Françoise Moncomble was born in Abbeville, North of France. Her early years were spent with her grandparents until the age of 3 and when she turned 12, was sent to boarding school. Later, in a career that spanned 40 years, Francoise’s work took her across continents and she has lived in 11 different countries.
Drawing and painting had always been a big part of her life. Her father was bringing home packs of used paper from his work so she could draw and paint on the blank back. She started painting with water colours in her teenage years before switching to oil painting. However, her father would not let her study art, so she decided to quit school at the age of 17.
During her later years in school, she was an exchange student to England several times. She felt in love with the country. She had already experienced many other places as her parents and grand-parents themselves were travelling a lot. It gave Françoise the taste to carry on crossing borders and to discover other cultures, other traditions and new habits.
In September 1961, she was recruited by the French Ministry of Finances in Paris to work at the department handling pensions. An opportunity presented itself when a customer, working at the Military department of the French Embassy in London, approached the counter. Françoise jumped on the opportunity to investigate how she could move and work in England and was given precious tips.
She left Paris for London in 1968. To earn money, she worked as an au-pair for a while and then as a waitress in a Knightsbridge restaurant.
After a month in London she was offered a job working on the switchboard at the French Embassy. The personnel officer asked her if she was skilled in typing. Francoise hadn’t typed before but claimed to be proficient. As there were no positions available for several months, she felt she had plenty of time to learn. But, she quickly found herself in a job when a sudden position opened up. Worried she would lose out, she borrowed an old typewriter from a journalist and practiced day and night disturbing all her neighbours! However, her efforts were rewarded as she worked in that office for 6 years. New chapters came into her life as she was posted to the French Embassy in Teheran in August 1974.
– Painting had only been a hobby, but my first experience in ‘making a business’ out of my work was in the Ministry of Finances in Paris in 1965. With a friend I decided to take a holiday to Greece with the Club Med. It was a costly project and I was not sure how to fund the trip. My friend suggested that I should bring my paintings to the office and try to sell them. I was quite reluctant as I thought my work wasn’t good enough. However, one morning I brought about 14 paintings in and by lunch time I had sold out! I even received orders for more paintings to be made. As it turned out my holiday was not a financial struggle and I even managed a few luxury excursions while on the trip. This made me realize that my art was appreciated!
As the interview goes on I realize that the life of Françoise is so rich with stories that it would take an entire book to do her justice.
Let us follow her life briefly:
-I came to London 1968 and stayed till 1974. During that period I married a Greek Cypriot. We became the proud parents of two sons, born in 1969 and 1973.
-In 1974 I was posted to Iran where we lived until 1977. I really loved Iran. It was the Western world with an oriental atmosphere! A beautiful country where at the time, local and international cultural events were at their peak. The country offered amazing landscapes. And I must not forget my weakness for Shiraz, the well known birth place of Iranian poets. Another place dear to me is Ispahan, a place full of history and the cradle of amazing handicraft.
-From 1977 to 1983 we were back to England. Then in 1983 I was asked to join the French Embassy in Muscat, the Sultanate of Oman where I felt real warmth in my heart. I found an unspoiled country where authentic people would do anything to welcome us to their house, and just counting us as part of their family.
-Three years later, in 1986 I was posted to Athens. Here I met my second husband. He was French born from a French father and a Greek mother. Our daughter was born in Athens in 1988.
-In March 1990 I was posted to Caracas, Venezuela. I enjoyed the beautiful country side with gorgeous tropical sceneries. But I felt a lack of interest there. I didn’t find out much about the history, and trying to find out with the natives I soon realized they were only interested in drinking and dancing.
-My next posting was in Morocco where I arrived in 1992. And what a contrast to Venezuela! My heart is breaking with great memories. Every week-end was like a holiday! The country offered the Mediterranean Sea on one coast and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. It had the desert as well as skiing in the Atlas Mountains. I loved the feeling of living in another era in the historic cities of Fez, Marrakech and Meknes. Other places like Essouira, ex-Mogador where the film “Othello” was made, and Chefchaouen, the white city.
-From one contrast to another, in 1994 I was posted to Washington where I only stayed two years. To be honest I didn’t consider this posting the most interesting one, apart from my work. In the US I never felt the spirit I found elsewhere.
