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IN CONVERSATION WITH MARTIEN MULDER

IN CONVERSATION
WITH MARTIEN MULDER

CREATIVE DIRECTOR EMILY SMITH CHATS WITH THE PHOTOGRAPHER WHOSE MARFA, TEXAS, PORTFOLIO INSPIRED PRE-FALL 2024. ​


Lafayette 148’s Pre-Fall 2024 collection, Seeing Marfa, is inspired by Marfa, Texas, and the poetic vastness of the raw terrain that surrounds the region’s iconic art foundations. As well as her own experiences of visiting Marfa, Creative Director Emily Smith also looked for inspiration in photographer Martien Mulder’s portfolio of images shot around the region, their nuanced color tones acting as the conduit between the Texan landscape and the collection palette. What follows is an extract from a conversation in which Emily and Martien swap notes on Marfa for CULTURED magazine…

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MARTIEN MULDER:

Marfa has always pulled me, ever since I became interested in art. But the experience there, how was that for you?


EMILY SMITH:

I flew into El Paso, and was hit by the massiveness of the sky, the dryness of the desert. I didn’t expect there to be so much life on the ground. The drive was so, so beautiful. Marfa itself was full of very creative people, which was so exciting to be around. The same people working at the Judd Foundation were the ones I saw working at the barbecue stand the night before. It’s such a small town in that sense. In your work, how do you capture those textures of the peeling walls, the concrete, that kind of heat?


MULDER:

I was just trying to define what that tonality is. It’s a haziness. It’s a graphic quality. Of course, it’s the shadow work on all the faint-colored walls. You picked up on the warm hues, instead of the bright blue skies of the vast American West.

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SMITH:
Yes, it feels more natural and feminine. It’s not the Texas that everybody thinks of, and it’s not the desert that everybody thinks of. I’m curious, as an artist, as a photographer, how do you classify your work? The way you see light and perspective and shape and form, there is a bit of minimalism to what you do.

MULDER:
My most personal work—that’s not commercial or more in the fine art space—leans heavily toward minimalism. It’s about looking for the space around the subject instead of the subject, the void instead of the thing. I like that you think it’s so feminine.

SMITH:
Not feminine, but there’s a feminine gaze. Marfa had such a harshness to it, and there’s a softness to what you created. It’s different from the more masculine Judd perspective. It feels like intimate moments and tiny details. I appreciate that, because as artists, we work so hard on the little details and nuances—just the right crinkle, just the right balance. That’s what makes things so special.

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MULDER:

Absolutely, more indirect. Maybe a little bit more cerebral. It’s a little bit drawn to maybe a shadow of a thing, fragments also. I think that helps. It’s not like the vast landscape of this insane sky and then the buildings or whatever. It’s always quite close in a weird way, like close ups of smaller details, of course in beautiful light.​


SMITH:

It felt like intimate moments. There was an appreciation for things that maybe other people would overlook. There are those desert—how those kind of blended together into such a pretty palette. And then, the concrete and the gravel and that plaster that you found in your work—and particularly how you captured it. There’s the softness of the pink that was actually on some of the buildings, but also maybe a bit of a reflection from the sun. That really informed color, which I find is sometimes the hardest thing to figure out: how to make colors feel fresh. But then when seeing it through how nature puts colors together, it gives you a different perspective to mix them, to make them feel new. ​​

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MULDER:
To have this gaze, it’s almost essential to travel—or to enter into new spaces. You need things to notice and respond to.

SMITH:
You have to get out of autopilot, right? You need your awareness to open up. It makes your brain work a little bit. We did a whole print series, and we didn’t want to do something really obvious, like the literal cactus print. We took the sun itself as a medium and I worked with another artist who used a cyanotype technique. I brought back twigs that I found all over the Marfa desert and [the artist] cast the shadow to create these prints. So, taking those literal references and building on it. All these things help us to build textures, build patterns, prints, and also inform silhouette and shape.

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SMITH:

Which trips have inspired you the most?


MULDER:

I must say trips to Japan. The country invites you to slow down and to celebrate every moment. My eyes are on fire there. How many collections have you made that draw from a particular place?


SMITH:

I don’t always like a kitschy travel collection, because it feels maybe not so authentic for me. With Marfa, because of the art, there was a reason to go there.


MULDER:

You see something that resonates in someone’s work and then you take a bit of that into your own work. It all goes back to Le Corbusier for me. I went to India to the city he built there. Chandigarh is a big city, one of those places where you walk and walk and walk. Everything is in some way directed by that vision for the city, by a group of architects and designers. Another one for me is Susan York. She lives in Santa Fe and works from there, so there’s that relationship to the desert landscape.

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SMITH:
Georgia O’Keeffe was inspired by it, too.

MULDER:
And it was a great fortune to photograph her space.

SMITH:
Did you? Oh, lucky lady.

MULDER:
Submerging myself in her world, all her little objects—her bowls are still hanging in the cabinets, her shoes are still lined up. I remember being startled by the imprint of her feet in her shoes and her travel bag with her label on it.

SMITH:
I’m all over the place when it comes to people who inspire me. I love the mini studies from Anni Albers, or Agnes Martin, who really get that intimacy and detail. At the same time, I’m obsessed with James Turrell and Richard Serra, artists who make these massive structures and things. We’re working on our concepts for next year, and I’m diving into the craft of different art forms and an appreciation for the time it takes to make things. It’s so beautiful just to see that stroke of a hand, that nervousness of a line from an Agnes Martin. When things aren’t so perfect, you see the maker. I find that so inspiring. There are good things hiding everywhere if you just open your eyes.

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