Alioune Diagne is a Senegalese-French painter, creator of the artistic movement of figuro-abstro. We spoke with the artist in order to make you discover the painter behind these abstract shapes and colors.
Hello Alioune Diagne. Tell us, what is your definition of an artist?
Alioune Diagne: I approach my artistic practice with a lot of naturalness and spontaneity. I don’t know if I can give an exact definition, but in my opinion, to be an artist is to be a spokesperson. I attach a lot of importance to the message conveyed by my works and to what they provoke in the viewer. As an artist, I feel that I have a mission of transmission. I want to awaken consciences through my paintings and draw attention to everyday problems that we tend to forget, such as the importance of Education, History, the reality of behaviors, the innocence of children, the place of women…etc. I try to be part of this heritage that is the History of Art, to bring my sensitivity and to be worthy of it.
What is art for you?
Alioune Diagne: That’s a very broad question! Art has been a passion since I was young. It’s a practice that allows me to express myself, to bring out my emotions by putting them on a canvas. It’s really a relief to be able to express myself in this way on a daily basis. Art rocks me and soothes me. I can then free myself from the things that clutter my mind and translate them on my canvases. If I don’t practice very regularly, I am not satisfied. Art completes me. More broadly, it seems to me essential in our daily lives.
From imagination to technique, could you transmit the recipes of a beautiful work according to your perception?
Alioune Diagne: There are several technical criteria that make, in my opinion, a “beautiful work”, even if it remains very personal. Five elements seem fundamental to me: composition, technique, colors, depth and relief. These are aspects that I work a lot on in my works. I like to perceive these elements in a work. Together, they form a musical orchestra that makes the whole coherent. Everything must be balanced, of course, and at the same level to obtain this harmony. But these formal elements are nothing if they are not accompanied by an emotion, an idea. By “mixing” technical rigor and a strong message, one can only find a beautiful work.
Could you, for our readers, develop the process behind one of your creations?
Alioune Diagne: My “figuro-abstro” movement was born in 2013. It is based on a simple principle: building a figurative image from abstract elements. I come to put forward a situation, a feeling, while retaining only what is essential: shapes and colors. My approach can be broken down into several stages.
I first choose the “fluo” colors that I will apply on the background of my painting. I do this intuitively. Then I draw the outlines of the subject I have chosen for the canvas in question.
It can be a street scene, children playing, women working in the markets in Senegal, but also History, or subjects that highlight my more technical artistic research. Finally, above all, I realize my so-called “unconscious” signs. They are very meticulous and come to redefine the image, to bring out new details. They are the essence of my work. All bearers of a unique emotion, they are really what defines my “figuro-abstro” style. I see them as a universal language, that everyone perceives and reads as they feel.
What is the most striking moment in Alioune Diagne’s career?
Alioune Diagne: Oh…there are several! Recently, I’ve been receiving more and more requests from young students at the School of Fine Arts in Dakar, where I did my apprenticeship. They want to know more about my technique and apply it in their exercises. This is an invaluable recognition and pride. I have partly developed my technique so that everyone can appropriate it and make it grow. I am particularly touched by the feedback from these young artists in the making.
In 2017, I had an exhibition in Aosta, Italy. At that time, two long-time political opponents were able to discover my work. My exhibition was a real crush for them. So much so that they came together to visit the exhibition and thank me for bringing them together on that occasion. They hadn’t agreed on anything for years (laughs).
Finally, I would like to mention my last solo exhibition in Paris (November 2019), which was organized by We Art Partners who have been supporting me for years in my projects. I was able to meet so many people, hear positive feedback. All these testimonies go straight to my heart. I’m used to exchanging on the networks with my entourage and those who love my work, but being able to meet them in real life was really striking. There was even a queue before the opening of the exhibition! I will never forget it.
What would be the most memorable answer about your work?
Alioune Diagne: One anecdote comes directly to my mind. It was in 2015, during my exhibition at the ARTE gallery in Dakar. An Ethiopian couple visiting Senegal told the gallery owners that it was the Ethiopian alphabet on my paintings. They could clearly read what was written there.
