A London exhibition of Nicole Farhi’s curvaceous nudes takes shape

A London exhibition of Nicole Farhi’s curvaceous nudes takes shape

‘I never fell in love with fashion,’ says the former designer turned artist Nicole Farhi. ‘I liked the pace of making collections but I never felt passionate about it in the way I feel about sculpture.’

Nicole Farhi founded her eponymous womenswear brand in London in 1983, but seven years ago, decided to quit the industry to focus on crafting not clothing, but clay. ‘I got into sculpture when I was 15,’ she says. ‘When I arrived in Paris in 1966 to study fashion, I went twice a week to the Académie de la Grande Chaumière to do life drawing and painting. I never knew then I would become a sculptor.’

Nicole Farhi in her conservatory-cum-studio

Having been taught by British visual artist Jean Gibson and later mentored by the renowned late Scottish sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi, Farhi’s works are now the subject of a new exhibition at the Beaux Arts in London. Titled Folds, the show includes a series of female nudes — mainly torsos. ‘It’s a celebration of the female body,’ she says, of the jesmonite and bronze sculptures that were modelled on two of Farhi’s friends — Sue Tilley, a former muse of Lucian Freud, and Paola Barone: Farhi first cast their bodies in plaster to create life-size replicas of their curves.

‘I wanted to show the flesh and the powerful sexual energy curvaceous women have,’ she says, having zoomed in on certain body parts to achieve a feeling of abstraction. ‘Each fragment is different but they are all about the human form and the emotion it elicits,’ she says. ‘Some parts of the body reminded me of nature — the folds become waves or sand dunes.’

These sand dunes are the ‘perfect antidote to what you are expected to see in the fashion industry,’ she says. ‘I wanted to show real women, I always found flesh more appealing than bones.’ Her lifestyle and working practices today are as distinct from fashion as her muses are. ‘My studio is in an old conservatory in the garden of my house, but it used to take me an hour to get to work,’ she says.

The only similarity, she insists, is in curating. ‘It’s in the building of the series of work. I take photographs of each sculpture and keep looking at them, like I did while designing a fashion collection,’ she says. ‘But these days, I wear the oldest, comfortable ragged sweatshirts and Ugg boots to work in.’ Entirely different indeed. §

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