Unleashing Artistic Expression: Isabelle de Borchgrave’s Journey of Creativity and Freedom

2023-11-04 08:31:00

Still to her astonishment, Isabelle contemplates the effect of the medication on her artistic gestures, but in reality, she knows that she can do nothing other than paint, even when illness is close behind her. She paints and she draws. Like she always did, like everyone else breathes. “At school I was bored to death, so I just drew. Then, I came across an “intelligent” teacher who told me: “You’re distracting the others by drawing.” And I replied: “I can listen very well, but my hand has to move”. And there she is, sitting at the back of the class with her notebook, watching her notes go up to the rhythm of her penciling hand: “I was first in class”…

It was “not seen”

Despite everything, she left school at 14. “With my father, everything was allowed, he was friendly, funny. He didn’t help me at all, but we had total freedom if we didn’t make waves… Well, you can imagine that it was still “unheard of”, to leave school at 14, to go to the Academy. And to do what ? Drawing, drawing, drawing. We drew from plaster casts or, better, from live models. … Which is the best thing for learning drawing”. Three years of charcoal drawing without a chaperone −“to have peace!”, neither more nor less −, three years of self-sacrifice. But, at 17, when you leave the Center for Decorative Arts, what do you do to live your life? “I didn’t have a franc, because my father had spent everything, which happens from time to time in families, but, what do you want, he was very happy and had not noticed that he had children …”

Africa by Isabelle de Borchgrave

She then moved into an attic above Wittamer in Sablon, and produced, in Indian ink, a catalog of objects. “I drew everything I knew how to do: a box of OMO laundry detergent, a pair of shoes, flowers in a vase, an invitation. And I added: “If anything interests you, call me”. In her small workshop under the roof of rue Sainte-Anne, Isabelle, not yet from Borchgrave but from Jacobs, sits next to her telephone, waiting for it to ring.

– “And guess who called? Free Belgium!”

Illustrate the decorative pages of “La Libre”

Without her doing it on purpose, a little music emanates from Isabelle, something that says that life is always in motion. Bracelets jingling on her wrists on the day of the interview, a lively ‘reminder’ on her smartphone, plans for an upcoming exotic trip, or, before all that, an invitation to a ball…

While she draws in the columns of the decoration section of La Libre Belgique – “how to arrange your entrance” or “make yourself an inexpensive dressing room” – to pay her rent, young Isabelle runs from ball to ball. It was 1962: “We were invited to exceptional balls, as we don’t do them anymore, it went in all directions… And I said yes to everyone, because I loved the dresses. But I didn’t have any dresses. So what did I do? I took a piece of white fabric that I painted. Some time before, I had seen artisans painting on silk in Tunisia…”

And while all the girls around them line up rows of pearls, rivers of diamonds and princess dresses, Isabelle plays the “unique case” card. “And it ended up being identified.” Potential clients wanted the same thing, and Isabelle started drawing on everything: shoes, belts, dresses. For money. Well, when the clients paid. “We opened a small shop, with Werner, [son époux, son acolyte, né comme elle en 1946 NdlR). Ça s’appelait ‘La Tour de Bébelle’. Bébelle, c’est mon surnom. On vendait de tout : des tissus pour faire des rideaux, des canapés, des coussins, des meubles peints,… Et tout se vendait”. Et pour cause, tout est du “pas vu”, pour reprendre une expression qui, idéalement, sied à Isabelle de Borchgrave. “J’ai même habillé la princesse Paola, à l’époque. Elle était sublime”.

”On peignait des mètres de tissu, nous-mêmes”. Isabelle, à même la table à peindre à genoux… Elle ne ménage pas son énergie. Déjà. Elle se souvient de son enthousiasme quand elle se met à brûler du velours au fer, pour faire évoluer des dessins sur la matière. “C’était une excitation sans limites”, mais voilà, dans le même temps, elle fait l’examen de sa situation : “Je voulais devenir Coco Chanel, mais je devais courir après les gens pour me faire payer”.

Sans compter qu’elle avoue qu’elle n’aime pas être freinée, – pour de mauvaises raisons, la trésorerie par exemple – dans ses idées, qu’elle a, nombreuses. “Vous me direz, je n’ai jamais attendu deux minutes, non plus…” Exemple : elle veut faire des tables, elle achète les pieds avant de savoir à qui elle vendra les tables.

