Phillips de Pury & Company 45-47 Brook Street At Claridge’s London 16 September – 4 October 2011
I Am Turning Into An Iridescent Insect Chromogenic Prints from a series of photographs chronicling Faye Toogoodâ€™s metamorphosis into an insect. Edition of 3 + 2 AP
F AY E TO O G O O D AN INTRODUCTION BRENT DZEKCIORIUS
In the last decade, the career path of a young British designer has commonly followed a certain trajectory: a design products MA from a prestigious London school, mentor under a design luminary, and fast track to a successful practice. It is a proven formula that has fed the design world a steady stream of talented problem-solving minds and, as a result, made our world a more fluid and beautiful place. Faye Toogood is a gifted British designer brimming with bold ideas and the confidence to execute them, but her passage into the world of furniture and product design is nearly as unconventional as her approach to the work. A history of art degree from Bristol University provided her with a deep contextual understanding of the medium, but it was her years at World of Interiors magazine that nurtured her creatively. Where other designers had Ron Arad or Tord Boontje as a mentor, Toogood had Min Hogg, the fabled World of Interiors editor. In her ascent from stylist to decoration editor, an uncanny ability to realise complex visual narratives came to the fore. Through this unique vantage onto the world of design, Toogood cultivated a highly personal understanding of craft traditions that would inform her work as a designer. In 2008 Studio Toogood opened as a creative services consultancy and collaborations with a litany of design luminaries followed, among them Comme des Garçons, Tom Dixon, and Alexander McQueen. From there, what began effectively as anonymous support for big brand talent blossomed into a serious enterprise that quickly grew by reputation into its own autonomous creative entity. As the studio garnered more acclaim, Toogood moved toward a more personal expression in her work. She wanted to engage every aspect of the environments she conceived – to create, in the Bauhaus mode, a ‘total’ work. Furniture and product design would be her venue for this. Assemblage One marked Toogood’s arrival. With works composed almost entirely in sycamore, the series is an optimistic idyll guided by an exploration of clean primary shapes. The work has the purity of Ben Nicholson’s carved white geometric reliefs and the sublimely seductive line of a Brancusi. This geometry would become a sort of genetic code for her work to come. Six months later, she expanded her vernacular with Assemblage Two, Natura Morta. A celebration of mortality and decay, Assemblage Two finds Toogood challenging herself with new working materials and processes: sand-casting aluminium and pewter, vacuum-forming resin, and structured animal skins. The examination of geometric forms from the first series continues here even as she tacks in a new direction with the craft. Delicate Interference: Assemblage Three is Toogood’s most ambitious work to date, A collection of work that would require the skills of a metalsmith who makes custom motorbikes and surgical tools, and a fade-anodiser who works exclusively with firearms. The series examines iridescence as a natural optical force through new and re-contextualised works in bronze, aluminium, steel, glass and resin. By a touch of alchemy she uses man-made materials to create a natural phenomenon, mimicking nature’s ability to attract and protect through the refraction of light. But Delicate Interference is not simply an astounding study of material, light and colour. Rather than highlighting the shape, shadow or line, Toogood endeavours to confront these with a voyeuristic fetishism. We see this in the steely, cagelike meshes of her Element Table redux and Cage for Birds, the entomological vanity which conveys a collector’s ‘look but do not touch’ sentiment. The fade-anodised Shell Sconces and their spindly legs appear as though they could crawl up the wall. Trapped Sphere – Oil is an intriguing homage to Shiro Kuramata’s Feather Stool, in which an oil-filled glass sphere is suspended within a transparent cube of resin. Though Toogood claims no intentional socio-politiking with her work, the piece unwittingly addresses our obsession with preservation and possession, a motif that permeates the series. One doesn’t see Faye Toogood’s work as much as experience it. There is the interplay of solid and void, positive and negative. There is the ever-present tension created by a handling of materials that is masculine and sensitive. She draws upon our craft traditions, expands them beyond convention, and brings a vital new voice to the world of contemporary design.
