Boston’s Gallery NAGA Highlights ‘Furniture with Soul II’

Mark Favermann
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Gallery NAGA, Boston, MA

Following up on the first exhibition (June-July 2012), and based on David Savage’s book, Furniture With Soul, Gallery NAGA is currently presenting a new group of studio artists’ work that focuses upon a younger ensemble of practitioners. Ranging from classically-referenced to organically inspired, this exhibit is made up of strong beautiful elements throughout. Here elegance and materials speak to function and form in a conversation of different voices and varying perspectives.

This studio furniture grouping is comprised mostly of large pieces, demonstrating the stylish and elegant craftmanship of each practitioner. Curated by author/craftsman David Savage, this exhibit is a showcase for emerging stars in the studio furniture international firmament. There is a grace and purpose to these functional sculptural elements. Like the previous show of established masters, the work here again transcends art and design, beauty and purpose. artes fine arts magazineThough there are a few Americans sprinkled in, the majority of those chosen by Mr. Savage to be part of this studio furniture survey are from the United Kingdom and Ireland. It should be noted that unlike the United States, there is no even recent tradition of studio furniture being shown in galleries or collected by museums in the UK and Europe. So the pieces being shown by Gallery NAGA are part of a quite special event for many of these studio furniture masters.

Joseph Walsh, The Erosion I Low Table (2009)

With a studio in rural County Cork, self-taught Joseph Walsh does his craft far from urban centers. An innovator, Walsh has evolved a new technique of free-form laminating that pushes solid wood construction in new and somewhat unexpected directions. He uses leaves of veneer that are thicker than conventional veneer. These allow for bending to create evocative shapes and to re-form more solid pieces of lumber.

Walsh creates his pieces to incorporate his methods into new forms in sensuous curves. This can be seen in his articulation of legs for tables and chairs. There is a sense of the organic living in his work. They seem to have wings that fly and gills that swim, while standing still.

On display at Gallery NAGA is Walsh’s The Erosion I Low Table. It is a rippled ash, olive ash and white oil abstract horizontal construction. It is 21x67x35” and appears to be a beautiful wooden sculpture in motion.

Marc Fish, Mollusque (2012).

Also located in a rural area, Marc Fish’s studio is on the south coast of England. He uses computer-aided design as a tool to draw his proposed and future works. This allows his work to reflect a sophisticated design sense and allows him to combine materials and forms in provocative ways. In the Gallery NAGA show, Fish is represented by his Mollusque table. Made from sycamore, glass and copper, it appears to be a large magical mushroom or an enchanted toadstool.

Marc’s workshop is multidimensional. It rents tools and space to young furniture makers, works with fee-paying students, teaches courses, sells limited edition series of older designs and creates one-of-a-kind commissions. Fish’s business model is a 21st Century for how a small furniture-making workshop can grow and develop.

Tom Loeser, Roll-Ups (2012).

Tom Loeser’s work is inventive and often whimsical. He takes conventional shapes and forms and reinvents them often with unexpected materials. In this exhibit, he has created three Roll-Ups, cylinders made from felt, firewood and steel. In sizes ranging from 11x18x18” to 14x20x20”, he has fabricated objects that look familiar but are not.

From Madison, Wisconsin, Loeser prides himself on creating objects that are both functional and dysfunctional. His shapes and forms are pulled, rolled and twisted into something that we expect but actually demand closer scrutiny. This results in work that is not only provocative but a bit mischievous.

Alun Heslop, Razorfish III (2013).

In his studio, south of London, near Haywards Heath, Alun Heslop has chosen to focus upon seating and only seating. This means chairs, benches and variations on these, only. He works in the tradition of European chairmaking. His creativity is circumscribed by the form of the Windsor chair with its solid seat, arms and legs fitted together.

Heslop uses this model as a point of departure and involvement. His work is mostly handcrafted, not machined. This approach is reflected in his series entitled Razorfish. One of these bench pieces is on display in the exhibit, Razorfish III. Here Heslop contrasts the rich golden elm seat with the legs of bleached white ash. The seat is full of bubbles and blowholes while the legs are slightly angled but straight.

His Nimm series of chairs are made of carved elm and steam bent ash. Nimm Rae II is on display in the show. It is certainly clearly a chair but abstracted and elongated, elegant yet awkward.

Above: Michael Puryear, Side Board (2009); left: Wei Jinan Shifu (2005).

