French author Maylis de Kerangal explores the contours of contemporary art and the profession of painting in her new translated novel Painting Time. The story follows her protagonist, Paula Karst, as she navigates art school and travels the world, resolutely dedicated to the craftsmanship of depicting real objects over the abstraction of high art.
We hosted de Kerangal and her book’s translator Jessica Moore to discuss the launch of Painting Time and the art of the translated novel. The conversation was moderated by author and literary critic Lydia Kiesling (The Golden State).
By Maylis de Kerangal
Published by Macmillan
In Maylis de Kerangal’s Painting Time, we are introduced to the burgeoning young artist Paula Karst, who is enrolled at the famous Institut de Peinture in Brussels. Unlike the friends she makes at school, Paula strives to understand the specifics of what she’s painting—replicating a wood’s essence or a marble’s wear requires method, technique, and talent, she finds, but also something else: craftsmanship. She resolutely chooses the painstaking demands of craft over the abstraction of high art.
With the attention of a documentary filmmaker, de Kerangal follows Paula’s apprenticeship, punctuated by brushstrokes, hard work, sleepless nights, sore muscles, and long, festive evenings. After completing her studies at the Institute, Paula continues to practice her art in Paris, in Moscow, then in Italy on the sets of great films, all as if rehearsing for a grand finale: at a job working on Lascaux IV, a facsimile reproduction of the world’s most famous paleolithic cave art and the apotheosis of human cultural expression.
An enchanted, atmospheric, and highly aesthetic coming-of-age novel, Painting Time is an intimate and unsparing exploration of craft, inspiration, and the contours of the contemporary art world. As she did in her acclaimed novels The Heart and The Cook, Maylis de Kerangal unravels a tightly wound professional world to reveal the beauty within.