Nathalie Du Pasquier in her studio


11 June 2014

For our spring / summer 2014 edition, Disegno invited designer and artist Nathalie Du Pasquier to create something special.

Du Pasquier was given an open brief to create original work for the magazine, which resulted in The Construction of a Collection and a Collection of Constructions, a 19-page feature that blends Du Pasquier's paintings, photography, drawings, textile designs and physical "constructions" into chaotic collages.

The Disegno Residency is a celebration of all of facets of Du Pasquier's work, not least the physical "constructions" that have become dominant in her practice. These works lie somewhere between sculpture and installation, comprising painted wooden blocks that are built up into highly architectural configurations. The constructions are a fluid medium, varying in size, shape, colour and function, and they feed back into all areas of Du Pasquier's practice, with constructions frequently serving as the subject of her paintings.

In the video at the top of this page, shot during the Salone del Mobile in April, Du Pasquier invited Disegno to visit her in her studio in Milan. It is an atmospheric film, intended to capture something of Du Pasquier's working practice and the nature of her studio, showcasing her paintings, constructions and some of the original artwork she created for The Construction of a Collection and a Collection of Constructions.

Below is the feature on Du Pasquier from Disegno No.6 together with some of the images from the Residency

Nathalie Du Pasquier is leaning over a table filled with neat rows of sheets of printed A4 paper.

Born in Bordeaux in 1957, Du Pasquier first became immersed in the design world when she moved to Milan at the age of 22. She found herself in the midst of a vibrant design scene and soon became involved after attending meetings instigated by Italian designer Ettore Sottsass. These were the early days of the influential Memphis Group, and Du Pasquier’s experiments with illustration soon became a vital part of the movement’s output, which found space for her textile designs, and the furniture she made in collaboration with her partner, British designer George Sowden. “We would talk and get together, and Mr Sottsass would look at the things we’d been doing. In the end he was the one to decide what would be in the collection – he was the mind behind it all, the gatherer of the people,” she says.

Despite her passion for design, Du Pasquier changed her focus at the age of 30, gaining representation from, among others, Hong Kong-based Le Cadre Gallery. It was a fruitful relationship, with Du Pasquier’s paintings resonating with Chinese ideas of harmonious composition. “I think they look at painting in a very different way in China,” says Du Pasquier, for whom that market represented a main source of income. Feng shui references may sound clichéd these days, but her understanding of space makes for an almost meditative treatment of form. “I knew a patron who couldn’t choose a painting without his feng-shui master,” she says.

“He really understood the composition of the paintings and their elements, something that was positive to the viewer. That doesn’t exist here, or at least it’s not something that’s recognised by the art world.” Since this relationship with China drew to a close in 2009, Du Pasquier has been producing work for Australian firm Third Drawer Down, US fashion house American Apparel and Danish-British collaboration Wrong for Hay, with rugs, embroidered and printed textiles, and homeware. Such projects have been a chance to revisit her archive, generate new prints, and begin to redefine her relationship with the design world.

“The crisis was hitting these middle-range galleries in Europe and I was very happy when some opportunities to work again in design happened around the same time,” Du Pasquier says. “My approach to designing textiles is really not so different. I started again from where I stopped 30 years earlier.” Her process is still analogue, made up of the same layering of paper cut-outs, scribbles and felt-tip lines. But now it’s carried out in a world that has gone digital and global. While her Memphis textiles were produced at a silk factory outside Milan, she now works with brands in Australia and factories in India.

Du Pasquier thinks some of the newly awakened interest in her work could be a reaction against the digital. There was also the 2011 Postmodernism show at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. “I think that put a new focus on mine and Memphis’ work,” she says. “But I think there is space in the world for what I am now. My work is simply another idea about making things, or arranging things, for the home.”This concept of arrangement is the area of design with which Du Pasquier seems most comfortable. Working out of her two-roomed studio in Brera, Milan’s historic art district, she spends a lot of her time building ‘constructions’ – works that sit somewhere between sculpture and installation. Comprising painted wooden blocks collected from a local carpenter, they are three-dimensional compositions that serve a variety of purposes.

“Some are large, some operate as shelves, some can be transformed into an instrument of exhibition,” she says. “They appear in different colours and configurations; they are variously assembled – unadorned, or used to hang paintings. Sometimes you can enter them. It becomes a game of construction, a combination of shapes, that you can play with again and again.”

Du Pasquier’s constructions fill both rooms and often feature in her paintings, a medium that remains important to her practice. Indeed, she is reluctant to divide the constructions and her paintings, seeing their transformation into canvases as simply a reconstruction of their constituent forms. Her most recent paintings are abstracts – reduced graphical versions of earlier, more literal, still lifes – and recall the simplified forms of Le Corbusier’s first purist compositions, or the balanced objects in muted tones of Italian painter Giorgio Morandi.

But Du Pasquier is reluctant to discuss influences or her precise methodology. “Every time you use a straight line someone else has used it before,” she says, and she is similarly ambivalent about her treatment of colour: “I don’t think about colours, I just use them; perhaps reflecting the day, my mood or the weather.” If her working method is instinctive, it is nonetheless highly practised. Set colour palettes frequently recur in ways that seem
to reference the industrial qualities of Milan, a city whose greyscale is intercepted by flashes of 1960s Metro interiors and early 20th-century painted facades.

Indeed, it is hard not to read Milan as a constant reference point in Du Pasquier’s work. She loves its juxtaposition of building styles and there is an obvious architectural influence in her constructions’ occupation with space. Spatial understanding has always dominated her creations. Piece by piece, line by line, she builds up a sense of order within her work, delighting in the way in which that order might be altered or reconfigured at any moment. As in the compositions she has created for Disegno, Du Pasquier’s disparate works are essentially concerned with the equilibrium between forms. “I never follow a fixed plan”, she persists. “I put them together, and when I feel it’s alright, I stop.”