Q&A with Knife Painter Francoise Nielly

Palette Knife Painting by Nielly Francoise

Francoise Nielly has brought back portrait art with her palette brush technique. Watching her work is stunning. She sketches with the palette knife as if it were an erasable pencil, not wedge laden with thick paint.

Over the barest outline, she layers diverse colors and integrates them with swift, decisive gestures. A few more swats and slashes on the canvas, and a face emerges. So strong is the integrity of her vision, that she completes the painting at a large-scale with only brief glances at small photos.

Nielly says she picked the palette knife because she is not a patient person, but this misses some truth. She may paint quickly, but she works consistently and steadily, reshaping the field of portraiture. Below, she gives us a sneak peak into her thinking as she prepares for a show in London this fall.

Francoise Nielly painting in her studio.
Francoise Nielly painting in her studio.

You are known for your colorful portraiture. What fascinates you about the human face?

A lot of things fascinate me. But I’m much more fascinated with human faces because I’m meeting the models, seeing their faces and personalities. It is a reflection of the origin source—what can be sent as an energetic potential and what emanates from this person to me?

Are some of the models in your paintings people you know?

Most of the models are people I know.

"Untitled 694," 2013, oil on canvas, 43.3 x 43.3 inches.
“Untitled 694,” 2013, oil on canvas, 43.3 x 43.3 inches.

You use a palette knife to create bold, cut like paint marks on canvas. Can you share details about your art making process?

My technique is peculiar to me. It is very impulsive and energetic. I work with a succession of layers that are cut and remodeled. As for the color assembly, I work by instinct—it is not premeditated.

Nielly joins forces with IRMDESIGN to create an artistic fashion collection.
Nielly joins forces with IRMDESIGN to create an artistic fashion collection.

A few years ago, you collaborated with IRMDESIGN for a highly artistic fashion collection. What was it like working with these designers, and did you make new artwork for the clothing line?

Working with IRM was a very interesting experience. I created some fabrics for them and they worked with these materials. It was a similar experience like the “ArtCar” for Citroën. I consider fashion an Art form too.

"Untitled 689," 2012, oil on canvas, 47.2 x 47.2 inches.
“Untitled 689,” 2012, oil on canvas, 47.2 x 47.2 inches.

You have an upcoming exhibit in London, 2013. What are you preparing for the show?

There is a series of paintings, however, I cannot say anything about it because the theme is confidential at the moment.

If you could visit a gallery show of any artist right now, who would it be?

It would be an exhibition of Jenny Saville.

Cover image: "Untitled 673," 2012, oil on canvas, 43.3 x 43.3 inches.
Images © Francoise Nielly.
Kascha Semonovitch

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Kascha Semonovitch writes about art and books from her home in Seattle. An unabashed dilettante, she has taught philosophy, worked as a graphic designer, published poetry and written stories for young people. She has a doctorate in philosophy from Boston College, an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College, and a great deal of undocumented... Follow the author @ and view more articles.