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Isabelle de Borchgrave: boundless creativity

Isabelle de Borchgrave :
boundless creativity

Category: Interviews
Publication date:
(c) Michel Figuet

Utterly unique and escaping all the usual categories, Isabelle de Borchgrave has worked with paper for several decades now. Fascinated with fashion and textiles from a tender age, the Belgian artist has crafted an impressive and rather personal body of work, ranging from paintings and furniture to sculpture and drawings.

Walking into her exquisite Brussels atelier, you can’t help but feel like you’ve reached a private paradise, filled with plants, colors, swimming fish and artworks. There is something deeply enchanting and exuberant about Isabelle’s world which instantly draws you in, a living fantasy combined with the totality of an artist’s vision. Her imprint is so strong that everything she touches undeniably becomes hers, and her energy and enthusiasm are indeed contagious.

Isabelle de Borchgrave clearly rejoices in the plurality of her skills and having several ongoing projects on her plate. We sat down with the energetic artist to discuss her humble beginnings as a designer, understanding paper was her creative call, and why she’s not the type of person who can ever rest on her laurels.

(c) Isabelle de Borchgrave
Have you been drawing all your life?

Drawing is something I have indulged in since childhood actually. When I grew up, there were huge balls and parties organized often and I remember making my own dresses when I was 17 or 18. Those parties were just wonderful. Women wore gowns, costume jewelry and I started painting on fabrics, which was quite unusual at the time. When I started out, I used to make the dresses myself and soon realized I wasn’t particularly good at sewing, so I hired a seamstress who developed all the garments with me.

Besides paper, fabric seems to play a predominant role in your work. Can you explain why?

I’ve collected fabrics for as long as I can remember. I’m just fascinated with the time and energy people spent weaving, printing or embroidering textiles. Every piece of fabric tells a story, and it has a soul, too. When I was a teenager, people used their hands a lot more than they do today. Very quickly, people started buying my dresses and I ended up opening a little shop where clients could come in and order them.

Was it all handmade?

Yes. And painted by hand.

Sounds like Haute Couture to me.

Completely. I had an atelier at the time and would paint everything, from silk to leather. Then it logically went from fashion to interiors, developing fabrics for curtains, cushions and other accessories.

(c) Isabelle de Borchgrave
Were there limitations in fashion that bothered you?

No. I was passionate about fashion and truly loved it, but the clients started to annoy me. They were so difficult and demanding that in a way it put me off. I traveled to the US and started selling my fabrics there. When I was in New York, I always went to museums and remember having a complete shock seeing this wonderful exhibition on fashion and furniture in the 18th century at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was overwhelmed by it to be honest and started getting obsessed with antique fabrics. Through a mutual friend, I met this collector who had all these garments and accessories from that period. I can’t even remember how many days I spent there. I was hooked!

Was that a turning point for you and how you got into paper?

Yes, because I wanted those dresses, but couldn’t have them. I kept thinking about how I could recreate them, and started making them in paper. It was the joy of recreating history for me and this idea of a permanent trompe-l’oeil, which I love. At the beginning, I only worked with one type of paper, and it turned into silk, cotton, or any fabric I wanted. I understood at the time that the possibilities were endless.

Your atelier here is gorgeous, and there are thousands of drawings available. Are you scared of running out of ideas?

Not really. I usually have different commissions at the same time and rarely say no. I’m  a restless person and don’t like standing still. If I can’t create, I get anxious and deeply frustrated.

On the 19th of November, you will unveil “Gingko” in Paris, your latest project with French florist Christian Tortu. Can you describe the relationship you have with him?

Christian is a close friend of mine and I’ve known him for 40 years. He’s such an innovator and wonderful man. He’s actually quite sensitive and a fragile individual who’s had challenges throughout his career, but he loves to talk and is truly passionate about his work.   

I also heard that you’re planning a big exhibition on Frida Kahlo, which will be unveiled in Belgium next year.

Yes, even though I can’t say much about it, but right now I am fully immersed in her world.

Kahlo suffered physically and psychologically throughout her life. Could you relate to her somehow?

I think I know what mental pain can be, but luckily I never endured what she had to go through physically.

You escape all definitions. Is that an advantage or an inconvenient?

People don’t really know what to do with me I guess, especially in Belgium where views can be more conservative when it comes to disciplines. I’m not conceptual, committed or intellectual enough for the art world, but I’m not here to please everyone either. I just love to create and be versatile in my approach. 

Interview by

Philippe Pourhashemi

Promoting Creative Minds

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