Audacious Memphis Group Pioneer Nathalie Du Pasquier Trades Design for Art
Given the ubiquitous influence of Postmodernism on contemporary art and design (think of works by Katie Stout or Edgar Orlaineta), it’s surprising to learn that Omar Sosa, one of the creative forces behind Apartamento Magazine, arrived at the work of Nathalie Du Pasquier by way of Du Pasquier’s art, rather than her reputation as one of the founding members of Memphis Group, the consortium of international designers organized by Ettore Sottsass, beginning in 1981.
Since first meeting Sosa and his colleagues at Apartamento, Du Pasquier was featured in issue number 12 of the cult-followed magazine. Through Apartamento, Du Pasquier became involved with the Danish contemporary design company Hay, resulting in a wildly popular collaboration—one of the first following a 30-year hiatus from design during which Du Pasquier had concentrated on art. This year, Sosa and Du Pasquier published a book of Du Pasquier’s drawings from the ’80s and Chamber gallery in New York is currently hosting an exhibition of her art, precipitating the opportunity to talk one-on-one with the artist about her new pieces.
Just after high school graduation, Du Pasquier embarked on a two-month journey by sailboat from France to West Africa that was followed by a formative year abroad. She speaks of life decisions that may seem rash from the outside, with utter self-assurance. For example, she matter-of-factly describes the month that she spent enrolled in art school as “a mishappening more than a departure.” And regarding her brave about-face from the world of design after seven prolific years producing popular work for Memphis, Fiorucci, and other international firms, Du Pasquier says: “I think that when I quit design then my desire was to [laughs] not collaborate any more,” and she adds later, “one of the beauties of going with art, compared with design, was the complete autonomy.”
A self-proclaimed autodidact in design and art, Du Pasquier initially avoided design as a subject matter, instead choosing to paint scenes of people. By 1990 though, she had begun painting still lifes, tapping into her innate skill for arranging objects (see her contribution to the book, Arranging Things: A Rhetoric of Object Placement (2003)). Some 10 years later, she began painting built constructions and painting them into the still lifes as a means to disrupt their otherwise ordinary surroundings. Then a few years ago, such constructions became the sole subjects of her paintings.
Recently, the artist indulged her now-close friend Sosa in his idea for a book of her sketches: Don’t Take These Drawings Seriously. 1981-87 (2015). Refreshingly, the volume is not organized chronologically, but rather from small objects to large, bringing to mind the seminal 1983 Triennale exhibition “Dal cucchiaio alla città” (“From the spoon to the town”) which was named after the slogan coined by Italian architect Ernesto Rogers in 1952. With the invitation for a New York signing for her hot-off-the-press book, also came the opportunity to show new artworks—which she’s eager to discuss. She laughs as she tells me, “talking about me now interests me much more than it did 30 years ago!” The exhibition came together very quickly, in under one month. The title “It Is Hard to Get Excited About Growth of Less Than 3% With No Sign of Imminent Improvement” is in complete discordance with the true subject of the show—a tactic much like the title of her book, revealing the bait-and-switch nature of Du Pasquier’s humor.
Her show at Chamber, a meticulously detailed slender space under the High Line in Chelsea, consists of several small scale drawings as well as 14 pairs of three-dimensional painted-wood constructions with two-dimensional cut-out paintings. “I am interested in the ambiguity that is between the object, which is real and projects a shadow, and then a false object that gives the impression of being real—it is impossible, but it exists.” The young generation who idolizes Du Pasquier for her audacious Memphis patternmaking will inevitably find traces of that same humor in the artist’s fresh new work. It’s work that suggests she has just now reached her prime.
“Nathalie Du Pasquier: It Is Hard to Get Excited About Growth of Less Than 3% With No Sign of Imminent Improvement” is on view at Chamber, New York, Feb. 27–May 2, 2015.