Olivier Dupon has made a name for himself as a champion of contemporary crafts. Here, the author of The New Artisans series offers seven key tips on working with craftsmen and makers
‘I was 38 when I first commissioned a painting,’ says Olivier Dupon, now 44. ‘I was living in Sydney when I came across the work of a young artist, Mark Alsweiler. I loved his style, so I told him to paint whatever he liked. Two months later he came up with a gigantic painting in a style that I did not like at all. I never put it up. Then, just as I was returning to London, he had a show and there was the painting I’d imagined! So of course I bought it.’ The painting now hangs in the sunny drawing room of Dupon’s central London home.
Dupon laughs at the experience today, but it taught him an invaluable lesson: that you need to give a few guidelines when commissioning. He put this into practice on another commission, for a vase.
‘I had admired a black vase by ceramicist Matthias Kaiser, but to go with my decor I wanted a white one that was also taller,’ he says. Kaiser suggested several clays that produced different tones of white, then made a run of three. When they came out of the kiln, however, none was quite right, so the ceramicist did a further run. ‘That is rare, but we had a collaborative thing going on,’ Dupon explains, ‘and he wasn’t 100 per cent happy either.’ This time the result was perfect; it, too, is proudly displayed in Dupon’s home.
If things touch me, intrigue me, or fit my style,
I am drawn to them
Dupon was born in Bordeaux and raised in Paris, and studied business before working as a fashion buyer for the big French mail-order company, 3 Suisses. After a decade taking care of profit margins, however, he wanted a change. He moved to Sydney and took on a shop in the chic neighbourhood of Balmain, where he sold crafted homeware, jewellery and stationery — things no one else had, mainly from France. His customers loved them.
When the lease ended, he decided to put the experience to fresh use. ‘I sent a book outline to 60 publishers, and Thames & Hudson came back to me,’ he says. His follow-up to The New Artisans is one of a series of books that also covers jewellery, patisserie and floral design. These are his tips, and a selection of his favourite makers.
1. Trust your instinct
‘If I have one talent, it is my eye. If things touch me, intrigue me, or fit my style, I am drawn to them. You already know much more than you realise about what you like or don’t like, whether something feels and looks well made, whether you actually love it.’
Domenica More Gordon (UK), Show Dog. Felt and textile, made for an Arts & Science exhibition in Tokyo. Photography courtesy/copyright Claire Lloyd
2. Develop your knowledge
‘Go to craft fairs, meet makers and look at their work. The Crafts Council website will tell you places to visit, such as Cockpit Arts in Holborn, which has regular open-door events. There are events all over the UK, and further afield. Sign up for newsletters, too: they will hone your awareness and appreciation of the crafts out there.’
Left: Michael Cailloux (France) enjoys unparalleled manoeuvrability thanks to the bocfil saw, used to cut out the intricate patterns of the drawing patterns placed on the copper plate. Photography courtesy/copyright Gilles Hirgorom. Right: Mantis Reugiosa. Etching, aquatint and copper, Insectes series, Mouches collection. Photography courtesy/copyright Camile de Laurens
3. Buy something you need
‘A good place to start is with something you use every day, such as a set of plates. Why go to Ikea when you can meet someone who makes something and start a friendship? When you’ve built up your confidence, you can commission something.’
Left: Catarina Riccabona (UK) moving the lease sides back for even warp tension. Photograph courtesy/copyright Catarina Riccabona. Right: Catarina’s handwoven linen and wool throws resting on a linen cushion. Photography courtesy/copyright Laura Adburgham
4. Take a leap of faith
‘Familiarise yourself with a maker’s style. If you love it and ask for something in the same style you can’t go far wrong. If you see something you like — one of Zoé Ouvrier’s already collectable wooden screens (see below), for example — ask if the maker would consider doing something, such as one panel as a bed head, especially for you. You can be specific on certain details, such as height and colour, but you need to factor some quirkiness in. Some crafts, ceramics in particular, are a bit unpredictable. But that’s all part of the charm, the individual personality of a piece.’
Left: Matthias Kaiser (Austria) at work on the potter’s wheel. Photography courtesy/copyright Michael Turkiewicz. Right: A deliberate ‘accident' in the kiln: for the Stack vase, 14 porcelain bowls have been stack-fired together. Photography courtesy/copyright Jens Preusse
5. Certain things are worth paying for
‘Some people have the idea that craft is not well made and will not last, but I think the opposite. Modern makers are highly trained and create high-quality pieces with high-quality materials. By buying from them you also support the artists so they develop their skill. Bespoke doesn’t have to cost the earth, but craft is about making a connection with both the person that makes it and the object itself, and that is priceless. You might also be buying or commissioning something that will appreciate in value. UK-based makers such as Sebastian Cox, who designs and builds furniture from sustainable hazel he grows himself, or textile designers Catarina Riccabona and Hannah Waldron, or glassmaker Hanne Enemark, are just some of those producing exceptional work in Britain. There are many more.’
Zoe Ouvrier (France), Lilo screen. Engraved sculpture in wood and acrylic paint. Photography courtesy/copyright Petr Krejci
6. Be patient
‘Things may take months to make. They’re worth it.’
Susan Hipgrave (Australia), a Cytinus Hypocistus plate. The painstakingly detailed illustration appears almost 3D, thanks to a precise accumulation of light/dark lines and shadows. Photography courtesy/copyright Susan Hipgrave
7. Enjoy the process
‘Artisans are intelligent, approachable, sympathetic and creative. People who work with their hands have empathy and compassion. They have created an artistic bubble that is beautiful and purposeful, and by buying and commissioning their work you can be part of it. These things will enrich your life.’
Jeremy Maxwell Wintrebert (France) blowing out the shoulders of a piece. Photography courtesy/copyright Laurent Vilain
Encore! The New Artisans: Handmade Designs for Contemporary Living by Olivier Dupon is published by Thames
& Hudson at £24.95
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