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Hugo & Marie


Strange Magic with Petra Börner

A conversation with our dear friend and Hugo & Marie artist Petra Börner about magic, music and finding beauty in the unloved.

Michael Whitham

What does beauty mean to you?

Petra Börner 

The meaning of beauty is somewhat forked for me as it held no positives in my family growing up. To have an interest in looks somehow paralleled a shallow vanity, missing the mark on the important things in life.

Perhaps key to that attitude resided with mum’s aversion to conformity as she fought for equality during her career. In my life, I’ve been drawn towards the quirky, unloved or ‘ugly’, where there seemed to be less focus on adoration, a space with more surprises and matters to figure out.  I’m excited by contrasts between things, material textures and shapes or moods and maybe that’s due to a purely physical reaction. Perhaps my eyes simply struggle to define soft shades and nuances so I’m drawn to bold colours and strong lines.

Maybe the body we live within really effects our ways of seeing and define our points of view much more than we know  and more than our brains or intellectual beliefs do. I feel at my very best when working ‘without’ my brain and just doing - that’s when I feel that my work becomes more beautiful somehow and I like it better.

Michael Whitham

Where do you find magic in everyday life? Does it inspire your work?

Petra Börner

I love how music commands my spirit, it feels like magic. It has to be said that music touches me in ways nothing else can and feeling tunes, singing (screaming, howling, whispering) along with them (in harmony or not), taking in rhythms and beats transports my mind and my work.

There are no limits to the joy of music, it kind of spills out onto everything I do and I can feel the music in my work, often remembering a specific moment and mood those sounds created.

For many years I taught fashion illustration at St Martins and it’s funny because I really love being with people, the dynamic, conversations and the exchanging of ideas is thrilling, but in the same instance I truly treasure my own time and the freedom it gives me.

During the classes playlists were key, so if the beat-up old speakers didn’t work I’d panic. My drawing exercises, the method of teaching was tied, timed and sparkled by the music and it controlled the mood in the room!

The natural world and its power to grow also feels like magic to me, I often return to these themes and variations of this in my work. 
But the magic is a sort of projection, an illusion, maybe a desire for nature to be invincible when sadly its not. The good thing is that we all actually have magic powers to heal or improve things, it’s just not in a superhero type of way and it’s  so easy to forget how to use it and what to do.

‘Art is a natural companion to us human beings, ancient and solidly evolving with a constant beat and rhythm.’

Michael Whitham

What does art have to teach us about being human?

Petra Börner

I don’t feel good unless I regularly make art, not complete. Perhaps not even human? On the other hand I forget about ‘being’ at all when I’m making art, which is very satisfying. Sometimes I make art more from ‘the outside’, when there are particular directives involved in a project and I need to use references. Initially this feels less natural or instinctive and I become more aware of parameters or limitations, but learning by repetition creates a familiarity and the movement becomes incorporated into my practice and rhythm.

Making art can feel selfish, as there’s so much that is needed to be sorted out in the world, but making art opens new channels in our lives and with art we can create dreams, spell out desires and savour the unreachable. Making and absorbing art can untangle our fears, define goals, share ideas, kick up a fuss, get involved and help us to belong and identify. Art is a natural companion to us human beings, ancient and solidly evolving with a constant beat and rhythm. It’s helpful in our quest to define and communicate what we’re all about.

In Eulogy Playlist, we ask some of our favorite artists and collaborators which 5 songs they would like to be remembered by, and why.

‘Teardrop’ - Massive Attack


As a sentimental soul at heart nothing grabs me and squeezes my heart like Teardrop. It serves up those  London days when I was studying fashion and when taking a break from studies, living in New York for a few months and first working as an assistant to fashion designers then ending up being a right hand to an amazing artist doing building work and electrical wiring all over Manhattan. 

‘Agua De Beber’ - Astrud Gilberto 


Astrud Gilberto painted the backdrop to my late teens. I was so drawn to the rhythm and the language, the beautiful soft and sensual tones. Listening to music in a different, unfamiliar language is inspiring, lets you explore the meaning of the song in a more emotive way maybe, just listening to the mood.

‘Smooth Operator’ - Sade


Sade’s music is what I would describe as beautiful. I broke my record by playing it too much and it is still one of my all time favourite albums. 

‘Monicas Vals’ - Monica Zetterlund/ Bill Evans Trio (Waltz For Debbie)


Anything by Monica Zetterlund feels like home to me, her voice so clear, smooth yet a little crackety. I saw her perform once together with my father and his jazz buddy Gunnar at the Malmoe School of Music. She came out in a leopard all over outfit and blew us away with her presence.

Just pure power and energy.