A Designer’s Eye: Paul Rand

If there's anyone we'd trust to put together a beautiful book of ephemera, it's JP Williams, the New York–based graphic designer whose collections — of baseball cards, of balls of twine, of Swiss office supplies, and the like — are legendary. But Williams's first book doesn't in fact catalog his own accumulations from years past but rather those of the iconic graphic designer Paul Rand, who Williams used to visit at his home before Rand's death in the late 1990s. But, Williams writes, "it was not until visiting Mrs. Rand that I discovered Mr. Rand's cache of items that he had saved from his travels. A large variety of items: packages, shopping bags, dolls, toys. So many were unfamiliar to me. As soon as I saw them I asked then and there if I could have them photographed. I asked the photographer Grant Peterson to shoot all of these items in hopes of doing a book. Well, 18 years later, here it is."

Seattle Still Lifes, By Photographer Charlie Schuck

Every creative scene has an unseen hand, the type of person who seems to know everyone, touch everything, and generally act as the glue holding it all together, all while falling just below the radar of the average outside observer. In the Seattle design world, Charlie Schuck fits that profile to a tee. A photographer and the proprietor of the former brick and mortar storefront Object — which he filled with commissions by designers from around the Pacific Northwest — he not only produces stunning product shots for locals like Totokaelo, Iacoli & McAllister, Ladies & Gentlemen Studio, and Filson, he also curates exhibitions, like the recent pop-up Future This Now and an upcoming museum survey of regional talents. He's so committed to his role, in fact, that when we approached him about doing a story on his own work, he came back with the idea to do a photo essay on everyone else's: "A still life series of personal items that speak to the influences of Seattle creatives," he says. "Objects from those who produce objects."

The Stacks Series by Clemens Kois

Not everyone would spot the potential magic in a cluster of their children's medicine bottles, or in utilitarian household items like batteries, lightbulbs, and binder clips. But before he began constructing and shooting teetering towers of such trifles, photographer Clemens Kois had plenty of practice: as a longtime flea market enthusiast and avid collector — of Carl Aübock designs, among many others — he had spent decades perceiving a heightened level of beauty and value in objects others might overlook. Each image in his ongoing Stacks series always begins with a few such things he's harvested from somewhere in his New York apartment, which he builds into a delicately balanced vertical composition, like arranging the notes in a song.

Joanna Williams of Kneeland Mercado on Sous Style

There are a lot of reasons we've been reading Sous Style since former Elle photo director Pippa Lord first launched it in 2011: the casual, contemporary feel of the food photography, the glimpses into the homes and private lives of some amazingly cool women, and of course, all those incredibly gorgeous men(!). But we also love when Lord surprises us with different types of approaches to mixing food with fashion, design, and culture, including a post she did recently on textile-sourcing maven Joanna Williams of Kneeland Co. Mercado — in it, Williams reveals both the stories behind some of the items she's brought back from various cities to sell in her Los Angeles shop, as well as all of her favorite things to eat while visiting those places. Check out an excerpt from the story after the jump!

Studio AH–HA’s Stationery Collection

We don't do this very often at Sight Unseen — post about the same subject twice in the span of two weeks — but in this case, we couldn't help it: When the young Portuguese graphics duo Studio AH–HA submitted their answers for our recent Up and Coming profile, they included eight impeccably styled photos of their personal stationery collection, and we couldn't bear to let the images go to waste. There are few things more beautiful than old paper goods, as anyone who's ever perused the goods at Present and Correct, or the mountains of vintage office ephemera available on Etsy, can surely attest. So we asked AH–HA's Catarina Carreiras and Carolina Cantante to share the stories behind the objects in the photos they shot for us, many of which they inhereted from Carreiras's late grandfather.
“This winter I got really into beeswax candles. They make the best patterns when they melt. The eye bowl is by Karin Gulbran, part of her recent exhibition at South Willard in LA. The turquoise tiles are Geoff McFetridge for Heath Ceramics: ‘My Head Disappears While My Hands are Thinking.’  I added little bits of cork to the bottom so they can be used as coasters or hot plates or something. And that bit of pottery in the corner is a piece by Mondays Projects.”

