British designer Max Lamb has travelled to China, Australia, the Catskills in New York, and closer to home—the beaches of Cornwall, England—to source materials for his one-of-a-kind furniture pieces.
Whether forging chairs from solid Chinese granite, crafting tables from sheets of steel, or casting pewter stools in sand, in an age-old technique that entails digging into the beach and filling it with molten metal, Lamb’s methods are often labour-intensive and deeply entwined with his materials.
Other works have incorporated hand-crafted plaster carved with stonemasonry tools, manmade marble, bronze, aluminum, and dowel.
Presented by the 5vie art + design quarter, the program acts as a living catalogue of Lamb’s material, experimental and transformative investigations on the theme, with the curated show by Federica Sala encompassing a nearly 10-year window of work.
Lamb tours the site describing the process in creating — for example — flexibility for his leather and ash ‘campaign chair’, the fragility of the ‘lost wax ceramic stool’ and his thinking behind his 2008 ‘mclean’s cypress tree’.
The exhibition takes its title from the artist’s degree thesis at the royal college of art and spans a large selection of pieces, ranging in type — stools, benches, chairs — style –rough, refined, crudely sculpted — and material — aluminum, oak, marble.
Each represents a different phase a near-obsessive search for the identity of the material, with some seats clearly revealing their physical genesis and materially, and others formally measured and composed.
The research-based works in the show are arranged in a ‘seat circle’ – not dissimilar to a contemporary Stonehenge – as Lamb revels in playing both sculptor and craftsman, confidently blurring the line between design and art.
This ‘seat circle’ that takes up nearly the entirety of the gutted garage comprises pieces presented in new variations of materials, alongside new chairs, which have been worked on for some time and which demonstrate a finality of formal research during the exhibition.
The exhibition gets its name from Lambs’ graduation show at the Royal College of Art in 2006 “Exercise in Seating” which was a collection of chairs, and has grown to include the 40 pieces on display here in chronological order.
The first chair was created while Max was a student, and is a simple humble stacking chair made in Nigeria.
Each piece represents a different part of the same obsessive search for the identity of the subject, sometimes brutally, sometimes carved formally contained, sometimes dissolved and recomposed.
“The exhibition is a ‘retro-future-spective’: a neologism to say that, while the show includes many of Max’s past projects, they’re not dead in the past but they are still being rethought and reworked into new pieces,” says curator Federica Sala.
“The practice is at the center of Max’s work, and each time he finds new solutions or new techniques, he goes back to rethinking past projects into new ones. He’s really a contemporary homo faber, in that his work shows the power of the connection between the mind and the hand.”
About Max Lamb
Max Lamb’s chair designs suggest an aggressiveness that is characteristic of the atavistic spirit in design today. In stark contrast to recent ethereal and romanticised design, or designs that transfer directly from computer to machine manufacture without human intervention, Lamb laboriously chisels, buries, grows and smelts materials into rugged and bold forms.
A recent graduate of the Royal College of Art, Lamb (1980-) cites both the topography and industrial heritage of his native Cornwall as inspiration for his design methodology. Combining industrial production with handcraftsmanship while fusing high and low technologies, the effect is both raw and intense.
1980 Born in St Austell, Cornwall, England
2000 Distinction, BTEC National Diploma Art and Design Foundation Course, Amersham and Wycombe College
2000 City and Guilds Photography Certificate, Amersham and Wycombe College
2003 1st Class BA (hons) Three Dimensional Design: Furniture and Interiors, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne
2003 The Peter Walker Award for Innovation in Furniture Design
2003 Winner of the Hettich International Design Awards
2003–2004 Worked with Ou Baholyodhin Studio
2006 MA in Design Products, Royal College of Art, London, England
2006 Full-time Designer for Tom Dixon
2008 Designer of the Future, Design Miami/Basel
2009 Courvoisier Design Award ‘The Essence of the 21st Century”
Since 2007 Freelance design practice
Since 2008 Professorship for Industrial Design, ECAL Lausanne, Switzerland