(left) Watercolour drawing of Cage for Birds 2011
Cage For Birds 2011 Steel, Patinated Mesh, Mirror, Iridescent Glass 140 x 70 x 125 cm Edition of 8 + 2 AP A dressing table made from enclosed steel mesh with three pivoting mirrors backed in iridescent glass, and an oil-finish steel tabletop. Features a recessed leather jewellery box and 9 blue cast-bronze hanging hooks.
Spade Stoolâ€‰/â€‰Aluminium 2011 Assemblage 2 Sand-Cast Aluminium 45.2 x 45 x 41 cm
Alter Piece 2011 Steel, Patinated Sand-Cast Bronze, Iridescent Glass 1. 73 x 21 x 75 cm 2. 53 x 18 x 52 cm 3. 46 x 12 x 45 cm Edition of 8 + 2 AP A jewellery stand made from a series of steel hooks, glass bowls and glass plates balanced atop a blue cast-bronze base.
Element Table / Steel 2011 Patinated Steel, Resin 100 x 100 x 24 cm Edition of 8 + 2 AP A welded-sheet-steel realisation of the Element Table, with a free-floating clear resin sphere.
Element Table / Cage 2011 Steel, Patinated Steel Mesh, Patinated Copper Sphere 106 x 107 x 24 cm Edition of 8 + 2 AP A welded-steel-mesh realisation of the Element Table, with a freefloating patinated copper sphere.
Trapped Sphere / Oil 2011 Resin, Glass, Oil 45 x 45 x 45 cm Edition of 8 + 2 AP A sphere of oil suspended in a solid resin block.
Spade Chairâ€‰/â€‰Bronze 2011 Patinated Sand-Cast Bronze 86 x 45 x 41 cm (30kg) Edition of 10 + 2 AP A realisation of the Spade Chair in solid cast bronze with iridescent green patina.
(left) Watercolour drawing of Spade Chair / Bronze 2011
(left) Shell Sconceâ€‰/â€‰Aluminium 2011 Fade-Anodised Aluminum 58 x 13 x 67 cm Edition of 8 + 2 AP A hand-beaten aluminum dome lamp with fade-anodised finish.
(right) Watercolour drawing of Wing Light 2011 Realised in Steel, Patinated Sand-Cast Bronze, Tinted Glass 200 x 38 x 100 cm Edition of 8 + 2 AP A height-adjustable floor lamp with a solid cast-bronze patinated base.
(above) Visual of Armour Bench 2011 Realised in Rubber, Patinated Brass Upholstery Studs 45 x 45 x 125 cm Edition of 8 + 2 AP An industrial rubber roll covered in 17,000 patinated brass upholstery nails.
(right) I Am Turning Into An Iridescent Insect 2011 Chromogenic Prints Edition of 3 + 2 AP A series of photographs chronicling Faye Toogoodâ€™s metamorphosis into an insect.
