Nathalie du Pasquier reignites the Memphis fire
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In her Milan studio, Nathalie du Pasquier is applying the final layer of paint to a series of wooden “constructions”: bright, boxy blocks of colour that resemble the inner workings of a curious machine. They are part of a new body of work opening at Pace Gallery in London, alongside 19 abstract paintings that parallel the 3D structures. “The space, too, will be painted as a kind of box with compartments,” adds the 66-year-old artist, who refers to the show as “the work of a mature person who has gone through many different phases – one of them was Memphis”.
In 1981, at the age of 24, Bordeaux-born du Pasquier became a founding member of Memphis Milano, the outré design and architecture movement started by Ettore Sottsass, known for its boldly colour-blocked, often plastic-laminated furniture. “It was a long time ago; it was another century!” exclaims du Pasquier. The self-taught artist and designer had been introduced to Sottsass by her partner, the designer and fellow Memphis member George Sowden. “I was young, looking for a future. In a way, Memphis was my school.”
To the group’s attention-grabbing postmodern mix, du Pasquier added African-inspired surface patterns and textile design, as well as objects and furniture – several pieces of which are still in production, 36 years after the collective disbanded in 1987. Today, the extant Memphis Milano company offers her 1983 Riviera rug (from €6,680), a flamboyant floral-geometric mash-up; the slightly space-age aluminium and Plexiglas Bordeaux table lamp (POA); and the lacquered, laminated and light-topped Emerald wooden sideboard (€9,900). It also produces newer du Pasquier design pieces – from numerous eye-catching rugs, created from 2003 onwards, to 2018’s Materialism range of ceramic objects and furniture, which echo her artwork.
“My work as a painter definitely influences my collaborations,” says du Pasquier, who has worked with American Apparel clothing, Hermès and Danish design brands Raawii and Hay. An ongoing collaboration with Italian ceramics company Mutina on brick and tile collections has culminated in the new limited-edition Paesaggi “small landscapes of shapes”, which are also on show at Pace (from €2,928). “Now we are inventing new things to do together,” says Mutina president Massimo Orsini, who owns several du Pasquier pieces. “The balance of shapes and colours makes me crazy.”
British designer Bethan Laura Wood is also a fan: she owns the laminated Royal Chaise Longue, designed by du Pasquier in 1983 in collaboration with Sowden (and available from Memphis Milano). Art collector Valeria Napoleone commissioned du Pasquier to create bespoke interventions in her London home, such as a wall sculpture incorporating a marble fireplace and a surrounding wall painting. And Sheridan Coakley, founder of cult London-based furniture store SCP, has a du Pasquier painting in his living room, which he loves for “the beauty of the juxtaposition of the colours – and not quite knowing what I am looking at”.
At the end of Memphis in 1987 Du Pasquier dedicated herself to painting, and the practice has been central to her projects ever since. It wasn’t until 2016, however, that her name really began to resonate in the art world, when a retrospective of her work was shown at the Kunsthalle Wien. “Her work shows the influence of her past as a designer but, at the same time, is something new,” says the exhibition’s curator Luca Lo Pinto. “Nathalie is a total, almost Wagnerian, artist.”
Today, her work sells around the world. “It’s a language that really talks to a lot of people,” says Tamara Corm, a senior director at Pace London, who has organised du Pasquier shows in London, Seoul and Geneva. “Every time, she transforms the space, modifying the environment with her amazing sense of colour. The paintings of course exist on their own, but it’s as if they are given wings.” Prices for the new works range from €8,000 to €50,000. “They could, I think, be more expensive,” adds Corm, “but Nathalie likes the idea of more people being able to afford them.”
In June, du Pasquier will also have a museum show at the Kunsthal Aarhus in Denmark. “It will be, essentially, two exhibitions”, says du Pasquier. “One will be called Paintings of Things, which gathers together the still lifes I created from 1988 until 1999; the other is Paintings as Objects – the recent abstract works. At this point in my life, I am interested in looking at very old works and very new ones, as if made by two different painters.”
Regardless, the Memphis spirit remains in the new works, suggests gallerist Elena Quarestani, who has exhibited her work at the non-profit Assab One in Milan. It’s there in “her energy, her playfulness, her amazing way of dealing with space and colours, her generosity in sharing ideas and making them become real in such an unpretentious way”.
Nathalie du Pasquier: Le Corbeau et Le Renard is at PACE Gallery, 5 Hanover Square, London W1, until 25 May