By Lily Smith and Elsie Morrow
European artist Isabelle de Borchgrave’s paper dresses are making their North American debut at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens. Read more about how de Borchgrave and other paper focused artists found their unique and beautiful medium.
Like most people, artist Isabelle de Borchgrave did not set out on her professional path with her current career in mind. De Borchgrave is a Belgian artist who, after training at the Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, Belgium, began her career hand-painting silk dresses. Eventually, she opened her own business selling her silk dresses and personal paintings. Later in her career, de Borchgrave transitioned interior design, but ultimately decided she had one true passion: fashion. Both interests then led to a happy medium: creating signature paper dresses.
Isabelle de Borchgrave’s paper dresses are making their North American debut at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens. Her exhibit at the Dixon, “Fashioning Art from Paper,” displays several collections including “Les Ballets Russes”, “Papiers à la Mode,” “The World of Mariano Fortuny,” “The Kaftans” and “Splendor of the Medici,” each featuring 60 intricate dresses all appearing to the eye as if made of expensive fabrics and embroideries. Throughout her exploration of various cultures and fashion trends — spanning over 500 years — every dress stays true to one thing: they are all made of paper.
For each dress, de Borchgrave and her team of designers, artists, and historians conduct extensive research and meet with fashion designers to dream up a prototype for a potential dress that will satisfy their vision. Once the design is finalized, each piece of paper for the new dress is crumpled, dampened, ironed, fluffed, painted, glued, or folded until the paper perfectly replicates the texture of that of the fabric de Borchgrave has in mind. After roughly eight busy weeks of construction, the masterpiece is complete.
Gabriella Coulabaritis (10) attended a Q&A session with de Borchgrave, who spoke on her art and inspiration. Coulabarits says, “I was inspired by [the] unlimited ways art can be created, and you can see this in de Borchgrave’s work which could possibly create an entire new genre of art in itself.”
However, de Borchgrave is not the only trailblazing paper artist. Justin Bowles, a Memphis paper artist, has her exhibit, “Boukay,” displayed at the Dixon alongside de Borchgrave’s. Similar to de Borchgrave’s innovation, Bowles collects newspaper, cardboard, and paper coffee cups and other paper materials to create vibrant and colorful works of art for her signature display: shadow boxes and self-invented “Force Fields.” The shadow boxes are still-lifes inspired by the work of Dutch artists, and her “Force Fields” are inspired by quilt patterns that originated as gifts from her grandmother. Bowles’ art expresses nature, color, and patterns, hoping to spark creativity within her audience.
Maddie Jenks (11), who attended the exhibit with the St. Mary’s Art Club, says, “The art was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I would encourage everyone to go see it because it is a great way to spend time relaxing on the weekend while also seeing some of the great art Memphis has to offer.”
These pieces and more are on display at the Dixon until Jan. 7. Admission is $3 from Monday - Saturday and free on Sunday. The Dixon is open Monday - Saturday 10a.m. - 5p.m. and Sunday 10a.m. - 12p.m.