I don’t know anyone whose walls or shelves wouldn’t be able to seamlessly accept one of Katrien De Blauwer’s chic cut collage pieces, they’re absolutely lovely on their own and/or easily work with anything else they’re displayed next to. My wife and I got our first one from Katrien’s Paris gallery a few years ago and we actually had trouble deciding where to put it as it instantly made every spot we tried more attractive. I don’t want to go into detail here describing them—there is Google, Katrien’s IG, and her elegant books she’s done with the equally elegant Swedish publisher Libraryman that’ll do that, so please look!—just know that they wouldn’t exist without print. Katrien’s deceptively simple use of space, cropping, color, and anonymous alluring images from magazines of yesteryear create their own stories in each viewer’s mind. I can’t believe a US publisher of literary fiction hasn’t yet used one of her collages on a cover, to me the combination of mood and beauty are screamingly obvious to attract buyers who’ll actually read it as well as IGers who are always looking for their next book to “smarten up” their lifestyle shot. I predict it’ll happen soon and I hope this small endorsement helps as the book would look lovely on its own and/or with anything else it’s displayed next to... -Wes Del Val
WDV: How many books and magazines would you say are currently in your home and studio and how do you generally treat them?
KDB: At the moment there’s a lot of everything, difficult to say how many but it’s getting too full and there’s not much space anymore to stack things up. The atelier is quite small and everywhere you look you see magazines, loose papers, notes, pictures, old and new books, postcards and works. It’s a collection of what I like, what I want to keep and what I want to work with.
My greatest concern is that soon these beautiful magazines won’t exist anymore, which makes me treat them with care and respect. This is also the reason I cannot throw anything away and I like to be surrounded by them.
The books are mostly situated in the living room. Here you will find all reading, photography and art books. I’m thinking of moving to another home (and/or city) that has more space.
Yes, an opportunity for more space for anyone who loves printed material is just about the greatest thing, but then there’s the moving of everything…
The good thing is I just found a large house in the countryside (where I was born) with a big atelier where I will have more overview and space to keep order in my magazine archive. At first I tried to throw away some of the magazines but probably they will move to the new house, too.
I don’t associate your work with images from recent magazines, so what is the breakdown in your atelier between old magazines and say those from the past three years? Do you have a favorite magazine decade? And what sparked your love of magazines to begin with?
I’m quite addicted to buying magazines, especially fashion and photography ones, but I don’t cut these newer magazines. I will keep them and who knows, maybe in ten years will pick them up again.
There’s an order in the magazines I keep. In the atelier you’ll find all kinds of vintage ones which I consider as working material while the newer magazines are now piled up in the living room.
My favourite magazine decade is without doubt the 1960s, also because it was a very creative, inspiring period. I would have loved living in those years.
When I was very young, maybe 10 or 11, my father kept family albums with pictures and I wasn’t allowed to touch them. But I did anyway. I even sometimes stole pictures from these albums (which I still have). This made me want to start cutting up old magazines and make my own albums.
Describe what an ideal weekend looks like which leads to satisfying time spent reading?
I don’t see that much difference between weekends and weekdays but during the weekends I take more time to read and I also try to read the newspaper (especially the culture section and interviews). I have a large collection of notebooks where I write/cut and glue down things I read and find interesting. It’s something obsessive.
Books are becoming more important in my work because I use them as inspiration to base a theme on. Last year would have been an important year for me but with the pandemic almost everything was canceled. I had a solo show at Les Rencontres in Arles and the work was partly inspired by the book Commencer (How It Is) by Samuel Beckett. In French the word has a double meaning: “to start” and “how it is.”
During the lockdown I read again L’astragale by Albertine Sarrazin which became the inspiration and reference for my series “Les Soireès d’Albertine,” which was also partly based on and named after the character from the Proust novel La Prisonnière.
In my latest book (and series) You Could at Least Pretend to Like Yellow, I only use yellow, the color I hate the most. For me it’s the color that represents jealousy, untrustworthiness, rage and cheating and it’s quite strange that this color appeared in my work during the lockdown when I was in doubt, anxious and overexcited. A coincidence was that when Tony Cederteg from my publisher Librayman came to select the works for the book, it reminded him of the Swedish film by Vilgot Sjöman I Am Curious (Yellow). The funny thing was the next day I found in an antique bookshop the complete scenario of the movie.
Wow, that’s quite the linkage.
What newspaper/s do you like reading and do you recall what culture articles or interviews particularly grabbed you the past six months?
I read two Flemish newspapers on the weekends: De Morgen and De Standaard. Mostly I’m interested in the culture supplement. If an article interests me I cut it out and keep it in a map. These are mainly interviews with photographers, musicians, writers and artists.
Recently I found very touching in an interview an image of a woman. She looked into the lens and was so fragile, strong and riddled at the same time. I read the article without knowing who she was and found out she was raped at the age of 12. It was Fiona Apple and I immediately started listening to her music and became a big fan.
