from canary wharf magazine — words by Katy Parker
ALL MAPPED OUT
For artist Elisabeth Lecourt, the world is not just her oyster, but a source of inspiration for her map dresses
It can take some people an entire lifetime to discover their vocation, but for some, like artist Elisabeth Lecourt, it happened almost by chance, when she was just 14 years old. “I went to the local secondary school, which happened to specialise in art, and I had a fantastic art teacher – a real character – who spotted my potential before I did and instilled a lot of confidence in me.”
Lecourt was born and raised in Oloron-Sainte-Marie, France, before moving to London to study at Central Saint Martin’s and completing her MA at the Royal College of Art. Now, having uncovered her niche, the artist occupies a studio in Clapham and exhibits her work across the globe – in Europe, Asia and the USA – and now, Canary Wharf.
The area’s First Edition restaurant – which hosts regularly rotating displays of different artists – will be showcasing Lecourt’s work for the month of February, including the artist’s popular Les Robes Géographiques – or map dresses. Lecourt is thrilled: “I love Canary Wharf, it’s such a dynamic area with a fantastic energy.”
The idea for the map dresses started as a series of studies and sketches back in 2002. “I started making paper clothes to tell a story and construct a portrait of a person, using people such as Anne Frank for inspiration. For me, clothes say a lot about who we are as people. Then one day I was struck by an article I read about a man who was being sent to prison. At the end it mentioned that he had a sixyear- old daughter and I was inspired to create a dress using a map of London, positioning the prison where the heart is.”
Now, Lecourt makes not only dresses, but shirts and even kimonos out of reproductions of antique maps depicting destinations from Nepal to New York – mostly sourced from Stanfords bookstore in Covent Garden and eBay. I catch a glimpse of one particularly fascinating creation that has been crafted from a map of Francis Drake’s travels.
Lecourt can also work on specially commissioned bespoke pieces for clients, usually featuring maps of places that hold a certain significance for them. She relays the story of a project she worked on for “a couple with three children – the first was born in Tokyo, the second in New York and the third in London. I made a kimono from a map of Tokyo with a belt crafted from a map of New York and pockets using a map of London.”
Curated by Tatyana Dachyshyn, the exhibition will display Lecourt’s paintings alongside her map dresses, with the two designed to be hung side by side. I ask her which discipline she prefers. “It depends what mood I’m in. Sometimes I just love to paint, it takes me to a different place and requires less concentration. Meanwhile, the process of making the dresses
is more akin to sculpture, more tactile and precise. The techniques may differ, but the journey for me remains the same: I am aiming to create something beautiful and precious and this is the thread that runs through my work.”
As you would expect of an artist who works with maps, Lecourt loves to travel, citing St Petersburg and Mexico among the most inspirational places she has visited, but I wonder what drew her to complete her artistic study in London rather than France. “I think if you leave a country it is usually for a reason – France was not my place to be and launch a career, the art scene at the time felt remarkably male-dominated. The scene felt more real in the UK and when I arrived in England it seemed like anything was possible.”
I’m intrigued to know who Lecourt’s favourite artists are and what sort of art she hangs in her own home. She highlights the work of Louise Bourgeois, who for her represents “a strong character; she’s so free– and dangerous.” The walls of her house are lined with the likes of “Luc Tuymans, Peter Doig, Sophie von Hellermann – all contemporaries – and my daughter’s drawings!”
From First Edition, Lecourt will be taking her works to The Other Art Fair at Victoria House from 30 March to 2 April. After that, the sky’s the limit. With the world as her canvas, just how far she travels is down to her.
Elisabeth Lecourt : Tailored Cartography
1 February – 24 March
First Edition, Cabot Square
attend the opening night
and meet the artist 1 February, 6.30pm-11pm
“ I am always trying to make something beautiful and precious and this is the thread that runs through my work ”.