Meet the Memphis design disruptor turned art star

Now is Nathalie du Pasquier’s moment, says Francesca Gavin

The Memphis Group founding member’s work is on display in Brescia’s A Palazzo gallery
The Memphis Group founding member’s work is on display in Brescia’s A Palazzo gallery

When the phrase “1980s design” is used, what usually comes to mind is Memphis furniture and the work of Ettore Sottsass. Another name tied in with the vibrant aesthetics of the postmodernist movement is that of Nathalie du Pasquier, a founding member of the Memphis Group best known for her textiles and furniture designed under the group’s motto “form follows fun”.

Du Pasquier in her Milan studio
Du Pasquier in her Milan studio

But in 1987 du Pasquier shifted her focus from design to art, and today her paintings, installations and sculptures are in high demand. They have been exhibited at the Venice Biennale, and her many fans include Hermès creative director Nadège Vanhée-Cybulski. Now, a trio of high-level exhibitions position her firmly as one of the most exciting and relevant artists working today.

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What makes her work so successful – unsurprisingly, given the bold palette mined by Memphis – is her use of colour. “My boyfriend George says the human eye is capable of distinguishing between 30,000 and 70,000 different shades of colours,” says du Pasquier from her studio in Milan. “I think I choose the ones corresponding to my sensibility. There is no plan.” 

Paintings in progress in the artist’s studio
Paintings in progress in the artist’s studio | Image: Nathalie du Pasquier

Spaces Between Things, currently showing online at Pace Gallery, is a small survey about her relationship to objects. There are paintings that depict tableaux from her studio in realistic and, more recently, abstract form, alongside drawings and even a sculpture in the form of a painted chair. There is little boundary between what she depicts and how they are depicted. “From installing things on a table, to installing shapes on a surface, to installing paintings in a space, it’s all about how the paintings have gone from representing objects to becoming objects themselves,” she says. 

Du Pasquier’s work – seen here in her studio – balances flatness and depth
Du Pasquier’s work – seen here in her studio – balances flatness and depth | Image: Nathalie du Pasquier

This virtual offering was partnered with two other exhibitions. Online at New Yorkgallery Anton Kern, du Pasquier brought together a series of new coloured pencil drawings, made during the early weeks of lockdown in Milan. “I concentrated on one format, one medium, in a short period of time. All these drawings are variations about one thing, variations that follow each other, at the speed of the brain,” she notes. 

Untitled (2016) – part of Pace Gallery’s online Spaces Between Things exhibition
Untitled (2016) – part of Pace Gallery’s online Spaces Between Things exhibition | Image: Nathalie du Pasquier; courtesy of Pace Gallery

Meanwhile, at A Palazzo gallery, housed in a 16th-century building in Brescia, Italy, “the elements were really installed – in reality”. Here, du Pasquier’s work thrives in three dimensions, and context is an aspect of exhibition-making she enthuses about. “By installing things, a new piece happens,” she says of a set-up showing a constellation of paintings (from €6,000 plus sales tax) around a wooden “cabin” – its exterior painted with colourful abstract forms, the interior composed of monochrome sculpted yet functional forms.

The A Palazzo show features a constellation of paintings around a wooden “cabin”
The A Palazzo show features a constellation of paintings around a wooden “cabin”

Much of du Pasquier’s work balances flatness and depth, yet the artist is keen to emphasise that she is not concerned with aesthetics alone. “I am not interested in creating an illusion. The depth is the reality. My work is about building.” What we are left with is work that is part still-life, part abstraction; it is both serious in intent, yet still full of fun.

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