For my part, I don’t give any meaning to my signs, they are unconscious and universal. Everyone appropriates them and interprets them according to their own perceptions. This anecdote is a perfect example of this! We were able to exchange and I was marked by their astonishment and their benevolence in front of my works. It was the first time that I officially exhibited my “figuro-abstro” movement in Senegal. Since then, I have received many testimonies that have marked me and help me to go further. These people of all ages and nationalities give me a lot of love and I thank them for that.
We are discovering a multiplicity of facets in your work. But what influences this touch of the pictorial movement of the “figuro-abstro” that you define as yours?
Alioune Diagne: As a teenager, I spent a lot of time with my grandfather. He was a Koranic master in Senegal and was therefore responsible for the calligraphic reproduction of the Koran. I watched him work and I was marked by the application and concentration he put into his practice. Some people say that unconsciously, I took up my grandfather’s gestures in my paintings. He certainly influenced me, it’s true, but I prefer to think that all this comes naturally, unconsciously. I didn’t think of anything in particular when I drew my first sign.
We are all shaped by our history, our experience and what we are given. So it is not insane to think that I unknowingly integrated this family teaching. I came to mix it with everything that has surrounded me since I was a child to create this unique style that is mine: the “figuro-abstro”. Quickly, I felt the need to name it, to really define it and even to theorize it. This allows me to make it my own and share it. This is essential for me to continue to create.
What is the meaning of the signs you use in your works?
Alioune Diagne: Signs are the essence of my paintings. It is thanks to them that the image becomes clear as you move away and that it breaks down into a multitude of elements as you get closer. They are the ones that define my style. I see them as a writing full of emotions. Each sign that I come to paint rigorously on the canvas carries its own emotion, that of the moment I put it on the canvas. It is all my feeling that is inside.
These signs do not represent anything concrete. Some people see there forms, characters, hieroglyphics, computer code…etc. They come to my mind when I wake up or in the night and are completely unconscious. My signs are really a universal language and I hope that everyone will be able to appropriate it in a singular way, it is the most beautiful gift that can be given to me.
If you had to give advice to the younger generation to get to your stage, what steps would you suggest?
Alioune Diagne: I would tell them to be rigorous in their work and learning. To work hard. Thanks to training, like the one I got to know at the School of Fine Arts in Dakar, you’ll have all the keys to success. It is also thanks to meetings with teachers and fellow students that you forge your identity. But what should not be forgotten is also to be free in your practice. To follow your emotions and desires. And above all, don’t forget to have self-confidence.
Women are very present in your work, especially in your collections ” Scènes de marchés “… Why?
Alioune Diagne: Through my works, I hope to succeed in transmitting forgotten or ignored truths. I would like to be able to raise awareness, especially among young Senegalese people. For me, women are our everyday heroines, who alone carry their homes. I find that society, especially in Africa, does not consider women sufficiently. Day after day, they accumulate tasks and kilometers in order to provide for their families. You find them in the markets, sitting on the ground, selling their products. They are sometimes accompanied by young children, who they have to care for at the same time. They get up very early to prepare what they need for the day.
What they accomplish is incredible and makes the inactivity of men even more glaring. I only became aware of this very late. This is why I pay tribute to their courage in my paintings, to awaken consciences and hope to change certain behaviors.
The Signs in Abstraction collection is a mix of paintings and sculptures in metal plates. Tell us more about this collection that reveals a spirit of construction.
Alioune Diagne: This collection began with paintings dating from 2018 and make the sign, the subject of the work. I wanted to explore the origin of my movement by putting it even more in the forefront. Everything in these early works in the collection talks about origin: the sign is the origin of written language, primary colors are the origin of color, white and black are the origin of light… etc. To go even further, I wanted to try my hand at metal sculpture and open myself up to other mediums. These sculptures each represent a unique sign. I come to look for a sign in a painting, and I “take it out of the canvas” to represent it in 3 dimensions, to individualize it. This approach gives them value and allows you to see the sign from all angles. We come out of the canvas flat.
What is important is that the sculpted forms are not new. It is an already existing sign, simply “extracted” from one of my paintings. I do not come to modify it. It still carries the meaning it had when I put it on the canvas. The sculpture then carries a unique emotion. It is a practice that speaks to me and I am delighted to be able to develop other aspects of my work as an Artist.
Alioune Diagne, thank you for this interview and for your availability.
Alioune Diagne: Thank you!