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9 questions with Priscille Deborah, painter and bionic woman

- 09/11/2021
As part of the unprecedented painting collection launched with Priscille Deborah, painter and first French woman to have an arm prothesis, animated by the thought, Carré d’artistes follows up on her extraordinary journey, which is inspiring in many ways… 

“Fear is our biggest enemy! People prevent themselves from heading towards their dream, while it’s possible. This message is for everyone”.  

Could you describe your body to us, and the history it carries?

I carry my past on my body, for some it’s more discreet but for me it’s experienced. I have been amputated thrice. My body is fragmented due to a sudden twist in life, a suicide attempt which dates back to 2006. The body is now half-metal, half-human flesh, as I was able to re-build myself through a device: I walk with a metallic prothesis (I began walking again quite quickly, in three months after my accident) and I have had an arm prothesis for the past two years and I make it work through thought. This body also talks about my reconstruction, my resilient journey, not to mention the strength I needed to bounce back from this affair. It also talks about the overwhelming life that I wasn’t able to live, where I felt hindered. It talks about the gloomy side of my past but also the bright side. 

What does a bionic woman mean?

I am the first woman in France to have benefited from this arm prothesis, which is guided through thought, and it has been present in USA for the past twenty years. “Bionic” means “controlled by the brain”. It’s symbolic: if one tells our brain “I can do it”, it is going to happen. Each one of us can control our brain. The expression “bionic woman” also talks about my resilient journey. If I was able to re-build myself the way I am today, it means that I was able to confront this rather crazy situation of being an amputated woman and at the end of the day, I managed to build a life where I feel accomplished, where I achieved my dream of turning into a professional painter. Despite my handicap, I was able to have a daughter. Fear is our biggest enemy! People prevent themselves from heading towards their dream while it’s possible. This message is for everyone. Anything is possible as long as one wants it; we are the only actor of our life. We are the only ones who can make things happen.

How did you rebuild yourself?

Step by step. It didn’t take long to like life again, as I came across inspiring encounters. Mainly a girl who was amputated like me, she was lively at the rehabilitation center, and she told me: “you do as you please but if you want to feel sorry for yourself, it’s your choice…”. When she told me this, I thought: “she is right, if she can do it, so can I”. Thus, I wanted to make all my dreams of my first life, come true. Like becoming an artist! I have been painting since the age of 8. I took academic courses and I got bored. I tried looking for a particular method…When I was in my twenties, I met a professor who taught me how to let go through emotions, through a gesture, color, and signs. Today, this helps me become part of a universe, part of my imagination, through sincerity. After my accident, I decided to give myself the means to make this happen: I painted from 9 am until 4 pm, I created a website, business cards, I looked for galleries, place to exhibit my work…I possess crazy energy, as I have had these dreams for years! I wasn’t focused on this handicap, of course, I needed to manage it, but this wasn’t the only thing on my agenda. I was focused on my professional goals. Moreover, at home, I had to re-invent everything as nothing was adapted to my situation anymore. So, I needed an adaptable mind, which leaned on resilience, give up on the past bimbo and accept the girl in the wheelchair. 

What role does art play in this reconstruction?

Painting has been a major pillar. When I painted, I felt good in my shoes. My priority was to assert myself as an artist. When one feels good about themselves, one comes across promising encounters. There were people who took me towards other projects…It was like a domino effect. Following which, one needed to initiate things! A virtuous circle settled down. For example, I replied to a corporate foundation to exhibit in New York and thanks to them, I did it, I looked for galleries and then I exhibited my work. Through the money from this foundation, I was able to go to Denmark, Berlin…these are just a few examples: I also developed performance concepts where I paint in public. I implemented many things in relation with my activity and I re-built my personal life: I found a new partner, I had a second daughter, I moved away from the Parisian region and settled at the seaside. I began swimming, I wanted to feel good within my body. Thanks to my husband who likes to tinker, I was able to do other sports: diving, horseback riding, surf, ski…With adapted material. When one has the desire and is a little smart, it’s easy to adapt! I also wrote books: in 2015, I described my journey, and a new book came out in April this year, which talks about my reconstruction, my resilient tools. When one doesn’t feel good, it’s important to take care of oneself: painting came along spontaneously for me. It’s a great tool of resilience: when I paint, I travel, I don’t see time go by…

How do you relate to painting today?

