Adam Nathaniel Furman Q&A
Challenging the status quo, one colour-soaked installation or boldly patterned product at a time, Adam Nathaniel Furman’s work is crowd-pleasingly sensual and celebratory. This year his prolific creativity has yielded more than ever
DESIGN ANTHOLOGY UK: Where does your colour sense come from?
ADAM NATHANIEL FURMAN: I recently looked back at some of the paintings I did in high school, and was quite amazed to see that my palette was essentially, in spirit at least, fixed by that point. A lot of the period following that has been finding ways to be allowed to work with them, in three dimensions and as products.
The colours I use come from a mixture of my family background, and the amazing experience of London growing up. For my parents and my grandmother, a shared and very distinct family and personal aesthetic, in terms of interiors, objects and fashion, was always extremely important to them as people who had left their (each different) home countries and in a way constructed their new shared identity together through what I still find to be a wonderfully exuberant sensibility.
I experienced neon Tokyo of the 1980s and early 1990s growing up, which still in my memory is so fantastical as to be barely real, and which agitated my imagination from an early age. In London, I was part of the queer scene (and others) in the 1990s, and was swamped in the colourful neon, bold, futuristic, wild aesthetics of the city and its culture, and was once again steeped in how aesthetic expression can be (and really always is) a fundamental part of the healthy and proud construction of both individual and shared identity.
I do not purposefully provoke through my work, but I also do not aim to be everything to everyone because you can sometimes end up with a kind of design-by-committee bland neutrality
DA: You work is so joyful and crowd-pleasing, but is there a subversive element to it? Do you use colour to provoke as well as make people happy?
ANF: I do not purposefully provoke through my work, no. But I also do not aim to be everything to everyone because you can sometimes end up with a kind of design-by-committee bland neutrality: by offending no one it ends up thrilling and inspiring no one at the same time.
I try to fill my work with all of the joy, nervousness, fear, love, sad tenderness, and all the complexity of what’s going on within me, and usually the intensity of what I come up with manages to convey at the very least a touch more than joy, or occasionally a joy that is taut and naughty, and melancholy and vibrating with a certain level of “fuck you”. It has been really nice to see the response of the public to my work, which has usually been so positive.
DA: How do you get something into production? Do you design something and try to get it manufactured, or does a manufacture come to you with a commission?
ANF: I’ve always been an obsessive designer, coming up with lots of ideas long before I had the slightest chance of being able to have any of them made, so I used to look for ways that I could get them made by myself. That’s how I initially came across the 3D printing of ceramics, and developed an online store of domestic objects on Shapeways’ platform where I could design an object, and have it prototyped and ready to order around the word with very little investment besides my time.
My preference is to work with established or up-and-coming brands with whom I can collaborate and create something that is a meeting of my approach and their identity, rather than making things and leading the manufacture of something on my own. But I always have slightly crazy research projects (for which I sometimes develop full working prototypes) on the go at any one time, and very often, even several years later, they will be picked up by a paying client and turned into something real…
DA: Is your product design often informed by architecture, such as your rugs for Floor Story? Does it have classicism at its roots?
ANF: Absolutely, very very often. I trained, worked and taught in architecture, and came to it in the first place because I have an absolute obsessive passion and love for architecture and architectural ornament: it’s intoxicating to able to walk down any street and constantly be thrilled with the stuff around you.
My work does not have classicism solely at its roots per se, but I do have a very strong appreciation of classicism as an infinitely flexible architectural language. It unites so many different cultures and traditions, from embodying the queer expats of South Italy at the turn of the century, to Italian fascism, Russian totalitarian communism, to American democracy, and so much more.
Modernism as a shared language is similarly unifying/diversifying and I look at ornament and ornamental motifs (paisley, scrollwork, grotesquery, rocaille etc) in much the same way – as cultural memes that travel between cultures and countries and times and places, endlessly transforming, but always remaining somehow coherent and connected. Unity in diversity through shared languages, whether that be classicism, modernism, or various common ornamental motifs – that’s my bag!
DA: You’ve designed Boudoir Babylon, an installation for the National Gallery of Victoria’s Triennial in December in Melbourne, alongside Australian practice Sibling Architecture. What’s it going to be like?
ANF: We have created a kind of garrulous, liberated foil to all of the rest of the triennial, a space that will be both aesthetically ramped up to the nines, but also organised in such a way as to create spaces for showing off and performance (the central feature is both a Busby-Berkeley armature for group photos, as well as a raised catwalk for the most fabulously extrovert of visitors), as well as hiding and watching (the space will be filled with movable screens that have variously shaped holes in them, perfect for looking and observing, but only being partially seen).
All of this will act to demarcate a space of acceptance and difference, a space for introverts and extroverts, for anyone and everyone within the gallery, but we’re hoping especially those who might feel in any way watched, judged, or unsafe in their alterity outside in the city, and whom in the Boudoir Babylon, can find a stage, or a booth, or a screen, in which to be fabulous with a captive audience.
DA: Is there a project that you’re particular proud of?
ANF: If I had to pick one, I would say the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital Reuben Maternity Centre, for which I did a series of large scale ceramic walls. It was a long time in development, but I got to work with the most incredible people at the hospital, the trust, and with amazing fabricators and craftsmen, and I have had the most amazing feedback from people using the centre.
DA: You denounced the architectural profession on Instagram recently, particularly for its lack of diversity and the “the terror of aesthetic diversity” among architects. Have you had to defend your work because it doesn’t fit the mould?
ANF: I have had to defend myself within architecture circles a lot over the years, which was very helpful in the sense that I have become razor sharp with regards to what I do and like and why – and why it is an approach that is not only valid, but valuable. It is one of the reasons I set up the Saturated Space Research Group on colour in architecture and urbanism at the Architectural Association (it’s been going nine years now). It was to come up with discursive and theoretical reasons for why some of the things I’m interested are so valuable to the profession.
DA: What have you got coming up?
ANF: A range of joinery handles with SWARF have just come out called Symbols. There are seven different handle types that are meant to be put together like odd socks, making for really fun characterful moments whenever you open a drawer or cupboard.
I also have a tile collection called New Town that’s coming out with Botteganove, an incredible Italian tile brand that still makes every single tile by hand in the family workshop in the Veneto.
I’m designing an architectural scale ceramic stove, as well as a range of ceramic products, for Grizedale Arts up in Cumbria, which is the most inspiring arts organisation working with local people around Coniston Water. We are making everything so that the stove and the products can easily be manufactured on site by volunteers using traditional casting and glazing techniques.
Lastly I’m working on a range of products for the home for Mirrl, a Glasgow material company that works in really inventive ways with resins. We’ve come up with a wildly colourful set of items from coasters and placemats to wall mirrors and door pushplates, which will be ready for sale in December, in time for Christmas deliveries!