Artist Spotlight: Anne French

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My constant desire to experiment sustains my creativity. While working on one project, I am thinking of the next.   As soon as I have found a satisfactory way to make something work, I am looking ahead to the next challenge.

Endless trial and error is how I develop new ideas most of the time, and sometimes expensive and heartbreaking mistakes are made ( I recently finished a very elaborate ‘faux inlay’ china dish; I put it in the oven to bake it – having used a very specific porcelain medium , but it bubbled up, and great blisters appeared. I don’t know what went wrong).

Hundreds of discarded comics strewn around my teenage son’s room, persuaded me to use them somehow. I began a very successful line in contemporary decoupage furniture.  I am constantly inspired by things I see.

Anne French working in studio

 

Working at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton and my work as an artist are constantly intertwined and I absolutely love them both.  I am endlessly enthused by the beautiful things around me; by materials, by colour, by craftsmanship and sometimes, looking and studying an object, I think,  perhaps it would be possible to re-interpret the art form using materials at hand.

The black and white faux inlay was inspired by an antique chest from India inlaid with delicate pieces of mother of pearl.

I left school at 17 and went to Paris on my own. I had always been ‘good with my hands’, and being resourceful and inventive, while living on a shoe string, became a way of life. My first 2 children were born when I was very young, I sewed a lot at the time, and sold patch work quilts to shops. This was over 30 years ago, everybody was into fabrics, Laura Ashley all over the place. Space was at a premium in Paris, and I made everything, through necessity at first, but also from the pure pleasure of creating something either beautiful, or useful, from what would otherwise have been thrown away. I experimented with mosaics, but this became rather hazardous as the children began to walk!

 

I deal with creative lulls by pretending to myself that I am so busy elsewhere that I will have to put the ‘art side’ of things on hold for a while. But I am constantly, constantly thinking about it, and anything can spark an idea – a trip to a Mexican market started a passion for bottle tops and their diverse possibilities.

So I began decoupage, and this has really been my passion since. It has such a genteel, prim reputation, but is so diverse. A rather risqué comic chair, or a delicate faux inlay vase – just paper and string and glue and varnish.

 

I have always been surrounded by artists, there are so many creative people in my family, and my husband’s too. My great great grandfather, Sir Thomas Wardle, was a collaborator of William Morris, perhaps that is why I love fabrics – my grandfather was a painter, as is my sister in Los Angeles, one of my brothers is a woodworker, the other makes films and my husband is a sculptor, so art is all around us. My (five) children are wonderfully creative, and I am very proud of that.

Sometimes I think I would have loved to have been to art school, to have been taught to do things ‘properly’, instead of the endless experimenting, hours, and days, and weeks spent working out how to do something. But in fact I am glad I didn’t. I have always felt so free to go where I wanted, without, necessarily, following the rules.

I will happily undertake a commission which is not too precise i.e. ‘a bedroom chair in faux inlay’, or ‘a small monochrome comic decoupage table’, but I am nervous when I am presented with an old shellac 78, of huge significance, and asked to transform it into a bowl … they are so fragile, and all sorts of disasters can happen.

I can never repeat anything, each leaf is cut out individually, free hand, and no two are ever the same.

I love what I do, but I am not good at promoting (which is such a necessary part of the selling). The system which works best for me is to have my work on show in a gallery. I am so busy all the time, and I would much rather leave that side of things to someone who knows how to do it!

There will always be artists, but I think functional art is probably more in keeping with the modern world. Most of us are pushed for space, so something which looks beautiful, but can serve another purpose, a light, a bowl, a chair is, I think, the way a lot of artists are going.

A few years ago one of my sidelines was flowery dust pans and brushes. I had to go across the channel to find them in pretty colours; over here they were grey or black. Now in every pound shop colour prevails. We expect everything to look beautiful now.

Being self taught, I sometimes feel I am a jack of all trades but a master of none. I have experimented in so many media, tried so many techniques, and I would love one day to have a private lesson with a grand master, be it in mosaic, papier mache, fabric design, decoupage … just to learn the finesse of the craft.

I work at home, so space has always been very limited. I have had to work less and less on large pieces of furniture, concentrating nowadays on small pieces. But, this year (son off to university) I will have a room of my own overlooking the sea, so I wait in anticipation to see what happens! I am so excited.

 

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