In her latest exhibition of nature-inspired decorative arts, the multidisciplinary artist Joy de Rohan Chabot has once again mastered new techniques to create a forest of aluminium sculpted branches, frosted glass stalactites and more.
The Paris home and studio of Joy de Rohan Chabot is entered first through a gate with railings that appear as wild branches topped by an owl of painted steel, which opens into an artfully overgrown garden that leads to the camouflaged villa. Immediately inside, the artist’s atelier seems no different, crammed with both mature potted trees and de Rohan Chabot’s signature decorative objects inspired by nature: a chair that recalls a lily, a glass table supported by a whirlwind of hand painted steel butterflies and everywhere glass tableware that is hand painted with flowers, each one a unique piece. “The garden is a real influence,” she says of her primary inspiration, which includes her main studio in the French countryside.
For her latest exhibition de Rohan Chabot’s work has evolved from realistic interpretations of nature to become something more fantasy-like. At ‘Féerie’, which takes place November 22 to January 26, 2013, at Paris’ Galerie Matignon, she has created an enchanted forest that includes tree stump stools embroidered with fabric leaves, painted glass screens with leafless trees, a side table with cast aluminium legs of branches and ivy leaves, and more. “I don’t know how creation works,” says de Rohan Chabot of the new vernacular. “Your brain is a like a computer and you put pictures inside but you forget about the pictures. They all mix up and then out comes something different… voila!”
As ever with de Rohan Chabot’s work, a multitude of artistic techniques were employed to craft this new body of work. Of particular note is a spectacular mirror decorated with cast aluminium sculpted branches, frosted glass stalactites and clear glass pendants. The first time she had worked with aluminium, de Rohan Chabot made the moulds herself using the lost wax technique.
Having studied at the Les Arts Decoratifs school in Paris, de Rohan Chabot is a multidisciplinary artist constantly on the look out for new techniques to master. An expert in trompe l'oeil, the former socialite has previously travelled to China to learn the traditional lacquer process. Of her latest tricks, she says: “Discovering the way to cut steel was exciting. Welding was very exciting… The really exciting part is to find a new technique.”
Though in 2008 she become the first living artist to exhibit in the Musée Jacquemart- André in Paris, de Rohan Chabot considers her work to be modern rather than old fashioned. “The materials are different; aluminium is terribly modern. And my pieces should be shown in a contemporary space.”
In the midst of a resurgence of the decorative arts, de Rohan Chabot is blasé about the genre’s new popularity. “My work is arts decoratifs but the gallery where I am says it is art now,” she says. “I want to make happy things. I don’t mind what you call it.”
‘Féerie’ is at Galerie Matignon, Paris, from November 22 to January 26, 2013
What is your definition of luxury?
Time and space.
If luxury were a place, where would it be?
Somewhere in the country with no town close and no electricity at night to stop the night birds from flying. Like my own place in the country.
If luxury were an object, what would it be?
Something that is made without ever thinking about the cost. It could be something very small or big. But I do it because I want to do it and don’t think about the cost. That is a luxury object. And it’s luxury to be able to work like that.
If luxury were a moment, when would it be?
When I’m in my studio.
If luxury were a person, who would it be?
Someone who really does what he wants.
Your work has been described as “contemporary baroque” – what would you say that means?
Baroque is definitely what I like. I’m crazy about 19th-century arts decoratifs. But I want to do what I like. I’m not doing things to be the artist a la mode. I’ve always worked like this. It’s my style and it’s what I like. But it is baroque. The materials are different; aluminium is terribly modern. And my pieces should be shown in a contemporary space.
Unlike many artists who are specialists in one particular technical genre, you are accomplished across a spectrum – from trompe l’oeil to carving wood to making moulds. Are you always eager to learn new techniques?
That’s the exciting part. When I was 7 I started with drawing, then painting, then I went to the Les Arts Decoratifs school where you learn lots of techniques. Next I started doing lacquer screens and for that I went to China to learn the lacquer technique. Then I came back and I had to find another technique because in France it’s terribly difficult to use Chinese lacquer. Then one day I wanted to do gold leaf so I called someone who told me to just go on and do it msyelf. So that’s what I did. Discovering the way to cut steel was really exciting. Welding was very exciting. Each time, I have so much pleasure. Once you have five techniques in your hands you can go on with new ones all the time because you take a bit of one and of another and you mix. The exciting part is to find a new technique.
Nature is your greatest source of inspiration and while much of your work is influenced by gardens your latest exhibition focuses on enchanted gardens – i.e. more fantastical. Tell us about this evolution.
The garden is a real influence. I’ve got lots of trees in the garden that are supposed to be here in the studio in winter. Lots of plants, lots of cats. My studio in the country opens into a garden too. When I’m working, I try things and things happen by themselves. Sometimes I start doing something and it happens to be completely different to how I thought it would be. My hand goes on with what I see happening. It’s difficult to explain but it’s very amusing.
What is your creative process – from the initial idea to a realised work. Where do you work, do you listen to music, when do you work…?
I love to work alone. I work a lot: early in the morning for about 10 hours a day, every day of the year. I like working in the country because if I run out of ideas I just go out and take a walk and I see something. I rarely go to museums because then I think that those things are so beautiful that what I do is just awful in comparison. And then I want to copy. If I see Japanese things, which I love, I don’t want to be influenced by that. I want things to come from me.
You continue to work with bronze and silver but have also introduced cast iron aluminium into your latest work. What significance do the materials you work with have?
I used aluminium because I wanted to do things that looked like ice. I could have used bronze but if I wanted to put silver leaf on top it would have been more work. Lots of people do things with aluminium but they’re very plain or minimal. It’s new to treat it like this. For the screens, I wanted to work on the light. I thought if I painted on glass I could have different lights. They’re quite extraordinary as they look different in different places. They’re always moving. I don’t like still things.
In a radical addition to your work, LED lighting by Sibylux also features in your latest pieces. Where does this interest come from?
It’s something new for me. Light is important. In the chandelier lamp with the owl, it’s impossible see where the light comes from. It’s all done with LEDs but you just don’t see them. It’s magic. I don’t know what’s next but there will be something!
Which type of collectors does your work appeal to?
My first collector was an American lady called Lisa Woodward. I was showing one table somewhere and she came in and said she was bored with her family furniture and this is exactly what she was looking for. I made her a table and have gone on and made 22 pieces for her flat in Paris. She doesn’t live here but she’s collecting. She’s bought 2 of the 8 stools in my new show. I have 3 clients like that who collect. Then there are people who just fall ins love with my work. Some people hate it and I like that. It’s a reaction.
There seems to be a resurgence in the decorative arts with artists such as the Campana brothers creating Lalanne-like work – why would you say this is?
Now there’s much less different between Art and decorative arts. Decorative arts is starting to become Art also. Ten years ago it wasn’t, it was more decoration. Especially if you do things with bronze then it becomes Art. My work is arts decoratifs but the gallery where I am (Matignon) says it is art now. I want to make happy things. I don’t mind what you call it.
Which of your new pieces are your favourites?
There are three I really like. A very big screen with butterflies that you can sometimes see and sometimes not see, which I think is the best thing I’ve ever made. Then the mirror that looks like ice because it’s different to everything that I’ve done before. It should be put in Russia in a house in the snow or in a very beautiful chalet. But if I personally walked into the show, the piece I would buy is the stool. I want to make two for myself.