her home in Brooklyn, acknowledging the imprints of every stop along the way in shaping her life experiences and subconsciously becoming part of her work.
She credits Tahiti and the islands with providing the most significant influences because they left her with such a strong visual imprint. Studying illustration in Toronto exposed her to influential teachers who inspired her to keep at her work. But it was one of her briefest residencies — only six months — in Shanghai, China, that solidified in her mind her life's path.
"For the first time in my life as an artist, I had the opportunity to paint full time, not as an illustrator but as an artist," she says. "It has made my work what it is today."
Python's large paintings use washes of color, layered one over the other, to create a watery, ethereal feel. Details of previous layers peek through in some areas, creating a sense of physical and emotional depth. Her creative process involves a combination of drawing and painting techniques, the subject matter a spontaneous choice.
"I work within the moment," she says. "It is more like a visual journal of my life, the people in it, my feelings." She allows that the most difficult part is communicating the essence of a feeling onto a two-dimensional surface.
She's had years to refine her technique, seeing it change with time. "The more I paint, the more I get to experiment with the medium I use," she says. "So then I get to push it a bit and hopefully make it do something different, a bit less predictable."
Recently that's meant being able to focus on painting for a longer stretch of time. That's when she becomes less afraid and more open to experimentation, she's finding. The formula has worked for her in shows in New York, California, London, Shanghai and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
These days she finds herself a bit less of a globetrotter because of the additional job she's taken on — being a mother. Without the ability to stay constantly immersed in herself and her work, she's had to learn to work when she can, and, even more difficult, to be OK with that.
"This way of working may actually benefit my work in some ways. My hours spent working on this particular show have definitely been precious and were used wisely," she says. "It's challenging, but it's my reality and I wouldn't change a thing."
And she'll be just fine if she finds her 4-year-old adding a few flourishes to one of her paintings.
Tifenn Python's show, "Reverie," runs March 7-29 at Ghostprint Gallery, 220 W. Broad St. For information call 344-1557 or visit ghostprintgallery.com.
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