French painter rediscovers the fine art of making do
The COVID pandemic stopped painter and mixed-media artist Asya Zahia Colie and her family from visiting her home in Provence, France, this year. Instead, she spent time foraging for food in the local woods and for sweet deals in second-hand stores.
Mushrooms became a bigger part of her cooking life, as her walks on nearby trails provided a bounty of fungi, as well as berries. Colie began to sew, like many others did, to make her own cloth masks — and now it’s become another artistic medium.
“I’m so happy when I find all these wild things, things you can eat, these edible things that you can create a meal with. That’s what home is,” she says. “Sewing is a habit I just picked up. I’ve always wanted to print my own art on fabric, and I love, love, love going to Goodwill stores and finding these really cool, interesting vintage clothes, like a nice men’s suit that you can transform for a woman’s nice jacket.”
The North Asheville resident, who moved to Western North Carolina from Miami more than 15 years ago, has lived a global life. She was a showroom model in Paris for Christophe Lemaire, Escada Laurel, Karl Lagerfeld, and other classic ’90s designers. She also worked prepping other models’ hair and makeup; her background in haute couture is clear in her acrylic and mixed-media portraits of women expressively adorned with flowers, which have been exhibited at ananda hair studio, Vintage Moon, and other local venues.
This fall, Colie began showing a series of nonfigurative abstract florals more directly influenced by the natural world. Her basement is an art studio, and it’s her favorite room in her home, tied with her kitchen — but there aren’t many of her own pieces on her walls. She is restless; her vision for what she makes is moved by the changing seasons and what she can find to create with. She doesn’t limit herself.
“I like touching a little bit of everything,” she says. “That’s my problem.”
How did you end up in Asheville?
In Miami, I met my husband. From there we lived together for a while and then we lived in Provence and we were like ‘Ah, we need something smaller than Miami.’ We decided to go visit a friend that he has in Asheville. We liked it. Asheville was small at the time, so we decided to buy a house. At the time, we had our kid, who was four years old, and we wanted to have the first few years with him in Provence, to have the experience of the life there — the small French village, the cooking, the easiness. After that, we came back and lived here for his middle school and high school. We are so blessed to be in Asheville because it’s so many things that reflect on our lifestyle.
Other than its smallness, what else drew you to Asheville?
The quality of life, as everybody knows. In Provence we did the same thing and it had the same feeling. Some of the produce I’d find in Provence I can find here, at the farmers’ markets. With COVID we didn’t get to go back to Provence, so we got the chance to explore more of Asheville. The way I grew up is gardening and salvaging — going into the woods and finding things you can take. When you come here, there’s so much to harvest and forage; we find all of these amazing mushrooms … we really love this about Asheville, but also the people … I’ve met some other French people who live here.
How long were you a model?
I say, like, maybe two or three years. When I lived in Paris, I had a lot of friends working doing hair and makeup. My roommate was Norwegian and was a big model. Every time she had a showroom appearance or something, I’d go with her and then someone wouldn’t show up and they’d hire me. It was a good experience.
What do you miss about the fashion industry?
I really miss the elegance and culture of living and working in Paris. Especially my day-to-day life in Arrondissement 14 and 17, after sessions, wandering around with coworkers on the small streets. We would always find so many new pop-ups and little cute places to hang in that no one would ever know about. Obviously, missing the street food and my favorite pastry shop Cyril Lignac. I really am desiring one of their Brioche aux Praline Roses.
How did you become a painter?
I always drew faces, ever since I was little. When I grew up in Provence, whenever my dad was doing plaster or working with cement, I loved the texture. Now, whenever I do paintings, I like to add texture, like adding gauze to a painting. I sew things on my paintings sometimes, or I put a veil on the faces. I also add plasters. I just like texture. I need my hands to be messy, and I need to be touching something.
What are you working on now?
I’m just focusing on doing some really simple faces and I tease colors, like red and white and blue, and I add some flowers … paint right across the eyes or something. Hopefully those will come together.
Do you think you’ve become even more creative throughout this pandemic?
Oh, yes. I think so, definitely. We need more beauty than ever now.
Asya Zahia Colie, Asheville. The artist’s paintings are currently on display at the downtown restaurant Twisted Laurel (130 College St., Asheville). For more information, see asyacolieart.com.