I perceive painting as a necessity. If I don’t paint every day, I am sad. My husband and my painting as my pillars. I never know what I am going to create when I begin painting, it’s an adventure. My husband and I travel a lot, often for exhibitions and we never know whom we are going to meet. The same applies when I paint, the way I provoke the material, colors…It’s all very thrilling. This is the reason why I am an artist, trying to copy something or look nice isn’t my thing. I am guided by a force which goes through me. Artists have a genuine responsibility in relation to the world: I have the impression of painting a world in which I would like to live, with crazy little personalities, who help each other mutually…This is how I perceive the world. Each time I eagerly enter my studio, I wonder: “what is going to happen today?” I feel that the more sincere and genuine we are, the more we can reach out to people. My painting is also about transmission, which makes life meaningful.  

How do you choose your subjects, your colors, your compositions?

I work in several ways: without a precise goal first of all. To let go off the mental aspect and go with the flow of emotions, I begin with a pattern, a living model, or a contemporary dance show. In case there is no living model, nature, trees…Idea? I try to see things through an abstract manner. I squint to see the pattern in the form of spots and lines. Often, I don’t look at my canvas. Then, suddenly I’ll look at my canvas and I begin to see things. It gives me a starting point to get rid of elements and highlight shapes, which speak to me like characters coming out of the painting and telling me “I am here, highlight me”! I can work really quickly, live during a concert, when I do oil painting it’s longer, the canvas can stay here for several months. I can make many at the same time. I love oil’s sensuality, fatty substance, mixing colors with fingers…

Could you describe your workshop to us?

I have a working space made up of two rooms and each one of them is about 860 square feet each. There are big bay windows which overlook the backyard. The first one is a sort of workbench where I work with little formats. I also have a sculpture area with an oven to create ceramic artwork. In the corner between the two spaces, I have shelves filled with material, like a fine arts boutique. I have big bins where I stock recovered materials, I collect newspaper, old books, old magazines, silk paper, lace…As soon as I find something of interest, I stock it! I work my big formats in the other workshop. I have six easels. I work formats which are up to 3 meters long. I begin with a canvas which has hardly begun and then I change…At times I work on four or five paintings during the day. I work with music in the background! French music or world music. When I am in my studio, I am away from the world, it’s my own space. I forget about the rest, the daily worries. I also like working outside, in the nature.


What does being an artist mean to you today?

Being an artist today is being in touch with yourself. I am not here to make decorations or a painting which goes well with the sofa. According to me, art is an expression of an inner world. It’s inseparable with emotion. I like Bacon, Schiele, Lydie Arickx, German expressionists…. Artists have a genuine responsibility in the world today to provide people with dreams and hope. Outside of the art market, where works are sold for millions or billions of dollars. Art is essential: it’s a necessity to go to the museum, getaway, to accept daily life. It’s part of the essential nourishment, to feed the soul. When I come to Paris, I do a lot of exhibitions, I take an interest through others, to gain knowledge. According to me, an artist is a researcher. Art needs to always be something else, reveal something.

Can you talk to us about your collaboration with Carré d'artistes? What

It had been a while since I had been following Carré d’artistes. They offered me to showcase my work, I liked their approach in terms of the difference, on chaotic backgrounds of life. They stand out compared to the rather polished side of galleries. I like their dynamism, their original way of considering art. They are able to adapt, be on social networks, renew themselves all the time in a joyful manner. This is how I perceive things too. For the collection till date, I have created forty artworks. Mostly personalities like “acrobats” in the 13X13 centimeter format, which takes us to other horizons and distances us from daily life. Following which, the “Adventurers” tell us that one needs to be bold enough, to try out new things. In 25X25, the series is known as “No Issues” which tells us that “I have no issues and I am making a go for it! They all have the same tone but do possess their differences…

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