Sep 26, 2019 | By Jane Boddy
Mar 24, 2017
By Luke Tebbutt
Here at WGSN, we know that great challenges lead to great designs (the Mini car was designed amid the 1950s fuel crisis; Coca-Cola’s bottle was designed to be instantly recognisable – even in the dark – in a competitive market). Such is the case for Los Angeles-based artist and designer Brian Thoreen, who set himself the challenge of using just three materials (marble, bronze and smoked glass) and no screws or bolts to create his latest collection of furniture and objects, titled Unsettled.
In the collection, tables, vessels, a mirror and a desk rely on the weight and counterweight of their materials to stand up. It’s an exploration of balance and materials that fits in with WGSN’s A/W 17/18 Vision trend, The Thinker (subscribers can check this report out here).
We talked with Thoreen during his debut solo exhibition at New York’s Patrick Parrish Gallery to find out more.
How do you describe your approach to design?
I focus on honesty to the materials I use, and I find solutions for the problems I give myself. I set myself guidelines and challenges and try to overcome them in an honest way.
What challenges did you set yourself for this collection?
I decided not to use any fasteners to hold the designs together. Everything relies on counterbalance. I could have held things together with hidden fixings, but I felt that using balance and weight was a more honest approach to achieving the idea of being unsettled.
Why did you call the collection Unsettled?
Before I developed this collection I was spinning in circles, trying to come up with new ideas, and I met with a designer friend. My process is more technical and formal, and her approach is more like, ‘How are you feeling?’ So she asked me, and I said I was unsettled, and it was like an ‘Aha!’ moment. Then it was just a case of working out how to turn this idea of tension and feeling unsettled into three-dimensional objects.
Why did you choose marble, bronze and glass to do this?
The shapes and forms of each piece determined the materials, so the bronze elements could only be in bronze to achieve the necessary weight, shape and size. Using glass was a way to bring a sense of fragility and tension to the collection. It’s not a material that I particularly like – I associate it with 1980s Miami – but I like the contrast of its slickness with the marble and rough-cast bronze.
The simplicity of the materials and construction feels primitive. Was this intentional?
This work has a primitive aspect, but the challenge was to also maintain a sense of elegance, and I like that contrast. I’m a fan of French Art Deco designers and architects such as Pierre Chareau, so I wanted to maintain some of that finesse. I run my ideas through different filters as I work, and the last filter tends to be refinement – what can I take away? Can I add a curve to make it feel more sensual?
How important is it for design to tell a story?
Whether it’s design or sculpture or writing, it’s all telling a story. The story develops from an idea, and that idea becomes your guideline and gives you fewer and fewer choices as you develop it, but you have to remain true to that idea. I think this collection is successful because it’s personal – it comes from the idea of evoking a feeling or an emotion, and I think that makes the intent behind the collection clearer.
What could the commercial market learn from your work?
Commercial design is so fast and focused on the bottom line. I would like to see it become more materials-focused, with pieces that are built to last and provoke some emotion.
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