Sandrine Pelletier

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Eleanor Roosevelt, Thoughts magazine

Eleanor Roosevelt Punked Up, pencil and dry-transfer collage for 33 Thoughts magazine (U.K.), 2007. Art director: James Grubb.

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lives in Paris, France


Sandrine Pelletier’s sewn portraits and surreal tableaux are expertly crafted and surprisingly kinetic, but don’t expect tidy, traditional needlecraft: Her crewel is not meant to be kind. Instead, you’re more likely to see the canvases’ backsides, where the vacant eyes and mouths of her zombie children and backyard fighters “bleed” profusely by way of unruly red cotton strands. The internationally exhibited Lausanne native says she is more interested in showing evidence of the “almost violent” way she attacks her canvas with the needle, to better show raw emotion and the truth of her subject matter. Inspired by the Surrealists, Aubrey Beardsley, gothic art, and artifacts from her childhood such as Jim Henson’s Muppets (indeed, puppet-making was her first love after graduating from design school), Pelletier straddles the divide between fine art and design with gallery shows around the world and commercial assignments from clothing retailers and pop-culture magazines. A firm believer in art that is rooted in classical training, she nonetheless riffs off tradition with whatever medium suits her needs, be it stuffed, flying cats for a Tsumori Chisato in-store installation; portraits made of marbled lunchmeats for Yummy magazine; or a shoelace-fashioned road for the CD cover of a new Cassius Play release. Reflecting on her work, she also reveals a mastery for understatement: “I’m attracted to the unfamiliar,” she says with a laugh.

Where do you usually draw?I draw at home, where I have my studio. As I need a sewing machine most of the time, or complicated collage material, I can’t really work on the train, in public places, or outside. But I get most of my ideas when I travel.

What’s your most essential tool?A scalpel—the best tool to cut adhesive, fabric, and all sorts of things I experiment with—and a needle and thread, of course. I don’t do research on the internet; I like to consult books, especially craft books.

Who first taught you to draw or make art, and what do you first remember drawing? What do you most like drawing now?I remember very well my first artworks: dragons. I also loved to draw bodies, animals, insects, panic and terror scenes. When I started at the ECAL (Lausanne’s University of Art and Design), I was introduced to graphic design and contemporary art and had to put aside my popular-culture and teenage influences. But I now use them as often as classical ones I learned at school.

What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?I would be a dancer in Cats on Broadway. Seriously, I do have a fascination with ballet and all types of dance, because of the discipline, the grace, and the body use.

What do you like best about being an illustrator? Least?I don’t like it when clients ask you for illustrations they have seen in a gallery context. I like it when the position is clear, and both client and illustrator agree on the type of drawing or style that will work best with the product. But frankly, being an illustrator—or being able to make a living from any creative passion—is a real privilege.

Do you think your work is characteristic of Switzerland in some way?I really don’t think so. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I am interested in exploring the sociological phenomena of different countries, such as English backyard wrestling, Mexican lucha libre, or Russian arts and crafts.

Where would like to see your work most?I’d love to do a video for a band I admire, or work on creating characters and the set design for a special-effects movie.

If you could collaborate with another artist, living or dead, who would it be? Also, if you could illustrate any text, what would you pick?John Waters, Michael Jackson, David Cronenberg, Jim Henson. I would like to illustrate Sebastian Brant’s The Ship of Fools.

What’s your favorite museum in the world? Near where you live?Definitely the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, my hometown. Now I live in Paris, so it is a bit like living in a giant museum.

What’s the number-one thing that gives you energy and inspiration to keep making art?My mother and the Flashdance original soundtrack.