Expat Week - Clemens Habicht, Illustrator, Paris

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
11th of June 2012
'Salty' Illustration by Clemens Habicht
Illustration by Clemens Habicht for Good Weekend Summer Fiction, 2011
Mirrorball Intro by Clemens Habicht for the Edinburgh International Film Festival

For a great number of talented Australian creatives, a stint living and working overseas seems to be a rite of passage. So many of our best and brightest designers, illustrators and photographers seem magnetically drawn to cities such as London, New York, Berlin and Paris -  can't say I blame them!  There really is nothing like a change of scenery to keep creative energy buzzing.

Whilst we usually tend to focus on local design happenings around here, I love to learn about Australian creatives making waves overseas, so this week we thought we'd spend some time shining a spotlight on a handful of talented Australian expats forging inspiring careers across the globe.  Yep that's right - it's EXPAT WEEK on TDF all this week!

We're kicking the week off with a little introduction to the work of amazing Illustrator / designer and film director Clemens Habicht, who is also joining us on the Guest Blog all this week!

Originally from Sydney, Clemens is now very settled in Paris, though he's often found travelling between the UK, France and Australia on all manner of creative projects!  Clemens is a truly versatile creative - he's perhaps best known for his delicate, papercut illustrations (which you might have spotted on the Meredith Music Festival branding for the past few years), but he's equally adept at creating beautiful, accomplished line drawings, and at the opposite end of the spectrum, directing live action music videos and TV commercials through his involvement with Sydney-based production company / design collective Collider.

I love hearing Clemens' thoughtful and affectionate words about his adopted hometown... for more of his insights into life as an Aussie expat in Paris, do pop by the Guest Blog this week to see Clemens' 'Faces of France' series.

Clemens is represented commercially in Australia by The Jacky Winter Group.

Can you give us a brief career bio - what led you to illustration and design and to what you're doing now?

As part of my visual communication degree I studied illustration under the inspirational enthusiasm of Edwina White who said some clever things I think she'd heard others say.  One idea she passed on was that it can be useful to think of the word 'draw' in terms of drawing something out - like drawing water from a well, another was that if you live an interesting life it is present in your work.

Presently I work professionally as an illustrator, a director of music videos and commercials, and as a designer primarily for print. I started into video through animation as an avenue to make illustrations en masse, but now direct mainly live action pieces. I work out of Paris for design clients through Collider and travel back to sydney when budgets allow it or weather demands it, and otherwise work on film projects in London and Paris and Sydney.

Illustration I work on remotely, from my studio here in Paris, helped out enormously by the great Jeremy Wortsman in Melbourne, and in Paris I assist with fine art projects in a production capacity - editing artists' films or playing roles in them and building works or producing catalogues for artist friends.

My bio highlights include speaking at the Antenna screenings in London, being commissioned to make the Mirrorball Festival Intro for the Edinburgh Film Festival, illustrating for the now sadly folded Bulletin magazine, being taken to New York to fly replica canvas kites for the Performa Biennale, and being invited to give a summer school at the Bauhaus in Weimar.

How and why did you end up in Paris?

It started as a somewhat foolhardy adventure and over the years circumstances and coincidences kept bringing me back 'til I started to miss it if I was away. I enjoy living in a strange place, and Paris I think will always strike me as strange, whereas I found myself beginning to understand how other places function - I doubt I will ever feel myself coming to the end of Paris.

Plus the day to day lifestyle is absolutely lovely. Often admired and imitated, here its just a natural rhythm that has evolved over time and so it does not feel forced or affected, no matter how clichéd it sounds when I describe it.  In general my work comes in fits and bursts so I appreciate the down times here the most, where a day doing nothing but wandering around and looking at things is a good day.

What have been some favourite recent projects or commissions?

I just finished off the fourth (!) Meredith Music Festival suite of illustrations which is always a highlight of the year.  The challenge is formulaic by my own design and steps up a notch in difficulty each year. It started with this idea of having an animal shape that masks out a detail of the festival, so the first year was owls and the shape revealed trees at sunset. Each year is a new animal but always a repeat of that idea of a suite of animals revealing a festival scene. This year the animal prescribed was the kangaroo, which, like many Australian animals, tend to look like badly drawn dog horses if unsuccessful. I filled their brown insides with dusty revellers dancing and carrying on, and made a series out of a mob of 7 individual roos. I get a little carried away and the boys of Meredith now mostly leave me to it or actually encourage that which is super.  Solving that visual puzzle is rewarding and feels right when its going the right way.

Illustration by Clemens Habicht for the Meredith Music Festival, 2010
Illustration by Clemens Habicht for the Meredith Music Festival, 2009

I completed the design of the Sydney Biennale Catalogue which is due to launch this month in time for the show, and I'm putting in finishing touches on a music video for the band PVT, which I just shot last week in Sydney - stay tuned, new album out around September.

What are you looking forward to?

I'm due a bit of travel in the coming months, it's almost summer and I've been all heads down at my table without much play for the last few months - so Rome, Cannes and Corsica are planned so far.  Looking forward to a little music and film work in Paris, should I be able to squeeze it in before summer breaks here and the Olympics shut down the other side of the channel.  I'm enjoying being reunited with my lovely studio and all its joys so hopefully a few tricky illustration ideas - I don't easily sit still and I have an idea for a new show to follow the 100 kitesI exhibited in Melbourne in 2009.  And I'm working on a self initiated animation project I will be shooting in my basement, its a slow burner and I imagine will take me through to the end of the year.

Your favourite neighbourhood in Paris?

The ninth, around the Trudaine, my neighbourhood - it can be like that, where you are you find you love. My old favourite used to be my old neighbourhood near the Carreau du Temple, but now I've moved its this one. Paris is full of little shops and shop keeps and you become familiar to them and they to you and its a very neighbourly thing, like Sesame Street.  You end up chatting to people on your street who are the ones who sell you fruit or bread, and life is lived a lot out of home, so while it is a very dense city, you start to see the same people and they become a part of your own personal routine and experience.  Presently I live at a junction between a quite fancy traditional french street where there are shops with cheese and macaroons, the North African district with men spilling out of mosques and bars, and a French version of the Ivory Coast where the markets sell flamed pigs feet and many types of root vegetables I don't recognise.  And Gare du Nord is my closest Metro so London is under 3 hours away from my front door.

Paris' best kept secret?

Well, It might not be such a secret, but in the Marche des Enfants Rouge (which is on corner Rue Charlot and Rue de Bretagne) is a man who sells old photos.  It's a lovely store kept with pride and style and filled with boxes which hold a vast collection of selected and fascinating black and white images. You can go to him and describe something you have in your mind and he will give you a box to go through and you will find it there.  He has a great eye and most all the photos I wish I could keep, it's quite overwhelming, and that reflects the care someone took in taking the image in the first place.

Going there I come out with my head overflowing with ideas, and like a good exhibition, seeing just two or three images keeps me going for ages.  He has individually priced each one of the many thousands and placed each in a clear envelope and classified them into more and more specific categories, like the old wooden drawers of library catalogues.  That level of organisation on its own is something to witness.  They aren't exactly cheap but they are one offs, candid snaps collected from what I imagine are dissolved family estates, and as an image search engine it's like commissioning a photographer to travel back in time to take that vague image in my head down in black and white on beautiful old photo stock.

Bicycletta Restaurant logo illustration by Clemens Habicht

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