James Shaw, Furniture Designer
I recently wrote an article for a forthcoming issue of Architectural Digest on the London talent Anton Alvarez, whose Thread-Wrapping Machine has captivated the design world as of late, and in it, his gallerist Libby Sellers makes the point that what’s so of the moment about his work is that he isn’t just making objects, he’s making the object that makes the objects. And it’s so true: Many of the more interesting young designers we’ve come across in the past few years have been the ones shifting their focus towards developing their own weird and wonderful production processes, like Silo Studio for instance. There’s just something about this unexpected inventiveness that captures people’s curiosity, which explains why the latest project by newcomer James Shaw — a series of homemade “guns” that spray or extrude materials into or onto furnishings — went viral on the design blogs shortly after he presented it at his RCA graduation show. In work like his, it’s about the journey, not just the destination. So Sight Unseen, right?
Describe your most recent project and how it was made.
“My series Making Guns is a response to the whole designer machine-making vibe that’s going on at the moment, as well as a result of thinking I’ve been doing recently around expedient making and bringing spontaneity into manufacture. Something that was also key to the work was a Jonathan Meuli essay that talks about an erroneous but pervasive understanding of the way that artists, designers, and craftsmen work: There’s a popular idea of these figures being lone heroic individuals struggling to find originality, new creative territory, and expression. The relation to the essay is simultaneously in the way that my ‘guns’ are the weapons to fight for this creative struggle but also as weapons that play into that false ‘heroic’ image. It’s also about the way that I feel that the visual culture of the internet, and being exposed to a constant stream of images, has created this struggle for new or original images and creative ideas; the speed and range of this transfer of images intensifies this race, or battle, as we’re able to find out what other people have done on the other side of the world so much more quickly. That said, all that is tempered by these being genuinely innovative tools that allow me to make some really cool stuff. If developed, the tools could have genuine benefits for a massive audience that stretches beyond the esoteric world of funky furniture.”
“The collection is made up of three guns: the papier mache gun, the pewter-squirting gun, and the plastic extruding gun. The papier mache gun spews out recycled paper fiber and a glue/water binder, mixing the two in the air so that they hit whatever you’re spraying as papier mache. It’s very messy and builds up these rough geological forms with very complex surfaces.” (See opening image.)
“The pewter gun squirts out molten pewter from a fine nozzle so you can build blobby forms from the bottom up (it’s basically a water pistol for liquid metal).”
“And the plastic-extruding gun squishes out molten plastic through a die at its tip — so far I’ve mostly been using recycled polyethylene, but the gun could take a lot of different plastics. I really like being able to work with a material like plastic, which usually requires massive high-tech machinery to manipulate.”
Describe your next project and how you’re currently making it.
“The main thing occupying my mind at the moment is a small hut I’m building. It’s for a couple who have acquired a piece of property in the middle of nowhere and want somewhere to keep their tools, make a cup of tea, and possibly sleep for a night or two; it needs to be low-key and secure but also have a pleasure about it. I guess I’ve been treating it very much as an object: It’s got a black tar and hessian treatment all over it, which unifies the whole thing into one and makes it less visible from the surrounding hills. It also gives it a great textile-like feel which is somehow utilitarian and beautiful at the same time. I’ve been out there quite a bit this summer and it’s been great knocking pieces of wood together and seeing this thing emerge from the ground up. I’ve always had a thing for caravans and canal boats, so the interior is going to be based on that, with loads of fold-out bits and bobs — but more spartan and less paisley.”
Tell us one thing that’s been inspiring you lately and why.
“I’m pretty into caves at the moment. Last year I was lucky enough to take a trip to Malaysian Borneo, where I saw some pretty epic ones; I find the textures of the different rock or plant growths really amazing. At some point I’d quite like to make a cave of some sort, some kind of really weird space that you can crawl inside of and roll around in.”
Show us your studio and tell us what you like about it.
“This is the studio I share with Marjan van Aubel, with whom I produce the Well Proven Chair. I love it because we have loads of space but it’s divided up, which helps keep my mind focused — I’m easily distracted. In front we have a workshop for getting messy and dusty that’s well separated from the clean studio at the back and the kitchen upstairs. I strongly believe in having proper lunch at work and taking the time out to cook. The other great thing is that the whole front of the building opens up with a roller shutter and it’s on a quiet, dead-end street, so we can just spill out into the street when we’re making chairs or other big stuff.”