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Meet the Artist: Isabelle Garbani

Brooklyn Arts Council

Jun 2007

Original Post

Posted on:
November 6, 2012
Posted in:
Featured Artists



Artist Statement

“I want to say one word to you. Just one word.... Plastics.” -- Mr. McGuire, The Graduate.

I grew up in France. As a teenager, I was contemplating a future which was, frankly, very depressing to me. The expectations from both my family and French culture did not seem to leave me any breathing room. I felt like my life was on rails: I was supposed to get my BAC, get married, have children, spend winter in Chamonix, and vacation at Club Med. Art was not even a possibility, or a glimmer of a hope.

In 1984, we moved to Boston. I discovered that American culture rewarded and praised individualism. I could finally invent and re-invent myself anytime, at any age. The cultural yoke was lifted and I was free to experiment and pursue my own dreams.

At the same time, I am still a French person, with strong political opinions, and I am aware of the corrosive influence of American culture abroad. A lot of my motivation to make art comes from this constant dichotomy in my life: this country is my home and not my home; it welcomes me and it rejects me; I love it and I hate it.

My choice of materials reflects this paradoxical view that I have of American culture. Plastic is indispensable and it is completely unnecessary; it is vital to our modern lives and it is harmful to our environment; it is a true technological achievement and a sign of our failure.

Where are you from? How long have you lived in Brooklyn?

I grew up in Northern France and we immigrated to the United States 28 years ago. I have been in the New York area 10 years, and 7 years in Brooklyn.

How long have you been a practicing artist?

I was a commercial artist in the 90's (I worked as a theater painter, and from 1995 to 2002 as an artist in the video games industry). I decided to go to graduate school in 2002 and I have dedicated myself to fine arts since. I consider my art career to have started upon graduation in 2004.

Who or what influenced your decision to become an artist?

My eureka moment came unexpectedly from a lunch conversation! I had studied theater design as an undergrad, and I had wanted to become a theater set designer. In the 90's, I was a freelance scenic painter and part-time designer. I was very dissatisfied with my work, but couldn't really understand why. I was taking fine arts classes as a continuing education student, and one day had lunch with a classmate. She was very blunt about her feelings about collaborative work, and told me she hated working with other people. I was at first shocked, then relieved! For the first time, I realized that it was ok to say I preferred to work alone on independent projects, and I have been focusing my artistic needs since then as a solo artist.

What do/did your parents do for a living and were they supportive of you becoming an artist?

My mother is a retired teacher and my father is now a systems analyst (I'm not 100% sure what that is!) My folks were not supportive of my choices when I was younger, but became very supportive after I attended graduate school, and it was obvious that I was a much happier person.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I attended Northwestern University as an undergrad, and the New York Academy of Art for an MFA in sculpture

What inspires you artistically?

American culture and how I fit or not fit into it as an immigrant is my main inspiration, though the ideas themselves come from a variety of places: literature, conversations with friends, current events, New York City, technology. My ideas are almost invariably “shower moments”.

Which other artists inspire you?

I get inspired from emerging artists around me: the unknown artists in the studios next to mine, dedicating their time and creative energy in artistic projects. They are much more inspiring than established artists for me.

What’s your favorite place in Brooklyn to visit for inspiration?

I go to the waterfront a lot. I live within walking distance of a series of park by the harbor that have amazing views of the Verrazano bridge.

Do you make a living from your art? If not, do you have a “day job” and what is it?

I do not make a living from my art, and sometimes wonder if making a living with one's art doesn't end up killing creativity. I see a lot of artists who are commercially successful who become trapped in a style or subject matter. Because I do not need money from art sales, I can experiment a lot more, and I am not afraid to make mistakes or throw away prototypes and ideas that do not work, or do projects that will not generate any money at all.

I have set up a small website business, so I can work from home, and have a very flexible schedule. I typically spend between 20 and 30 hours in the studio, and the rest of the time taking care of my clients. I don't have much of a social life!

How did you get started presenting your work publically? 

The first meaningful public artwork I did was for Figment's sculpture garden on Governors Island in New York. They are very supportive with their artists and gave me a lot of freedom to do my work, and I was completely in love with Governors Island then. It was also the first large scale project I completed, which gave me a lot of confidence. That exhibit inspired me to pursue public art and other venues: I was selected last April to go to Taiwan for a residency (The Cheng Long Environmental International Art Project). Having the time to focus on art only, without any professional or domestic responsibilities gave an incredible boost to my creativity and has shaped the rest of the year for me. I am currently working on a fairly ambitious project that I am calling the Gilgamesh Project that will most likely take me 2 years to complete!




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