GRACE IN PARIS
In Aotearoa Abroad, Clementine Widdowson talks to New Zealanders around the world about life overseas and their ties to home.
Stuff NZ Newspapers
ORANGA / LIVING
Grace Atkinson left Aotearoa for France more than a decade ago, and in the intervening years spent time in London and New York before settling back in Paris. She began her career in fashion but found herself more drawn to the art world, and has worked behind the scenes with artists and galleries while developing her own textile-making practice. Last year Atkinson launched Decima, creating one-off blankets and cushions made of mohair and virgin wool in the Carpathian Mountains using traditional techniques that are hundreds of years old. Her giant cushions give a sense of joyful excess, as do the hybrid blanket-rugs with their cosy substantiality and earthy fuzz. Individually hand-dyed in grunge-esque tones and often with playful grid patterns, they are imbued with a rawness that reveals the making process, which can involve them being immersed in rivers to felt the wool. We spoke to Atkinson about why she landed in Paris, how she began working with textiles and what keeps her connected to Aotearoa while she is abroad. PARIS IS DEFINITELY A CHOSEN HOME, but culturally it’s so different. It will never be my real home. New Zealand is the only place where there is that feeling of ease and comfort because it’s just a part of me. And I don’t think that will ever change. I WAS ALWAYS DRAWN TO PARIS – in the way that many people romanticise Paris, I think I did the same thing. I was drawn to its culture, its history. I was in London and came over to Paris and just felt a much stronger connection. I then had an opportunity to move here for work, so I just took it. It’s a magical city because it’s so incredibly beautiful, but also in terms of big cities there are so many things that are accessible here. I feel like it’s just not the same in London or New York. You can still buy a beautiful bottle of wine here and good food, and it’s cheap and accessible to most people. I KNEW I WANTED TO DO SOMETHING WITH TEXTILES, I knew it would be practical pieces that you can use, so it made sense to do blankets or rugs. I was interested in different limitations of different processes. I really liked the idea of working with artisans using traditional techniques. So many of these techniques are being lost now, taken over by factories that do kind of inauthentic versions of a similar thing. The women making these pieces are so remarkably skilled, every time I think I’m pushing things with a motif or a design everything is always just perfect, and also perfectly imperfect, which is also what I love about them. They are all hand-dyed, so sometimes you’ll get these streaks through. It’s just so nice, it’s like these little birthmarks. I WAS ALWAYS DRAWN TO MAKING PRACTICAL OBJECTS that can be used, that have a real purpose. I grew up around textiles. My grandmother was an amazing seamstress, and my mum had this amazing vintage store in Timaru. I mean, true, true, vintage. Everything was pre-1920s, really beautiful old pieces. I have a Victorian lace shirt that she gave me, which is falling apart. I think that my sensibility for fabrics really came from my mother. I LIKE TO FOCUS QUITE INTENSELY ON MY WORK IN THE MORNING. The days are all quite different, but if I am designing new pieces I will tend to just do what I need to do to get into quite an intense, focused state. I’ll listen to loud music on my headphones and I’ll draw and draw and draw without any kind of filter. Then I’ll edit down, make variations, and then I keep refining. I like to leave things for a few days, come back to them with fresh eyes. WHEN I LEFT AOTEAROA I WAS SEARCHING FOR MY COMMUNITY, the people I could really connect with. But it was actually when I left that I started to meet New Zealanders overseas I really connected with and I’ve made beautiful friends. Many of them have now moved back to New Zealand. WHAT I MISS MOST ABOUT HOME IS THE NATURE. My base, when I visit, is Wānaka. I’ve been going there since I was a baby and it’s really such a special place to me. I have my little spots there by the lake, certain trees… It’s really home. My mum sends me all these nature pictures, which drives me insane because it makes me want to be back there.