September 15, 2017

5 Artists Redefining Classic Techniques and Materials

Mary-Lynn Massoud and Rasha Nawam

Pottery began as a hobby for Mary-Lynn Massoud and Rasha Nawam, but soon consumed the Beirut-based artisans. “It reminds us of children playing,” says Massoud, who trained at La Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres outside Paris. “There is something authentic and primitive about creating with one’s hands.” They joined forces in 2008 when Massoud received an order to make 100 ceramic tables. Collaboration suits Massoud, who has also teamed with her industrial designer brother, Carlo, on a collection of objects. With both partners, she says, working is mixed with laughter. Ceramics requires levity, because “unexpected things happen in the oven: a piece with red glaze comes out blue, a very straight object emerges crinkled.” The women produce limited-edition bowls and objects that employ molds, but their artistic work is one-of-a-kind. For their U.S. debut, at DesignMiami/ in 2015, they exhibited kiln rejects stacked into totemic sculptures. “It felt like they were alive, like people walking,” Massoud recalls. Their latest project is a vast wall relief. Its architectural scale has opened a new realm for exploration. Through Carwan Gallery.

Giulia Birindelli

Giulia Birindelli. Photography by Filippo Bamberghi/Photofoyer.

If you think of needlework as a twee pursuit, consider the embroidered canvases of Milan-based artist Giulia Birindelli. Her stitchery is not only poetic in vision, but brainy in concept. A former journalist who wanted to say more than she could with words, she began carving beloved texts in wood. To understand Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building, she embroidered it. “I agree with him that the shape is not a starting point, but the result of a design process,” Birindelli says. She returned to literary concerns with Letters, a series in which the shapes mutate but one element remains constant: blood-red thread. Her epically scaled Migration evokes the atomism of ancient Greek philosophers like Democritus as well as data visualizations on the movement of refugees. Birindelli’s studio, located in her home, is “a big empty white space”—and necessarily so. “It gives me the silence in which I can find something to say with my hands, because words are not enough.” 

Francesco Faccin

Faccin tests out a plaster bust on his pedestal. Photography by Lea Anouchinsky/Living Inside.

Industrial designer Francesco Faccin doesn’t limit his vision to furnishings and lighting. To wit: Re-Fire, a stylish kit he conceived for igniting flames via the primitive hand drilling method. “I was overwhelmed by the powerful sense of independence and self-sufficiency it provided,” he con- fesses. You see, for this Milan-born and -based talent, design is as much about anthropology as it is aesthetics. When approached by the venerable Fonderia Artistica Battaglia to conceive ways to employ its lost-wax process of bronze casting in design, Faccin decided to replicate a larch plank and demonstrate how it might be used to create an infinite number of simple furniture pieces. The result, Serial Planks, is a collection of humble-looking, elemental bronze pieces now editioned for Nilafur. “With this project I applied repetition, a typical method of industrial manufacturing, to art,” he says. (Talk about value-added goods.) This November, Faccin will have his first one-man retrospective in conjunction with Operæ, a design fair in Turin. 

Lauren Williams Art + Home

Lauren Williams with one of her fiber works. Photography by Elizabeth Lavin.

When former event designer Lauren Williams moved with her husband and new baby into a charmless Dallas rental with a very large and ugly dining room wall, she didn’t know how she would cope. It needed a great work of art, she determined. Although Williams lacked an art budget, she did have an idea for “a kind of tapestry” to fill the offending blank space. So she headed to Home Depot to make it herself. After patiently attaching hundreds of yarn strands to a wooden dowel, she dyed them in the backyard. Delighted with her creation, she posted her “canvas with movement” on Instagram to show family and friends. To her great surprise, each wanted one too. Now she has a thriving business—built al- most entirely through social media—that also includes pillows and throws. These days, though, the Home Depot dowels have been exchanged for custom-made walnut versions and her yarn is sourced from a Wyoming sheep ranch and spun to her specifications at a nearby mill. Williams’ latest offering: high-resolution digital prints of her most popular fiber works, reproduced on archival cotton rag paper: “It looks like you can touch the strands,” she says. 

Matteo Brioni

Matteo Brioni with a sample of Terrawabi—natural clays with no additional pigments. Photography by Lea Anouchinsky/Living Inside.

Matteo Brioni is, literally, a man of the earth. For nearly a century, his family has made bricks and terracotta products in the Fornace Brioni on the outskirts of Gonzaga, Italy. Armed with his architectural training and deep appreciation for the strength, durability, and practicality of sun-dried raw earth, in 2010 Brioni launched his own line of enticingly tactile and innovative terra cruda products for walls, floors, ceilings, and now fabric: cotton spray-painted with clay for a silky sheen. “Clay is a wonderful material for contemporary building because it returns us to our origins,” says Brioni. “In addition to being beautiful and sensual, it is eco-friendly, humidity-controlling, and fire-resistant.” He offers 11 “geo-localized” shades of earth, including an ochre from Piedmont and a gray from Sicily. The clay can be kneaded with straw, rice, or jute to achieve a variety of textures or, for a bit of glimmer, mixed with such materials as mica or mother of pearl. Terraevoca, a recent introduction, is a wall treatment molded like a bas-relief, producing poetic decorative effects. 

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