Brian W. Ferry, Photographer

If photographer Brian W. Ferry shoots like he takes absolutely nothing for granted — making us pine hard for moments of intensely quiet, understated beauty that probably already exist in our everyday lives — it’s likely because he feels so grateful to be doing what he’s doing. He may have discovered his inner camera nerd way back when he was growing up in Connecticut, but just a few short years ago, he was working long hours as a corporate lawyer in London, taking pictures merely as a personal creative escape hatch. Only after his blog began delivering fans and potential clients to his digital doorstep did he gather the resolve to quit his job, move to Brooklyn, and make a career out of triggering in people a kind of strange, misplaced nostalgia. “I think a lot about taking photos that are about more than capturing something beautiful, that have a heaviness attached to them,” Ferry told us earlier this winter at his Fort Greene garden apartment, as we rifled through his belongings together.

Ya Wen Chou, Textile and Product Designer

Ahh, design school — where navel-gazing and the pretentions of identity art are not only tolerated, but encouraged (on days when the lesson plan doesn't focus on sustainability or people with disabilities, of course). It's easy for lesser talents to get sucked too far into these themes and end up with over-baked work that either borders on kitsch or is completely irrelevant to the wider world, but when done right, the results can be both beautiful and culturally illuminating — as in the case of Ya Wen Chou, who used her time in the RCA's textile department to dig into the traditions of her grandmother and her home country of Taiwan. "My grandmother’s house was always full of handicrafts made by Taiwanese artisans," she told the Arts Thread blog last year, explaining a main source of her inspiration. And her Precious Objects project — which first caught our eye on Pinterest — explores her culture's traditional reverence for nature's role in everyday life, which does feel rather universal, having a lot in common with everything from Icelandic elf mythology to Native American spirituality. Read more about Chou's point of view in our interview after the jump.
"Many of the display fixtures for TOC were designed by us, including this walnut and cast bronze book rest. The books and magazines we feature in the shop include a selection of vintage items that reflect ongoing research and interests (Yves Klein and the MoMA’s 1972 exhibition "Italy: The New Domestic Landscape" have been touchstones for years). Also pictured: the CL-16 Copper Pendant by David Derksen."

Table of Contents, Portland

Table of Contents is a concept shop that sells clothing and objects from a storefront just inside the gates of Portland’s Chinatown, opened in September by two local designers. So when one of them, Joseph Magliaro, told us that “the goal of TOC is to produce an expanded notion of what a publication can be,” well, you can’t blame us if we were a smidge confused. But it turns out that Magliaro and his other half, Shu Hung, prefer to look at their store as a kind of magazine come to life — a place where the things we’re all reading about now, or should be, are actually there to have and to hold, and where every fashion season brings a new “editorial” theme.
Installationsansichten : "Gabriel Orozco: Asterisms",  Deutsche Guggenheim - 2012

Gabriel Orozco’s Asterisms at the Guggenheim

It may look like a staging area for the production of Stuart Haygarth chandeliers or Massimiliano Adami cabinets, or possibly an excerpt from the website Things Organized Neatly. But the comely technicolor garbage pile pictured above is actually a piece by the Mexican art-star Gabriel Orozco, who's known for his use of humble materials and found objects, and it's moving into New York's Guggenheim museum as of this Friday. Asterisms is a process-oriented installation — our favorite kind! — featuring thousands of objects Orozco collected from two separate sites: a sports field near his New York home and a wildlife reserve on the coast of Baja California Sur, the latter of which happens to enjoy a constant flow of industrial backwash from across the Pacific that every so often yields bits of aesthetically pleasing detritus.

