David Wiseman, Designer

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.