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Frédéric Forest interview
Do you remember when you were a kid, nearly spending the entirety of your days drawing? This, too, is how it began for French artist Frédéric Forest, but unlike many of us who stopped, he did not. From his humble beginnings selling drawings in the streets of New York, Forest has now reached the level of Instagram sensation with more than 63K followers, as well as accomplishing a plethora of exciting and inspiring things in between! He has worked for big-name brands, such as Cartier and Adidas, collaborated with world famous designers, and more recently has created his own design studio with Clementine Giaconia. The love of shapes and lines seems to be the common thread that pushes Frédéric further, uniting his work and private life in the harmony of art that he creates. Now, Forest shares simple, yet seductive drawings to his ever-growing fan base.
In this fascinating artist profile, TWELV asked Frédéric Forest about his work, his passion, and his inspiration.
Tell us a little bit about yourself – where are you from?
I grew up in Annecy, French Alps. I've spent my time for skateboarding, skiing, snowboarding and drawing.
What is your old oldest memory involving art?
Art is like beauty, it is in the eyes of the viewer… and my first eye-catching memory on art was the Brancusi exhibition in Paris, summer 1995.
What brought you to do illustration and design professionally?
I always wanted to do and desired to do this job : product design. Because it was not about drawing for myself but for a project, for something larger. So, I graduated from ENSCI/Les Ateliers in Paris. While still a student there, I worked alongside the leather consultant Jocelyne Imbert on projects for Cartier leathergoods. Then, I left France for Italy and the Adidas Advanced Design Studio in Montebelluna, where I designed for the brand’s high-end sports shoes range. For international luxury firms, I used my approach for brand image, visual identity and product design. In 2008, after various experiences working with designers Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec, Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance and Jean-Marie Massaud on product and space design projects with a high technological and artistic content, I set up with Clémentine Giaconia our own design studio, FRST.I've never looked for a professional life with my drawings. Instagram has cut a new part in my life, and made my drawings evolved so far. Like everyone else, I started drawing before writing. I have not stopped there, I love that. Drawing is always part of design job, but aside that, during the evenings, I did it just for me according to my mood : fashion illustrations, children books, storyboards or a graphic novel. Just draw and think about something else. That was very personal and now the drawings are sent worldwide… Maybe, this is because they are personal at first. This is also why I don't sell all of them.
What is your most memorable moment as an artist?
I've been in NYC in summer 2001, for writing my graduation essay. No money. So, I've decided to sell drawings in the street, 5th Av. Some fashion illustrations. There were few other students like me. It was cool but it was my first day and I was quite anxious. I was there for two hours and then, a guy, black, tall, was walking fast, he passed by me, followed his way and suddenly stopped. On his way back, he pointed one of my drawings, a black man dancing or jumping. He screamed "Who made this drawing ?". "Well, it's me…" He looked at me, right on the eyes and said : "This is my son, he is a model". And it was absolutely right, I've drawn this one from a serie in a magazine.
What inspires you?
Inspiration is a result of random moments running in my head and stealing everything I see. These moments could be everything, a smell, a sound, someone who you cross in the street, a cloth or its detail... My influences are around the edges, in photography, fashion, gastronomy, music, typography, dance, poetry, colour and light : the 1967 E-type Jaguar, the Malaparthe's villa, the villa Cavrois, the architects Frank Lloyd-Wright, Carlo Scarpa, Auguste Rodin, Tilda Swinton, the choreographers Wayne McGregor, Benjamin Millepied, Angelin Preljocaj, Pierre Hardy, Radiohead, Haruki Murakami, Moebius, Katsuhiro Otomo, riders Nicolas Müller, Pedro Barros or Candide Thovex, the photographers Robert Mapplethorpe, Zoé Ghertner, Paolo Roversi, and Maud Rémy-Lonvis…. They enable me to express new feelings and suggest new stories, whatever the scale of the project.
