WHY CHAIRS? (October 2006)

I've been obsessed with chairs for a long long time. The cover of the mid-80s Talking Heads LP featured 4 photos of a drunken chair, showing off. A few years ago I began sketching them in books I carried with me. Maybe they are portraits, maybe self-portraits, maybe portraits of my interior state. Maybe they are also possible practical furniture design. Maybe all of the above at once.

After I'd amassed quite a number of sketches a Japanese furniture producer suggested I realize some for the Milan design fair. I thought this was a wonderful idea—in that context they would mean something altogether different. Too different, it seems—it never happened. But I did make some of the chairs, and some of them are indeed practical.

What makes these different from most contemporary furniture is not the design—furniture designers can be just as fanciful—it is the absence of the "problem solving for the client" approach. Usually in commercial design one is given a budget and a material, price constraints and turnaround times. While I had financial constraints, the material constraints were absent—I worked with whatever material seemed right to realize the drawing, which would not be practical if one were making a commercial run of even the wildest furniture.

I can usually imagine a drawing as a 3D item in my head. The painstaking and time-consuming (and expensive) realization is fun (sometimes) but also weirdly anticlimactic, at least for me. There is indeed a thrill when the tactile thing actually matches the sketchy imagined thing. It's a bit like the Hitchcock quote, that he's made the movie already in his head so although a lot of creativity goes into the making, most of the creative heavy lifting has already been done.

Why chairs? Well, they have arms and legs and vaguely human scale—and shape. They're people—they hold you, support you, elevate you or humble you. They're funny or elegant, funky or gorgeous, social or aloof. They're characters with lives and histories... aren't they?


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