In Ingrid Donat’s All-Embracing Artistic Practice, Beauty and Craftsmanship Prevail
The artist’s one-of-a-kind designs are created with the support of specialist artisans at the Workshop launched by Carpenters Workshop Gallery
- By Karen Chernick
- Meet the Artists
Ingrid Donat aims for the whole of her designs to be magnificent, even the components you would normally never see. She crafts the drawers of her sculpted bronze commodes, for instance, such that they can each be removed, turned 360 degrees, and appreciated from every angle. “It’s important that when you open my furniture, everything is finished. That everything looks beautiful on the outside and on the inside,” shares the Paris-based artist and designer. “Detail is very important to me.” One such detail is the way she lines the insides of her drawers with embossed leather, the pattern of the imprint matching the one she has elaborately hand-engraved on the outer surface of the piece.
Even the studio where Donat sketches and develops her pieces with her team, in the Marais neighborhood where she also lives, is a complete aesthetic experience. It sits in an apartment filled with unique objects she has picked up on her travels, despite being a workspace. The walls are lined with display shelves filled with ceramics and masks, a mood board, and an area where she works out color combinations. At the center of the studio is a living room. “I need, when I work, to feel like I’m at home,” says Donat, who began her career by producing custom furniture for her own living space.
While her studio closest to her home is where Donat develops, she creates in her second studio located in the Paris suburb Mitry-Mory. Her space is located in the Carpenters Workshop Gallery Workshop, launched by Carpenters Workshop Gallery in 2016, which specializes in collectible design and represents Donat. The Workshop was created to offer artists the opportunity to experiment and innovate with the help of specialist artisans. Donat is supported by craftsmen whose skilled hands are able to transform materials including wax, bronze, wood, and fabric, among others. “They enable me to push techniques further and answer to bigger challenges in my design,” she shares. Much like her Marais studio, Donat has created a familial environment at the Workshop, surrounding herself with objects, furniture, books, and fabrics she has collected over time.
Donat’s yearning for all-embracing artistic environments—certainly at home, and also at work—began during her childhood in Sweden when she lived in an Art Deco home designed by her grandfather. Every room and feature was lavished with custom attention, from the Cubist paintings commissioned for the two-story chimney to the etched windows in the primary bathroom. At a time when bathrooms were typically white, the one her grandfather designed had black fixtures and celadon green tiles, with light streaming in through a hand-engraved and oversized window. “It was a special house. My grandfather loved interiors and always changed things,” Donat shares. “I do the same.”
Donat believes that hailing from a creative family—one that included an architect grandfather and a father who was a painter—was a major influence, more so than the brief year she studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, her sole source of her formal training. Led by intuition and a desire to live among beautiful things, she started sculpting in the early 1980s from a block of clay that gardeners happened upon while excavating her backyard. Using this block of hyper-locally sourced material, still speckled with stones and leaves of grass, Donat sculpted a pregnant self-portrait. Seeing the joy it brought her, her husband gifted her professional equipment, an artist’s robe, and higher quality clay. This sparked a fervor for sculpture, inspiring her to create sculptures of her children and friends, and quickly learning new skills as she found a need for them.
Eventually she began to yearn for something larger, and functional: a large coffee table that she could imagine in her mind but couldn’t seem to find anywhere on the market. At this time, smaller coffee tables were most desirable, and the monumental option she was seeking to match her large sofa was nowhere to be found. She turned to her friend, sculptor and designer Diego Giacometti, to ask if he could make her one. His advice was that she did not need him. “Do it yourself,” Donat remembers him encouraging her. “You’re a sculptor.”
Creating that coffee table, followed by other pieces for herself, was how Donat began an unplanned career in collectible design. Guests would encounter the pieces in her home and commission her to produce works for them. To this day, most of her pieces are custom, one-of-a-kind designs, with few being produced in limited editions (usually with a maximum of eight). From friends and acquaintances who asked Donat to create things for them, her works have now been collected by celebrities such as Tom Ford and Brad Pitt, Yves Saint Laurent, and Maison Chanel.
Donat begins her works of functional art with an idea or source of inspiration, such as the jewel-like embellishments on Art Deco pieces or a Nigerian mask with scarification that she saw years ago and has deeply influenced the engraved surfaces of many of her works. She then drafts her design on paper and works with a member of her team to translate the drawing into three-dimensional imaging. After revising this image, she has a prototype made in polystyrene and revises this until she achieves the desired shape and proportions. Donat then coats the prototype with wax sheets and begins engraving it using specialized tools that she has designed herself, almost tattooing the surface of the object with pattern. One of her signature patterns is repetitive circles, but one often finds repeating patterns produced with squares and lines in her work. Only after this model is finished is an elastomer mold made with an impression, and the bronze is cast. The final stages are polishing, assembly, and patination.
Donat has been exhibiting her work publicly since 1998, when Parisian gallery owner Bernard Dulon offered to show a selection of her sculptures, floor lamps, and tables in an exhibition titled Meubles Sculptures. Five years later, she began exhibiting with American art dealer Barry Friedman, and in 2006 she joined the international Carpenters Workshop Gallery, co-founded by her son Julien Lombrail.
As her work has evolved from figurative sculptures made with garden clay to robust commodes, tables, and mirrors, the importance she places on wholistic enjoyment of her pieces has remained a constant. Recently, that idea has expanded to commissions for complete spaces that include her custom furniture. “Before, I created only the furniture,” she says. “Now clients ask me to work on the walls, the ceiling, the floors, and the carpets—everything,” expanding the possibilities for Donat’s multifaceted practice.
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