Monday, July 14, 2014

Isabelle de Borchgrave

     Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave is a painter by training, but textile and costume are her muses. Working in collaboration with leading costume historians and young fashion designers, de Borchgrave crafts a world of splendour from the simplest rag paper. Painting and manipulating the paper, she forms trompe l’oeil masterpieces of elaborate dresses inspired by rich depictions in early European painting or by iconic costumes in museum collections around the world.  The Legion of Honor is the first American museum to dedicate an entire exhibition to the work of Isabelle de Borchgrave, although her creations have been widely displayed in Europe.

     The story begins in a little house in Sablon, which Isabelle turned into a studio. There, she gave drawing classes to her friends’ children and other neighbourhood children and, thus, was free to think about her own designs. It was the seventies and, so, La Tour de Bébelle was set up there. Processions of hand-painted clothes, rolls of fabrics strewn about, pigments, brushes, gouaches, canvasses, pastels and travel journals. Everything alongside each other in a friendly, colourful and modern setting.


     Countess Isabelle de Borchgrave d'Altena was born in Brussels, Belgium in 1946. Since early childhood, she had a passion for drawing. Pencils were her first toys, and she made drawings on everything in sight, including the walls and floor of her room. She began her studies at age 14 at the Centre des Arts Décoratifs, and, later – at Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, where her days were filled with drawing still-lives and form models. De Borchgrave worked in advertising for less than a year after she had finished studying, and then made clothes for her friends before branching out into interior design. She later established her own studio, designing dresses, scarves, jewelry and accessories. In particular, de Borchgrave specialized in designing fabrics.

     Following a visit to the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 1994, Isabelle dreamed up paper costumes. While keeping her brushes in hand and her paintings in mind, she worked on four big collections, all in paper and trompe l’oeil, each of which set the scene for a very different world. “Papiers à la Mode” (Paper in Fashion), the first, was a collaborative effort with the renowned Canadian costume designer Rita Brown that takes a fresh look at 300 years of fashion history from Elizabeth I to Coco Chanel. “Mariano Fortuny” immerses us in the world of 19th century Venice. Plissés, veils and elegance are the watchwords of that history. “I Medici” leads us through the streets of Florence, were we come across famous figures in their ceremonial dress. Figures who made the Renaissance a luminous period. Gold-braiding, pearls, silk, velvet … here, trompe l’oeil achieves a level of rediscovered sumptuousness. As for the “Ballets Russes”, they pay tribute to Serge de Diaghilev. Pablo Picasso, Léon Bakst, Henri Matisse, … all designed costumes for this ballet company, which set the world of the 20th century alight. These dancing paper and wire figures play a very colourful and contemporaneous kind of music for us.


     Over the years, de Borchgrave's paper creations have ranged from an elaborate headdress in the shape of a caravel in full sail, worn by Marie Antoinette, to some oversized roses for John Galliano's haute couture show for Christian Dior, to a subtle, white on white wedding dress train worn by HRH Princess Annemarie of Bourbon-Parma at her wedding with Prince Carlos of Bourbon-Parma. She was also commissioned to recreate Jackie Kennedy's wedding gown for the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. "It was dusty and fragile, wrapped up in black tissue paper", de Borchgrave recalls in a story in Daily Telegraph. "The silk was dead, you couldn't touch it any more. It was preserved like a relic. The original is dead, but the paper one brings it to life again." In 2004, de Borchgrave designed and made a delicate, painted paper dress for Queen Fabiola of Belgium, which the queen wore to the wedding of Prince Felipe of Spain in Madrid.

     In 2008, a colorful installation of over 80 pieces by Isabelle de Borchgrave opened at the Fortuny Museum in Venice, Italy. Entitled "Un mondo di carta - Isabelle de Borchgrave incontra Mariano Fortuny", ("A World of Paper: Isabelle de Borchgrave Meets Mariano Fortuny") the exhibition was spread over the historic palazzo's three floors and included versions of Fortuny's classic, finely pleated "Delphos" dress, as well as robes, accessories, shoes, boots, a stage set, an oriental tent, rugs, cushions, a lute and antique swords, often intermingling with the master's own works and collection, and all made of painted paper. Reviewing the installation for The World of Interiors magazine, author Barbara Stoeltie wrote, "Isabelle de Borchgrave freely shares her adventures in beauty – a beauty that, beneath her gaze and from her fingertips, pours out unstintingly. Tubes of paint, boxes of pastels, sheaves of brushes of all sizes and all kinds of glue gleefully take part in her marvellous game. The work itself rejoices."