Photograph of ‘Element Table / Steel’ in welding workshop
A C O N V E R S AT I O N B E T W E E N F AY E TO O G O O D A N D M O N I C A K H E M S U ROV
You’ve successfully assumed three professional identities – the furniture and object designer, the stylist, and the interior designer. What would you say is the thread that unites the three of these? Not adhering to the rules when it comes to the process of design. In all of my work I’ve tried to link the conceptual to the visual, although it’s much harder with the objects and furniture because they have to work, whereas a photograph only needs to evoke an emotion and a space an experience. I’m also trying to challenge the perception of materials and constructions and our emotional connection with the objects we choose live with. Not in a worthy way that will change the world, but just in a way that allows people to look at things differently. Are there influences that have followed you throughout your career? I’d studied art history, so when I started working at World of Interiors, I had some sense of what had come before, but I was subsequently exposed to a much broader range of periods, traditions and disciplines, and somehow all of that has melded in my head to create a single vision. Being very close to antiques and witnessing the way that really fine, traditional objects were made definitely had a strong impact on my current preoccupations. Even then I knew I wanted to make hand-made furniture and work with craftspeople, and some of the artisans I’m collaborating with at the moment – metalworkers, woodworkers, and recently, experts in bronze and patinas – I was aware of whilst working on the magazine. Also, since university, I’ve been interested in minimalist sculpture. The pure sculptural forms of British Modernist artists including Barbara Hepworth have always been a very big inspiration on my work, in particular the way she dealt with the heroic scale and the way her use of materials was so strong and uncompromising. With all these inspirations, the real challenge for me now is to make my objects modern, relevant and not a pastiche. Are there any multidisciplinary heroes from the past who helped convince you that you could successfully try it all? Probably the Italians from the ’50s through to the ’70s, predominantly architects like Gio Ponti and Ettore Sottsass. They turned their hand to everything around: tiles, door hardware, the chairs you’d be sitting on, the lights – Ponti embraced all those things, and I have a great respect for that. It must have given him a real sense of freedom, I’d imagine. For me, adopting that same liberal approach allows me to tell stories: to go deeper into the narrative. There is also no hierarchy to the materials or genres I use to tell that story – photography, film, jewellery or even fashion are all relevant when it comes to design. During my stylist days I was creating compositions with other people’s objects, now I get to create compositions with objects I’ve designed myself. It’s a greedy process, I guess. I feel quite greedy because I want to try everything. You don’t personally fabricate any of your designs. How has that affected your process? To what degree do you allow yourself to rely on the craftsmen you work with to solve your technical problems, versus trying to stay within the bounds of what you know? Well I’m not a maker, that’s the difference – I’m very much a designer. I can draw and imagine and visualise objects in my head, but designing something that functions is the real challenge, so it makes sense to rely on the expertise of craftspeople around me to help execute my vision. But since the problem-solving can come afterwards, the concept always comes first for me, which frees up my thinking and allows me to be broader in my investigation of materials and constructions. Whereas a lot of product designers are taught to start with materials, I start with an idea and then try to make the materials do what I want them to do. Of course, with that comes an element of the unknown – sometimes I start off with a drawing and a direction for the object, and by the end, the functionality of it and the behaviour of the material has completely changed it. But that’s interesting to me, so I’m trying not to set boundaries or limits for myself, just maintaining an openness and seeing where that takes the work.
Let’s talk about the concept behind Assemblage One. Earlier, you described your furniture as being more personal than your interior design, and the first series had an obvious link to your biography, with the binocular satchels and the furniture carved by woodworkers in the English countryside. It was obviously a very literal interpretation. My father’s a great birdwatcher, so as a child I spent many nights up in a high tree waiting for the dawn chorus to start. At the time I didn’t understand why I was in a tree in the middle of nowhere, but now I realise those were beautiful moments. I don’t want to go back to the kind of isolated environment in which we lived – I’m happy in the city – but some of the principles I had as a child started to feel relevant again. Assemblage Two, on the other hand, was about me being more aware of the destructive, dark side of nature. The world had just experienced a string of natural disasters, so that sweet, idealistic take on the countryside and foraging for food became slightly irrelevant for me. I became more preoccupied with chaos and the fragility of life. Everything went dark. But it was also partly a subconscious reaction to the fact that after Assemblage One, I was being associated with the current British crafts movement, which of course I very much respect and admire but I didn’t particularly feel like I fit into. That’s the story of my life as well – fighting against pigeonholing. As a result, people are
