Bethan Laura Wood & Nathalie Du Pasquier


Tête-à-Tête

By Bethan Laura Wood

For the latest installment of Tête-à-Tête, an ongoing series featuring conversations between rising design stars and their creative heroes, we approached British designer Bethan Laura Wood and asked: If you could speak to any one of your heroes in the world, who would it be?

Wood herself is known for designs inspired by a fascination with layering varying shapes, colors, and textures, so her response made perfect sense to us. Without blinking, she chose Italian-based, French designer and artist Nathalie Du Pasquier. Du Pasquier first made a name for herself with the vibrant surface patterns she created for the influential 1980s design collective, Memphis (of which she was a founding member). Since that time, Du Pasquier has focused primarily on painting and sculptural pieces, which she refers to as “constructions.”

Lucky for all, both ladies had openings in London during Design Week—Wood’s ZigZag: CrissCross show at the Aram Gallery (her first solo exhibition), featuring lighting and furniture inspired by London and Mexico City, and Du Pasquier’s collaboration with Wrong for Hay, a new design venture between Danish design brand Hay and London-based designer Sebastian Wrong.

The two met at the Aram Gallery, and instantly connected over their shared love of color, pattern, and process. After Wood toured Du Pasquier through her new show, the pair sat down and spoke at length. By the end of the conversation, it was clear a new friendship had been struck, and plans for a second meeting were already being carved out. Highlights from their discussion are below.

Special thanks, of course, to Ms. Wood, Ms. Du Pasquier, and the entire Aram Gallery team!

 

Bethan Laura Wood in conversation with Nathalie du Pasquier © Fernando Laposse Bethan Laura Wood: I first learned of you through your designs for Memphis. It’s one of my earliest creative memories. I don’t remember where I was exactly, but I remember very clearly having a strong reaction to a Memphis piece. There was so much going on—color and 3-D and patterns creating movement within the flat surface. I don’t think I actually really liked it when I was younger, but it’s one of those things that stuck with me. I was quite curious to understand how an inanimate object could give me such a strong memory of seeing, even though I don’t have a strong recollection of exactly when or where. . .

Nathalie Du Pasquier: That’s interesting because that’s exactly what I was trying to do at the time—to animate. I thought pattern was an incredible way to transform a shape.

Nathalie Du Pasquier's designs for Wrong for Hay © Hay

BLW: That’s why I really love the work you did within that group. There’s so much movement in the pattern; for me, it was like going on a supersonic journey. As I started to get interested in pattern design and patternmaking, that sense of creating distance and movement and pathways that open up the possibility for different interpretations—

NDP: And then the possibility of also creating an illusion, of giving volume to something that is flat, and all of a sudden you fall into another dimension. That is what is really interesting about the decorated surface.

BLW: I also was quite interested in you and your work because I definitely see your language and your hand throughout—not just in the prints you did previously and the prints you’re doing now, but also in your paintings and your construction works. You play so much with perspective. I work predominantly by myself, so I’m curious about how that works when you’re in a collective. Was there a manifesto with a particular direction?

NDP: No, Memphis was a group of people, but everybody was working by himself or herself. Sometimes there were meetings [to discuss projects], and perhaps certain elements would be chosen, mainly by our director, Ettore Sottsass, but that was it. Of course, Sottsass was an influence on all of us; he was the oldest and a very charismatic person. We worked and exhibited under the same name, but the works were incredibly diverse. And then after Memphis collapsed, everyone took very different directions.

When I have the right colors together, I say that it tastes right; it tastes good.

BLW: I think we’re seeing a big pattern revival now. How do you feel—especially now with the new collaborations you’re doing back in the design sphere—when your way of viewing or your way of creating distance becomes almost a mainstream shorthand to a style?

NDP: Fantastic, because it corresponded with the economic crisis, so I stopped selling my paintings and I had to start doing patterns again. [laughs] The world keeps on going, and one way or another you just keep making.

BLW: You’ve used very distinctive color palettes for various works. Is there a natural feeling you get when you find the right combination? For myself, for example, when I have the right colors together, I say that it tastes right; it tastes good.

NDP: It’s fun, right? Yes, I just change the colors until I think it is good. This is what it is like for all my work, though. When I paint a still life, for example, I must organize the sets, and it’s a similar process. In the beginning, I painted sets of objects, and then little by little I started to construct the pieces, and now I represent completely abstract compositions. And for each, it’s the same in the sense that there is no plan or preliminary drawing; I just build by adding bits and pieces, and when it’s okay, I stop.