As a designer, what is your relationship to objects?
My first relation with objects is their use, then can appears an affect. I love images and still life pictures, but I'm really careful about images of objects. A good-looking chair is useless if you can't stay on it for a dinner.
As an illustrator, do you consider subjects differently [from objects]?
Drawing stops on the paper. Paper is just a beginning on design.
What are your biggest projects, past and present?
On Instagram, your drawings are of female bodies or nature-related. Are you more attracted to these themes?
I grew up into a feminine family, with a mother, sisters, aunts, grandmothers. I draw women like they are, not like I would like them to be. But I draw males too.About nature, I was born in the French Alps, surrounded by mountains falling in a clear blue lake. I spent three days per week on skiing during the winter season and diving in the lake or go surfing in the Atlantic Ocean during the summer. Nature has always been my landscape. I like the forms of nature, perfect curves, colors, perfumes. I was born into. It's a viral emotion. I have a very physical link with mountains and water. And that's the same with paper. The years make no difference.
How long does it takes you to draw one « etude »?
Drawing an "etude" doesn't take a very long time. But coming to draw one takes time. Find the right pose, the good light, the most important aspect of the image that I have in mind and the perfect tool. What is appearing on the paper is a second phase… And now, there is a whole process with scans, crop them, confirm them by bailiff, upgrade catalogs, answer requests, check payment, prepare packages, send them, track them…
In your mind, what is the major difference between drawing, illustration and design? Is there one?
The main thing is the number of persons that are involved. In a design project, from the client team, our design studio team, the partners, suppliers, retailers, etc… A design project is a casting process. Good client team means good brief, means good challenge, means good design. The opposite is mainly and too often right…In a drawing, I'm absolutely alone. All is coming from myself. It's like skiing or surfing. Whatever the wave is coming or the downhill is appearing, I'm going and let it flow. Alone.
Your drawings are minimalist, and the thin lines are kept to a bare essential, just enough to suggest an idea. What defines your style?
I draw when everyone is sleeping in the house, the smartphone is off, no email. So I don't use colors, because I can't see them very well. I do it simply with a black pen, fine or calligraphic, that depends on the mood, but it's without any precise subject and without expectation. Just draw and think about something else. I'm really focused on lines and shapes. I don't use any gum. Actually, I draw like I ski, or skateboard : catch the perfect line. Rarely, it comes at first, you have to repeat it again and again, and then, suddenly, it is there, it express all you were looking for. My hand is a filter, she has her own sensibility. I've to control her and let her flow, dance, follow her own way. It's a training game to find the right balance between control and pure instinct. It's all about control, "the encounter between control and uncontrollable" like said Richard Avedon.
What is the main difference between your work as an independent illustrator and your work as a design duet with Clémentine Giaconia at Studio FRST? Does the collaboration change your creative process?
We design duet. As woman with man, we cross our experiences and inspirations.Together we sign projects where the object and space form a whole, in a consistency of line and evidence materials. First we must surprise ourselves, otherwise others probably won’t be surprised by what we do. This is one of the advantages of working in tandem : good ideas grow by themselves and the bad ones disappear along the way.
How was the experience of co-founding your own studio?
Since we set up our design studio, we have worked across a wide range of disciplines, creating everything from furniture and household objects to commercial stores or private restaurant, yacht, jewelry and timepiece. Confendiality is our first concern. Never talking, never showing before the client agreement. They are mainly luxury houses with high-end knowledges and know-how. We are committed to respecting the charter of confidentiality of our customers every day.Meanwhile, we have created several pieces with our own signature for Hermès, Ligne Roset or Maison d'édition Christophe Delcourt. This part is growing a little more every day and we are glad of that.
Do you have any exciting future projects on the horizon?
Those that I don't know yet…
INTERVIEW BY LOUISE GUILLOT
EDITED BY HOLLIS DE LANEY
PHOTO CREDIT: FREDERIC FOREST