Patina process of ‘Cage for Birds’
always grappling with finding the right words to describe who I am or what I do and, indeed, my style: multidisciplinary, creative polymath. I jump around a lot, but it stops me from getting bored and boredom is my biggest fear. But your experimentation with different aesthetics – like the way you launched your company during the 2009 London Design Festival with one installation inspired by Memphis and another full of objects made from corn – might also lead people to describe your work as fashionable, which I know designers dread. It has the same kind of ineffable cool factor and a sixth sense about what’s coming next that drives the fashion world. Well, styling is about reinvention, and about picking up on what’s going on. If you’re a particularly good stylist, you pick up on it before anyone else does. While I hope that my objects and furniture aren’t fashionable or trend-based, I do think they appeal to people for the same reasons my styling does – it’s intuitive, it captures the attitude of its time, and it’s coming from someone who is obsessed with observing the world around us. I think those are the qualities that give my work relevance and longevity. I’m much more interested in longevity now that I’m designing three-dimensional spaces and objects. After working on magazines and the transient image, one ambition I had for the pieces is that they have permanence; they shouldn’t be something you tire of. Perhaps their heaviness also helps imply that, as they’re not easy to move and thus won’t be easy to get rid of. Heading into Assemblage 3, what ideas were you picking up on that would distinguish it from the previous series? What tends to happen with me is that I become obsessed with an idea or type of object and start collecting everything relating to it. When I began working on Delicate Interference, I realized I had a whole shelf full of iridescent things and was wanting to wear my favourite sparkling jumper every day of the week, so I began to find out more about what iridescence is and why it felt so appealing to my magpie existence. I started to look at its role in nature because so many of the items I’d collected were beetles, bird feathers, crystals and stones – the sorts of objects I’ve been gathering since my childhood days of arranging found objects on my bedroom table. I realised that naturally occurring iridescence performs a variety of functions, two of those being attraction and protection: attraction having to do with appearing, and protection, disappearing. There’s quite a fine line between the two, and if an animal or insect is to get that fine line wrong, it could be quite fatal. So the shimmering butterfly attracts a mate using its amazing iridescent wings, but it also uses the same device to confuse its predators. The fish uses its iridescent scales to keep the members of its shoal moving in the same direction, but those same scales attract the predator that’s about to eat it. I became fascinated with this concept. So how did you manage to translate those ideas, which are so complex and so peculiar to the natural world, into the materiality of a series of inanimate, man-made objects? In my research I discovered that natural iridescence isn’t created by pigments, but by light itself, and how various layers of cells reflect light differently to create different wavelengths. That’s why the colours shimmer and change with your viewing angle – it’s a structural concept called colour interference. The word interference itself I thought was quite beautiful, so I set out to use and employ chemicals to interfere with the surfaces of the furniture. And yet I wanted it to be a delicate interference, so the materials themselves would still reveal their own nature; I avoided iridescent paints, which would put a barrier over them. By using certain chemicals, you can get an iridescent effect which is purely achieved through oxidization. The materials I’ve used are steel, resin, aluminium, and glass, and with the glass for example, you get iridescence by applying these chemicals to its surface and reheating it. It’s a kind of outmoded type of glass not really used since the decorative arts of the early 20th century. With the steel, we’ve applied chemicals in several layers, and the oxidization creates a kind of oil-like surface. So where Assemblage One was quite idealistic, and Assemblage Two was dark, this one’s more about alchemy. I think I was feeling more optimistic this time around. This series has a dark side as well, though – all the chemicals you’ve used to create the iridescence are extremely toxic, deadly even. How did that figure into your overall concept? The idea that to achieve this beautiful, natural iridescent look you have to use toxic chemicals is interesting to me. Obviously it’s not unusual for designers to use chemical-
