This Former Acne Art Director Makes Furniture With a Graphic Eye
When we first encountered Swedish designer Erik Olovsson two years ago in the basement of Rossana Orlandi, he had but two products to his name — a wavy-lined metal and marble clothes rack and a modular, geometric shelving unit, both created in collaboration with his fellow Konstfack graduate and graphic designer Kyuhyung Cho. Since then, Olovsson has been developing his portfolio and tinkering with a handful of beautiful projects launching in Milan this week. In one, Olovsson pairs freeform blown glass with angular stone geometries; in another, various color treatments create infinite combinations in a series of stools made from pine plywood. Both involve an equal amount of control and of letting go, a balance Olovsson learned growing up: “My grandfather is a chemistry professor and my parents are both meditation teachers, and I feel this is where I often look back to when working out new projects: the fixed rules from science meeting the more free in meditation.” Olovsson’s affinity for design also stems from that dual background — from his grandfather, he learned the joys of making images on the computer, and from his parents, who moved around quite a bit, he came to value the inspiration that can be found in travel.
But perhaps the biggest influence on Olovsson’s work is his training as a graphic designer. Olovsson studied fine art and graphic design, and worked for three years as an art director at Acne, and with each of his projects comes a finely honed sense of color and form, as well as a talent for photography and styling — resulting in the beautiful photos we’re sharing here today. We recently caught up with the Stockholm-based designer in advance of his debut at Ventura Lambrate this week.
Describe your most recent project and how it was made.
I like the idea of objects that last over time and when the material itself has a history. I started researching different types of stones in a previous project called Sine Collection, and from then I got hooked on stones. I wanted to work with a contrasting material this time and I thought glass would be interesting, so I called up Simon Klenell and asked him if he could help me out with the glass. I then made some forms in metal that the glass was blown onto; I later changed the metal to stones.
This new project I call Indefinite Vases and it’s an exploration of the relationship between geometric and organic forms, both transparent and opaque. Indefinite melting material interacts with definite angular forms and gravity determines the relationship between them. Indefinite Vases are sculptures or containers. Functional or decorative. The contrast between the cut stone and the form of the hand blown glass emphasizes the relationship between space and object, an interplay between a fragile material and its solid counterpart.
Describe your next project and how you’re currently making it.
Many of my previous works don’t have a fixed start or end to them, which I believe is a good way for me to approach design. I like spending a lot of time designing the framework so I can feel free to work within it. Two years ago, I started playing with leftover materials from previous work. From my background as a graphic designer, I had a lot of color from screen-printing projects that I could experiment with. I started to ensemble small pieces as a daily routine in a project I called Afternoon Sculpture. With this as my starting point I later came up with the project ST∞L, which is basically the same idea but I narrowed it down to only making stools.
ST∞L is a sequence, a collection of experiments about color and connections. My focus was my intuition, allowing the hand and the eye to direct my process. Daily exercises to explore and develop techniques through practice and repetition. Each day a new experiment. Each day a continuation of and a reaction to the previous.
Using a limited palette of pine and screen print dye, the small tests developed into the foundations for ST∞L. Assembled in my studio, each stool evolves from the previous, the change subtle in contrast to the bold and graphic elements within each piece. Their shared origin is clear but each presents its own unique and playful character. This project is ongoing and will continue to explore using new materials, colors and connections as reactions to the previous work.
Tell us one thing that’s been inspiring you lately and why.
My girlfriend and I traveled to India and the city of Cochin some time ago. Cochin is such a interesting place with a blend of architecture from India, Holland, China, Portugal, England and other countries. It was so refreshing seeing this mix of colors and shapes coming from the strict architecture climate in Sweden. This fearless way of building felt like a great source of inspiration to me.
And I also have to mention our baby daughter, Vega. I never realized it’s so much fun having babies; it’s A LOT of work but by not working all the time, it actually gives you new energy into your work.
What’s your favorite piece of art or design from the last 10 years and why?
That’s almost impossible to answer; Olafur Eliasson and James Turrell’s work have been favorites for some time. But if I should pick something more local I would say the Swedish design group Front; they have made a couple of projects that are so nice. For me they were pioneers in the new era of experimental design and I think they have influenced a lot of designers to push their boundaries more.