Profile – Geneviève Gauckler

Humour and ethics combine in the work of Genevieve Gauckler to great effect, sparking interest from brands as well as private clients. John Stones talks to the French illustrator who is the subject of a new exhibition

‘The work is extremely simple – sometimes I worry that it is too simple,’ says French illustrator Genevieve Gauckler with a hearty laugh. But she has developed a distinctive visual language, almost of children’s book characters for adults, that has put her in great demand and is admired by many of her peers.

Fans include Graham McCallum, founder of Kemistry, and Dan Witchell, founder of Proud, who asked her to come up with a show in London for the Kemistry Gallery, which opens just as another solo exhibition closes in Paris.

Gauckler’s success has put her in the envious position of being able to work on a series of private projects, such as exhibitions and books, while at the same time being eagerly sought out by advertising agencies hoping that the magic of her seemingly naive characters could rub off on their clients’ brands.

For London, the show goes under the rubric Digitally Isolated. Working alone in her Paris studio, with only her laptop and dog for company, does she herself feel digitally isolated? ‘Absolutely not,’ she says. The theme was sparked by a discussion with friends about ‘how we need a broadband connection or we couldn’t live – I couldn’t do what I do without a connection to the Web’.

This conceptual germ, dependent on both words and images, is typical of her work, as is her infectious sense of humour and a sense of the ridiculous that leads to repeated outbursts of laughter when describing her work.

While Digitally Isolated features limited-edition silk-screened prints and acrylic paintings on canvas, Gauckler shies away from calling herself an artist. ‘I can’t see myself as an artist. For that you have to be like a monk, 100 per cent dedicated,’ she says. ‘I feel like an illustrator – perhaps I am underestimating my work.’
‘Obviously, I make my living with commercial work, which I also really enjoy. I don’t see any difference. It is the same thing and the same state of mind, and I always try to do my best. Here, of course, I am my own client.

‘But I am very into art and have spent a lot of time reading very boring catalogues,’ she adds. ‘At art school, I was particularly interested in conceptual art.’

Gauckler was in her thirties by the time she turned to illustration. Working for a short while in London ten years ago during the dotcom boom, she began the transition away from graphic design and art direction which had preoccupied her since graduating from the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs in Paris in 1991. ‘I began using Adobe Illustrator to create little characters. As a graphic designer, every step is important, right up to going to the printers and checking the colours, and so on. That isn’t really in my character, and so I decided illustration is better,’ she says, with a particularly big laugh.

Gauckler’s big break came in 2004 in a show called Yeah/Ouch at Colette in Paris, in which she populated the store with vinyl cut-outs of her little characters. Since then, work has been rolling in, including for some of the big brands such as Coca-Cola and Skype.

How does it feel to see her work achieve such prominence? ‘It’s funny and actually quite cool,’ she says. ‘I work on a laptop to create the image, which then, a year later, I see again while browsing on the same laptop.’

However, if she feels people don’t understand her work or that they wouldn’t get along, it’s best to say ‘no’, something Gauckler will also do if she dislikes the nature of the business, such as a loan shark or tobacco company. ‘I didn’t want to see my little characters on a cigarette packet. I was quite happy to turn that down,’ she says.

Gauckler very much sees her characters as having a life of their own, and would like to give them further expression by having them animated, something she has already begun to explore. Before that, however, is a project for ‘a new comic book to make some little stories with some messages of wisdom. I want it to be helpful’.

Digitally Isolated runs from 6 November to 19 December at the Kemistry Gallery, 43 Charlotte Road, Shoreditch, London EC2

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