-In the summer of 1996 I was given some options for my next posting. My choice was to go back to the Gulf region and this time to Bahrain. My sons had already left the nest and my daughter was studying at the French school. My feeling for painting was back with me again. It happened after an exhibition held by an old French Artist in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel in Manama. I was inspired by his work and in 2001 I was having my own exhibition in the same place.
-Five years had gone by and it was time again for another posting. In September 2001, I called a friend of mine working at the personnel office in Paris and asked him what he had on the “shelf”. “Kazakhstan”, he said. I had never been to this part of the world so I thought ‘why not!’
I arrived there in the beginning of November. I left Bahrain at +28° and was greeted with –27°. I arrived at three o’clock in the morning on icy roads and a country side looking like a Christmas card. However, it was not an easy beginning.
The weather and the language were quite a challenge. During the weekend at the weekly market I felt like I was deaf-and-dumb as I could only communicate with hand language. But as time went by, I had a very nice social life. My daughter was very happy at her school and I found plenty of time to continue painting. In July I was holding an exhibition at the Ankara Hotel (Intercontinental). I particularly enjoyed it as people from this part of the world are very much interested in art. I loved my five years there. Kazakhstan was a fascinating place with another civilization full of traditions.
-My last posting to come wasn’t the least interesting. In August 2006 I landed in Tbilisi, Georgia. It was an interesting posting professionally speaking. It was a complicated political situation, but fortunately it did not affect our daily life. I loved the hospitability of the natives. There is a great cultural life there and the country offers a great landscape. A beautiful place to be! Before leaving in July 2008, I held an exhibition at the Betsy Hotel.
-And here I am now in Cyprus, she says and laughs.
-Greece has been following me all my life! It started with learning about the Greek mythology in the first year of the secondary school and I was fascinated by it. My first holiday when I started working was in Greece. My first husband was Greek-Cypriot. My second husband had a Greek mother and now I am living on the Greek side of the island!
-I have known Cyprus since 1969 and it meets most of my criteria for a great retirement place. It has the sea and the sun. I found here an oriental flavour which reminds me of the times when I was working in the region. By the time I retired, my two sons were also living here so that was another reason to settle here. I do visit the TRNC quite often, sometimes once a week. I have friends there and we meet quite often, but what I love most about the North is the serenity which I have not found anywhere else.
The colours of the world are truly seen in Françoise´s paintings. She uses oil on canvas and paints mainly portraits of people she met in all the different places she has been. Most of them have a story to tell. Some are portraits of friends, ambassadors, or just people in their own environment.
-For me painting is a pleasure, but I cannot paint on demand. I need to choose my subjects, and I need to feel like a lightning when I see a motive. It is very important for me that when I paint the subject, my painting must be as accurate as possible to the original to be able to retransmit those feelings. This is probably the reason why I have a difficulty in parting with my work. I spent a lot of time with each painting trying to reach their soul. I will not sell my originals as they are my creations and I like to keep them that way. Painting is still a hobby for me. If I had to do it as a business I probably will not be so successful.
-When I met my present partner he insisted that I should share my paintings with the world. In the beginning I refused, but eventually he convinced me. He has been helpful in arranging this so now all my paintings are available as reproductions and can be purchased from my website at www.francoiseart.com. The quality of these reproductions are so amazing that it is difficult to say which one is original and which one is a reproduction. Also postcards and posters are available.
- My hobby besides painting would be cooking. Mainly French cuisine but I do cook Cyprus food as much as food from other countries. I love entertaining people for dinners. I love decorating the table for my guests. I especially like decorating for Christmas, still making it different every year. I like writing. I have written poems. I do spend a lot of time for the animal’s welfare. Unfortunately there is a lot to do here! More than anything else I am a handy person, I like to create!
Have you got plans for the future?
I always have plans! This is why I don’t know what the word boring means! But yes, carrying on painting in my own time. Recently I have been thinking to write a book combining my art work, my biography, my work life and my travelling. After all everything goes together and there has been some rather interesting chapters I have lived through. - Françoise has had several exhibitions around the world.
The Colourful Life of Françoise Moncomble