Adam Watts launched online store Artists & Objects in April, with a goal to support early-career makers in the UK. Here he talks about his own work, the joy of collaboration and why ‘slow’ craft is the future
DESIGN ANTHOLOGY UK: What was it like to launch a business during the lockdown period?
Adam Watts: Prior to the virus, my plan was to launch around April or May. During the virus, I was sensitive to the pain people were suffering and was mindful of when to launch. I ended up launching roughly halfway through lockdown. I came to the realisation it was a good time to reach people because many were at home and had more time on their hands, and I hoped that it could be a positive thing to happen during a difficult time. When I launched the store, with a collection styled by Hannah Bort and photographed by Veerle Evens, it was the first time the makers had seen the new photos of their work, and as a result there was a lot of excitement around the store when it went live.
DA: What’s behind consumers’ appetite for the work of independent makers and ’slow’ craft?
AW: I think people appreciate skilled crafts more now than ever. There is a desire to move away from a throwaway culture and to invest in pieces that are made with care with beautiful materials that you can treasure and that will last a lifetime. Artists & Objects supports emerging and early-career makers – there is a fresh feel to our collections and I believe it’s incredibly important to support designers working in this country. If ever there was a time to support independent makers, it’s now. We discover and present new talent by investing time in visiting makers and looking at new work.
I would like Artists & Objects to be a community of makers based in the UK – a store that enables you to browse exciting new works, but is also a supportive network for the people involved. And I hope we can support makers who are preserving old traditions.
I would like Artists & Objects to be a community of makers based in the UK – a store that enables you to browse exciting new works, but is also a supportive network for the people involved. If ever there was a time to support independent makers, it’s now
DA: Tell us about your own work on the site.
AW: I studied art and made a lot of sculpture and installation-based work. When I decided to set up the store, I didn’t know many designers and so decided to design things myself. Looking back, it was a slightly unusual thing to do. In the space of about six months, I designed a series of marble tables, a globe pendant collection, a two-seater bench collaborating with textile designer Line Nilsen, and during lockdown I painted a series of oil paintings, which feature in the latest collection.
I had no formal training as a furniture designer so I was learning as I went. I made a series of drawings and then approached skilled craftspeople: for the pendants, I worked with a glassblower in Cambridge; for the marble tables, I asked my friend if he could help with welding prototypes.
DA: How do you find the makers for Artists & Objects?
AW: Initially I approached friends who were artists and then I went to the New Designers exhibition, to degree shows and discovered makers on Instagram. There is a nice story behind how I found Line Nilsen. I decided I wanted to create a handwoven textile cushion for the bench I was designing, but at the time I didn’t know any weavers. Online, I found the weaving directory The Weave Shed. It listed the names of at least 25 weavers, from all around the UK. I decided to approach Line, because her work looked brilliant and she was based in Nottingham, a city I had grown to love on visits to see my brother who lives there. I collaborated with Line on the cushion, and now Line has her own work in the store, as does Momoka Gomi, who shares a studio with Line and who is also an exceptional weaver. The three of us have become close friends.
DA: Is there a certain ethos or aesthetic that is a common thread running through everything?
AW: I curate the collection, which is led by finding work that inspires me. I carefully consider new pieces based on how they sit with others in the collection. I enjoy seeing pieces where the materials are allowed to shine.
There is a high level of quality that runs throughout the collection. These are works made by highly skilled, dedicated artists and designers. I love to see imagination and experimentation: a good example of this is the Poorman’s Pony, a hallway bench designed by Arjun Singh Assa. Arjun created a terrazzo seat out of glass bottles and plastic bottle caps. He had exhibited it at a couple of London shows and we decided to try a new colourway for the latest shoot by changing from a bright orange on the metal frame to a dark blue – Arjun wasn’t afraid to try something new, and I think it looks brilliant.
DA: Do you have a favourite maker on the site?
AW: I don’t have favourites; I love all of their work, which is why I collaborate with them. I do like to see how makers style their work and present collections. Katie Rose Johnston from Manifesto presents her work in such a distinct, original way and I’m looking forward to seeing the new pieces she’s making. A series of her ceramics are in the latest collection for the store.
It fascinates me to see inside artists’ and designers’ studios. I am looking forward to visiting two makers who are building new studios at the moment: Andrew Hamilton in a factory space in Sheffield and Samuel Collins in an old cow shed in Kent.
DA: What difficulties do independent makers face, and how does Artists & Objects help support them?
AW: I know from experience that it can at times feel isolating making work. It’s a joy to be creative but it isn’t always easy for people to see makers’ work. I hope Artists & Objects is supportive of makers and provides a platform for their pieces to be seen. I’m planning Artists & Objects exhibitions and events in the future, which will create opportunities for makers to connect with each other and to present new work in different settings. The stories of the makers are key – it is important people looking at Artists & Objects can learn about the designers and have a connection with their work.