In part 2 of our 'Exploring craft heritage and contemporary arts' chapter, we meet two more contemporary visual artists who have seized upon the knowledge and techniques of traditional crafting heritage and reuse them in their own unique contemporary artistic creations.
Gauvain Manhattan: Reviving canvas
Gauvain Manhattan is a contemporary artist, comic book writer and entrepreneur. Like Céline Tuloup, Gauvain's work explores the images and clichés associated with embroidery. However, his approach is quite different.
By playing with embroidery and its stereotypes, he revives canvas, a loosely woven fabric drawn and used as a support for embroidery. Embroidery is a practice that is associated with a kitschy and nostalgic or past, with ’grandmotherly’ work or reminiscent of sewing for children.
While he was a student at the fine arts school of Angoulême, France, Gauvain started to combine old embroidered canvases, found in second-hand shops or online resale sites, with images of video games from the 1980s - Metal Slug, Street Fighter, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Zelda. He mixed two seemingly opposite worlds, marking a strong rupture and confronting their strong generational, gender and style stereotypes.
The pixelated images of the video games melt with astonishing fluidity into these old canvases. Gauvain precisely calculates each square of colour to transform each pixel into a stitch of embroidery with great care and patience.
As a result of his passion for canvas, in 2018, he created a canvas publishing company ‘Canevas Fatal’ with Marie Boiseau, an illustrator. They now collaborate with artists and illustrators from various backgrounds, exploring new subjects, modernising canvas and sharing their love of it with a broad audience.
They also create videos and tutorials to share old or forgotten techniques and embroidery stitches. They are updating modern practice, techniques and know-how and challenging the stereotypes of generation, gender and style often associated with canvas.
Julie Legrand: building and deconstructing with glass
Julie Legrand (born in 1973) is an artist and teacher who works with glass and recycled media.
Since 1996, Julie has been creating installations characterised by a great sensitivity to spaces, transformation and sculptural experimentation. The portrait below demonstrates an enticing approach to expanding and reflecting on the reuse of traditional craft techniques.
Glass is an intriguing and complex medium that touches upon craft, art and industrial processes. Glass fascinates with its strange properties, its fragility and malleability. Translucent or opaque, colourful or transparent, it can be worked with and transformed by fire, a little bit like metal.
From glassmaking’s complex heritage and diverse techniques, contemporary artists such as Julie Legrand have developed new creative perspectives. Julie offers an evolving and quite poetic vision in which industrial objects and natural materials complement each other. It is a question, she says, of taking liberties and transgressing genres.
Julie acquired traditional skills while completing a professional master's degree. Her research reflects a certain kind of pleasure in experimenting, merging and bringing together different realms. She reverses the strengths and weaknesses of materials, such as glass. And that approach is, to her, 100% artistic.
My positioning towards society is artistic: I search for cohesion between aesthetic relationships and intimate emotion in my work. [...] I use artisanal techniques, but they are generally modified by my experience and the other materials I encounter. I have worked with friends who are master glassmakers.
In becoming a teacher, Julie sought to share how her reflections on spaces influence her creation with as many people as possible. She reflects and works with her students on topics such as material recycling and environmental changes, but also much more intimate topics that she wants each of her students to explore.
My goal as a teacher is to connect students with their own creativity and to let them discover as many things as possible. I don't want to make them copy my work, that would lock them in and create copycat relationships that are not interesting.
In Julie’s creative universe, we get to witness ceramics, plastic, foam, wood, and even metals, interfering and evolving with glass in different ways. Glass represents a medium of choice, but Julie has learned to work with different media, and different techniques, which she uses according to her environment and her projects:
There was the glass, which mixed with the materials that were already there, it came as an additional material, which federated the other objects or materials that I was already gleaning. I had a small Parisian studio, so at one point, the materials, by dint of being next to each other, came to blend in the studio as the years went by. Afterwards, there were techniques for which I had a crush, such as basketry, woodturning and ceramics.
This positioning in relation to the environment, to a changing society and moving spaces combined with diverse encounters with different craft techniques, led Julie to find that the material and the techniques are not the main components of her approach. Her art is much more about the reflection, the spaces and the environments in which she creates.