There is a window, a table and a sink — above it a simple metal soap holder fixed to the wall by two nails. On the table a Duralex glass upside down and an olive green wooden element that looks like an oversize electric plug. On the dark grey window ledge an emerald green plastic nailbrush — beyond an ochre rendered house with closed pale-grey shutters. The roof is covered with dark terracotta tiles. There are two skylights evenly reflecting the placid north Italian light.
All this is painted in oil on canvas.
On the Milan staircase leading to Nathalie Du Pasquier’s studio the grey paint is light, with a darker stripe at the dado level and another one marking the skirting. At the threshold you are met by the smell
of turps and oil paint. Once inside this sunny room you are confronted by the multitude of her artistic production.
There are paintings, mainly still lifes, there are wooden models, mostly white with some colour elements, but then there is a blue one and a red one with a bit of Indian yellow. There are tables with drawings of patterns, there are some objects — prototypes already manufactured that utilise these patterns. A fabric sample. A ceramic plate. A mug.
There is a postcard of Philip Guston’s drawing — incongruous, non-descript ensemble of unpoetic objects against a pink background. A subconscious epiphany?
There is also a postcard from London with an ancient Egyptian ceramic hippo goddess adorned with lotus flowers drawn on her turquoise body — on the reverse a sketch of an Assyrian sandal observed by Nathalie at the British Museum.
She rushes around the studio wearing a simple indigo cotton dress with white polka dots.
The former designer in the service of the painter she has become — made colourful wooden constructions that could be observed and depicted in the oil painted still lifes. Some such structures became as large as rooms.
At Kunsthalle Wien the large white room was full of other rooms. One was light blue and full of little
drawings. One, of a woman looking at a deconstructed rocky landscape, the back of her skull was magically sliced open, showing an alchemical oven that was processing the observed images. On top of her head was a little chimney, smoking.
There was also a light olive-grey room that had no pictures, only wooden 3D shapes painted the same kind of grey. This space seemed to be echoing a pre-colour existence as described by Italo Calvino in his Cosmicomics.
The colour re-emerged on the door mat. The next room was a kaleidoscopic arrangement. There was a sofa covered with Du Pasquier’s designed fabrics, each section with a different one, topped with non-matching cushions with intricate geometrical patterns. The black headrest covers were Du Pasquier’s still life drawings, running-stitched with chunky white thread.
That room was grey-less.
The street of this southern village has simple square houses — ancient and fundamental architectonic structures. This elemental architecture is sometimes painted yellow ochre, canary yellow, deep orange, maroon, light blue or a combination of all of these. Then there is a house with a pink wall, on it a couple of wide horizontal red stripes intersected by a white one. The large open window reveals a painted black and white landscape. It’s a plywood screen — on the white background black textures of stony hills, silhouettes of stylised pine trees, some textured, almost patterned stones; walls made of stone slabs and empty plinths also painted in this slab-patterned way. This configuration leads towards an underlying mythical subconscious. Something that is illogically received — a dream. The objects are recognisable, but their meaning is not.
Reality mirrors: at the end of the backyard the lower part of the opus quadratum stone wall is older and grey, the upper part built out of the newer yellower sandstone slabs, a particular rectangular rhythm not dissimilar to Hadrian’s Wall.
There is a stone armchair with a small terracotta fox curled up on one of the arms. The quick little lizards sunbathe all around. In the left corner a tall cactus — it seldom flowers and its large light peach-pink flowers come out at dusk and stay only for a night. At sunrise the flower dies.
As you enter you may bump into a shiny white Memphis table with a black-blob spotted dark emerald-green band encircling its edge. There is another table covered with stripy pastel pattern oil cloth bought at the local market. On it a couple of mugs with Du Pasquier’s decoration — one daffodil yellow with a dark red irregular net plus some imprecisely pentagonal and other semi-fractal shapes outlined in black; the other bright cobalt blue with a couple of crimson organic shapes, at once pop and primordial, surrounded by white puddles.
On the fridge there is a little old radio with a twisted coat hanger for an antenna. Above it, taped to the wall, is a deliberately cut out densely coloured crayon drawing. On it a rectangle; a door (?) outlined with the dotted blue line, twice repeated. Left of that portal a white rhomboid with a blue chequered pattern. A semi-axonometric projection of an architectural element (?). Below the checkered wall there is a straight band of burnt sienna. The surrounding background is dark graphite. The left side is cut into a semi-circle. On the right, the edge of the portal marks the end of the grey darkness. Above the blue dotted ledge a smaller semi-circle is olive green. This perspectival projection is carefully arranged. The drawing is cut out in such a way that it implies a spatially active situation — an implied 3D. The dark edges influence and inflect the surrounding white wall. The cut out piece is moving through space — a sputnik or a meteor? A compressed object full of ambiguous, indecipherable meanings.
