Carla, Thomas: can you introduce yourselves, please?
I’m a photographer, and I’m 44 years old. I have been living in the Gers with Carla and our two children, Ulysse and Jimmy, for seven years, and I work all over the place.
Carla, artist painter. I’ve just turned 40. What a turning point! The impression of living several lives.
What is your background?
I grew up in Paris, studied architecture for three years, and stopped fairly quickly to devote myself to photography by becoming an assistant. I started as an apprentice with the portrait photographer Denis Rouvre for a year. I assisted other photographers, including Bettina Reims and Arthus-Bertrand when I was very young, and then at the age of 22, I went on a two-year world tour by car through the Middle East, Africa and South America. Since then, I have lived in France, but my work still takes me around the world. Seven years ago, Carla and I decided to leave the city for somewhere we could have more space and ended up in a small village in the Gers where we renovated an old farmhouse. And it’s not finished yet!
As a child, I lived in Grenoble and Annecy before moving to the Paris region. This radical change had an impact on my childhood. I think of our cottage and garden as a paradise lost. Then I travelled a lot during and after my studies at ESAG Penninghen. I lived in the United States for a year to go to the Rhode Island School of Design. I loved my years in Paris; I also considered moving to New York to become an artist. My first jobs as an illustrator and in artist residencies kept me travelling. In the end, it was my meeting with Thomas that gave us the common impulse to look for a new nest to build a family, to find a place conducive to creativity. A crazy project (everyone took us for utopian dreamers), much bigger than us. But it was certainly what we needed!
Tell us about your education. What environment did you grow up in – and how did your tastes develop as a result?
I grew up in the 7th arrondissement in Paris. My mother is a stylist, and my stepfather was a decorator. So we were always in beautiful, bright apartments, surrounded by art and designer furniture. That undoubtedly gave me a taste for beautiful things and an extraordinary artistic education. My brother and sister are graphic designers and artists too.
I grew up with three sisters who are the pillars of my life. My father was an industrial designer, an eternal builder. My mother was a teacher (and an eternal teacher). So we moved a lot, and I remember the first thing my dad would do in a new place was to imagine what walls he could knock out to make the space bigger and bring in light. I always paid a lot of attention to everything around me, every object I brought back from a trip, every setting… All these things were things I could spend hours looking at. As if they gave off something alive, inviting the imagination.
I always paid attention to everything around me (...) All these things were things I could spend hours looking at. As if they gave off something alive, inviting the imagination.
Designers, artists: whose work has influenced you, your work?
Architects who were also designers. I am very much influenced by Carlo Scarpa, Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Charlotte Perriand and Jean Prouvé. And for photography, Denis Rouvre! There is also the Tendance Floue collective, whose sensitivity I like, and the work of Dijkstra Rineke. I love the work of the artist Philippe Ramette. But my favourite artist is Carla Talopp!
I built a sort of visual and pictorial library for myself very early and very widely! As a child, I copied the works of Van Gogh, Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas. Impressionist classics have always been dear to my heart, before discovering and being fascinated by – in order – Arte Povera and Penone in my twenties, the German expressionists, the Americans, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol during my studies in the United States. Then to leave painting, Richard Serra, Land Art, Christo, and Andy Goldsworthy, and to return to colour, Pierre Bonnard, and Gustav Klimt. From the time I was in my thirties, I looked at contemporary women artists and those whose careers have been forgotten or overlooked by history. They are the ones who are most present with me in my studio – Kiki Smith, Louise Bourgeois, Sonia Delaunay and Hilma Af Klint. And finally, I like the work of Claire Tabouret, Françoise Petrovitch, and Caroline Denervaud.
To what extent does your work influence your relationship with interior design?
It’s my job as a photographer to compose, stage and tell stories where people feel good.
There are no boundaries between my day in the workshop, decorating and caring for my home, my family life and wife… and table napkins! I often think of life as inseparable from work, like that of Sonia Delaunay. Her art of linking the arts and the everyday. This is very important to me, more so than interior design as such. The objects that surround me are part of my life; I found them or brought them back from a trip, they make me think of a person or a special moment. They inspire me. Especially the fabrics, as if I was impregnating myself with them to create. I spend my time interchanging spaces, moving furniture around. I need to move and adapt my interior to what I am creating and my current state of mind. Or is it the other way around?
Tell us about your introduction to this house?
Living in Paris as two artists with the desire to start a family in a beautiful space: we soon realised that this was not possible for us! We decided to travel around France to find the right place, and after a year of searching – and a number of visits throughout the South – this house was a real showstopper. It was a very ambitious project. We moved into the village and worked for two years to redesign the whole farmhouse, dedicating ourselves to it full-time.
