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Interview with Julian Mayor

The Art of Design

Julian Mayor is an artist and designer based in East London. His work is inspired by the sculptural possibilities of computers combined with industrial and craft making processes. His designs have been shown at the V&A London, Rossana Orlandi Milan, FAT Galerie Paris and 21st21st New York, and he has also installed a permanent series of sculptural benches in a park behind the Tate Britain, London.

Could you please give us a short introduction to your practice?

Im a designer based in East London, with a workshop in Doncaster in the North of England, where I make most of my pieces.  I work mainly on chairs and other items of furniture and occasionally on larger scale projects when the opportunity occurs.

How would you outline the various steps from an initial idea /thought to the final product?

The process generally takes about a year, from start to finish.  It usually starts with a sketch, that I then translate into a computer model.  I make 3 or 4 card models at full scale, to evaluate how it will look and feel in a space.  Then I usually leave the work while I find a suitable manufacturing process, which usually is more craft based.  After a couple of prototypes in the final material Im happy with, then I make the final edition.  Because the whole process is quite time consuming, I tend to work on different projects at various stages of completion at one time.

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Can one say that most of your designs are based on triangulation and geometry, hence rather on a mathematical approach than on an expressional gesture?

Yes, I think that my work could definitely be described as mathematical in its intent, but when making the final pieces, an organic element appears which comes from making things by hand.  Both the rigorous design stage and the hands-on making process are equally important for me.

Does that mean digital modeling programs and the related digital fabrication tools – CNC/3d printing/ laser cutters etc. are crucial for your design?

Yes, most of my work is at least designed on a computer, even if it is made by hand.  I do use laser cutting and cnc routing quite a bit, but its usually followed by a hand process to finish off.

Your work is featured across many different types of magazines, ranging from design, over interior design to art magazines. How do you negotiate between art and design?

I think that depends on how you look at the man made world, some people think of most things that people have made as some kind of art, and others prefer for the boundaries to be more defined.

We had the chance to test the edition “Impression” 2002. It is hard to imagine this chair as an object in everyday life, being used on a daily basis.  Does this conflict your intention when creating your designs or is it exactly that it is to be regarded as sculpture?

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Oh no! you don’t find that chair comfortable?!  It was certainly designed to be used on a daily basis, I have one in my apartment that I sit on every day!

Our last theme week evolved around new media and techniques in contemporary art practice.  What role do material and technique play in your work?  Does it out rule practicality?

Material and process are really important factors for me when designing, I try to use materials that are reasonably practical, but also beautiful and interesting.

In the renders and installation shots of most of your design, light and reflection seems to play a crucial role – lately, through the use of mirroring metals and before through strategic cuts or erase of wood. To what extend do you incorporate the surrounding environment?

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Yes, light and reflection have been important right from the beginning, starting with the contour chair in 2000, where I was really interested in the shadows that the chair created on the ground around the chair.  More recently, with the mirror work, Im trying to make the mass appear lighter, and show only the outlines of the welds.  In terms of incorporating the surrounding environment, I think that scale plays a factor, a small piece doesn’t have as big a responsibility to this as something say, architectural in scale

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Commissioned works are likely to be regarded as restricting an artist’s creativity. Amongst your range of projects are certainly several commissioned ones. Do you, as a designer regard this as a challenge or rather a burden?

I see a commission as a challenge, not as a burden.  If you look at the Regency benches for example, I think I have been quite successful in keeping the integrity of the concept and the students sketches on the piece while fulfilling the nature of the brief.

While initially furniture served the purpose of accommodating ones home, it has now turned into a collectible. Do you agree or disagree? 

I think that furniture has been collectible for a very long time, if you go to the V&A in London, you can see chairs that were made 400 years ago or more.

Looking through you studies one can clearly sees similar design approach varying tremendously in scale. From being nearly on an architectural building level in front of La Defense in Paris over an outdoor furniture landscape up to a sculptural wall piece.   In this respect, are you establishing a conceptual and formalistic language rather than one object?

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 Yes, a conceptual and formalistic language that can translate between scales.  If you look at the scale of the pieces within themselves, you can find that there is a common language there.

Recent projects of yours include a public installation in front of Inverness Terrace in Bayswater, London, exhibitions across Europe and the States, in 2013 what’s next?

I have a solo show at Interart sculpture park in the Netherlands in May, and the Clone chair is being shown at the Museum of Art and Design in New York.  At the moment, Im working on a small folding chair with the fashion designer Makin Jan Ma and various other furniture projects which should appear throughout the year.

all images © Julian Mayor


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