‘In Our Genes’: The Artistic Voices of Poppy and Daisy de Villeneuve

by paige on February 5, 2009

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Poppy (left) and Daisy de Villeneuve were raised in England.

THE TSP SISTERS PRACTICALLY DID cartwheels after connecting the dots between the work of Daisy and Poppy de Villeneuve. Despite an ocean between them, the sisters share buzz in both art and commerce, high ambitions, and double “it-girl” status (they always were snappy dressers, as their 1983 portrait reveals). And when they are reunited and just driving around these days (traveling together as they love to), they also share a fondness for singing their very own mashups, of George Michael and Alanis Morissette, perhaps. Don’t all sisters?

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'Best Friends,' by Daisy.

Older by four years, London-based Daisy is an accomplished illustrator and author, known for graphic, funky, felt-tip drawings, often of women or girls. Her work has been featured on numerous commercial products and exhibited in galleries around the world, including a solo show at London’s Fashion & Textile Museum in 2004.

Poppy is an art photographer based in New York City, whose work is regularly featured in major magazines, ad campaigns and gallery shows. The Observer has said of her work: “Her documentary-style images of people stranded in airports, at the rodeo and in trailer parks, have a surreal quality reminiscent of the film director David Lynch.”

The sisters (now 29 and 33 years old) grew up in England, children of an American model, Jan de Villeneuve, and the English photographer Justin de Villeneuve (credited, among other things, with the discovery of 60s icon Twiggy). Daisy and Poppy’s childhood was spent mostly in the English countryside with their mother, with occasional visits to their father in London, and to their American grandparents in Ohio, who provided inspirational fodder ranging from Reader’s Digest to National Geographic and Life magazine.  Mix it all up, and you get layered influences shaping the sisters’ art: wild spaces and documentary photography, MTV and haute couture.

As they now say, design, style and creativity are all absolutely “in our genes,” and they are widely held to have a lot of all of the above, whether in the realm of fashion or home décor.

Though the artists each sister cites as her major influences are all male (for Daisy, David Hockney, Peter Blake and Andy Warhol; for Poppy, Richard Avedon, Edward Hopper and Peter Beard) in their work and lives there’s a vivid sense of sisterhood.

Both create strong portraits of women and girls: Daisy’s solo museum show featured 50 larger-than-life cutout “paper dolls,” each with wildly different hairstyles and fashion. Daisy has written and illustrated two books about relationships, He Said She Said and What Goes Around Comes Around, the latter focusing on that worst of female stereotypes: the bitch. And Daisy’s commercial work has helped make her a sensation in the UK: From bags and housewares for retailer topshop to gorgeous champagne boxes for Moet et Chandon, her unique designs are everywhere.

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From Poppy's series shot in Maine.

Meanwhile, Poppy has delved into intimate portraiture on the far reaches of the United States-Mexico border, exploring, as she says, “the people who live in the last frontier of America, on the last stretches of the desert in these wide-open spaces. They live in the wild, wild west and I wanted to see what this means now.”

Other projects by Poppy include a look at children and families living in small-town Maine, and she’s also a successful fashion photographer, shooting campaigns for designers such as nanette lepore and Zac Posen. Both sisters seem to relish the mix of commercial and fine-art work that they create.

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Daisy, right, and Poppy (Getty Images).

The de Villeneuves just finished their first artistic collaboration, a series of portraits of chivalric men, commissioned by Chivas. Other joint projects are planned, according to Poppy, including a more personal topic: “We want to do some pictures and illustrations of our family members,” she says. More writing projects are in the works, and both sisters say they’d like to expand into new media. We can’t wait to see what their next trans-oceanic collaboration will manifest.

THE TSP INTERVIEW WITH DAISY AND POPPY DE VILLENEUVE

Q. You know you’re a sister when…?

A. PdeV: “You can look at each other without saying something, and know the other’s thought.”

DdeV: “You can read each other’s mind.”

Q. What does the word sister mean to you?

A. PdeV: “Family/friend/comfort.”

DdeV: “Someone that is close to you, that you can rely on, that is respectful, loyal, honest and there for you in time of need. Someone that gets it.”

Q. What are your best-of and also your worst-of sisterhood experiences?

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The girls and their mother.

A. PdeV: “Best: To have another person who knows your individual family experience. To go shopping with, talk about homes, clothes, collections, flea markets, traveling and generally get excited and nostalgic at the same time. Worst: You have a mirror of sorts that can you sometimes put yourself up against.”

DdeV: “Best: Mutual understanding about certain situations and types of people. We sort of have telepathy when we talk or describe someone: only a few words and we understand exactly. It’s actually quite fun. The fact that we share the same family helps; maybe can deal with stuff better than if it was just one of us. We’re both ambitious so we talk a lot about work; a lot of planning and ideas–just goals really–and that is always helpful. Worst: When she gets annoyed at me because I can’t read the map in the car (my sense of direction is really bad).”

Q. Are the pop-culture or cultural references you love, or love to fight about?  One that make you think of your sibling or of sisterhood?

A. PdeV: “We both love: World of Interiors, Aubin & Wills,  APC, Margaret Howell, Lulu Guinness bags, Kate Spade, Zac Posen, L.L. Bean, photography books, scrapbooks, markets, The Strand Book Shop, Freeman’s restaurant, Filson bags, Opening Ceremony, Poltock & Walsh, Felder Felder. (We fight over Christmas presents, but always work it out.)

“Then there is Twin Peaks, the AGA, Interview magazine, Snow Boots. George Michael: Freedom, Faith. The Reality Bites soundtrack, driving in the car in Michigan. Hyper-color T-shirts, Brett-Eastern Ellis books (particularly American Psycho), nurse’s outfits, plaits, Paris, New York night clubs, The Royal Tenenbaums, Gino’s restaurant…all of those remind me of Daisy.”

DdeV: “I remember watching Heathers as teenagers. When we were younger we used to have sleep-overs and invite friends over to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show and dance to the Time Warp:

It’s just a jump to the left
And then a step to the right
With your hands on your hips
You bring your knees in tight
But it’s the pelvic thrust that really drives you insane,
Let’s do the Time Warp again!

“Other things we love: Traveling together and being in different cities, taking photos, going to the flea market, looking in vintage-clothing  stores in LA, nightclubs in South Beach, Centre Pompidou in Paris, Lake Michigan, hanging out with funny characters, laughing, fancy-dress parties, old friends, drinking red wine when we meet up and haven’t seen each other in ages, sending jokes and ideas back and forth via email or text, talking on the phone after a bad day.

“We both adore Zac Posen, a very dear friend of ours.

“We both like visual books on art and photography. We love the books Edith Bouvier Beale of Grey Gardens: A Life in Pictures and The Way It Wasn’t: From the Files of James Laughlin. We also like Bruce Weber, Nan Golden, Walker Evans, Richard Avedon, William Eggleston and Slim Aarons photos.

“In music, it’s Juliana Hatfield, My Sister from 1993 from the CD Become What You Are. And driving in the car listening to music, singing along and making up our own songs by mixing up the words to George Michael and Alanis Morissette. Soul Asylum, the Lemonheads and Pearl Jam remind me of my sister and a certain time.”

Q. What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from your sister?

A. PdeV: “That we both change every day and the world is always surprising.”

DdeV: “Listening to her advice and view of the world always interests me.”

THE TSP GALLERY OF POPPY AND DAISY’S WORK

For more about the de Villeneuve sisters, visit their websites:
www.daisydevilleneuve.com
www.poppydevilleneuve.com

A show of Daisy’s work, along with that of Natasha Law, is planned for Eleven Gallery in London, April 1 to May 2.

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