Monday, July 15, 2013

Furniture With Soul II @ Gallery NAGA

This summer Gallery NAGA has organized a second show of artists featured in David Savage's book, Furniture with Soul: Master Woodworkers and Their Craft. For background, you can see the review I wrote last year here. As an added bonus, the show features even more artists from the other side of the Atlantic whose work is rarely seen in the US.

This year's show is equally great, with plenty of stunning work that truly push the boundaries of what furniture is and how it relates to art. Interestingly, I found my favorite piece to be one that was more conceptual than the others. Yuri Kobayaski's Being is emotionally powerful, conveying a tension between what is public, for everyone to see, and what is private, that perhaps we don't have a right to know about. It can be simply viewed as a chest of draws, however, it is really much more complex. Without any walls to protect the interior, the viewer can look right through it as if it has nothing to hide;
108" x 17" x 11"
Yuri Kobayashi
In contrast, the small draws feel very intimate and private, as if they hold secrets, even though they are totally exposed. I found this contrast scary and uncomfortable, while at the same time, admirable. Additionally, notice how it is difficult to tell where the top ends. It seems to fade to nothingness, as if there is no separation between it and everything else. It is borderless/endless but still, very small and personal.
Being (closeup)
I also love her second piece, Current, and believe it is the equal of anything else in the show in spite of it being the smallest and "simplest" work on display. Though minimalist in design, it is skillfully constructed with a surprisingly technical complexity. She had taken nine strips of ash and bent them so that each piece retains its individuality as it rotates from being glued edge-to-edge on the left side to being glued top-to-bottom on the right.
18" x 45" x 7"
Amazingly, as they shift, each strip has terraced edges rather than being sculpted smooth.
Current (second view)
The edges are most visible in the image below. Notice how the thickness of the strips also decreases as they overlap so she is able to maintain the full length of the strips without an incongruously thick stem.
Current (closeup)
Also notice the elegant finish to the stem.
Current (closeup)
Though Yuri's sculptures are certainly standouts, a number of pieces were exceptional by any standard of design or technical execution. Of particular note is Marc Fish's Mollusque. Unfortunately, the images I thought I took seem to have disappeared so I grabbed them from the gallery's site.
sycamore, glass, copper
32" x 72" x 41"
Marc Fish
It is a phenomenal piece, made with copper and wrapped with sycamore (probably English sycamore, which is linguistically a little confusing because it is actually a maple - Acer pseudoplanunus). Amazingly, the wood is thin enough to fold around the tight curve but thick enough to carve ripples (and for this I wish I had my images) all around the piece, perhaps and 1/8" deep, that create an illusion of a beach-worn shell surface.
Mollusque (second view)
Curiously, in contrast to last year's show that had two equine pieces, this year there are three mollusks. The second one is by Joseph Walsh, also a low table sculpted as a weathered shell, again with a textured surface.
Erosion I - Low Table
rippled ash, olive ash, white oil
21" x 67" x 35"
Joseph Walsh
With the treatment of the surface and the whitening (with oil) he is able to mimic the look of a time-sculpted shell.
Erosion I - Low Table (second view)
The third mollusk inspired piece is Alun Heslop's Razorfish (table). Again with a white ash, the piece resembles a wave sculpted sea floor with the razorfish making up the legs, seemingly poised to pop out of their holes. 
Razorfish III
21" x 73" x 24"
Alun Heslop
From underneath you get a better view of the holes. They remind me of Bart Niswonger's work, and perhaps were carved with the use of an industrial drill press, as Bart does.
Razorfish III (underneath)
Daniel Lacy's Chestless is innovative and interesting in how it is constructed without a chest for the draws to fit into. Instead, the draws slide on a rail system that is invisible from the front.
British cherry, ash, Lebonon cedar
58" x 15" x 21"
Daniel Lacey
From the rear you can see how the draws slide. In addition, by creating a decorative crevice along the side that can be used as a handhold, he is able to maintain a sleek, clean line (void of handles) along the front.
Chestless (second view)
Michael Puryear's Asian influenced desk and chair combination, Win Jinan Shifu, is light in color and design. The seat and table top float above their bases as if levitating, creating a magical element to the work. 
Wei Jinan Shifu (chair)
English sycamore, wenge
30" x 29" x 22"
Michael Puryear
Wei Jinan Shifu (second view)
Both pieces are impeccably designed and executed. I particularly like the high contrast lumber selection. Often I find this combination to be too jarring, but here, perhaps because the dark wenge helps to create an additional illusion of floating above the floor, it is particularly appropriate.
Wei Jinan Shifu (desk)
English sycamore, wenge
29" x 60" x 20"
Michael Puryear
With this close up of the desk top, you can see the highly figured boards he used.
Wei Jinan Shifu (desk - closeup)
The last piece that I'd like to highlight is Reveal Chest of Draws by Waywood, a small team of furniture-makers in Chadlington, UK. It has such beautiful, flowing surfaces, again, uninterrupted by handles. It obviously inspired by nature but, at the same time, is elegant and contemporary.
Reveal Chest of Draws
walnut, maple, oak, Lebanon cedar
55" x 28" x 20"
From the side you can also see the handholds that allow for easy opening, and the decorative joining technique used in the draw fronts.
Reveal Chest of Draws (closeup)
And finally, I have to congratulate Gallery NAGA for curating such an ambitious, and expensive, show for the second year in a row. The logistics of working with so many artists from so many different places -- including the shipping, handling, and promoting -- is a remarkable feat that matches the accomplishments of the participants. It has been such a treat to be able to see, and touch, work that I would, otherwise, not even know about.


  1. Hi Robert,

    Thanks for sharing your pictures and thoughts on the pieces. My favourite is "Current" and I appreciate the design of Daniel Lacey's "Chestless"