The proximity of the old radio suggests an unknown, slightly mysterious but not necessarily uncanny connection.
In another town, in another gallery, the white room was full of paintings. They were all different still life configurations — a high heel shoe, a bottle, another bottle full of the shadows of the surrounding objects; a Chinese vase, blue with a pattern of yellow butterflies, a paper weight, a plastic cup, white, a stone covered with vermilion paint. In another an unpainted stone. A grey echo of Jean Fouquet’s painting of a nobleman with his patron saint St Stephen, depicted with the stone that killed him placed on a vermilion bound gilded bible. Painted by this 15th century French master with a particularly sophisticated poise — psychologically more lyrical than the similar Flemish paintings yet more punctilious than his Italian contemporaries.
Gertrude Stein observed: “Poetry consists in a rhyming dictionary and things seen.”
Nathalie sent me her text for the Saturated Space blog:
To talk about colours we have to name them and to name them we have to use names of things which have that colour. It is the evocations the names bring to our mind that make us imagine them.
Listen to these: emerald green, moss, sap green, Veronese, eau de Nil, almond green, olive green, pine green, bottle green… and then Naples yellow, tired green, green with envy, caput mortuum, ivory black, ultramarine, aile de corbeau (another black with a blue reflection like on the wing of a black bird), Indian yellow, gorge de pigeon.
A blue guitar, the red square, Dingo yellow dog Dingo, the black sea, blue mountains, la place rouge était blanche, the black square of Malevich, the red apple Snow White ate and then she died, a black cat, the red cape of the toreador, bloody Mary and Blanche de Castille…
To name a colour is to remember something we have seen, to connect sensations. Indian red, vermillion, carmine, cardinal, geranium, strawberry, cherry, brick, a packet of Marlboro, rosso bandiera, bandiera rossa… rosa Tiepolo.
‘The Dialectics of Outside and Inside’ is a chapter of Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space. We find there a quote from Colette:
“Une des maximes d’education pratique qui out régi mon enfance: Ne mange pas la bouche ouverte.” (One of the maxims of practical education that governed my childhood: Don’t eat with your mouth open.)
Inside and outside form a dialectic of division, the obvious geometry of which blinds us as soon as we bring it into play in metaphorical domains. It has the sharpness of the dialectics of yes and no which decides everything. Unless one is careful it is made into a basis of images that govern all thoughts of positive and negative.
We met in a Sottsass-designed room with the turquoise terrazzo floor going up the wall. Further up there was one of Calder’s moving sculptures hanging from the salmon ceiling. The white marble-clad garden was an outside room with plants growing in large ultramarine ceramic pots. We sat there and talked about Roberto Calasso’s book Tiepolo Pink.
Tiepolo’s ceiling fresco reconfigures the given architectural space — it opens it up, delineates other spatial continuities. Although we think that we know the particular elements making the figural modules — entwined silk-robed angels, parrot, parasol, ostrich, black page, pink knee, greyhound… In fact, we are left with an enigma, an extraordinary decorative puzzle.
May Nathalie Du Pasquier’s constructs puzzle you.
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. The Idiot (Moscow: The Russian Messenger, 1868–9)
Flaubert, Gustave. L’éducation Sentimentale (Paris: Michel Lévy Frères, 1870)
Grossman, Vasily. Life and Fate (Moscow: Knizhnaya Palata, 1961/1988)
Hergé. Les Aventures de Tintin et Milou (Brussels: Le Lombard, 1929–1976)
Sattouf, Riad. L’arabe du Futur (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2015)
Les Enfants du Paradis. Dir. Marcel Carné (1945)
Sanma no aji. Dir. Yasujiro Ozu (1962)
Alphaville: une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution. Dir. Jean-Luc Godard (1965)
Il bidone. Dir. Federico Fellini (1955)
'If I like Solomon… could have my wish… my wish … o to be a dragon, a symbol of the power of Heaven … of silkworm
size or immense; at times invisible. felicitous phenomenon!” Marianne Moore, O to be a dragon (1959)
Nathalie Du Pasquier was born in Bordeaux in 1957 and relocated to Milan in 1979. Until 1986, she worked as a designer and was a founding member of the design group Memphis. In 1987 painting became her main activity. Between 1989 and 2008 she worked regularly with Le Cadre Gallery, Hong Kong, allowing her to develop from her early still lifes to more abstract compositions. Her work has been the subject of solo exhibitions, including The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh (1992) and Pace Gallery, London (2017). The first comprehensive exhibition of Du Pasquier, curated by Luca Lo Pinto was held at Kunsthalle Wien in 2016 and a second iteration will take place at the ICA Philadelphia in September 2017.
Antoni Malinowski is an artist based in London.
With special thanks to the Nathalie Du Pasquier Exhibition Circle: Jacqui and Adrian Beecroft; Matthew Slotover and Emily King; Bianca and Stuart Roden; and others who wish to remain anonymous.