Des Américains qui passaient par là…

L’enthousiasme risqué mais créatif se fait cependant remarquer, quand des Américains, qui passaient par là, lui proposent de venir à New York pour montrer tout ce qu’elle sait faire. “Alors là, on ne se sentait plus”. “On est partis avec nos valises remplies d’échantillons de tissus, et on a commencé à travailler pour des clients américains…” Pour recouvrir de la vaisselle, du linge de maison,…

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Ça lui plaisait, cette vie-là ? “Moyennement. D’autant qu’il a plein d’endroits ou on ne peut pas sortir son carnet pour dessiner quand on s’ennuie… Je pense à ces grands dîners où on était invités… Vous avez remarqué comme les gens peuvent parler pour ne rien dire ! ? Je me souviens que je rentrais vite, pour peindre mes tableaux. Je peignais, je peignais.”


Vous avez remarqué comme les gens peuvent parler pour ne rien dire !”

Au Metropolitan Museum of Art, elle a une révélation devant une petite robe XVIIIe : “une robe de jeune fille, jaune, piquée de petites fleurs roses, avec un petit dessus de dentelle blanche. Je ne pouvais plus bouger. Je me suis dit : “Je veux cette robe”. J’étais prête à la voler… Je l’ai volée dans ma tête”. En compagnie d’une amie costumière, Rita Brown, elle décide de reproduire la petite robe “volée”, en papier ! C’est le début de l’histoire qui offrira sa signature à Isabelle de Borchgrave. “La petite robe jaune est la première d’une collection de 350 costumes”, depuis exposés partout dans le monde. “Les robes en papier, c’était aussi pour quitter ce monde de femmes gâtées qui ne payaient pas, celles qui trouvent le moyen de quitter la boutique sans passer à la caisse, celles qui vous rapportent une toilette déjà portée. Ce monde de gens trop gâtés, je voulais le quitter… Et je peux vous dire que je n’ai pas eu beaucoup à dire merci, parce que personne ne m’a aidée […] This project gave me the opportunity to leave this world to do what I loved from the beginning: fashion, painting, trompe l’oeil, doing it for nothing. It’s been thirty years now, thirty years that it’s been circulating all over the world.” And that she is exposed to Fashion Institute de New Yorkau Museum of Fine Arts, Bostonin 2000 in Victoria&Albert Museum from London, in 2001. A notoriety which gave her the means to do what she loves.

Isabelle de Borchgrave in her gallery, in front of her pleated paintings. ©JC Guillaume

Ideas, without permission

Sixty years of drawing and painting, the energy that makes her get up every morning. “I manage to paint every day.” She tells us about her big Florentine brushes, the same as the pros who paint a fresco, which she uses to the bone, too bad for them – she has so much to show.

Isabelle’s workshop, pierced by overhead light, is spread over several levels. An old garage with paint cans and old cars, right in the middle of Ixelles. Renovated a decade ago. “We found the walls of a chapel there, which we kept”… As we walk with her in the passageway above the workshop, on a guided tour of creative decades, she stops , clear, in front of immense greige leaves, thick, rough, which seem to be waiting. “Arches paper… Which comes from the Arches mill. It is the basis of my smallest notebooks up to these very large sheets”.

A time out. Then she continues: “It costs a fortune, it’s annoying. Sometimes I have ideas, but I back off”.

Does she need to be invited to draw on the king of paper? “I don’t need permission.” I have ideas… It will come, it will come.”

On the agenda of La Libre Explore

In the studio of Isabelle de Borchgrave. An exclusive visit with the artist

This Wednesday, November 29, La Libre Explore offers you a stroll through the heart of the artist’s studio and in his company. In the wake of the exhibition Women’s Looks which was held at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Isabelle de Borchgrave exhibits more recent works in the heart of his Ixelles workshop, until mid-December. Including the famous pleated papers, which she spoke about during our meeting. We will set foot in his studio gallery, alongside him.

During an exclusive moment, she will answer questions from La Libre Explore readers, and talk about her artistic methods and inspirations.

To register,

#Isabelle #Borchgrave #shouldnt #people #dont

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