From Colette to Camus, the French painter shares her favorite reads for finding inspiration in the quotidian

Inès Longevial is compelled by the act of looking. Born in Agen, the painter was raised alongside the glassy cerulean of the Garonne River—a beauty she had trouble registering as a child, due to poor eyesight. Once her vision was restored—Longevial started wearing glasses as a preschooler—she found she couldn’t stop staring at people. She remembers scanning the expressions of killers like Ted Bundy, searching for traces of madness, and gazing at her sister, studying the way her skin would swallow the sun’s colors. This fixation on others’ visages transformed from a childhood habit into an artistic preoccupation: Since receiving her MFA in 2013 and moving to Paris, the topography of a blank countenance has become the painter’s defining subject matter.

In Longevial’s expert hands, a woman’s face is a landscape. The female gaze is a surface to be mined and memorized—worthy of massive canvases filled with planes of saturated magentas and acid greens. The artist cites the empty eyes of Amedeo Modigliani as an enduring inspiration; but where the late Italian master shrunk his women to sinewy ghosts, the vitality of Longevial’s subjects—often friends, family, or herself—vibrates beyond the already colossal scale of their frames. Ahead of the September release of her Rizzoli monograph, the painter shares with Document a selection of books that offer those same compassionate visions of life.

The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino
“Because he refuses to drink snail soup, 12-year-old Cosimo climbs a tree, never comes down, and thus spends the rest of his life living there. Secluded but not misanthropic, exiled but not angry, he is a man inspired by the Lumières. The Baron in the Trees is an absolutely poetic and transcendent tale: the idea of total humanity through the melancholic and ironic language of Calvino. (I have an exhibition in Paris this October, which will be named Perchée as an homage to this book.)”

Green Wheat by Colette
“Colors, flavors, and nature are written with the most beautiful sensuality, which—however we need [it to]—revives in us an ardent desire. It is a book that lights a fire in you. If you are overwhelmed with grief or suffering, you must read Colette.”

The Artist at Work by Albert Camus
“Solitary or solidarity? This is the precious question of Jonas—or Camus—in this philosophical short story.”

Clair de Femme by Romain Gary
“From humor to despair, from a smile to a tear, I discovered Romain Gary through this book. I find him of a unique finesse and intelligence. The balance between humor and melancholy makes for an incredibly tender cocktail.”

The Vagabond by Colette
“An ode to freedom! With a constant, moderate nostalgia in the background, which invites fiery life in all its splendor.”

Tent Posts by Henri Michaux
“Brilliant. This collection of aphorisms and poetic thoughts gives us the singular and fascinating personality of Henri Michaux. I’ve reread it often since I discovered it.”

Oriental Tales by Marguerite Yourcenar
“My favorite short story is ‘How Wang-fo Was Saved.’ It contains extraordinary poetry—painting is a way to escape, to save oneself, to fade away, and to live.”