Josephine is an Italian artist who has been following her husband around the world for years – India, Perù, the Philippines, Indonesia. Claudiaexpat interviewed this fascinating woman.
I find it a bit difficult to write about Josephine: you can actually say a lot of things about her but for those who know her personally, they all sound sort of reductive. I’ll start by giving you an idea of the cultural and human richness of her life until now: Josephine is Italian, from Milan. In the ’70s she attended the Belle Arte School of Milan, studying with artists like Leo Gavazzi. She then went to London to study psychology. There she met Gordon, her husband, with whom she left for a two-year stay in the south of India, and where she put her interest in psychology into practice, observing, photographing and participating in the daily life of the local women and children. In 1984 she moved to Peru, where she continued to work with women, children, births and family and community life in hospitals in the Andes and painting rural settings. These would later form part of a multimedia exhibition in Lima.
During that time Josephine, who has always been an extremely versatile artist, worked with the group “Barricada”, an experimental theatre group in Huancayo, creating shows that combined a high social content with music and visual art, thus offering a key to creative art and the engagement to understanding the human condition.
In 1991 she moved with her family to the Philippines, where she continued her intense theatre work with the street children of Manila, and produced a series of pictures of workers in markets which were exhibited internationally.
In 1997 she moved to Indonesia, where, thanks to her capacity to observe and to get deeply involved in the human facts of the countries where she lives, she managed once more to express her creativity, combining it with her ever present social engagement. She became part of a commission of artists that produced paintings for a big industrial complex near Jakarta, and also directed a theatre group. During the democratization process she took to the streets to document the new phase of the country’s life. The joyful pictures that she took during the first democratic elections in Indonesia formed an exhibition which Josephine organized in Lima, Peru, where she had moved again in 2000 and where she presently lives.
Josephine has three children, a dog, and a house always full of people of all nationalities. Her door is constantly open to all kinds of persons, who are always warmly welcomed. Actually for Josephine family is of the utmost importance, and whoever arrives at her home feels it immediately. She has travelled and devoted her time to lots of different project, despite the fact that it was always her husband’s career which moved them from one place to another, but family still remains her project number ONE.
“You either cultivate or lose“, says Josephine, “and this is why I have a real passion for cooking. Because it’s through food that we are nourished, and it’s this nourishment that I want to pass on to my children, my family, but also to my friends and to all other people that are a part of my life. Feeding in the widest meaning, a transmission of love, a distribution of spiritual richness, this is the meaning of my life“.
Indeed Josephine is spiritually very rich. I am not the only one to say that, all her painting students think the same. In this phase of her life Josephine, amongst other things, is giving painting classes. Twice a week a group of students (almost exclusively expats) go to her place and paint.
It is worthwhile to say a few words about Josephine’s classes, because they sound incredible: she says, and I believe her because I saw it with my own eyes, that she often has women who start taking the classes not even knowing how to draw a simple house. Women who, like me, panic when they have to help their child to draw a dog. Still Josephine shows me some paintings made by her students, and they are remarkable creations! I ask her how all this is possible. “It’s the atmosphere in which we work that favours this creative process“, explains Josephine. “We manage to have a joyful, spontaneous, peaceful atmosphere… Everyone can paint, everyone. I started to give my classes to help the family economy, but also to have a channel to express all that I have learnt so far in the various artistic sectors I approached, all I have learnt in my life… I did a lot of things : painting, theatre, post-school courses… Theatre has especially thrown a light on the importance of body language, and this is very useful for me during my classes, because it helps me to clearly perceive whether or not my students open themselves up to the creative process“.
Judging from the results, they actually open up to it a lot. Josephine tells me that she is linked to each of her student by a deep human relationship, that touches her as well as them. When they leave, they always tell her her painting classes have been the best experience they had in Lima.
I decide to personally investigate on the occasion of a painting exhibition of some of Josephine’s students organized by the “Contact” group, an international group of women in Lima, that gathers once a month and promotes the diffusion of information about art and cultural events, friendship amongst foreigners and things to discover in Peru.
The paintings exposed by the pool of the house that hosts the event certainly do not seem like the work of beginners!!! Subjects are well represented, colours are balanced, lively…
I talk to a couple of Josephine’s students, and ask them whether it is true that those who start the course sometimes do not even know how to draw a flower…
“Absolutely true“, Jackie, a Chilean lady, tells me. “Josephine has the extraordinary capacity to make you concentrate and let you see the object as it really is. She always says ‘paint what you see’, because it often happens that when painting one gets stressed by the effort to represent the object in general : THE chair, THE flower… If you simply manage to reproduce WHAT YOU SEE, you realize that all you have to do is to observe things, and everything gets easier…“.
“It’s true” Dorte, Danish, confirms. “Josephine’s talent is that of bringing you to observe more. Then you apply this to everything that surrounds you, and you realize how often you neglect a lot of details when you look at something, not necessarily an art object, everything…“. Jackie thinks that the atmosphere in Josephine’s courses is really special. “She makes you feel relaxed, not judged… most of all, she brings you to trust yourself, and this makes you produce spectacular things“.
Dorte adds that students go happily to Josephine because when you enter her house you start painting, and you really get concentrated on what you do. “This is very important, especially for women who are always doing five things at a time, while thinking of three others. Josephine’s classes are a moment of our own, during which we ‘disconnect’ from the rest of the routine, and we let ourselves go to something that is very beautiful“.
I start understanding how the process works. And I am not surprised by the fact that Josephine creates such an atmosphere during her classes. Her ideas about artists is clear and definite. “Everyone is an artist. Absolutely everyone. The fact that some choose art as a lifestyle is the only thing that makes them different from other artists who remain in the shadows. This is why I do not like the art market: it favours a few and leaves the others out. Actually all of humanity is art. And I love humanity and am moved by it. I do not like the idea of the artist as a superior being, someone on a pedestal. Real art to me is the interchange of a rich mind with human simplicity“.
We thank Josephine for talking to us, and we hope to have her again soon on Expatclic!