     In 2008, a lavishly illustrated hardcover monograph "Paper Illusions: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave" was published in the United States by Abrams. Within weeks, the book was declared by The New York Times to be one of "the best gift books of 2008" and "among the most unusual and fascinating... seen in a long time." The monograph was authored by the well-known writer and photographer duo, Barbara and René Stoeltie, with an introduction of Hubert de Givenchy, who said of de Borchgrave, "Isabelle is one of a kind; with a single sheet of paper, she creates the most beautiful dresses, the finest costumes, or, simply, a chain of white roses...Whether it becomes a shoe, a hat or a few strings of pearls, Isabelle plays with paper as a virtuoso plays an instrument."


     In February 2011, a large scale installation entitled "Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave" opened to great acclaim at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco. The retrospective exhibition, described by the museum officials as "trompe l'oeil masterpieces," is presented in six sections: "The Artist's Studio" is recreated to provide insight into de Borchgrave's creative process; "In White" showcases the purity of craftsmanship in a selection of nine dresses devoid of color; "Papiers à la Mode" features iconic looks from key periods in fashion history, and legendary designers such as Charles Worth, Paul Poiret and Coco Chanel are represented by signature pieces; "Fortuny" is an immersive environment created under a paper tent populated by recreations of Fortuny's famed pleated and draped gowns; "The Medici" is the artist's most extravagant series, with elaborate velvets, needlework lace, ropes of pearls, and intricate coiffures transformed into paper sculptures, and "Inspiration"— de Borchgrave's latest body of work, inspired by four paintings from the Legion of Honor's collection that she admired during her visit to the museum in the summer of 2010. 

     In de Borchgrave's art, the starting point is almost always the same: sheets of paper one meter by one and a half meters (3.3 feet by 4.9 feet), which she sets to work on with her brushes and paints on an enormous linen-covered table in her studio in Brussels. "Her colors, reports The New York Times, "are very much inspired by her travels: reds from the roses of Turkey, earth hues from Egypt, blues from Greece...Borchgrave produces astonishing effects of scintillating color, weight, transparency and texture. Her renderings of diaphanous gauzes are especially astonishing." Every year, she and her team go through 2.5 miles of paper in their artistic pursuits. Imagine the complexity involved in creating an 18th-century rococo ball gown, with its reams of ribbons and layers of lace and petticoats, or an intricately pleated Fortuny evening ensemble. Then think about making them out of paper. Through cutting, gluing and painting, using a mix of acrylic paint, ink and metallic powder, de Borchgrave makes us believe we’re seeing lace, brocade, silk, taffeta and embroidery.

     It’s true that, today, Isabelle de Borchgrave has become a name that is readily associated with fashion and paper. But her name is also closely linked to the world of design. By working together with Caspari, the potteries of Gien, Target, and Villeroy and Boch, Isabelle has turned her imagination into an art that’s accessible to anyone who wants to bring festivity into their home. Painted fabrics and paper, dinner services, curtains, sheets, decor with a personal touch for parties and weddings.  All this tells of the world in which she has always loved to move.

     But in a 40-year career, she has never put to one side the thing that has always guided her in her life: painting. She still exhibits her paintings and her large folded paper works all over the world. With an imagination increasingly stimulated by her knowledge and interpretation of art, Isabelle, a follower of the Nabis movement, has a fresh perspective of a world that flies around her like a dream.


Isabelle de Borchgrave and her team

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Elana Herzog

Dewarped and Unweft

            For the past 10 years, Elana Herzog has been creating impressive interventions out of ripped and otherwise deconstructed domestic fabrics that seem to grow seamlessly out of a room's corners, cling to a supporting column or hang (via thousands of industrial staples) from a wall. What most people don't know is that Herzog accomplishes the lion's share of her labour-intensive activity in the studio. There, equipped with Sheetrock panels, a pneumatic staple gun and a large supply of cotton tablecloths and chenille bedspreads, Herzog has time to work and plan for the installation. On-site, the Sheetrock is hung, and many more hours are spent augmenting and adjusting details. The final effect is almost magical, as though a vast, somewhat wild garden had grown in the gallery quite spontaneously.

Dewarped and Unweft  

            Extending the discourse into three dimensions, Herzog uses a combination of layered wood, textiles and stapled surfaces to create freestanding and wall mounted sculptures, which reveal the versatility of her visual language. These pieces play with relationships between sculptural and pictorial space. They invoke landscapes, aerial views, and strata. As ever, Herzog is extremely interested in the evocative power of every day things, repetition and variation, and relationships between positive and negative space.


            Elana Herzog is one of several artists working today whose installations draw from the pared down traditions of minimalism and the bravura experimentation of arte povera. Her works involve the artist’s improvisational, performative action in their construction. Herzog’s practice is to attach distressed discarded textiles such as old bedspreads, tablecloths or carpets directly to a wall using hundreds of metal staples. She then tears away at the fabric and selectively reapplies these cloth shreds with more staples, arriving at progressively dematerialized works she terms “sculptural drawings.” The heavily built-up areas of cloth and dense patterns of metal staples play against the skin of the bare, perforated gallery wall, suggesting the precarious physical presence of her constructions. They are simultaneously being made and unmade, new forms emerging from the remains of the old.