based products and paints on furniture, but the cold patina technique I employed really gave me an awareness of how much chemical waste was involved. The chemicals are unstable and unpredictable, giving the surfaces a transient quality, which for me provide the perfect contrast to the heaviness and permanence of the overall pieces. These objects cannot be disposed of or replaced easily, and certainly not without conscience. One of the key substances in which you find an iridescent effect is oil, the moment you mix it with water. I couldn’t recreate that particular surface on the furniture, but decided to represent it by encapsulating actual oil: one of the pieces is a cube of resin that has a floating sphere of oil in it, oil being both dangerous and precious at the moment. There ended up being something quite beautiful about preserving and protecting it, and capturing it in this cube of resin where it will stay trapped forever – it won’t evaporate. Resin also has a long tradition of being used to preserve insects and natural-history objects, so it felt like the most suitable material. That piece also represents the closest your work has come so far to having a political message, which almost puts it more in the realm of art. Does it signal any kind of new direction for you? If I read into it, there’s definitely a message there, but I honestly don’t want to make big political statements with my designs. It’s not a hugely considered way of working on my part. Everything I’ve ever done is intuitive, and is a reaction to how I’m feeling at the moment, so that’s probably where the meaning comes from. It’s the same with the boundaries between art and design in my work – I’m not conscious of any erosion of those boundaries, it’s all coming out of pure self-expression. Perhaps because I don’t have a design background where I’ve been taught to follow rules about showing your process and making sure that form follows function, there’s not always a rhyme or reason or sense to my pieces. The dressing table is almost the opposite – an object that’s purely about beauty and vanity. And yet you designed it in a way that captures the same attraction/ protection dichotomy as the rest of the collection. Basically I really wanted a dressing table myself, maybe because I’m at that age, but I quite like being able to have that private moment in the morning to get ready. I couldn’t find a modern one that wasn’t twee, or that felt relevant to my life, so I decided to make one. The piece itself is almost like a cage, which you have to open up – there are fine folding doors which resemble the wings of an insect when they’re open. They’re made from very fragile, very thin solid steel that’s been welded together, with this cage mesh providing your personal protective space in which you can make yourself attractive in the morning. I chose mesh normally used for security grilles, so you can see inside but not fully, and there’s an element of voyeurism. You also get a moiré effect as you see through the various layers of the cage, which goes back to the idea of interference. For both the vanity cage and the Element Table Cage, which has been reedited in mesh for Assemblage Three, I worked with a welder who normally makes motorbikes, partly because he had particular metalworking skills but also because I wanted to reveal a raw, industrial element. I’ve kept all the welding quite messy, and yet when you open the doors of the vanity, you can see the beautiful leather jewellery box, solid bronze hooks and the mirrors backed in iridescent glass inside, which are really special pieces. The motorbike maker also fabricated a pair of wall lights for the series. How were those made? The wall lights are basically a steel and aluminium dome which I’ve had hand-beaten in the manner of a motorbike shell. Each one has three thin legs that hold it slightly away from the wall, like a hovering insect. When it’s turned on, there’s this halo of light cast on the wall around it. The aluminium light will be fade-anodised – we found a man that normally fadeanodises guns. The guns don’t have anything to do with it, but it’s the sort of thing only people with guns experiment with, and it’s a chemical way of mimicking the movement of colour found in iridescence. The steel version we’ve given the same oily patina as the Element Table Steel. The latest incarnations of the Element Table are interesting, they’re a bit more visually complex than the previous iterations. I’ve designed two Element tables this time, actually: one is steel mesh-cage based and the other is welded steel sheet. The mesh version is similar to the resin one that I did, in the sense that it explores volume and void. The cylinder and square are themselves made out of mesh, so you get a moiré effect within the table. The sphere, on the other hand, is a solid
Model of ‘Cage for Birds’
