A good story: When Toogood was just out of college looking for a job she was invited to interview at the magazine The World of Interiors. Instead of the usual portfolio of school projects, the young Toogood marched into Editor-in-Chief Min Hogg’s office, and set a suitcase on the desk filled with fabric swatches and clippings from magazines of furniture and art that she liked.
The Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence is a small space on the grounds of a convent in Provence. It’s walls are adorned with simple line drawings of well-known Christian iconography – the stations of the cross, the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus, a priest in his vestments – and light pours in from several floor-to-ceiling panels of stained glass that are shockingly contemporary. Its designer, famed impressionist Henri Matisse, said of the chapel that it is “the fruit of my whole working life. In spite of all its imperfections, I consider it as my masterpiece.”
This chapel forms the basis for British designer Faye Toogood’s latest project: Assemblage 5, her first to be exhibited in the US at Friedman Benda in New York. Consisting of a mixture of furniture and objects across disciplines, the word Assemblage, as with everything Toogood does, connotes a multitude of meanings: “Assemblage really relates for me to the way that I work and am inspired at that particular time.” Toogood tells me, “Each range from the beginning has been amassing ideas, my vast ever-growing collection of natural objects, pieces found on walks along the Thames and my experiences in nature.”
A good story: When Toogood was just out of college looking for a job she was invited to interview at the magazine The World of Interiors. Instead of the usual portfolio of school projects, the young Toogood marched into Editor-in-Chief Min Hogg’s office, and set a suitcase on the desk filled with fabric swatches and clippings from magazines of furniture and art that she liked. Toogood spent much of the next decade at the magazine, leaving in 2008 to form her own design firm: Studio Toogood. Since then, she has come out with a line of furniture, and a unisex clothing line Toogood (in collaboration with her sister Erica), in addition to producing these Assemblages.
Another good story: when Matisse was recovering from an intestinal cancer operation in 1941 he hired a young local woman, Monique Bourgeois, to nurse him back to health. To the surprise of everyone, the cranky artist and the naïve young nurse struck up a lifelong friendship during his long convalescence, and when she decided to take vows as a Dominican sister, the famously secular painter rebelled fiercely. Bourgeois stood her ground though, and was placed at the convent at Vence, which neighbored Matisse’s property in Provence. Despite the disapproval of the sisters, Matisse and Bourgeois continued their friendship, and when Bourgeois, having taken the name Sister Jacques-Marie, brought Matisse a drawing of the assumption she had done, he insisted that it be turned into a stained glass and that it become the cornerstone of the chapel. “For the stained glass windows,” Toogood tells me, “Matisse broke down nature into just three colors – a bright yellow for the sun, green to represent plant life, and blue for the Mediterranean Sea. I’m deeply inspired by his approach to simplifying nature to its most fundamental parts; there is much of this in what I do and try to achieve.”
This simplifying instinct can be seen throughout her collections. Whereas Assemblage 1 (2010) explored the rural, Assemblage 5, Toogood says, “has a strong sense of spirituality at its heart, a spirituality associated with ancient notions of the elements, the idea that the divine is in everything equally. I took this as a starting point – the age-old attribution of living souls to the elements water, earth, and moon, and how you develop solid forms from this.”
The Assemblages also differ from collections or series’ by their reappropriation of forms that Toogood has used in the past. The Roly-Poly chair – a shallow bowl held up by stumpy legs that is equally children’s playroom and inventive minimalist reprises it’s debut from Assemblage 4, this time in sand-cast bronze with silver nitrate, cob composite, and lithium-barium crystal. The material choices are of course meaningful, in this case alluding to moon, earth, and water. “Each was an experiment into materiality and how to render these essential ideas into tangible shapes,” Toogood tells me, “The glass is optically-cast and aims to give form to flowing waters; silver nitrate bronze reflects the pale fire of the moon, and cob – an updated version of the prehistoric mud composite – represents the stabilizing force of solid earth.”
In the spirit of the Girlfriends Issue, I ask Toogood about how the friendship of women has been important to her. “I have the great privilege of being able to work with my sister Erica, with whom I design Toogood.” She tells me, “She is my oldest confidante and we have the benefit of shared history and memory to draw on, which has been incredibly central and special to what we have produced together.”
When the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence was opened in 1951, the press went wild with the story of the young nun who had lured the elderly painter into designing a chapel for her, but both Jacques-Marie and Matisse insisted that there was nothing there but a deep respect for one another. In a letter to a friend however, Matisse elaborated on that comment slightly, calling their bond a “fleur-tation,” because “what takes place between us is like a shower of flowers – rose petals that we throw at each other.”
Written by Amy Marie Slocum