W(e)ave /details/

            Though Herzog’s initial inspiration derives from the monolithic rectangles of Sixties abstract painting, she proceeds to challenge modernism’s conventions of the integrity of the object by injecting references to the violent disregard and destruction of the planar surface. She describes her debt to modernism as both reverent and irreverent.

Civilization and its Discontents /detail/

            The Aftermath of Warp and Weft. There’s something mysterious about Elana Herzog’s fabric works, embedded as they are, seamlessly within the gallery walls. Are they the remnants of some violent event that occurred in the room overnight, before we arrived? Let’s consider, for a moment, other forms of art that appear to us as magically, virtuosically, in-situ — Renaissance frescoes, for instance, painted quickly and expertly into wet plaster, or urban murals that appear out of nowhere, covered with portraits or Wild Style graffiti. We, as viewers, know we’re expected to marvel in their construction, their poetic authorship, at how they seem to transcend the plain, resolute, impassivity of the architecture. But Herzog’s fabrics have struck some sort of quiet, Faustian bargain with their support. The walls of the gallery are no longer simple, reassuring structures; and the otherwise pleasant, domestic fabrics impaled upon them are no longer a source of comfort. In their construction and underlying structure, the pieces we see here are honest — almost to a fault.

Civilization and its Discontents

            Utilizing a pneumatic stapler to affix textiles to walls, Elana Herzog creates one surface from two. Proceeding in an expressive method akin to drawing, she places and pulls out staples, removes and shreds bits of fabric, and reapplies both until a dematerialized image emerges. “When I feel my spine tingle, I go with that”, she says. In her works, fabrics adorn and dissolve into walls, with the woven pattern of the fabric a mere memory in her final composition. Sometimes dense staples stand in for fabric on the grid of a weave; in other areas, the staples break out on their own, acting as silver lines on white space. The evidence of aggressive textile tearing and distressed wall marking offers poetic moments, as when a long fabric tendrils curls into the air or surprisingly voluminous fold pushes out from the wall beside a conspicuously flat empty space.

 In Practice Projects

            After receiving her MFA from SUNY Alfred in 1979, Herzog created mixed-media sculpture for almost ten years before turning to utilitarian textiles as her materials of focus. Her first work with textiles consists of a wooden kitchen table altered by cutting, and a long peace of knotted, sheer fabric hanging bellow the table and snaking along the floor. Given the table’s anthropomorphic character and the evocative quality of the twisted fabric, the title ‘Rapunzel’ (1990) is fitting. Since that work, Herzog has been using sheets, bedspreads, rugs, draperies and curtains to make her sculptural works and architectural interventions.

Plaid /detail/                                Projected

            While some of her works suggest paintings by maintaining the rectangular form of found blankets, curtains and carpets, other suggests sculpture in the way she uses yardage to involve and interact with space. To extend the piece among multiple surfaces, she subtly alters gallery spaces building objects such as horizontal platforms, ceiling-high piers, or low partition forms. Uniting the forms with the fabric, Herzog is then able to create dynamic vertical and horizontal elements around the perimeter of the room and into the gallery space. With tiny square fabric networks reminiscent of city models placed up high, down low, and unpredictable shapes, her installations recall both a modern grid and a contained, in-progress construction site. Viewers experience exquisite, ever shifting panoramas as they walk through what is essentially a three-dimensional plaid environment.


            Elana Herzog lives and works in New York City. She has a BA from Bennington College and an MFA from Alfred University. Herzog was the 2012 Fellow of the Saint-Gaudens Memorial in Cornish, New Hampshire along with a solo exhibit. Other venues include a survey at the Daum Museum, MO, the Aldrich Museum, CT, the Tang Museum, NY, Museum of Art and Design, NY, Weatherspoon Museum, NC, Brooklyn Museum, NY, the Zilkha Gallery at Wesleyan University, CT, Reykjavik Art Museum, Iceland, Konsthalle Goteborg, Sweden and at Konstahalle Gustavsbergs, and Tegnerforbundet in Norway, among other venues. She is a lecturer at Yale Univeristy. Herzog is preparing for a two-person exhibition, with Linda Herrit, at The Pierogi Boiler for the Fall of 2014, and for a residency at the Josef and Annie Albers Foundation.

Civilization and its Discontents

            Her numerous honours include an Anonymous Was A Woman Award, a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, two Individual Artists Fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant.
            You can view more of her work on her website:

Into the Fray                            Romancing the Rock

W(e)ave                           Rose Series #2    

Untitled                                 Plaid 

Civilization and its Discontents     Dewarped and Unweft /detail/ 

Dewarped and Unweft

Elana Herzog