American Design Hot List 2018
New York, salon94design.com
The way Thomas Barger entered the furniture world sounds almost apocryphal — while working as a dog walker, he began to collect paper from the recycling bins outside an NYC police station, then would pulp the paper it in his food processor and affix it with resin to used chairs off Craigslist or his own foam creations. The resulting work, though, is as authentic as it gets — puffy chairs and other furnishings, often with cookie-like holes, painted in brights or pastels. You might recognize the pink ones from Glossier’s NYC flagship, where they’re photographed so often they ought to have their own Instagram.
What is American design to you, and what excites you about it?
Americans haven’t heard enough of the slogan “less is more.” I think design and our designed environment is a reflection of our culture, and it can be kind of disappointing and cheap. On the surface, it’s cute and Kmart but behind it all is a lot of excess and waste. I’ve been helping my friend walk some dogs the past month and have been going into a bunch of West Village apartments each day. Even though many of the pieces inside aren’t collectible design it’s a reflection of how much is produced that will be replaced and remodeled on a whim. That is why I think art and design have a responsibility to achieve more. I think Americans believe we can have it all and should have it all. Eggs and bacon for breakfast, ham sandwich for lunch, and chicken for dinner. All this excess manifests in more ways than just design and we are silly enough to not anticipate consequences.
But what excites me is the people I have met who also question life and structure systems in place.
What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year?
I’m really excited about practicing discipline. Telling myself to not be in the studio all the time is valuable advice. Telling myself to work less and take care of myself more. Talking with other artists, I feel like this is something many struggle with.
Besides a New Year’s resolution of practicing better self-care, I’m excited about what is happening in the studio and upcoming shows.
What inspires or informs your work in general?
I’m very inspired by relationships and structure systems in my life. These include relationships with my family and boyfriends as well as religion and my farming background. When I came out to my family, my work adopted a third quality that I really cherish. For me, a good work contains three layers to make it good enough to exist. They are function, beauty, and narrative. In addition, a fourth layer of contextualization is very special. For example, if I had not come to New York, I probably would never have made furniture let alone make furniture out of the paper from a police station’s shredded documents. All of these layers inform each other, and they’re ultimately what I feel good about when I finish a work.