It’s completely organic; it’s a feeling I have. There are no rules to follow, and that is what is interesting; because sometimes it doesn’t work, and then you simply have to come up with a new way.

BLW: Are there differences for you when you do a painting versus your construction pieces? Or are they the same to you?

NDP: They’re both parts of my nature, but until recently, I had not put them together. The construction is completely abstract. The painting loves the process of representation, where you don’t think—you just work with the brush, and time flies.

In the last year, in fact, I have put the two things together for the first time. I’ve begun creating paintings that are completely abstract; they are just constructions—quite three-dimensional actually, in terms of the objects I represent. I have no models, so it’s a totally different way of working. Perhaps this is because I have started doing textiles again, with their abstract two dimensions. In fact, it probably connects more to my earlier designs.

Pattern design by Nathalie du Pasquier for Memphis, 1982 Courtesy of Nathalie Du Pasquier

Pattern design by Bethan Laura Wood, 2010 Courtesy of Bethan Laura Wood

BLW: Is there a particular reason you use the every day objects as subjects, or is it just that these are the things that you know the best because they are in your personal space and you have an identity with their form?

NDP: No, I don’t have an identity with their form. I just chose things that were in the studio—there is the hammer, the plate, and the glass. I am not interested in bringing in any particular narrative in my work. I like the reading of my work to be completely in the eyes of the viewer. The way you do things can always be interpreted, of course, but I’m not giving any clues.

BLW: I really like that idea. It reminds me of a book I read while working on my master’s thesis. My thesis was about objects and the things that people put in certain rooms. In the book, there’s a story about, well, if somebody puts a baked bean can on a shelf in their front room, then we all have a reference to that can, even though it’s an everyday object. The placement of that object in a front room brings a whole different connotation; if you know that that person is a collector of graphics, then it makes sense, but if they’re not, then it’s got the connotation of someone who’s not taking care of their home. So I really like what you’re saying; you like people to make their own interpretations.

What I also love about your work is that there is an intrinsic knowledge of composition and how colors speak to each other, even if there’s no strong narrative about what the conversation is.

NDP: I am not sure it’s a knowledge; it’s an instinct. Because how can you learn those kind of things? It’s something you have in you.

BLW: Yeah, I try to go just black some days but it never seems to take. [laughs, as both designers look at the rainbow of colors in her makeup and outfit]. I think that’s what I love so much about color, though. When I did these cabinets [for the gallery show], for example, I laid all the laminates around my bed and grouped them by light and dark, because I thought that would be the best approach. But when I started to mix them, I realized they were making the wrong noise together. Then I realized it wasn’t about light to dark; it was about which were green- or red-based and how they fit together. So I just keep learning by doing; and I hope to be excited by color for a long time.

NDP: Sometimes it’s quite exciting to discover something on your own. It’s the magic of reality—which is different than something you learn from a book.

I didn’t study in an art school. But when I was young, I spent a year in Africa working, and that was like my university. This is absolutely where I started, in fact. I stayed in Gabon, and then we did a stop in Senegal, in Dakar, and I went to the market and there was one little street in the market where people sold beautifully patterned fabric and on the other side there were people with sewing machines doing incredible work.

I had no money, so upon arriving, I immediately had to find a job. But as soon as I could, I bought tiny pieces of these vibrant fabrics. I had no idea design or art was ever going to be part of my life. I was just so in love with all these little pieces of fabric—these incredible African patterns. This was really my school in the use of patterns. The clothing will always have the same shapes, more or less. But the patterns and what they can represent—connecting to a television series or a politician’s visit or anything—is such a part of everyday life, and I thought that this was so fantastic.

BLW: One of my favorite places ever is the African Market in Dalston [also known as London’s Ridley Road Market]. There are so many amazing patterns and colors to see, especially on a church day.

NDP: We should have met there!

BLW: I know! So next time we meet we must explore the market together!

NDP: Yes! Next time absolutely.

*Zigzag: Crisscross is open at London’s The Aram Gallery through November 2.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

  • Introduction by

    • Anna Carnick

      Anna Carnick

      Anna is Pamono’s Managing Editor. Her writing has appeared in several arts and culture publications, and she's edited over 20 books. Anna loves celebrating great artists, and seriously enjoys a good picnic.
  • Interview by

    • Bethan Laura Wood

      Bethan Laura Wood

      British designer Bethan Laura Wood’s work explores the impact created by layering varying shapes, colors, and textures. She kindly interviewed artist and designer Nathalie Du Pasquier for L'AB.

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