What a way to be introduced to her, especially as she’s been recording for around 25 years!
What are books you’re very happy you read, but you never desire to do so again?
The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights by Joan Didion are both fantastic books but make me very scared. I bought them a long time ago before I could move myself to actually read them. She is a brilliant, iconic and honest writer full of passion and also moving, touching, strong and fragile at the same time. When I read these books that deal with the loss of a loved one, it brings back memories of my own past. Sometimes I force myself to read more about this subject. I’m not easygoing with these books, but at the same time I find it very intriguing to read how others think and go through this process that is the hardest in one’s life.
When is the last time laughter nearly brought tears after reading something?
Platform by Michel Houellebecq has unforgettable taunting scenes. The part where he describes himself travelling with a group to Thailand, observing the characters and group mentality is hilarious. I also enjoyed the movie The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq where he plays himself as a character who is easy to feel sorry for but who also manages to get his way at the same time. For example the part when he complains to his kidnappers about the quality of the wine and how he gets it done that they arrange a girl for him to spend the night with.
Marcel Proust is quite funny sometimes. The first time I read “Combray” (the first part of The Remembrance of Things Past) I laughed a lot when he described his hypersensitivities. A few people I know really have a kind of Proustian character/attitude and when I see them they always make me think of scenes from his books.
What do you consider are the most eccentric subjects you like to read about?
At the moment I’m reading The Drinker by the German writer Hans Fallada. It’s partly autobiographical (like many of his books), in diary form and tells the story of a man in the grip of alcohol. It’s quite shocking but also very original. Normally I don’t like to read about alcoholism but his style and neurotic behaviour is so intriguing that I want to read everything he published.
If I like a writer I want to know him or her better and the first thing I look for is biographical material to get a grip on them as a person and dive deeper into their world.
Recently I got a commission to make images for the covers of the Copenhagen trilogy by Tove Ditlevsen. Of course I started to look for more information about her and found out that the three books were freshly translated and published in Dutch, too. It’s a dark, gripping portrait of childhood, addiction, affairs, abortions and bad relations.
What have been your most rewarding deep dives into a writer’s life?
At the moment I’m reading the Cahiers 1943-1949 by Marguerite Duras. I found out that most of her novels are autobiographical. Her stories are very rude, sometimes hard but also very emotional and she manages to write it down in a very clear observative style. She writes in a very cinematographic way.
Who posts pictures of books on Instagram that you like?
One of the people I follow on Instagram is Philippe Azoury for his intelligent and strange choice of books, records and pictures of street life. Through him I discovered the photographer Corrine Day. When I saw a picture he posted of a young girl coloring her hair, I was very touched and attracted. I immediately looked up who Corinne was to find out she died much too young of a brain tumor. Unfortunately her book Diary, which is a treasure, is also completely sold out.
I don’t get why in addition to Diary there is so little of Corinne’s work in print?!
Are there other books you feel are treasures but sadly are also completely sold out or go for wild prices online?
I discovered this by accident and I don’t search for rare or expensive books. My interest truly lies in vintage magazines, which are also starting to get rare and expensive sometimes. Some well-known vintage fashion magazines are going for really wild prices.
Are there specific colors or design elements which you find usually draw your attention when you’re scanning covers in a bookstore?
Mostly by black & white pictures.
Knowing your work, that’s not at all surprising...
What do you use as bookmarks?
I love it when books have a string attached as a bookmark ribbon. They give a feeling of nostalgia and you can touch it (or even play with it) while reading the book. Otherwise I don’t pay much attention and mostly use a leftover piece from one of my magazines I use to make my work. Tony Cederteg made a very nice bookmark for my little publication Dirty Scenes showing a detail of a flower overpainted in yellow. I still use it today.
Me, too, the playing with the ribbon and the favorite pages ripped out of magazines. I have close to three decade’s worth.
What books in your life were you most excited to read and they lived up to,
and even exceeded your expectations?
The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk was very exciting to read. I liked the main male character’s obsession with objects and especially the fact that the author crossed the boundaries of the book by creating a real museum that accompanies it. I did not have the chance to see the museum in person but have the photo book at home and it’s fascinating to see a collection of everyday objects that became the memories of a love affair.
What did you read last year which transported you furthest from your then states of mind?
Last year I read House of the Sleeping Beauties by the Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata. It’s an intriguing story about a man who becomes a member of a club of elderly gentlemen who can spend the night in a house with a young beautiful girl that’s sleeping nude when they arrive. Because of his visit to the house of the sleeping beauties where he always sleeps next to another girl, memories from the past emerge through seeing and smelling. The book became a starting point for an exhibition I’m working on where I turn the points of view to those of the sleeping girls and their dreams.
I don’t know it, but it seems VERY Japanese and perfect for you to explore in your work. Thanks Katrien!
Katrien De Blauwer