In fact, we signed without even visiting the site, as the land with its Judas tree in full bloom seduced us! It was a human challenge as well. Even though the Gers is a particularly warm and welcoming region, making a name for yourself as an artist was not easy! This is where Le Studio Nomade was born, a long term project involving going out to meet people and making family portraits, “Portraits de Famille”, in the broadest sense. The paradox is that the project worked better with our Parisian network initially! Now we are active in the institutions and festivals in the départment in Lectoure, Marciac and Auch, and our cultural and social action goes far beyond our expectations.
This building also houses your workshop. What were your criteria for this work area?
I was lucky enough to have a very nice artist’s studio in the 14th arrondissement in Paris. So here, we’ve designed an identical glass roof by adding height to the old barn next to the dovecote. I have to cross my garden to get to my workplace! A delight in every season, even in the mud (laughs). But this space has changed the way I work. I have dedicated one large wall to my XXL canvas formats, which I have been working on since we moved to the Gers. The view is clear towards the horizon, and my eyes can get lost between the layers of paint. This is my sacred temple (the children have to knock if they want to come and draw!). My “own room”, so necessary in an artist’s life!
How do you approach the use of colour in your home and in your professional life
Colour is my language. It’s my primary way of expressing myself. When I get dressed in the morning without thinking, I am always surprised to realise that I need to wear such and such colours to work on my current painting, or to start a new one. I’m usually dressed like my painting! This is what amuses us so much in the context of the “Portraits de Famille”, the family portraits with Le Studio Nomade: the chameleon effect of the characters photographed in front of the XXL canvases as if they are immersed in them. I dream of making prints from these paintings to dress our models and have them pose in them! In the house, we chose all the materials to be as close as possible to the region’s natural resources, using local pigments to colour the lime on the walls. I used these new shades a lot in my paintings, even trying to make them with these same pigments.
Nature seems to have a very important place in your life. What is your relationship with it?
My personal work is essentially based on the relationship between human beings and nature: I get naked in it, we pose there as a family (naked too!). Living in the city was a contradiction for me. On some of my travels – notably to China, India and Brazil – seeing humans forced to cram into megacities have upset me and triggered an awareness. Even though I need the city and I love Paris – it’s where my family, friends and work are sometimes – living there on a daily basis had become incoherent.
Nature is like childhood: it is part of me; I am part of it. It is my joy, my balance, the air I breathe. I have always collected shells and stones to feel connected to it when I return to my room. I have made herbariums and travel journals. Nothing makes me happier than waking up at dawn in the middle of nowhere after a night of bivouacking. It’s a unique feeling, being at one with the elements. I tend to be very ethereal and far too reflective, so I need roots, sunshine, soil, starlight, flowers and vines. This is what gives meaning to my life, and I try to transcribe this meaning and poetry in my paintings, which are the expression of a sublimation of nature within me.
Your visual identity has been nourished by many journeys. What souvenirs will we find in your house?
Well, there’s a clever mix, and Carla is an expert at it! We hunt for treasures, salvage, barter, make, and bring back elements of nature all the time, be it rocks, feathers, leaves, driftwood, or Tunisian rugs and large cushions, Moroccan tables and basketry. In the middle of all this, we create our own settings.
The fabrics we’ve brought back from each continent are equally important. I put them everywhere in the house: on the sofas, as curtains, as bed throws… and I change them every season according to my mood!
There are many handcrafted pieces in your living spaces. Do you have a particular favourite design?
We’ve worked a lot or interacted with local craftsmen who’ve made a number of elements to measure, including the bar-table in the kitchen and the glass roof in the workshop. Blacksmith, carpenter, tiler, painter, polished concrete expert: each interaction was important for the house. I watched them work and learned a lot. Nowadays, I do my own lime plastering, my stone walls, my wooden terrace…
It’s true that Thomas has done almost everything in this house and I admire him a lot for that! As for the pieces that are dotted around everywhere, I must admit that I love my wicker baskets as much as the mottled cement tiles that line the hallway. I wanted to make ceramic bowls and cups for our everyday meals and this also represents a certain lifestyle. Now I can’t drink from just any old cup. I will always observe how they are made, whether they are handmade or industrial, what earths and pigments were used. The border is maintained between art and craft.
Where will you see us in the coming months?
Rendez-vous with Studio Nomade on 11 and 12 December in Paris! In September in Saint-Macaire near Bordeaux and in October in the Gers for the “Portraits de Famille”.
I have an exhibition in progress at Château de Herrebouc, a vineyard in the Gers, which has also commissioned me to paint a panoramic fresco for the tasting bar. Another will take place in December at the recently renovated Manufacture Royale in Lectoure – also in the Gers. We also plan to go back on the road with our two boys for a three-month residency in South America to continue our respective series and get inspired by new jungles!
I was lucky enough to have a very nice artist's studio in the 14th arrondissement in Paris. So here, we've designed an identical glass roof by adding height to the old barn next to the dovecote.
Photography: Eve Campestrini – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily