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Artelier Interview: Laurine Malengreau on her Textile Process & Inspiration

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.

The large-scale textile artworks Laurine Malengreau immerse the viewer in abstracted, dreamlike imagery created from an intricate blend of layered fibres. Malengreau uses the Nuno Silk technique to create her wall hangings. Nuno Silk has its origins in the ancient craft of felting, but through its innovative use of blended wool and silk, produces a much lighter non-woven fabric that has almost translucent qualities. In this interview, Malengreau discusses her process, and how her compositions are inspired by her intuitive response to these materials.

Which technique do you use to create your textile artworks?

I use the Nuno Silk technique, which finds its roots in traditional felting, but creates a very different result: the finished artwork is lighter and uses a wide range of colours.

Sometimes the effect is that the artwork is almost transparent, which is unlike traditional felting. Nuno Silk intimately blends natural wool and silk to create a non-woven fabric, giving it an unusual lightness and delicateness.

What is your textile process for creating an artwork?

My work is a constant search for a subtle balance between harmony of gesture, blend of colours and selection of precious materials. In the first stage, I select with great care a range of colours and materials, and create a palette that will best highlight the interiors of the project that has been entrusted to me.

This is a very important step, and is the basis for everything else. On the request of the architect or interior designer, I can create a Nuno Silk sample, which allows them to visualise as closely as possible what will become the final piece of art. While not at the scale of the final work, it reveals the richness and complexity of the tones and fibres that I have chosen.

After this, patiently and with precision, I put down the merino fibres against a background of chiffon. These can be merino wools, but I also use mohair or non-spun silk. The layers are placed on top of each other with precision and sensitivity. The aim is to blend the colours blended into each other in light or deep shades. The arrangement is ready only when the right balance is reached. At this stage, however, nothing is yet fixed.

I use water and soap for felting and fulling. Due to the friction and the introduction of heat and cold, the wool fibres open and become encrusted in the silk, transforming the materials into a non-woven fabric. The result, whilst affecting the fineness of the materials, is a resistant textile that has been created without needing to resort to sewing or any other binders.

When the textile is cleaned of soap, dried and ironed, it is ready for installation. It can be installed on the wall by an upholsterer, or stretched and framed like a painting, according to the client's requests.

For these finishes, I work in close collaboration with local craftsmen – an upholsterer, a blacksmith, a cabinetmaker and a jeweller – who have complementary skills which allow us to provide quick solutions to meet any issues.

When did you begin to use these techniques, and how has your practice evolved?

I discovered Nuno Silk in 2008 when I was living in Madrid, Spain, thanks to an excellent professor of silk painting, Carmen Escolano. I remember now what a revelation it was! The materials, the texture, and the final result all appealed to me. So, as it happens, I was initiated to this technique via the use of silk; most people who practice Nuno have begun by using wool.

I started to practice a lot, both by myself and with my professor, and sometimes with different specialists. I had a solid background of 12 years of intensive drawing and painting lessons, but I had to learn everything about Nuno Silk anew.

In the beginning I worked at a smaller scale, but I realised that I wanted to be able to express myself and this know-how in large scale artworks.

That is how I came to the idea of wall coverings. To my knowledge, nobody else uses Nuno Silk for interior design and wall hangings. Traditional felting techniques have been used for interior design, but the result of the Nuno technique is something else entirely. Innovations such as these led me to win the French Innovative Artisan award in 2019.

I worked with this technique in a specific way in order to develop a very large format for my artworks, and thus meet the needs of architects and interior designers. My creations are wall hangings that can transform the atmosphere of a room, and like tapestries from Aubusson, where my workshop is located, they can traverse the ages.

For me, Nuno silk is a craft method for achieving an artistic end. I consider myself a textile designer long before I am a felt-maker. One cannot go without the other, but I am less in the search for felt techniques than in mastering Nuno Silk so I can to express my interior inspiration.

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.

Are there other artists creating contemporary wall hangings that inspire you?

The artists I am inspired by are not necessarily those creating wall hangings, but the work of many different artists across various mediums. In my previous employments, I have had the chance to rub shoulders with many masterpieces, such as working with the Prado Museum or the Museum of Contemporary Art of the French Community of Belgium, which is the country I come from.

I am inspired by artists like: El Bernini, Zurbaran, but also Zao Wou Ki, Mark Rothko, Nicolas de Staël, Yves Klein, Fabienne Verdier, Kathe Kollwitz, Sheila Hicks, Delphine Ciavaldini, Anish Kapoor. I am not thinking of their when I am creating or making my sketches, but of course my encounters with their works during different stages of my life have inspired me, and created a rich artistic spectrum that I keep referring to in my creative process. In my eyes, art is, among other things, a reflection of society, so it reflects a bit of my own experiences also.

What materials do you use, and how do you choose the fibres for each artwork?

I work mainly with merino wool and chiffon. Other materials – such as mohair, brocade, silks and linens – allow me to create effects, such as lightening, as well as transparency, relief, or new tones. They are all incredibly soft to touch and workable, and I feel that it is reflected by the delicate end result.

Where do you source your materials? Is sustainability important to your choice of materials?

The materials are sourced mainly in my area, around Aubussson, and from France more generally. When it is impossible to source them from France, I order from England and Germany. For my raw materials, which are natural, I try to work as much as possible in short and local supply chains. This is very important to me, and has been in mind since the creation of my workshop. Thus, the silk is from Ysère, Mohair from Basq country, merino from South of France, and so on.

Sustainability is important for my choice of materials, and my textiles are ecologically responsible. Since my artworks are created from natural materials, they are also biodegradable. I am also just starting to develop a project for which I am researching the subject of sustainable dyes, since until now I have only been able to find it for spun wool, and not combed wool which is what I use.

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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