ball rolling around inside the cage, so in my mind the table is capturing this precious object, a jewel within the cage. You want to grab it and you want to touch it, but you can’t – it’s protected and out of reach. The other Element table we’ve done is a simple configuration of volume and void, but made out of sheet steel that’s been roughly welded together, so the cylinder is rolled out of steel sheet as well. The sphere is a clear resin ball sitting inside a crater in the steel top. The surface of the steel version has that oil-like iridescent patina I mentioned, and the solid resin sphere sitting inside it almost magnifies that patina like the eye of an insect. The Element Table and Spade chair have become a kind of barometer for each assemblage, a backdrop against which the viewer is able to track the evolution of your concepts. Was that intentional? At first I couldn’t see past those initial works, I had no idea what would come next. My experimentation with those forms really began in Assemblage Two, as a way to break from my initial use of wood. I wanted to see what the chair would look like in a completely different material. Many people had said to me that the chair has its own personality, almost like a person in the corner of the room, so it has become interesting to me to delve into the depths of that personality. I started to feel like a child with a new box of toys, changing the meaning of the piece just by changing its material, colour, or fabrication. In the second assemblage I worked with a fetish designer to cover it in leather, so it looked erotic and raw and sexual in a way the wood version never could have looked. I also rendered it in black, sand-cast aluminium, so it was extremely heavy with a coal-like surface. When you look at it, it looks like a very slim, black chair, but you go to pick it up, and it’s 10 kilos of solid metal. For the new series I’ve done one in solid bronze that weighs 30 kilos. I quite like the fact that it looks fine and delicate but weighs a lot, it gives a sense of permanence. One of my favourite aspects of Delicate Interference is that you’ve left the dirtiest job for yourself – applying the toxic iridescence chemicals to the various steel surfaces, including your new Spade chair. We’re doing it all in the studio, we’ve got the gas masks, gloves and everything. It’s taken a lot of little tests and experiments, and it’s certainly a lesson in chemistry, but we finally got it. Of course we didn’t know how the final pieces were going to turn out until we tried them, so it was a total surprise really, but with surprise and the unexpected comes beauty. The last time we did any production in-house was for Assemblage Two, where we sand-cast pewter to make our Lunar Landscape plates – four girls boiling pewter in the kitchen and then pouring it into sand in the back garden of my house. We also made small vessels filled with a candle wax for the Natura Morta exhibition in Milan, that smelt like tuberose, a flower that only flowers at night. This project was the most ambitious, though.
Do you have aspirations to be even more ambitious when it comes to involving yourself in the making process? At the moment I am into experimentation and so working with different craftsmen allows me to do that, but I actually enjoy making, and at some point I would love to be able to hold the welding torch in my hand or carve out the perfect joinery detail. I imagine that will come if or when I feel the need to more deeply investigate a single material. I’m not sure which material that will be, but I have a thing for stone and sculpture, and I think it would be amazing to reveal something from a single block – I really respect the sculptors who can do that. Why are you so attracted to modernist sculpture, and how do think it relates to the work you’re doing now? It was definitely visible in the early Element Tables and lights. I’m always attracted to simple, graphic geometry, so maybe that’s why some of the modernist sculptors appeal. The geometry is very clean, and often it’s the materialisation that gives the piece meaning or impact. I think the last 10 or 15 years have seen a lot of biomorphic, futuristic forms in design, which I don’t personally respond to. I feel closer to the artists and designers of the ‘20s and the ‘30s who used very simple forms so it became more about the beautiful contrast between materials. The geometric shapes I use function as simple building blocks; I don’t feel they need to be messed around with. It’s more about the way that you assemble them that I find interesting. That comes from my background creating visual compositions, maybe. It also helps give my furniture a sense of timelessness – hopefully you can never tire of a sphere or a cube.
Watercolour drawing of ‘Trapped Resin / Oil’ 2011
AC K N OW L E D G M E N T S
Phillips de Pury & Company:
Tim Brown Curator: Studio Toogood:
Lucy Troughton Ivana Sehic
Sarah Kaye Rodden
Rosalind Hutchings Graphic Design: A Practice for Everyday Life Special thanks to: Arabeschi di Latte Erica Toogood Monica Khemsurov
Published to coincide with the exhibition 16 September – 4 October 2011 Phillips de Pury & Company Enquiries +44 20 7318 4010 All text © the authors 2011 All works © the artist 2011 Printed in the United Kingdom Phillips de Pury & Company 1st Edition of 1000 www.fayetoogood.com www.phillipsdepury.com
Published on Sep 9, 2011