IN CONVERSATION WITH ENZO PÉRÈS-LABOURDETTE
interview by MAREK BARTEK
A multi-talented artist from Amsterdam, Enzo is celebrated as an illustrator, author, and visionary vegan chef. Recently, he completed an art piece for the new Swatch store at P.C. Hooftstraat, which is the second large-scale art of his exhibited in Amsterdam. Named one of the ‘Top 100 New Creatives to Watch’ by CMYK Magazine, his works were published in The New York Times, book and even graced one of Valentino collections.
One of your latest commissions was the artwork for the new Swatch store, and it’s named Stargazer’s Canal. However, unlike your usual illustrations, these are the two 3D ceramic works. So, can you tell me a little bit more about that? And what was the process like? What inspired you and how did you come across this opportunity?
Swatch reached out to me because last year I designed A huge monument for the city of Amsterdam. The monument consists out of two huge walls that I illustrated, and Swatch was looking for somebody who could do ceramics and they had quite a short deadline. I got a brief that they wanted canal houses and an artist to reinterpret it. I live in Amsterdam, so I cycled around at night, and what I noticed was that the houses themselves are very nice, but what’s extra beautiful about Amsterdam, is when you have a nice night, you’ll see the reflections of the buildings in the canals, and you’ll see the moon and the trees in the water. And so, I thought it would be nice to incorporate this in the art piece. The houses are all done in this kind of Delft blue Dutch style ceramic look and painted decorations on the buildings. At the bottom of the buildings, there are waves and patterns that reminds of water, towards the front of the building, you can see the motifs of plants growing. And then there’s rainy clouds, because we have a lot of those in the Netherlands, and the tops of the buildings are all filled with three-dimensional stars and clouds. To bring this to life, I made a lot of sketches of the buildings and the decorations and brought in a lot of photographs for references of wooden carved flowers from Japanese temples or the way flowers have been carved on the Art Deco buildings in New York. The 3D models were partially carved from wood, partially from 3D printed recycled plastic. And then everything’s like hand-sanded and hand-painted. On top I applied my paintings and several layers of ceramic glaze to make it look very shiny.
It already sounds super complicated, but I can imagine with the timeframe that you got that it must have been even more intense than it sounds.
Yeah, it was very intense. We basically worked around the clock because the pieces are huge, each 5 meters wide, 1,6 meters high. When you hear 3D printing, people think that you only have to press a button and it’s done. But there’s so much work involved in making the digital model. We had in total nearly 900 separate parts that had to be painted, lacquered, and then assembled.
But then you mentioned that this actually wasn’t the first time you worked with ceramics, right? Because the work that you did for the city of Amsterdam in the east was also the work with ceramic, right?
Yeah. Although the big difference was that this new piece was completely three dimensional and then the monument was all tiles.
Well, I’m super excited to see what you’re going to make next, but I really want to go a little bit back to your previous work because you’ve done quite a lot of work for The New York Times. But it’s oftentimes on a topic that carry a lot of like socio-political significance. You’ve covered the topics like ‘Legal Hunt on Tigers’, ‘Oil Versus Wind Power’ or ‘The Disappearance of The Indigenous Tribes’. How do you approach creating for such articles? Do you feel like you need to like to agree with the author or what’s your process in that?
Well, I feel I don’t necessarily need to agree, because especially with a client such as the New York Times, I often don’t even have the article when I’m making the illustrations. The job of the illustrator is really to also research the topic and make it in a way that a message comes across immediately when you see the image, that it’s not just decoration. We, as illustrators, usually get called when they can’t use photography. So that may be because that subject is either too grim or a photographer is not available to go to like the location or the article is about a very abstract concept. And then it comes down to, yeah, having a certain kind of finesse, a certain kind of empathy, I guess, to be able to bring across the topic. It’s definitely challenging, and it comes with a lot of sketches. To make a piece for The New York Times, there are like 10 or 12 sketches and then, you need to improve them every time. There’s a lot of editors and art directors looking over your shoulder to make sure that everything is sensitive and serious and really bringing across the message. They’re very strict but it also often feels like those are some of my best illustrations.
On top of illustrations for the newspapers and the magazines and books, you have also collaborated with Maison Valentino on a print for their menswear collection. What was that like?
Actually, first I thought it was a prank because I just got a very short email saying: “Dear Mr. Pérès-Labourdette, Pierpaolo Piccioli will set up a call with you tomorrow about working on the new menswear collection.” That’s all. I was like, is this a prank or something? And but no, it was real. So, the next day I was just having a video call with the whole Valentino team and Pierpaolo Piccioli in Italy. What they said is there is a theme of the collection, Zootopia and they’d like me to think of something. And that was basically the whole brief. And then we texted on WhatsApp, like directly with Pierpaolo I just sent him like endless amounts of sketches. It’s a very different process because Valentino is more about finding a certain kind of elegance and beauty that feels very like unforced, like it just happened by accident, which of course it never does.
Well, I don’t want to strip you of any of your titles. I know you are an illustrator, you mentioned you’re an author, but I also know you’re a vegan chef. How did you come to this state of doing all this together and how do you manage to combine all these very different disciplines in your life?
Barely managing, so tired. Just kidding! I feel that all these disciplines are indeed very different but also have one thing in common and that is creativity! The vegan thing was just actually by accident. There’s a big TV show here, called “Heel Holland Bakt” and I used to watch it with my husband criticize everybody that was in the show. And then, my friends started joking saying I should apply. I did, I got in unexpectedly and then I won the whole show, which was also unexpected. It was really one of the most intense experiences of my life, but it was a lot of fun. I’m not somebody who’s ever about to open a bakery, I’m more into the creative side of the work. But recipe writing really isn’t that much different from illustrating in a way. The technique is different but it’s all creative work. The thing with illustration and writing recipes, is that on top of both being creative, it’s also problem solving, which is something I just really enjoy. To have certain parameters or rules you must work within, it really pushes my creativity.
You seem like you’ve got a lot going on. Are there any upcoming projects that you are super excited about that we should be looking forward and that you can share with us?
It was a kind of a crazy two months because I had the Swatch project and now, I’m finishing up my next cookbooks. It’s going to be my first solo debut. It has over 80 recipes, approximately 300 pages. All the photography and recipes, that’s all really inspired by my childhood. And my family comes from all over the world. My mom is from the UK, my dad is from France and my grandmother is from Algeria and my great grandparents are from Spain. So, it’s all these food influences coming together and it’s all plant based, of course. So that’s something I’m super excited about it’s coming out in October. And then I’ve nearly finished Book of Asian Fairytales written by Pete Wu, who’s a Dutch Chinese author who’s super talented. I’m not sure when it’s coming out, so I can’t tell you specific dates.
Sounds exciting! Well, that was my very last question. But thank you so much for taking the time and for chatting with me for a little bit.
Thank you, too!