An encounter with Gisèle Tchitchiama

Trait-d’union | By Cècile Dupire, original in French

September 2010

A fully pre-mapped career

Gisèle Tchitchiama was born in Brazzaville and arrived in France aged 3. An excellent student, she is fuelled by an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. “I loved studying, because learning makes us grow. Learning is a pleasure that follows me; it was hard for me to move on from that period. But I did, I grew, and forced myself to change my vision of the world and of my own self, in order to do things, at last, in accord with who I am truly, deeply.” Inquisitive, she studied literature, languages and law at the Institut Catholique de Paris in Political Sciences and Economy. She also touches upon cultural anthropology, before settling on a DESS in European Affairs (an academic degree between a Master’s and PhD), in which she specialises in EU law, lobbying and strategic planning. “I worked as a community affairs consultant. It was a fascinating and useful job around EU programs which helped companies and charities obtain EU funds for their humanitarian projects. I left in 2002, aIer the birth of my second child, as the rhythm required no longer corresponded with the wider demands of my life. It was, then, a year filled with questioning, and all my thoughts kept returning to painting….without really daring to go at it point blank.”

The Way of the Painter

Gisèle Tchitchiama delicately welcomes us into her bright Tai Tam apartment. She turns off the music, smooths the fabric of the sofa with her hand, and seems to apologise. “I work alone, and I have my little habits.”  This painter speaks softly, but with intent. She respects the intimacy of her interlocutor equally as much as she means her own to be duly considered. She prefers knowing who she might be dealing with before talking about herself: She promotes neither her work, nor her first book, A Walk in Tai Tam. She instinctively prefers to leave things to meetings, encounters.

“I’ve always painted. When I was a child, it was a hobby encouraged by my family, as long as I did not purport to make a living out of it. When I turned 15, I was approached by the Centre Culturel Andrè Malraux in Brazzaville to participate in an exhibit dedicated to women painters. I won a prize, and carried on in the footsteps pre-mapped for me.”  It’s only much later, in 2003, that Gisèle makes the decisive encounter that will enable her to re-trace her path. 

“Sandra de Tourbay was living off her art. She encouraged me to exhibit my paintings. I had a few commissions. I frantically painted for a few months, and organised an exhibit in my home: I sold everything. It is at that moment that I truly started seeing and accepting myself as a painter, with the ever-amazing support of my husband Marcel. I signed up at the Maison des Aristes and on Artesio, an online gallery which aimed at making art better known, with a punctilious selection process. I painted commissions and had to respect a specific working rhythm: this experience was as difficult as enriching. My work was also on exhibit at the Chȃteau d’Olèron: I was finally on my way.” 

Arriving in Hong Kong

We arrived in Hong Kong in April 2005. By the time the entire family was settled in, I had ‘symbolically’ stopped painting. Here, everything was big and impressive, the graffitti as much as the writing, and it was all nourishment, new food for my personal artistic vision. I felt like working, and met Nicole Tam, the Director of Lou Pichoun….another beauEful encounter. But then painting reasserted itself…the need, the desire returned, and so did the commissions. Little by little, my children talked about it, led me to meet other mothers. Through word of mouth other people heard about me, gently insisted, showed some faith in me and appreciated my work. I sold my first three paintings thanks to my children, and restarted painting full time. I’ve never communicated much on my painting. For me, painting is obvious, but issues forth from the intimate realm. But external eyes do me a lot of good, they represent a door, symbolically ajar, which I have finally accepted not to shut.

Subtle collages, enticing even for the most difficult clients

“Before leaving for Hong Kong, I also made collages. One day, I tried my luck at the Bon Marché: they gave me an appointment. I was not really optimistic, but when I arrived with my files, they selected a few to make cards. In Hong Kong, Dymocks also bought me a few.”  With Gisèle, it all seems easy, when it is all, in fact, about talent and work.

 

Artwork: Mixed-media collages for book A Walk in Tai Tam, 2010 
© Gisèle Tchitchiama

A Walk in Tai Tam: her book, an invitation to discover the south of the island with children’s eyes

My book A Walk in Tai Tam was born out of a walk taken with my son Elliot. I wished to hold on to this poetic moment: the English-language books for children are very educational, while I think that in the long run, it is impossible to do without Beauty. I wished this book of collage to be open to different readings, to find once again the wonder of childhood when our eyes look upon Hong Kong. The people of Hong Kong with whom I work lent me their eyes so I could create it. It was a lot of work, back and forth, but I was really happy when the boxes arrived. Tired and happy. We are given so much here in Hong Kong. For instance, the page numbers of the book are made out of wood. An old man from Sheung Wan made the stamps for me: the people of Hong Kong do know their heritage. I was also moved by the kindness demonstrated by the Librairie Parenthèses, and also by G.O.D. Dymocks or MCCM. They could, all of them, be jaded, blasé. But no, they took time to look and to accept my difference, my idiosyncrasy. They all immediately supported me.”

Upcoming Projects

This summer, Gisèle has two exhibits organised in France. She was also approached by an American writer to illustrate books for children. But she wants, above all, to continue painting, to make other collages, and to finalise her own book projects: “I have five book projects sleeping in cardboard boxes.” Our eyes are already shining with anticipation.