Creative People - Objet Trouvé
A few months ago we were driving through the narrow lanes of the pretty village of Alfriston on our way back from a day at the seaside when I spotted a new shop; one that intrigued me and was unlike anything I’d seen before. We stopped and wandered back along the medieval high street to take a peek. There I met one of the owners Alfonso Carbello who with his wife, artist Amanda Lawrence had recently set up brand new concept gallery and shop, Objet Trouvé.
Inside the small, timber-framed building, the modest space is filled with visual treasures. Vintage ceramics, antique pharmacy bottles and old tobacco tins sit alongside collaged sculptures, magic lantern lightboxes and one-off painted porcelain and wood artworks. It’s a sophisticated mix of found objects, artefacts and contemporary artworks, all expertly curated and beautifully displayed by Amanda (the windows are regularly updated and are inventive and eye-catching). I was instantly hooked. It was a few days before my birthday, so we had an excuse to splash out on ourselves and we bought one of Amanda’s own lantern boxes (pictured below). We ventured back a couple of weeks later to take some photographs, while I caught up with Alfonso and Amanda to chat about art, Alfriston, and the allure of objects and oddities.
Claire: Could you tell us a bit about your yourselves: where you grew up, your professional backgrounds and how you met?
Alfonso: I’m Spanish but I was brought up in London. I spent my pre-school years in rural northern Spain and my formative years living within the dynamic cultural diversity of North Kensington. I studied politics, but the allure of money - a fever that consumed the country in the eighties - meant that I missed out on my chance to change the world! My path was instead one of working in printing shops, feeling like a fish out of water in the civil service, then accidentally falling in to a relatively successful advertising career.
Amanda: I was born and raised in Eastbourne. Strangely enough, just around the corner from where we now live. I moved to London to do a fashion and textile degree, then to Nottingham for a Masters in knitwear. My design career took me to both the East and West coast of the United States, in between two extended stays in my second home, the Netherlands. I worked for a variety of international brands, including R.H Macy’s, Mexx and Oilily, before setting up my own company, Lark Rising. It was while getting a design assignment colour copied, 28 years ago, that I met Alfonso. Our first date was spent trying to play Badminton in a windy Holland Park.
Claire: Where did you live in London and what prompted you to move away?
Alfonso: We moved away from North Kensington when it became too gentrified, to Brighton, where we knew there was more unconventional, artistic spirit still resided. I commuted to my London-based advertising job, while Amanda took up various design jobs in the Netherlands and America. In that long-distance phase of our relationship we also got married. Just before the financial crisis, Amanda moved back to Brighton full-time and founded Lark Rising, which, with hindsight, was not great timing for launching a bespoke knitwear brand. With Lark Rising and my advertising career running their course, we made the step to utilise our strengths and open a gallery-come-antique curiosity shop in Alfriston.
Claire: Could you tell us about the move from Brighton to Eastbourne?
Amanda: We opted to set up home in Eastbourne rather than establishing ourselves in Hastings, the current seaside hipster favourite, it being closer to our shop. Plus, Eastbourne seems to be undergoing a cultural and economic reawakening of late.
Claire: How did the idea for Objet Trouvé come about?
Amanda: I had run a few pop-up shops in Alfriston in collaboration with several artists, most notably Vivien Ridley, Nikki Ward and Pippa Burley. So when the right venue came up in the village, we decided to grab it with both hands. It felt like the timing was right for us both to join forces and do something that would combine the best of our individual strengths.
Claire: What is the ethos behind Objet Trouvé?
Alfonso: Amanda and her pop-up-shop collaborators had been up-cycling objects to create original art pieces, so when we came across the definition for objet trouvé, an early 20th C. art movement described as “art created from undisguised, but often modified, objects or products that are not normally considered art”, it corresponded with the idea that we had been formulating for the shop and gallery. Amanda’s time abroad had also influenced her belief that galleries should offer a space that’s conducive to showcasing art, by curating contemporary art with antique and vintage pieces and curiosities but also creating an atmosphere that is both welcoming and inspirational. So, you could say that our ethos for Objet Trouvé was shaped by us wanting to get away from the idea of a sterile and intimidating gallery space, and the clutter of antique shops.
Claire: How do you find the curating process?
Amanda: Instinctive. Having previously worked with so many creative individuals, it felt like a logical progression. I’ve been a creative magpie and collector for many years and I see the shop as a way of letting people see the world through my eyes, and I hope to instil within them the same enthusiasm that I have for the art and objects.
Claire: Why did you choose Alfriston?
Alfonso: It’s an idyllic location, in the heart of the South Downs National Park, that has a rich cultural and artistic heritage (the Bloomsbury Group lived and worked here and it was a major centre for Surrealism in the early 20th century). Plus there’s a wealth of artistic talent in Sussex whose work we can showcase. The village is also benefits from the many visitors who come to stay in the numerous hotels and inns, drawn by its growing status as a go-to destination for art and culture. There are four galleries, two antique and interior design emporiums, a vintage clothing outlet, one of the best wineries in the UK and a destination book shop to name a few. And Glyndebourne is just down the road.
Claire: What kind of feedback have you had from your visitors?
Alfonso: Generally extremely positive, with a varying spectrum of reactions. Those who get it are very complimentary and frequently return to see how the shop has blossomed and more often than not purchase from the new collections. While the doubters just think we’re a couple of ex-Brighton eccentrics who are going to go bust. As long we elicit a response, we’re happy.
Claire: What are your roles within the company?
Alfonso: Armanda is the artistic instigator of the enterprise, and the chief curator. I’m the day to day retail person, business administrator and oversee the e-commerce aspect of the business.
Claire: What are the day-to-day challenges?
Amanda: Keeping faith in our vision, especially when things are quiet, and replacing objects and art that are in keeping with the aesthetic of the space. Overall, these are the challenges that make the Objet Trouvé adventure exciting, if somewhat daunting!
Claire: What would your advice be to anyone starting out on an entrepreneurial adventure?
Alfonso: Once you’ve checked out that the figures add up and the water is at least warm, hold your nose and jump in! In all honesty, any creative venture is beset by trials and tribulations, it is just a matter of having the passion, and the nerve, to see it through.
Claire: How do you spend your time when you're not working?
Amanda: What time?! We are constantly on the hunt for inspiration for shop displays, artists, objects and oddities.
Claire: What are the most played songs on your current music playlist?
Amanda: Radiohead - A moon Shaped Pool, Laura Marling - Femina, anything by Agnes Obel, Alt-J - Relaxer and everything Talking Heads have ever done!
Alfonso: Current favourites include The tallest Man on Earth, Lana Del Rey, Elliot Smith, Hayden, The Anambra Beats, Richard Hawley and Scritti Politti. In the shop we have our classical collection on shuffle to try and create an aura of tranquillity when we’re busy.
Claire: Where are your favourite places in the world?
Both: Rome, Florence, Leiden, New York, and Hong Kong at night.
Claire: And favourite shops and restaurants, here and abroad?
Alfonso: Half Man Half Burger in St. Leonards. Amanda: Il Latini in Florence. Shops: Snoopers Paradise in Brighton, The Depot in Hastings and Ron’s Antiques in Leiden, the Netherlands.
Claire: What’s next for Objet Trouvé?
Alfonso: In the short term, we want to continue to establish Objet Trouvé in Alfriston, with both our clients and artists, and to prioritise the launch of our website. In the medium to long term we want to expand beyond Alfriston. Though ultimately we just want to enjoy this road trip, be it through creating or discovering, and wherever it takes us.
Objet Trouvé, 1 Steamer Cottages, High Street, Alfriston, East Sussex.