Ms. Gurvich, you’re famous for your work with paper. What fascinates you about porcelain?
I never cease to marvel at the way porcelain is made completely by hand in the Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg. How complex the process is and how old the art is. There’s also something magical about it. When you look into a kiln, where the temperature reaches 1,400 degrees, you only see red fire and embers. Inside, the models glow – they literally go through fire and are transformed into wonderful, white objects. In addition, porcelain and paper have more in common than you might think.
Really? What do they have in common?
The lightness, the colour. Their transparency, they both have the same texture. It seems they are very fragile but intact porcelain dinner services and vases, were found lying on the seabed for centuries. Papyrus from ancient Egypt is displayed today in museums. In Japan, paper has a long tradition as a material – there, it’s even used to build furniture and houses.
How did the idea for the collection come about?
Porcelain had already interested me for a long time. In my earlier paintings, you can find motifs from Chinese porcelain painting. It was not until 2008 that I started working with Nymphenburg in order to create something new. Indeed, the transformation from paper to porcelain is a very tricky matter. With Nymphenburg, the chemistry was immediate.
How do you transform paper into porcelain?
Oh, of course, that would be a trade secret, to some extent. But I can tell you this: lots of attempts and discussions with the Nymphenburg product development team were necessary. For the production, we had to take a completely fresh approach. The idea was always to translate the paper character of the models as accurately as possible, even including to the feel of it, but I also wanted to expose the construction process and structure. The cuts and splices, the kinks and curves, even the measurements I had written in pencil on the model, which provided the idea for the decorative painting.
How was the collaboration with Nymphenburg?
When the mould workshop saw my paper models for the first time they where very surprised. Up until then they had only worked with solid models. But we managed it in the end. Nymphenburg has always worked with artists, they are used to solving problems and adjusting to new projects. I was impressed by this openness and their respect for artists.
Were you able to gain anything you can use in your own work?
Before I worked with Nymphenburg, I was a lone fighter. Here, I learned how you make other people understand your own ideas, how you work as a team in order to create something new, something you can share with others, that can be used. Collaborating with Nymphenburg is also attractive to me for another reason: paper models, which are translated into porcelain here, have a unique, dignified presence. The pieces can be used by other people, they take on a social dimension. That‘s a wonderful thing that happen to my art.
What is your everyday life like in the studio? How do you work?
For me, it all starts with the shape. I start completely from scratch. Then I make a construction plan, just like a designer designing a chair or an architect drawing a house. This was something I had to learn; my first pieces using paper were very clumsy. The difficulty lies in constructing exactly the right shape. Sometimes I work only on paper, porcelain or paintings. Then there are periods where I just create new shapes.
When did you realise you wanted to be an artist?
My parents always took me to the museum, even when I was little. I remember visiting a pop art exhibition in the summer, where I saw a painting of a giant eye. This painting fascinated me so much that I can still see it in front of me, as if it were yesterday. I also remember a film showing a museum with loud pop art on the wall and a big hot dog sculpture like a Claes Oldenburg work. I loved it so much, I wanted to do art, too.
Why didn’t you want to become an architect?
I only kept going with studying architecture for two and a half years, then I dropped out. The technical drawing, the structure of a building none of that was for me. I mean, I wasn’t interested in facts like ‘where do cables need to be laid, where does the toilet go?’ Then I switched to the Academy of Arts. However, my interest in perspective and three-dimensionality, has remained with me. To be honest, the things that are so important to me now, are things that put me off studying architecture: cleanliness, precision. Sometimes in my models it’s a matter of just half a millimetre, like with Lightscape. I also still use the same tools as before: craft knives, pencils, scissors, compasses, and a water-soluble adhesive, very simple, like in school – and of course, paper.
In 1987, you left your native land Argentina and went to Paris, where you live and work today. Was that a big culture shock for you at that time?
Actually, not. It was a liberation for me. As a young girl, I often thought: why was I born in Argentina, so far away from everything I admire? At that time there were no museums in Cordoba, which fortunately has changed recently. It was a different time, you felt very cut off, the internet didn’t exist yet. I always wanted to go to Europe, where the roots of modern art are. Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism. Also, you have all the important museums where all the art of the ancient world can be found. Fashion came from Europe.
What inspires you?
I go to museums a lot, to see art. I also like rummaging around in antique shops. I don’t need to buy anything – the things there always tell a story. Even furniture such as chairs. I love chairs, I’m interested in how they are constructed. I have a lot at home; collecting chairs is a small vice of mine. Since I’ve been here, I’ve also been fascinated by European porcelain art, painting on porcelain, especially in Nymphenburg. Each era has its own style of painting landscapes, flowers, and animals. Porcelain art was so far removed from my culture, which is what made it so attractive to me.
Are there any artists you admire?
Oh, lots – it’s very hard to give just a few names. David Hockney and the other British painters of the 70’s, because they began to move away from canvas to work with objects, because they composed and arranged pictures differently. Like Donald Judd or Anish Kapoor’s work. Kiki Smith, who also works with Nymphenburg. I admire all of these artists, and yet my work is about something else. My pieces do not reveal themselves at first glance, they aren’t made for impact or quick effects. For me, it’s about contemplation, about reflecting on design and art. You can spend hours in front of a Rothko. I don’t feel like I belong to any trends or fashions, I aspire to be universal, timeless.
Ruth Gurvich biography.