Designers of the Future Photo Essay

And now for some ridiculously old news: At Design Miami/Basel this past June, the three W Hotels Designers of the Future awardees included Tom Foulsham, Markus Kayser, and Philippe Malouin, each of whom were handed a commission with a very meta, very Sight Unseen-style brief — to devise a project that would somehow illuminate their creative process, like Foulsham's merry-go-round propelled by balloons and hair-dryers, or Malouin and Kayser's differing takes on daylight-mimicking lamps. Even if you weren't in Basel yourself, you probably read all about it earlier this summer, whoop-de-doo. But what you might not have seen is the hefty catalog Design Miami's organizers produce for every show, which was handed to us belatedly last week during a pow-wow with head curator Marianne Goebl, and which contained an article that was so up our alley we were surpised no one had shown it to us sooner: a photo essay wherein Kayser, Foulsham, and Malouin were asked to respond to questions like "A sketch" and "An object you find useful" by handing over the sketches and objects themselves.
"Skin specimens of birds, nineteenth century. The specimens are stuffed but not mounted, retaining their shape and dimensions if left flat (collections of the city of Strasbourg, Musée Zoologique, Strasbourg)." © Christine Fleurent

Cabinets of Wonder

Back in 2006, when Freeman's opened in New York and Jason Miller's Antler chandelier was selling like hotcakes at The Future Perfect in Williamsburg (it probably still is), that whole taxidermy thing hit hard — stuffed deer heads suddenly becoming the de facto symbol for a style movement dedicated to the return to nature, the embracing of all things old-fashioned, and in many cases, the compulsion to dress like a bearded woodsman. Six years later, some of the less meaningful elements of that trend have subsided, while its obsession with authenticity and craftsmanship have, thankfully, hung on strong. We would also argue for the longevity of another development that arose around that time but strikes us as evergreen: the fascination with curiosities, and cabinets of curiosity, that may have hit its modern fever pitch recently but seems somehow endemic to the human psyche. We are by nature collectors, prone to hunting, preserving, and displaying our treasures both for our own amusement and to impress others. And most of us, too, have a dark side — the kind that can't help but find beauty in bones, bugs, and dead things, provided they're presented to us in the right context. That's why we felt so compelled to share with our readers the contents of a new book out on Abrams this month called Cabinets of Wonder, which is a full-color romp through the world of natural oddities, memento mori, and other dark artifacts.
The back office’s showpiece is the large plywood-covered wall pictured here, which Grajales put up a decade ago when she first moved in, and which forms the backdrop for the bulk of her art collection — from the Nan Golden photo in the center to works by Ross Bleckner, Pierre Molinier, and Tom Sachs. “It’s a funny story,” she says. “I wanted to use the cheapest wood I could find, but the lumber guy sent me beautiful plywood sheets, to do something nice for me. I returned them and said I don’t want your perfect plywood! I wanted the ones with character. I wanted to see the knots, and the grain of the wood.”

Cristina Grajales Gallery

At the Armory Show this past November, Cristina Grajales had an original Jean Royère Polar Bear sofa in her booth, which sold for “half a million in minutes,” she recalls. Grajales has had plenty of experience dealing in 20th-century masterpieces like these — both in her decade-long stint directing 1950 for Delorenzo and at the helm of her 12-year-old eponymous gallery in Soho — and yet her own most cherished piece isn’t some icon of modernism at all. It’s not even a design object, but a 19th-century Naga warrior costume she bought at the Tribal Art Fair, and as a mainstay of the large office and presentation room she keeps behind her gallery, only her clients and artists ever get to see it. Of course it’s they, if any, who understand Grajales’s working methods best; they come to her precisely because she looks at objects “as sculptures, for what they are,” and says she’s “not afraid to put together, say, an 18th-century Portuguese table with a contemporary silver tray.” Which is why we figured a privileged peek inside her back room, captured earlier this year by our trusty photographer Mike Vorrasi, might be the ideal way for our readers to get to know her, too.