Michael Samuels makes abstract sculptures from vintage furniture that other folk might prefer to keep intact.
Words: Jane Szita, Frame magazine 2012
London –based Michael Samuels, who has a MA in sculpture from the Royal College of Art, uses furniture that was once the future – early mass produced modernist pieces fro the home , such as those made by G-Plan- to build architectural constructions that render the functions nonfictional and seem to reflect on past and present conceptions of domesticity . His works appear in the Comme des Garçons Dover Street Market stores in London and Ginza, and have featured in group and individual exhibitions
So why the obsession with modernist furniture?
For sometime I have worked with furniture. Initially it was used as an alternative for a plinth, but then I began to approach it as a medium in it’s own right. First of all it was 1960’s domestic Formica furniture and now G-plan. The Formica was all about the palette of colours and history.
You switched to G-Plan. Why?
After working with coloured Formica furniture for the 1960’s I was looking for something less colourful and a bit more sophisticated. The G-Plan appeals because of the tonal palette, within that the history and exposing the veneer and mass production of each piece. I was the first readily available modernist furniture in the UK and became a staple of British households. I like its simplicity and how it is very evocative of a certain period in domestic Britain
Where do you get the pieces from? Are they hard to find?
I used to run around second hand shops, but now I just spend an unhealthy amount of time on eBay. The world is your oyster on eBay
Who or what has inspired your approach?
No one really, unless subconsciously. I try to steer clear of looking for influences, or being influenced, in order to maintain some originality and a unique visual language. It’s easy to see too much these days, so I try to limit what I see.
What techniques do you use to construct your sculptures ?
I don’t really worry about that. Fundamentally it’s more about the aesthetics and whichever way I can achieve something without dwelling about permanence. Often the quickest and most direct way to achieve a structure is with the use of clamps. I find the more time I take the less successful the work becomes, so haste is the key.
Can you continue taking the works into new directions?
Absolutely. I haven’t even touched the surface and I am waiting for opportunity of a gigantic space to push it further.
You’ve got a long running relationship with Comme des Garçons. How did that begin ?
I got a polite email asking me to design a space for the London shop. They had seen my work online. In terms of commissions it’s very easy as there are few restrictions. Basically it’s ‘do what you like ‘ and we will help you. Since then I have done more work for them in London and their new Tokyo shop
Do you think you can continue working in this material indefinitely ?
I am always looking for new materials. In order to stay engaged with my practice I have to keep experimenting. I am not one for finding one particular medium and pursuing it for my entire life. The moment I get bored in the studio is when I know I have to move on.
Did you grow up with this kind of furniture?
Yes. I think most people who lived in the UK will have some recollection of G-Plan or something similar in their home. It was very popular.
How do people tend to respond to your works?
In all manner of ways. I enjoy watching people engage with them, but I guess it’s evenly split between people who like them and people who think “ oh no, what a waste of good furniture “. I am always interested in how people contextualize my work. Often what I see, is completely different to what some one else see’s
What are your pieces saying?
I’d like to think that they continue an investigation into abstraction and the pictorial plane. Using every day materials makes them more familiar, but essentially it’s about abstraction
Why choose such an inherently domestic material? Would office furniture give the same effect?
I always wanted to use something very domestic. I think it helps the audience relate to the work easier as a lot of people would have some experience of the material. Traditional sculptural materials do not appeal to me as they usually come with their own baggage and for me, being domestic makes it less masculine. Office furniture would not have the domestic appeal I am after.
You made a fabulous router shelf for Richard Hogg – any plans to do some functional furniture design for a change?
Richard is in the studio next door to me. It was a simple solution to a problem, and a bit of fun. As much as I like rendering functional objects non-functional I have no qualms about making some works slightly functional, hence the work with Comme Des Garcons. I like the challenge; I have always liked design and architecture, therefore this just furthers my practice and makes it a bit more limitless
Would you object to anyone using your art pieces as cupboards say?
Once they own it, they can do what they like. I am not precious