Picking Up The Threads
TSKC’s Ashuni Pérez interviews French embroidery ingénue Anaïs Beaulieu!
Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do?
My name is Anaïs Beaulieu. I'm an artist, illustrator and textile designer. I use thread to embroider, but also, to bind and link.
Embroidery is a painstakingly patient, but beautiful art. How and when did you learn to sew?
I learned to embroider when I was 8 years old. My grandmother taught me. In the beginning, she taught it to me to make a gift for my other grandmother who was living 500 km away, where I used to go to spend my holidays. Maybe that's why embroidery is very linked to the idea of travelling in my work. After that, I completely forgot about it for a long period; it was uncool when I was teenager. But when I left art school, I tried it again just to see if I remembered how to do it or not. But, it was really after a first trip in Burkina Faso in 2014, that I decided to use it as my main technique of expression. There, I realised that we exist by what we know how to do. So I asked my myself, “What I know how to do? I know how to embroider!” I discovered that a know-how allows you to be a ‘know-be’. I mean, know-how is like a language which allows you to express yourself and to communicate with the others. It's also a great way to meditate about life. Since then, I embroider not every day but, almost.
I am totally fascinated by the way you have managed to combine literary arts and fine arts in your work. Was it a slow progression or did it happen all at once?
When I was in art school, I was completely fascinated by children's books and I spent a lot of my time working in my sketchbooks. They became my studio. When I went left art school, I worked as bookbinder. Bookbinding also uses thread. At this period, I realized how books were important in my life. So, I went back to school to study artist's book for a year. I trained in Les Trois Ourses, a french publishing house which promotes artist's books for children. I stayed there and worked with them for seven years. It was incredible for me, because I discovered another way of looking at books especially, for example, fabric books by Munari or Louise-Marie Cumont. Some of them are handmade and are part of a very limited edition! This aspect adds to their qualities.
I, also, understood how important it is to share art and to meditate on it. Books are the best way to do that. But, it's also very important to accompany them with workshops. I was very lucky to understand Munari's vision about it and to do some workshops with Katsumi Komagata or Marion Bataille. In the end, both utilise Munari's method but in their own way.
When I came to Burkina Faso, I took my know-how, embroidery, and tried to link it with my environment which was the book. As I explained before, the common denominator between embroidery and books is thread. Thread is the link. As Flaubert said, “It's not the pearls which make the necklace, it's the thread.”
Step by step, I also discovered how thread is linked to stories. For example, in folktales or in mythology. It was through this, like Ariane or Penelope, that finally thread became my own mythology.
The handkerchiefs you use are adorable. In fact, they remind me of my grandmother! Where do you find them?
That's right, it’s difficult to find handkerchiefs now. I go to antique stores or flea markets to buy them. It's incredible all the designs that you can find. But, it's very difficult to find handkerchiefs with good designs.
The embroidery in your pieces often depicts modern objects like escalators or a cranes; the juxtaposition of these modern embroidered images with traditional handkerchiefs lends the final piece a lovely dichotomy. Is there a message you are trying to convey with these modern symbols?
Most of the ideas for the handkerchiefs series came from my experience in Burkina Faso. For example, at one point I had no electricity. So when I came back, I realized how lucky I am to have an outlet with a plug. So, I decided to embroider a plug. After, I took the escalator and realised “Wow, I'm living in a country where there is an escalator. It's crazy some countries don't have… etcetera.” So, the ideas came to me fluidly just by observing the differences of living and trying to translate them. Honestly, in the beginning, I didn’t try to put out a message, just an observation. It is after things are done, that I realised it mean something.
This is exactly the same for the plastic bags series. The idea came when I was on a bus in Burkina Faso. I observed the fields and realised that they are full of plastic bags there. They substitute the vegetation itself. So I started to imagine that I could reverse this by embroidering some vegetation on plastic bags. I did. Only after that did I realise which message can be read from it. It's like something very strong and you don't understand why you want to make this thing, but you need to express this feeling or idea.
So many of your of designs are wonderfully intricate. How long does it take you to finish a piece?
It depends on the piece. It could be one week but it could also be three months. But, during this time, I don't make only this, of course. For sure, some of them accompanied me along my life and become friends of mine. That's why I used to tell people that behind each embroidery there are some stories.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
I find most of my inspiration in the shift between culture, people, country, times and contexts. I'm fascinated by opposites: we are all different, but living in the same world and make it one. In the same idea, we are contemporaries of this world, very evolved with internet and these things, but we are still eating something like apples for so many millions of years.
Another big inspiration is nature because it teaches the values and rules of life. I also love to wander in flea markets as I already said. It always brings to mind some stories for me.
You are quite adventurous with your materials, going so far as to embroider on plastic bags! Are there any other materials you would like to experiment with?
I experiment with a lot of materials and try to embroider on different supports. I love what the designer Munari developed in his tactile workshop. That's why I often try to embroider on different material. Embroidering with other materials allows you to understand how the materials work. But, not all supports are good for embroidery and the real difficulty is finding a balance between what you will embroider and on which material. It needs to make sense.
This issue is the fourth in our ‘Year of Colours’. What are some of your favourite colours to use when you work?
Red because it's energy and life. Green because it's the flowers and trees. Blue because it's the sky and water. Yellow or gold because it's the sun and the warmth.
What comes to mind when you think of ‘Rainbow’?
The spectrum of colours, the cloud and rainbow costume that I made for my first textile design project, the little lights that appear above a waterfall or in a drop, Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, a photo that I took five years ago in the West Indies, the cartoon ‘Rainbow Brite’, the seven chakras, Henri Matisse, Remy Charlip’s pullover, the aura of each human and the thing that you hope to touch one day.
Are you working on any new projects at the moment?
Right now, I just finished designing a collection in a label called Le Facteur Céleste. They make some accessories crocheted from recycled plastic. They are working to empower women in Burkina Faso. It was a great experience because of this. I trained some women in the village where I used to go produce the items. It's an important project for me. I also worked on a new book… but, shush, I can't say anything else for the moment.
Where can we see more of your work?