I never much liked Memphis style when I first came across it in art school – it was somehow too brash, too silly, too clunky. And it’s only now, after a gap of many years, that I have come to appreciate that crazy clashing of bulbous forms, zig zags and asymmetry, with their manic mix of bright pastels and primary colours in equally wild patterns.
The Memphis group was a collective founded in Milan in 1981, led by renowned architect Ettore Sottsass. They borrowed, mashed up and reinvented from historical sources in the postmodern manner, determined to disrupt the world of furniture and interior design. They stripped forms down to their chunkiest, then added in flourishes of saw-tooth and lightbulbs. They used diagonals to add movement and playfulness, and used neon, plexiglass and painted wood with equal gusto.
Nathalie du Pasquier was one of the founding members, and was responsible for the vast majority of the surface designs used by the group. Her patterns are distinctive; loose geometrics and amoeba-like shapes jump around in glorious bright flat colour. It’s kind of like a bunch of leopards and zebras went nightclubbing and found some crazy cool jazz that they dug so much they decided to paint their spots to match.
Influenced by African printed textiles, punk music, pop art and art deco, Nathalie’s designs are vibrantly busy. Together with George Sowden (another founding member of Memphis, who later become her husband), she designed a wide range of patterns for carpets, fabrics, plastic laminates, and furniture and homewares.
There has been a recent resurgence of interest in Memphis, with several important exhibitions taking place over the last year or two, and new designers have taken it in fresh directions (such as Tim Colmant, who has incorporated animated gifs in his Memphis-inspired patterns).
Nathalie herself has collaborated recently with companies such as Third Drawer Down and American Apparel to release a new range of clothing and homewares bearing her designs.
She still lives and works in Milan, with painting as her main activity (website here.)
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