Born and raised in France, Axelle Kieffer – currently based in Savannah, Georgia, US – is dedicated to depicting the experience of trauma, the complexity of the human anatomy and the mysteriousness of nature. The University of Strasbourg alumna – who mainly works through paintings, drawings and collages – was able to develop an artistic consciousness early as a child due to the influence of her painter grandfather. As of now, Axelle has exhibited her work in Europe and the US. Her work can be found in private collections in France, Belgium, Britain, in New York City and Los Angeles.
She admires the output of Francis Bacon, Egon Schiele, Max Ernst, Vladimir Veličković, Laurence Demaison and Marina Abramovic. Several literary and cinematic figures also are a big source of inspiration – Dostoevsky, Henry Miller, David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock.
Many of Axelle’s works are raw and formless and foggy, even frightening. “Trauma wreaks havoc in the soul and in the body,” she says. “It takes residency and attaches itself to the nerves, muscles and settles deeply into the brain and skin.” She has herself, she confesses, lived through a state of mental and physical exhaustion: “The confusion of feelings isolated me from the world. My thoughts were impaired and I found it impossible to express myself. Studies show that during a traumatic event, the brain skips verbal communication and leaves one with no voice to reach the outside world. As an artist, I’m working on how to show the alteration that an identity goes through after trauma. How to represent it? How to paint it? I find myself working more and more on self portraits. While they are not photographic representations, these self-portraits are expressions of my inner-self and experiences. Layer after layer, a fragmented identity surfaces on the canvas. The colour palette of my paintings have drastically from dark tones to lighter, earthier ones, especially since my move to the US. The change is noticeable. Now, often, white invades the canvas, white as grief, white as a blank page, white as a new beginning.”
Axelle enjoys wandering through flea markets and collecting old illustrations and photographs. She cuts paper from medical books and pastes them directly onto photos to show what is inside outside. “I choose the pieces carefully, paying attention to the scale, the shape and the colour before putting everything together. The parts cut by the scalpel cover the image and reveal a new meaning in the manner of a palimpsest.
“Painting and collaging have been a dialogue with my uncertainties. They connect me to my soul and ultimately, connect me with the outside world.”