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Artelier Interview: Laurine Malengreau on the Ancient Craft of Felting

As international art consultants, Artelier specialises in curating art for luxury residential, hospitality, yacht and aviation projects. Artelier's feature wall collection – Artist Walls – presents a collection of artists whose originality of ideas and dedication to their materials makes them true contemporary masters. Through collaborating with Artelier, they have created large-scale custom art commissions that reinvent the concept of the mural for the modern age, pushing the possibilities for feature wall art.

Laurine Malengreau's large-scale textile artworks are inspired by the ancient traditions of felting, which originated in Mongolia and Siberia, and have been practised by indigenous cultures for millenia. These rich roots are incorporated into Malengreau’s use of the modern Nuno silk technique – this method produces a lighter, more refined non-woven textile, through blending merino and silks by hand. In this interview, Malengreau discusses the origins of felting, and how her work is situated within the traditions of wall-hangings for interiors.

How does your artistic practice have its roots in ancient felting traditions?

My practice is deeply connected to ancient felting traditions since my artworks are likewise created through friction of the wool’s fibres, as well as the fact that I do everything by hand, like traditional felt artisans. The big difference from traditional felting is that I apply a mixture of natural silk and wool fibres to artworks.

The Nuno Silk technique which I use in my creation process originates from felting, but creates a very different result. It is lighter, uses a wide range of colours, and the artworks are sometimes almost transparent, which is far from what the word “felt” tends to evoke. However, my artworks are also highly durable and resistant, due to the innovation of this technique.

The Nuno Silk technique intimately blends natural wool and silk to create a non-woven fabric, giving it an unusual lightness and transparency. Indeed the word “Nuno”, which is of Japanese origin, means “tissue”.

While Nuno Silk has its roots in the millennia-old process of felting that originated from Central Asia, this technique is a little-known area of expertise of the felting family. Its method for interlacing natural fibres was refined in Australia in the last part of the twentieth century, by a Japanese-Australian couple.

In which countries or cultures did felting originate? What was it traditionally used for?

Felt's origins can be found in central Asia, where there is evidence of felt making in Siberia (in the Altai mountains) and in Northern Mongolia, and more recently there has been evidence discovered in Mongolia that dates back to the first century AD. In addition to Central Asian traditions of felting, Scandinavian cultures have also used felt making, in particular for clothing.

Evidence found in Siberian tombs, dating back to the 7th – 2nd centuries BC, show different uses of felt in that culture, including clothing, jewellery, wall hangings and elaborate horse blankets. Employing careful use of colour, delicate stitching, and other techniques, these felt makers were able to use felt as an illustrative and decorative medium. Over time these artisans became known for the beautiful abstract patterns they created, which were inspired by plants, animals, and other symbolic designs.

What characteristics of felt makes the medium suitable for wide-ranging decorative uses?

Felt has decorative characteristics, but also utilitarian properties. It is fire resistant, and even possesses self-extinguishing qualities. Felt also dampens vibration and absorbs sound. In addition, it has the capacity to hold large amounts of liquid without feeling wet. Felt needs very little, if any, maintenance; it is highly resistant to wear, and has high durability.

Could you discuss the place of your work within the tradition of wall hangings more broadly?

This idea appeals to me as I am an art historian, and currently my workshop is located in the International City of Tapestry in Aubusson, which is the international capital of tapestry making. Although my work is effectively a non-woven textile (which is the opposite of tapestry) because I use a technique that comes from felting, I feel the result of my work is really a balance between both Eastern and Western textile heritage.

In the beginning, Medieval and Renaissance tapestries were first developed in Europe to decorate castles and important churches, and depicted religious scenes or historical events for kings and other nobility. In those days, structural techniques for insulation were hardly known, so tapestries were placed in buildings in order to keep them warm.

An important aspect of tapestries was that they were easy to transport from one location to another for display. I like the idea that you can easily move my work too, depending on the finishes of hanging that we choose for each client.

However, in contrast with the origins of the history of wall hangings, my inspiration delves more into stretched silks on walls and ceilings that were created for great dwellings in the Age of Enlightenment.

I love the play of colours that was used at that time, which is discreetly picked up on in my work, as well as the shine of the silks that I am able to integrate in a new way. I am inspired also by how wall hangings are able to highlight the richness of the furniture.

Through my original creations, I try to continue in a contemporary way the great tradition of wall hangings, for extraordinary spaces. I consider walls as exceptional settings for art.

Where do you draw inspiration for your artworks? We see motifs of nature in your work, some of which are abstracted – what’s the role of nature and the natural world in your art?

I am certainly inspired by the organic world, as well as the oneiric one – the world of dreams. I like to say that my inspiration comes from the instinctive dialogue between my fingers and the raw materials, that I touch and transform. The impressions created echo the feathers of birds, or the singular movement of natural elements. I try to create an immersive experience of these worlds, often working large-scale.

How do you develop the composition?

I put energy into the gesture, delicacy into the detachment of fibres, corporal vitality in the chosen chromatic range, and emotion in the initial drawing that gradually comes to life. In the composition there is a desire for abstraction. I am looking for sensitivity, feeling and refinement.

Some of your work is very neutral in the colour palette, and others use bold block of colours. Could you discuss these two different responses to colour?

There is no particular preference or theory. Everything I create is bespoke to the project. What matters at the outset is that the colour palette is just right for the intended setting. As I tailor the artwork to its surroundings, I adapt to the universe of each project, whether that is discreet, bright or colourful.

As long as I can create a sense of movement, it suits me, and I find a style for the artwork that gradually develops little by little every day. The intensity of the chromatic scale, be that subtle or bright, does not matter to me. The aim always is to meet the needs and requirements that the customer desires.

Laurine Malengreau is an award-winning artist, including having won the French Innovative Artisan Prize 2019. She has collaborated with Artelier's art consultancy on numerous artwork commissions for interiors, and is included as part of our 'Artist Walls' collection – visit her dedicated page on our website here.

Artelier's art consultancy plays a fundamental role in all artwork commissions, and as the appointed art consultant for projects we bring artists and clients together to achieve forward-thinking and intelligently curated art installations. Discover more about our feature wall collection Artist Walls.

Images © OOLMOO-Grégory Valton; OOLMOO-Philippe Laurençon; OOLMOO-Camille Hervouet ; & Artelier


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