When looking at Delphine Desane’s work, it’s hard to imagine that the artist picked up a paintbrush for the first time only three years ago. Her portrait-style paintings render Black women as strong, assertive figures who confidently hold court in the jewel-toned spaces they occupy, with each of them confronting the viewer head on through their powerful, meditative gazes.
The Brooklyn-based Desane, who worked previously as a stylist and grew up in Paris, is the daughter of two Haitian-born immigrants. Her experiences as a Black woman, a Black mother, an immigrant to the United States, and a woman of various backgrounds collectively inform her work.
After a whirlwind start to the year, when she was commissioned to grace the cover of, the artist’s career has only continued to soar to new heights.
Earlier this month, Artnet News spoke with Desane about her newfound success, her multifaceted practice, and some of the most exciting moments in her career.
When did art start to have a major role in your life?
I don’t have any academic training in painting—I didn’t go to art school for it per se. I’ve learned by observation and practice, and have been going to museums and galleries for as long as I can remember. Growing up in Paris, you are surrounded by art and beautiful architecture; you can’t escape it. I felt the same when I was living in Italy, but it took me a while to realize how Europe really shaped my aesthetic. After moving to the US and traveling back and forth to Europe, that’s when it really hit me.
I started painting after I gave birth to my son Gaspard, who is now three years old. It really started as a therapeutic practice for me. It was a way to cope with the stress and the postpartum [depression]. I had wanted to change careers for years, and moving over to painting was the most natural transition for me.
Everything really took off when I was commissioned to paint the cover of the January 2020 Sustainability Issue of alongside seven established artists. The creative director of the magazine discovered my work on Instagram. Since then, my studio practice has changed drastically. I used to paint at home, which I don’t anymore. I set up my first studio in Bed Stuy in June, when the city reopened. I have also been working on various exciting projects this year, and will have my first solo show, scheduled for this December, at Luce Gallery in Italy.
What medium do you typically work in? Does your art ever take on different modes of creating?
I mainly work with acrylic. It pushes me to work fast. I also love clay. There is something really calming, energetic, and powerful when you work with such a natural element, and shape it as you please. As opposed to working with acrylic, where I have more control of the material and what I want to achieve, working with clay is more fluid, more unexpected. I really like that balance in my practice. I have been working on some hand-built sculptures as well. I have learned different hand-building techniques from women in New York and Oaxaca, Mexico.
Is there a theme or through-line within your practice?
The work has a lot to do with my own experiences as a Black woman, a Black mother, being an immigrant in the US, being a child of immigrant parents, and being French and Caribbean. I really try to incorporate all these elements in my painting. I might use a Fauvist palette sometimes, but my themes are very much about what’s happening in the world right now and what I have experienced: racial profiling and discrimination, but also Black joy and, most importantly, motherhood.
Growing up, I didn’t really know who to look up to. There weren’t a lot of Black artists that we could reference. The only Black art that was part of my life was the Haitian paintings my mother had around the house. We didn’t have a Black power movement in France. I started to learn a lot about Black artists after I moved here. And needless to say, representation is important.
What has been one of the most exciting moments of your career thus far?
This year has been a year full of incredible opportunities for me, despite the pandemic. It’s hard to choose one moment. I started the year with the cover and will end it with my first-ever solo show in December. I have also collaborated with a musician and fashion brand this year. I’d say that the best is yet to come!
What would you like someone to walk away with after seeing your work?
A feeling of great elation.