With a light but elaborate touch, Elizabeth Garouste's design style is a feminine rendering of diverse materials and forms.
Elizabeth Garouste's asymmetrical, organic, feminine designs mingle baroque elements with a love of nature and purity. Her unique, hand-made pieces in iron, terracotta and mother-of-pearl, some of which she draws or paints over herself, have made her popular with collectors of modern and contemporary art. Married to the artist Gérard Garouste, she employs a palette of rich, warm colors, adopting an artistic and fantasy-inspired approach to the realm of design.
Definition of luxury?
Taking the time to savor life. Today we take it for granted that we have the sun and flowers without stopping to think about it because we can be so rushed. But just looking at a piece of fruit or a vegetable, or having the time to enjoy a book or sharing time with our children, or going for a walk or visiting a museum, that's a real luxury. It's as if we're living in a different era.
Louise Bourgeois. I think she has succeeded in exploring things in the fullest way. Bringing up her children herself didn't prevent her from making very strong work that was discovered very late. Even if her work is tormented and dark and expresses a lot of suffering, it's very dense. And for a woman that level of achievement is very difficult.
Having breakfast with my family. My husband, Gérard, and I talk a lot over breakfast, reinventing the world a little bit.
A house in a pretty landscape. My dream, ever since my childhood, is the world of Heidi – the young orphan girl who lives in a warm, wooden house in the Swiss mountains with her grandfather. I used to love reading the books about Heidi when I was a child.
How did you come to design after your studies in applied art?
Quite late, after the birth of our second son. Before that I worked in fashion with my parents who had a leather goods store for shoes and handbags. Then in 1979 my husband did all the décor for Le Palace nightclub in Paris and its restaurant, called Le Privilège, and he asked me to work with him on this project. I'd like to do the décor for a theatre again one day since it's something I really enjoyed.
At the beginning of your career you designed theatre costumes for the director Jean-Michel Ribes. What aspects of this experience informed your approach to design?
Working in theatre was a fantastic experience. It gives you a lot more freedom and opportunities if you come to design knowing about parallel universes, like art, fashion and theatre. I did my first ever exhibition with people that I had met at Le Palace who had made papier maché objects inspired by Venetian carnival masks. I observed how they did this and then used papier maché to make pieces of furniture.
Today your furniture and lamps fuse baroque, asymmetrical and organic designs with traditional materials such as iron, bronze, platinum and mother of pearl. How do you develop your designs?
I start by thinking about what kind of piece of furniture I want to make or what somebody has commissioned me to do. First of all I think of the function and then about what materials I'd like to use. Then I start drawing.
What appeals to you about traditional materials?
I like things that are hand-made and not machine-manufactured, and that are original and rare. If I make something in bronze, for instance, I always make a model of the piece first. I'm less interested in technical processes; my way of working is more like that of an artist.
You divide your time between Paris and the countryside. Where are you the most productive and how does each place inspire you?
Paris is more active and better for appointments. The countryside is quieter and I can reflect in a calmer way. We have a house about 100 kilometers from Paris in a village on a river called Marcilly-sur-Eure, where my husband, who is a painter, has his atelier. In the atelier I can make maquettes for my furniture and lamps, and painted pieces in iron and terracotta.
Where do you find your inspiration?
It depends on the moment. If it's for an exhibition, I try to find a theme. It could be about nature or something that is happening at that time. At one point I was very inspired by arte povera and right now I really like Gaudí. I combine different influences that interest me and find inspiration from reading or going to exhibitions. When something arouses me, I have a desire to transcribe that in some way. I like using and mixing all kinds of colors, from lively to harsher ones, and adding gold leaf – yellow, white and pink gold leaf – onto my pieces of furniture. I've been using gold leaf for about 15 or 20 years, but it's something we see a lot now.
Are there any periods from the history of art that you especially like?
When I started I was interested in baroque designs from the seventeenth century and now I like a very pure aesthetic. I immerse myself into lots of different things, such as African and Indian art.
How would you describe your most personal pieces?
My most personal pieces are the ones where I've drawn directly onto the furniture or lampshades in Chinese ink or when I've painted onto it with oil paints – like the pieces that I've made for Christian Louboutin. He expanded his store on rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Paris and asked me to make some pieces for it.
My own pictures are close in style to Jean Dubuffet or Art Brut. I'm preparing an exhibition of my own drawings and gouaches for next year. They're quite obsessive in style and portray a sort of fantastic fairytale with lots of imaginary vegetation, birds, animals, fish and the sea.
What kinds of collectors are attracted to your work?
The majority of people that buy my pieces collect art and are looking for unique, particular pieces made in limited editions.
How have you interpreted private commissions?
Quite often the private commissions are a form of collaboration. When I was working with Mattia Bonetti in the 1980s, we created many pieces for Bernard Picasso, Picasso's grandson. We thought of subtle references that would remind you of Picasso, such as his painting of Pierrot with the orange and blue lozenge-patterned harlequin costume. Then for Christian Lacroix's headquarters and his store, we looked to the Provence region and the Camargue where he's from. We incorporated colors and references to bull fights and the corridas, using reds, yellows, pinks and oranges with black motifs, since that's what he likes.
In 1991 you and Gérard set up La Source, a children's art therapy project that consists of well-known artists participating in workshops and residencies to help disadvantaged children express themselves creatively. How is the project developing?
Very well. We have two centers, one in Villarceaux near Paris and another near Verneuil-sur-Avre in the Eure area. They both focus on visual arts. We've also opened a studio for performing arts – dance, music, theatre and the circus.
How does the dynamic of being married to another strong, creative mind, impact on your work?
It's fantastic because we talk a lot together, go to many exhibitions and exchange our ideas. It's very enriching. There's no rivalry between us, since I make functional pieces that don't touch his domain. But our inspirations are very close to each other. We're working together on a project that will take place in Paris but we can't talk about it yet.
Do you have a favorite painting by Gérard?
Yes! It's a painting hanging in our bedroom that I wouldn't be separated from for anything in the world. It's never been exhibited and dates from his first artistic period. He made it when he was ill. It features a character from "Le Classique et l'Indien", a theatrical show that he produced for Le Palace and which reappears a lot in his works. In a way the character seems like a lost child. It's a very moving painting which has a certain sadness and naivety in contrast to the more violent works that he makes today.
Do you and Gérard collect art?
No, not at all. It really doesn't interest us. We're surrounded by our own work. But it's not that we don't like work by other people; it's more so that we don't have the mindset for collecting.
Which other contemporary designers do you admire?
Marc Newson, since I like his universe and the materials that he uses. And Ron Arad and Andrea Branzi, who has an exhibition at the moment at Fondation Cartier in Paris.
If you created an imaginary museum, which paintings and designs would you display?
I'm very impressed by Louise Bourgeois's work and her exhibition at the Pompidou Centre made a big impression on me. I'd like to mix that with work from different eras and civilizations, including Indian and African art. It would be very heteroclitical.
For more information:
En attendant les barbares, 35 rue de Grenelle, 75007 Paris. Tel. +33 (0)1 42 22 65 25. www.barbares.com
Avant Scène, 4 place de l'Odéon, 75006 Paris. Tel. + 33 (0) 1 46 33 12 40. www.avantscene.fr
Christian Louboutin, 19 rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 75001 Paris. Tel. + 33 (0)1 42 36 05 31. www.christianlouboutin.fr