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In This Dutch Designer’s Hands, Even a Door Handle Becomes a Piece of Sculpture

So pretty. So minimal. That, in a nutshell, is the work of Dutch product designer Jeroen van de Gruiter. A recent graduate of Design Academy Eindhoven, van de Gruiter’s work plays with the tension between what a thing appears to be and how we choose to let it function in the world. His objects are as much about themselves as anything else: the way they take up space, shifting and fluctuating, contrasting and offsetting — other objects as well as their surroundings. They are concept made manifest; latent potential given concrete form.

Van de Gruiter has worked with industry heavyweights including Studio Formafantasma, Faye Toogood, and Studioilseand exhibited at Salone del Mobile and Dutch Design Week. A quick scroll through the designer’s portfolio reveals a fast and loose way with materials. Polyester, glass, viscose, brass, stainless steel and stone are all recast as objet d’art via van de Gruiter’s elevated imagination, becoming sculptural handles, bowls, rests — even a magnifying glass. Pieces are described as “passive,” or “acting as a stage”; function resolutely coming second to form. Which is all to simply say that we’ll be damned if these pieces aren’t easy on the eyes.

“In my work I often try to limit myself to the expression of a single idea,” notes van de Gruiter’s online manifesto, alluding to a preoccupation with meaning that lends the work a certain gravitas. “These ideas are often fascinations about phenomena that occur in nature in the broadest sense.” We unpacked that statement below, chatting about articulated space, the importance of light, and, what else? The best Brancusi clip on YouTube.

LAY II-Jeroen van de Gruiter

Describe your most recent project and how it was made.

LAY II. This object is a continuation of its prequel, Lay, an object to rest a necklace on. The idea of this object started with a sketch in which the necklace is resting on a shape and just slightly hangs above the ground. From there, I designed the object and started answering questions that related to the function. Eventually the shape is 3D printed and a soft flocked surface is applied in a melange color. The melange fibers emphasize the roundness of the shape by showing two different tones, depending on the perspective of the viewer. The flocked surface gives a familiar feeling reminiscent of the velvet interior of jewelry boxes. I’ve noticed a fascination for products with a supportive character, in the idea of creating a stage in order to provide a new context for something.

Envisions-Jeroen_vd_Gruiter

Describe your next project and how you’re currently making it.

I’ve just started working on a project for Milan which will be shown in Palazzo Clerici as part of a collective called Envisions. For this project I’m trying to address the relationship between an object and its surroundings. One way of approaching that idea is using light, or an absence of it. I’m working on a range of volumes that each have their own way of dealing with the topic. In the process I’m trying to find a personal logic to answer the questions that arise. The aim is always to design an object that shows a clear intention; all of the design elements should work together to achieve this. That is often the most time-consuming part of the process. The pointillism work of Georges Seurat and color studies of Le Corbusier for Salubra are some of the things I’m looking into in terms of color and theory. (Photo: Van de Gruiter’s project for last year’s Envisions exhibition.)

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Tell us one thing that’s been inspiring you lately and why.

The works of Anne Truitt have been fascinating me for some time now. The vivid colors on her hand-painted columns were the first thing that appealed to me; the colors seem carefully chosen and work well individually or viewed collectively. I’ve been reading her daybook recently and the way she describes life in her diary is contemplative and concentrated. It’s interesting, reading about her life as an artist and also finding out more about why and how her work came into being. There is also a fascinating movie about Constantin Brancusi on YouTube. It has no sound but it shows small clips mostly shot by Man Ray in and around Brancusi’s atelier. What I like about it is that some of the footage is actually showing how the work came into being, which is something that isn’t really shown in exhibitions for several reasons. As someone who is interested in the making of things, I like to know about certain works I like on a conceptual level; but to fully understand, I want to know everything about it, from the reason to the actual piece.

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Show us your studio and tell us what you like about it.

At the moment I’m running a home office in the corner of a larger L-shaped living room. The windows are frosted and in that way I have plenty of daylight coming in yet still obtain a sense of privacy. It is a clean space and I don’t produce there. For most projects I collaborate with craftsmen or industry, but at some point I would need to move to a slightly larger space to also be able to store more work.

Ann Veronica Janssens - Courtesy to Bortolami Gallery 2016

What’s your favorite piece of art or design from the last 10 years and why?

My favorite piece of art from the last 10 years has to be an installation of combined works by Ann Veronica Janssens. Her work revolves around the topic of light and she uses light to construct her art. She manages to materialize light and show the viewer a very tangible, yet purely visual experience. She uses familiar material combinations to capture light and by changing the context she’s also changing one’s perception of light. She describes her work as a question of thresholds between two states of perception, of light and shadow, of the defined and the undefined. The topic has been used many times in art and design and the way she keeps reinventing her perspective on light is very fascinating to me.
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