Set in the Catskill Mountains of New York, Michael Puryear’s workshop is focused on the Japanese notion of shibui, a simple gestural elegance. His work has been influenced by Asian and African, as well as other traditional cultures. Natural forms and shapes have also informed his pieces. Puryear’s work often incorporates curves and contrasting materials.

These influences can be seen his contributions to this exhibit. The Side Board, in bubinga and wenge is 32x48x14″ and demonstrates contrast and an Asian influence. His Wei Jinan Shifu, made out of English sycamore & wenge includes a 30x29x22″ chair and a 29x60x20″ desk. There is a contemporary flavor enriched by an elegantly simple Chinese motif.

The only woman in the show is Yuri Kobayashi. There was just one woman, Judy McKie, in last year’s show,  as well. Only two women represented in the book and the exhibitions seems unfair. Certainly there are other women quality studio furniture makers. But that is another story for another time.

Yuri Kobayashi, Current (2013).

Born in Japan, but now living and working in the United States, Kobayasha has the most delicate as well as most purely sculptural visual statements in the exhibition. She calls her work furniture/sculpture. And she references her work in three categories; functional, installation and nonfunctional.

She is represented by two pieces in the show. Her shelf, entitled Current, created from ash functionally gracefully drips and flows on the wall. Her nine-foot tall Being— nonfunctional sculpture—is a delicate lattice structure made from thin pieces of ash. Is this fantasy architecture or sculptural metaphor?

Scottish-born Daniel Lacey uses only sustainable harvested timbers for his furniture. He is an environmentalist who wants to maintain a healthy future environment. He wants his work to reflect not only the highest quality design but to reflect the organic complexities of the wood that he uses.

Above: Daniel Lacey, Throne arnchair (2010); left Chestless (no date).

An example of this is shown in his Throne armchair, made from British cherry. The chair is 35x28x24″ and has a visual resonance. Also on display is the somewhat intricate Chestless that is made from British cherry, ash ands Lebanon cedar. This floating set of drawers speaks to the wood material as well as its complicated construction.

Waywood is a firm organized by Barnaby Scott outside of Oxford, England. This workwww.artesmagazine.comshop setting is a collaborative affair with Clive Brooks the longtime senior designer and furniture maker. Others have joined the firm right out of art school. With highly evolved fabrication technology and the use of computer aided design (CAD) software, Waywood’s approach is that a piece can originate from any of the workshop members and all will be involved in its completion.

This group’s work has less handcraft than machined fabrication. But the human aspect of their designs is translated by their technical proficiency and aesthetically derived content. At Gallery NAGA, Waywood’s Sculptured Chest is made of shaped and sandblasted oak, cherry, and Lebanon cedar.

Above: Waywood, Reveal Chest of Drawers (2010); right: Sculpted Chest (2013).

The outside of the chest suggests a heavy but visually modulated, wavy bark. It uses wood in a wonderful way to explain wood. It is 39x23x19″ and has a truly visceral quality. The second of their pieces is the elegant Reveal Chest of Drawers fabricated from walnut, maple, oak and Lebanon cedar and measuring 55x28x20″. This chest has a materiality that is like Chippendale. There is an overall and detailed beauty to the piece.

The term “souwww.artesmagazine.coml” can be defined as the complex of attributes that manifests as those things (consciousness, thought, feeling, will, etc.) that are regarded as distinct from the physical. In terms of applying this to the concept of studio furniture, this means a transcendence beyond the purely physical, material and aesthetics of a piece. It is well beyond the design, craft or art and results in the conveyance of a layered resonance to each object or element.

 This magnificent array of furniture and craftsmanship does just that. Both exhibits (2012 and 2013) have demonstrated how the highest quality studio furniture can transcend the formal notions of art, design and craftsmanship. Many of the works speak to us on multiple levels—functionally, aesthetically, materially, etc. 

 That said, though this is just a survey of some of the best of studio furniture, the exhibition and the book that it is based on still have general omissions and lack of gender equality. Several master craftsmen and craftswomen have been left out. Perhaps that means another book and other shows in the future are in order. We look forward to this.

 By Mark Favermann, Contributing Writer

 Furniture With Soul II is at Gallery NAGA from June 1-July 13, 2013

 It should be noted that two studio furniture masters who were shown in Furniture with Soul in 2012 will have shows at Galleru NAGA in the near future. John Cederquist will show Chairs and Trays, September 3-September 28, and Judy McKie will show in November 2013.

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