With inscrutable round eyes, Geneviève Gauckler’s potato-shaped characters stand and stare. Long-limbed aliens, they gaze like bemused tourists at fantastical photomontage landscapes and monsters, built by their creator from bits of metal, plastic toys, flowers and fur. ‘A character is an extension of its creator,’ says Gauckler of her illustrations. Describing herself as ‘curious, curious, curious’, she talks about being ‘into everything and constantly amazed’. Like her characters, Gauckler jokingly claims she, too, sometimes feels like an extraterrestrial, ‘constantly discovering the world’.
Born in Lyon in 1967, Gauckler now lives in Paris. She works from home, the contents of which she photographs constantly, as well as the surrounding streets. ‘I take photos of pretty much everything to get a wide image bank. I do the same with vector shapes,’ she explains. Inspiration lurks everywhere – ‘on the TV, in the supermarket, travelling, on the streets’, Gauckler says. She cites illustrators she admires, among them Klaus Haapaniemi, Kam Tang and James Jarvis. She’s a fan of Saul Bass, Paul Rand and Alexey Brodovitch, and enjoys sourcing rare books about graphic design. She has a weakness for science fiction, in particular Robocop, Alien and Pixar films. ‘I also quite like going to the country, seeing horses, cows and animals in general,’ she says.
Graduating from the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in 1991, Gauckler worked as a freelance graphic designer until five years ago, when she began channelling her skills into illustration. Her graphic design background gives her an interesting perspective on technology – rather than using it to take short cuts, Gauckler lets the computer challenge her. ‘I’m very influenced by the tools I use, be it Illustrator, Photoshop or hand-drawing. When I’m using Illustrator to create a character, it’s easier to get a simple, symmetrical character because the software is very rigid,’ she says. ‘Mixing [tools] is also very important. By mixing bitmap and vector shapes, you can get some very exciting images.’
She spends a lot of time sorting and preparing the footage she records. ‘I don’t need a lot of room to make my images, just a computer, a couple of digital cameras, a scanner, some pencils, paints and a printer,’ Gauckler explains. ‘When I start a new project, I need a few days just to think. As soon as I start the job, I’m quick – the quicker the better – I get bored very quickly.’ Asked to describe her work, she talks of its innocence. ‘I’m happy when it’s energetic and unpretentious,’ she comments. ‘I’m not interested in style, I’m just trying to build up a world, like a child playing with toys.’
Gauckler likes exploring different media, turning her hand to graphic and product design as well as animation, interiors and textiles. A member of animation collaborative Pleix, Gauckler’s clean, simple designs lend themselves naturally to the moving image, as can be seen in the video Y’a des Zazous, for avant-garde musician Brigitte Fontaine. For two years Gauckler has worked alongside advertising agency Talents Only on campaigns for cosmetics company Bourjois. She has also made stuffed toys and fabrics with Japanese toy company Medicom. Through EventLabs and Volkswagen Germany, she has designed three rooms for the Hotel Fox, Copenhagen, where visitors are lulled to sleep by large monsters who loom from the walls, ordering residents to rest (in bedlinen also designed by Gauckler).
Among her favourite projects is a series of billboards developed in collaboration with Big Active for a Lane Crawford store in Hong Kong. ‘The idea was to gather and photograph items sold [in the store] and then build up an architectural landscape from them,’ Gauckler explains. Thousands of photographs – of store items and of views around Hong Kong – appear in the posters.
She also singles out her comic book L’Arbre Genialogique. ‘It was the first time I gave my characters personalities and feelings,’ she says. ‘They express themselves through external attributes: antennae, wings, weapons, tails, fur, tentacles and insect legs.’ The comic traces the family tree of 60 generations of characters. Gauckler’s accompanying text is written in the style of a wildlife documentary. ‘An ironic, comedy effect may be observed in the contrast between the neutrality of the speech and the weird look of the characters,’ she explains.
In June, an exhibition of Gauckler’s work opens at the Galerie Sara Gued, Paris. ‘The main theme is “too much”: too much food, too much money, too much pollution,’ she says of the large photomontages she plans to show. Compiled from thousands of images, they are deceptively simple pictures. ‘I try to build images that are legible, that have a strong structure,’ she says. ‘No confusion, just a simple idea. The real world is confusing enough – I like to put some order in it.’