A cut above the rest

Recycled Art

A cut above the rest

Paper is no canvas for this eco-sensitive artist. French artist Nadine Tarbouriech, who has now adopted Chennai as her home alongside Paris, looks at paper as art by itself. Of course, paper has been the preferred choice of medium and method to many an artist in the form of paper cuts, collages and art on paper, but with Nadine, paper figures are artistic muses as well.

“Paper is an artist’s precious stone. Whether found in the most refined art shop or coming from a bunch of old newspapers, it has a very strong power to tickle your creativity, provoking your sensibility. But working on paper is always as risky as giving shape to a diamond,” says Nadine. 

It was cinema which first brought Nadine to India, 14 years back. “I was on a three-month mission for the French External Affairs Ministry to study and document Indian cinema. I came to Chennai to interview director Mani Ratnam,” she reminisces. A casual commute to the Cholamandal Artists’ Village on the outskirts of Chennai left her impressed. And quite by chance, when she returned to France, she met Vishwanadhan, one of the founding artists of Cholamandal. 

Now, along with Vishwanadhan, Nadine splits her time between Paris and Cholamandal. “I must confess that my work is influenced by South India,” she says. 

Nadine works exclusively with natural pigments, sourced locally from whichever country it is that she travels to. Nadine likes to work with pigments from vegetables, earth, rocks, sea shells and the like. “I collect pigments whenever I travel. I think they give you a clear sense of the country’s sensibilities,” she says. So it is that Nadine works with yellows from Jaipur stones, indigo, turmeric, a range of red ochres from various parts of India, reds and blues from the minerals in the soil of south France, to name a few. 

It is her sense of eco-conservation that drew her to natural pigments and to recycled art, which in turn takes root from her childhood spent in the countryside, besides her growing concern over the proliferation of synthetic chemicals in art and other aspects of life. 

Nadine shares a great admiration for Matisse’s paper cuts, Kurt Schwitters’s collages and “all those artists who create the most fantastic art pieces out of bills and bus tickets simply because they could not afford to buy paper.”

“I have always had the habit of buying paper with interesting textures, not knowing when or for what I would use it,” she shares. The turn towards recycled paper happened seven years back, when at one point of time in Cholamandal, she ran short of paper. “I like to work with local material, so I didn’t want to import,” she says. Her eyes fell on the many paper bags her friends who had visited were leaving behind. 

“I spent half the year at Cholamandal Artists’ Village. We often have friends from abroad staying with us, discovering South India and shopping extensively. I would find paper bags that could not fit in their baggage. Not able to throw them away, I would store them in a box. One day, while desperately looking for paper, I opened it, and it was like entering Ali Baba’s cave.

I started cutting sheets out of them, keeping the spare parts to melt later with water to make my own papers. The quality of these sheets was responding so well to the tempera water colour, giving me the reflection of light and depth I was looking for. I then felt like weaving them as multiple layers of their ‘recycled’ lives,” Nadine says.

And now, Nadine has moved on to making ‘recycled paper art’, evolved as a paper-making process rather than painting over paper. She does this by mixing pigment powers with recycled paper pulp and drying it out on a fine mesh, keeping the artistic intervention simple and rough. The effect is a mesmerising richness of texture and colour. 

The big challenge is in seeing to it that the emerging paper art doesn’t dry too fast. “Otherwise, the pigment may not seep into the pulp deeply enough and create this kind of a visual effect,” she says. 

Incidentally, Nadine uses pigment powder directly instead with binders, because pure pigments are incredibly bright. 

The notion of ‘traces’ surfaces in various forms in Nadine’s works. “When I create art, I make sure that I have no concept in mind. That is crucial because I want to feel very free and let my emotions speak,” Nadine muses. But traces of nature do emerge in her work, in the form of suggestive moments and movements in nature. It is for the same reason that wall, floor or any found object for that matter comes out as a movie to her, with the little traces and smudges on it, giving her narratives of people who had left their imprint.

In fact, one of her works involved an alignment of wine corks, period — the mark left by wine on it suggesting a narrative of passing realities. Nadine also prefers to leave her works untitled. “The moment you add a word, people start interpreting the art along that line. I want people to be free of that baggage when they see my art. I want them to create their own experiences.”

Born and brought up in a village in southern France, nature has been a constant influence on Nadine. “As I grow older, I find that I am reverting to my roots,” she says. Incidentally, Nadine had decided on becoming an artist when she was nine years old. “Luckily for me, artist Pierre Raffi was working out from a studio in our village. I cajoled my parents into requesting him to give me art lessons, and he agreed graciously.” Later, Nadine studied drawing and painting under artist André Pédoussault.

And then at the Paris School of Fine Arts (Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris). Chance brought her to Chennai, a city she has grown to feel at home. She says, “The colours and the culture of the city do make an imprint on my works.”

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