Mouna Rebeiz is the artist making trash chic

Everything you thought you knew, is being remade.

[W]e live in an era where the distinctions between high and low are becoming more blurred than ever. Hello Magazine parties at Dover Street Market? Luxury fashion embracing tracksuits? Coffee table selfie books? Everything you thought you knew, is being remade.

Mouna Rebeiz is an artist helping us make sense of it all with her new solo exhibition The Trash-ic: Or trash in the face of beauty. Presenting 17 new artworks at London’s Saatchi Gallery, the thought-provoking show sees the French Lebanese painter explore the tensions between art and popular culture in the digital age, using the techniques of the old masters. As part of the project, Mouna has also enlisted high profile designers including Pucci, Swarovski and Elie Saab to customise piggy-banks – which will be auctioned by Sotheby’s in support of the charity Innocence in Danger.

We caught up with her to talk social media, the female body and authenticity in art.

Hi Mouna, tell us about the concept and inspiration behind the Trash-ic exhibition?

It’s not exactly new. Hieronymous Bosch and Goya, Balthus, and Picasso’s erotic works blazed the trail: the scandalous, the grotesque, the hardly tolerable, the violent and the beautiful coexist as one in art. Even so, here it is not about painting trash as much as it is about painting a period that is “trash”. Not provocative or scandalous for scandal’s sake, but rather an attempt to convey the movement of the times, via the movement of the paintbrush. Creating to comprehend… creating to pierce the mystery of a world in which we can feel alien, displaced. Creating to understand the intentional refusal of the aesthetically pleasing, and decadence and obscenity raised as new norms. Creating to truthfully reflect the sad decline of the human relation. Creating to resist. To continue to be. To exist. Creating, that trash may also be chic. And so it is that trash and beauty generate/nourish each other, coexisting in the face of controversy and drawing their respective matrixes from a society in search of new points of reference. One no longer exists without the other.

How would you describe your aesthetic as an artist?

It’s a hymn to life. Which for me finds its origins in a woman’s body.


How does your art reflect on the times we are living in right now?

In any society at any time, the role of an artist is that of a mediator between what the world would have one see and reality itself; artists make you see things. Like oracles or “la pythie” they are translators — between gods/nature and humans.  Art is a translation of our era. It’s art that makes us see beauty in a different way. That’s why we see trash in beauty in these times; because we are in a period of time where trash is glorified. That’s what my current pieces reflect: our trash-ic era.

Do you think it's difficult to make distinctions between what is high art and what's trash / popular culture now?

Whether its trash or high art; art is an expression of one’s self and it stops there: whether its grand or gross. It’s an expression of nature, and whatever expression comes from that is embuyed by what you yourself are and then transmitted to others outwardly as art is created. In that way, as art passes through us, its colored uniquely by us.

That’s why art, like truth, is in the eye of the beholder. What is true now may not be true later; what’s beautiful now may not be later. Everything is relative.

Dead End

As someone who trained in art history and the techniques of the master painters - are you interested in embracing digital elements in your work?

I have to some extent in the past and I may again in the future. But I’ll never paint on an iPad or something like that. Like classical music, a painting has its own life; it changes depending on time and place.

Some paintings are timeless. Digital elements are done out of a machine, the hand follows a brain, directed by one’s soul – a machine can’t produce the same thing.

I Selfie Therefore I Am

One of your pieces 'I selfie therefore I am', reflects on the phenomenon of the selfie. Do you see it as a legitimate form of art in itself?

No, because it’s done by a machine and when you speak of “Art” it references artisan, or something done by the hands of a man.

The camera/phone takes the photo. It does the work of making an image, even if your finger clicks on something. But there is no consciousness in a machine.

When a machine will have a consciousness, then I will call it art. Of course there is photography that’s art, sure. But when you paint, something occurs that you can’t define. Even a self-portrait is different than a selfie as it goes through the mind, with no machine as a middle-man. It goes through the mind. The intermediary of the machine takes away from the authenticity of the piece. Painting has magic.

You bring something into life. It can be frightening. Sometimes when I make a body, its scary. It’s like giving life, giving birth to something. The hand almost has a life of its own, the whole body paints when youre painting.  When you paint or sculpt or write or compose, you do it with your whole body. You can’t define it. Its magical. It comes from the brain, the soul, the body, through the hand. And its all connected and real. When you make an installation for example, you stay out of it, and pursue it as a concept. You can look at it from the outside; youre detached.

How do you feel social media is transforming the art world and our society in general?

It brings fakeness. It reminds me of james ensor’s paintings. He only painted a crowd of people with masks, and this is what social media does.

Mad in Heaven

As part of The Trash-ic project, you have invited international designers to customise piggy-banks. What does the piggy-bank signify to you? How does this connect with the works you will be exhibiting?

To parallel the paradoxes that riddle humanity, and to evoke the duality of this same world where good and evil, purity and perversion exist, side-by-side, what better symbol than a favorite childhood object and catalyst of many a dream -the piggy bank- while keeping in mind the “pig”, in its most bestial sense: the abject swine guilty of child abuse?

At the RA

How does fashion influence you and your work?

Through beauty. I’m influenced by the beauty of fashion. It’s beauty that nourishes my soul and influences my art.

I think fashion is art and like art, when its developed into mass production, it loses its artistry. Kant said art doesn’t serve a purpose, and if it pleases you, its in spite of itself.

Before you used to make one painting and it was unique; but there are thousands of creations now. Some artists have become like a designer; a creation process that starts as art and then ends up as a mass production. Jeff Koons, Murakami — they make fabulous things and then they go into mass production to commercialise and it loses its art dimension, its sacred side.

What projects do you have planned for the future?

I would like to build upon this “trashic” theme and merge beauty and trash together in a way that’s never been seen before.

The Trash-ic: or trash in the face of beauty runs at the Saatchi Gallery from 31st May – 3rd June.  Follow Mouna Rebeiz on Instagram.