For a designer whose most high-profile interiors client is Christian Dior, David Wiseman has none of the flamboyance you might expect — neither the stylized degeneracy of John Galliano nor the leather chaps–wearing showmanship of Peter Marino, the architect who in the past year-and-a-half has hired Wiseman to create massive, site-specific installations in his newly renovated Dior flagships from Shanghai to New York. Rather, Wiseman is a 29-year-old RISD grad whose studio is located in a former sweatshop in the industrial Glassell Park area of Los Angeles, just behind an unmarked door in the shadow of a taco truck. For a commission like the Shanghai Dior installation — a ceiling full of more than 500 porcelain lily-of-the-valley blossoms cascading down the walls — Wiseman tends to hunker down just inside the doorway of his warehouse-like space, chalk in hand, sketching out tentative blueprints on the concrete floor before prefabricating the work in parts on tiles that can be reassembled on-site.
Truth be told, it’s awfully refreshing. Wiseman remains remarkably humble for someone who, just shy of 30, has been represented for two years by the ultra-respected downtown design gallery R20th Century, was included in a Cooper-Hewitt National Design Triennial, and is regularly called upon to jet off to one city or another to create custom installations for a growing roster of private clients. He seems honored when he gets to work with one of those clients to create a family narrative throughout their home, and genuinely excited each time he pops open a plaster mold to reveal a fresh casting.
Wiseman studied furniture design at RISD, but by the time he graduated in 2003, he’d already gotten hooked on the materials and themes that would define his postgraduate career: porcelain for the former, and nature for the latter. For his degree project, he found a series of fallen trees and dragged them through the snow to the basement workshop at RISD, where he cast them in water-based resin. The piece, he said, was about celebrating and highlighting the different textures of trees and turning them into abstracted patterns. Though Wiseman has since branched out — no pun intended — to materials like glass (for which he works with a Czech company called Artel) and bronze, his themes and inspirations have remained relatively constant. For his most recent commission, a huge wall visible from the street at the new West Hollywood library, he’ll play off the city of Los Angeles’s official tree. “In the median of San Vicente, from Brentwood all the way to the beach, there are these fantastic, muscular coral trees,” he explains. “They look like they’ve been growing for decades. This installation will honor those by way of massive limbs that grow towards the light, and at the top, become fully three-dimensional. It’s kind of amazing.”
Wiseman is serious about his craftsmanship, but when I arrived for a studio visit early last month, he was in goof-off mode, watching as his dog Cora bonded with a stray pup named Marta who’d shown up at the door just an hour before I got there. He took a quick break to show me around the space and to explain the process behind his exacting methods.
Los Angeles designer Tanya Aguiñiga already had two studios when she took up a third this summer: the first in the backyard of the Atwater Village bungalow she shares with her husband and two sisters, and the second six blocks away, in a converted industrial-park-turned-artists’-community near the train tracks. But in early July, Aguiñiga picked up and moved her shop 2,000 miles south to the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, for a five-week residency — the first in a project she calls Artists Helping Artisans. “I had gone to Oaxaca and Chiapas in 2007, and there was so much amazing stuff being produced by the women there,” she says. “People aren’t aware of it because the skills aren’t being passed down anymore and because people are scared to travel within Mexico. There’s isn’t enough tourism or income to sustain these crafts.”
If you were familiar only with Uhuru’s work, it would be enough to surmise that the Brooklyn-based furniture designers are experts at creating something beautiful from practically nothing. (The formal term for this, we’re told, is up-cycling.) In the half-decade since RISD grads Jason Horvath and Bill Hilgendorf have been designing their own line, they’ve produced chairs from Kentucky bourbon barrels, loungers from the Ipe wood planks of a demolished Coney Island boardwalk, and scrapwood stools so stylish they were recently picked to decorate the café at New York’s SANAA-designed New Museum. But while it's true Uhuru are a resourceful bunch, step into their sprawling Red Hook studio and any assumptions you might have about their bootstraps process all but disappear.
Jonah Takagi claims he has ADD, and he may be right. Since graduating from RISD in 2002, the Japanese-born, New England–bred, Washington D.C.–based designer has worked as a cabinetmaker, a full-time musician, a set builder for National Geographic docudramas, and a producer for an indie-rock kids’ show called Pancake Mountain. In the weeks leading up to this story, we talked about skinned cats, prosthetic kidneys, and smoking pot out of an art-school professor’s peg leg. But Takagi’s work is anything but schizophrenic.