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Every now and again, a rare wonderful opportunity

presents itself – and there is really no other

option but to take it and feel well pleased.

Such was my response to attending

an interview with the

world renown and celebrated designer/architect

Gaetano Pesce.

Held at the famed Barbican Centre, London

with Tony Chambers, editor-in-chief of Wallpaper magazine

who spoke wtih Signor Pesce about

his designs and his design philosophy.

Signor Pesce was born and educated in Italy.

(image from padovacultura.padovanet.it):

Gaetano-Pesce, padovacultura.padovane.it -colori-thumb

He has been a force in the design world for over forty years –

his work is on permanent display at many of the world’s

leading museums:  the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and

Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York to cite but a couple.

I am intrigued by the Gaetano Pesce piece

La Mamma/Donna armchair and footrest, 1969 –

currently on display at the exhibition

Pop Art Design

Barbican Art Gallery, London.

(image from barbican.co.uk):


La Mamma/Donna armchair and footrest by Gaetano Pesce

The large foam chair envelopes the body,

offering a sense of security, a feel of comfort –

with deep curves and deep-set seat,

an invitation to stroke and to nestle:

a chair meant to be reminiscent of

women’s nurturing qualities.

Attached by a thin chord to the chair is the footrest:

a ball constructed of the same material and colour

symbolises a state of imprisonment (ball and chain):

a state of unwilling captivity.

La Mamma/Donna is a chair which conjures up

imagery of women who at the time (1960s),

seemed doomed to be soley anchored in the home.

In contemplating the message(s) of this specific chair/footrest,

I often wondered about the general design mission of

Gaetano Pecse.

The evening at the Barbican afforded me the occasion

to discover more about the man and his creations.

Gaetano Pesce is a most witty, personable and engaging speaker.

As Tony Chambers relaxed into a Mamma/Donna chair

Signor Pesce settled into another of his designs

-high backed chair,

which looked equally comfortable.

The comfort factor seems priority in a Pesce piece.

The Mamma/Donna chair is exemplar of the Pesce

definition of furniture musts:

“fun,  strong,  and with a message.”

The intended statement for the  Mamma/Donna chair:

“women’s non-freedom.”

Many of Signor Pesce’s pieces offer

strong socio-political points.

The chair is delivered ‘flat packed’.

As it is made entirely of foam, it is relatively easy to

squeeze it into a compact container.

Upon opening, it springs into shape –

no assembly required.

Signor Pesce spoke passionately on art as innovation:

use of new materials,  techniques,  technology –

“there is no limit for creativity” ,

each design is an unique individual, hence

design possibilities are infinite.

He is spirited in encouraging creatives to

“fight the idea of standardisation” and to

“express life, express diversity”

During his tenure as lecturer at Cooper Union, NY

he challenged his students to first create – concept,

then, as natural  sequence – shape.

Concept is “psychological and sentiments”;

it is the fusing of the intellectual and

the emotional as integral to the design process.

Once this is satisfied, the shape of the piece can evolve –

as definition of the concept.

Signor Pesce expressed his views on duality in design.

He believes objects have a “double function”:

“the practical and the beautiful”

I was reminded of the intended use of

Renaissance Italian majolica (glazed ceramic-ware)

beautifully crafted/decorated utilitarian pieces.

(image from metmuseum.org):

pharmacy jar (1515) – Siena, Italy

Examples of Signor Pesce’s idea of design duality:

-beautiful/functional –

are his six water tables.

The tables tops showcase various bodies of water:

lakes, lagoon, ponds, oceans, rivers … puddles

The realism of imagery is almost extra-dimensional:

positioning a viewer in a space perspective

of experiencing a surreal mini-world

while remaining in the world actually occupied.

(images from design boom):

river table

gaetano pesce, river table09

pond table

gaetano pesce, pond table, design boomcom 04

lagoon table

gaetano pesce, lagoon table06.jpg

puddle table

gaetano pesce, puddle table 08

lake table

gaetano pesce, lake table, designboom.com02

ocean table

gaetano pesce, ocean table12

Customisation is another detected point on the Pesce design radar.

In 2010, he created the Fontessa shoe.

(image from vogue.it):

the Fontessa shoe

The Fontessa shoe is made of plastic discs, which the user

can cut out and arrange to personalise the footwear.

This design approach allows for a

“relationship with the product” – an intimacy.

On the topic of architectural structures, Signor Pesce laments.

He suggests sadly,  that some modern structures

are simply “real estate”;  just “buildings, not architecture” .

Signor Pesce defines architecture in one word:  “innovation”

anything else is simply a building, a copy of what’s been done.

While animatedly chatting, reminiscing, informing, laughing –

his phone rings.

Does he ignore it?

Does he answer it?

You guessed it!

He stops mid-sentence, checks the caller id and speaks –

“Pronto, yes, yes … I’ll call you later.  I have a lot of

people in front of me.”

Everyone smiled, many laughed aloud in good humour

and he simply continued where he left off.

Gaetano Pesce’s designs are in his image:

amusing, inventive, functional, progressive,

warm, engaging, contemplative:

the man is his art

his art is the man.

View the Mamma/Donna  chair and footstool

by Gaetano Pesce

at the exhibition:  Pop Art Design

until 9 February 2014

Barbican Art Gallery, London