Craft Redefined

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Cabinet
cardboard furniture, proportion and scale, space, cardboard construction, cabinet, craftsmanship, architecture's influence, mass market, mass-marketed furniture, cardboard cabinet, working imaginatively, lacquer paint, painting surface, manipulating form, line, surface and material, contrast and contradiction, associations, role of object as table, role of object as cabinet, triggering our experiences, fantasies, dramatic sculptural form, suspended cabinet, viewer\'s eye, spires spiral, negative space, plinth, pedestal, texture, surface texture, mass marketing,
description
I view furniture as an opportunity to work imaginatively with form, line, surface and material,” Gladwell said in a 1990 interview, “and to manipulate these elements in pursuit of effects which can take us beyond the role of object as table or cabinet and trigger associations with our individual experiences and fantasies.
-- Brian Gladwell (Morgan, 1990)

In this work from the MacKenzie Art Gallery collection, Cabinet, Gladwell has created a most extraordinary and dramatic sculptural form. As he states in a 1986 interview,  ”I’m interested in  contrastA large difference between two things. It is a technique often used to create a focal point.  and contradictions and things that are something more than they seem to be at first, with a strong sense of personality." (Danica, 1986)

The ‘cabinet’ itself is suspended in air and is attached to four spires at each of its four corners. The spires spiral from the base of the  formIn its widest sense, total structure; a synthesis of all the visible aspects of that structure and of the manner in which they are united to create its distinctive character. The form of a work is what enables us to perceive it. Form also refers to an element of art that is three-dimensional (height, width, and depth) and encloses volume. For example, a triangle, which is two-dimensional, is a shape, but a pyramid, which is three-dimensional, is a form. Cubes, spheres, ovoids, pyramids, cone, and cylinders are examples of various forms. Also, all of the elements of a work of art independent of their meaning. Formal elements are primary features which are not a matter of semantic significance — including colour, dimensions, line, mass, medium, scale, shape, space, texture, value; and the principles of design under which they are placed — including balance, contrast, dominance, harmony, movement, proportion, proximity, rhythm, similarity, unity, and variety. (Artlex.com)  and decrease in width as they rise. The viewer’s eye is drawn up and then in a circle from the front to back by Gladwell’s gradual lengthening of the spires from the front to the back. This creates a dynamic feeling and a suggestion of  asymmetricalInformal balance or composition where unlike objects have equal visual weight.  balance. At no time does Gladwell attempt to hide the cardboard material, in fact he uses it to add  textureThe quality of surface in a finished artwork; note that this can apply to painting in describing the way that the paint is applied to the canvas or other support; to sculpture in describing the way that the material used is made smooth or rough; or to video in describing the way that the light-based image is either smooth or visibly broken up into pixels.  and interest to the surface of the work.

The negative  spaceSpace can be the area around, within or between images or elements. Space can be created on a two-dimensional surface by using such techniques as overlapping, object size, placement, colour intensity and value, detail and diagonal lines.  below the cabinet and above the base acts like a  plinthA support used in galleries to display sculptural work.  or pedestal. It has a presence and, while it is ‘nothing‘, it defines a space, implies an airiness and is an integral part of the overall design.  

The  colourProduced by light of various wavelengths, and when light strikes an object and reflects back to the eyes. Colour is an element of art with three properties: (1) hue or tint, the colour name, e.g., red, yellow, blue, etc.: (2) intensity, the purity and strength of a colour, e.g., bright red or dull red; and (3) value, the lightness or darkness of a colour. When the spectrum is organized as a color wheel, the colours are divided into groups called primary, secondary and intermediate (or tertiary) colours; analogous and complementary, and also as warm and cool colours. Colours can be objectively described as saturated, clear, cool, warm, deep, subdued, grayed, tawny, mat, glossy, monochrome, multicolored, particolored, variegated, or polychromed. Some words used to describe colours are more subjective (subject to personal opinion or taste), such as: exciting, sweet, saccharine, brash, garish, ugly, beautiful, cute, fashionable, pretty, and sublime. Sometimes people speak of colours when they are actually refering to pigments, what they are made of (various natural or synthetic substances), their relative permanence, etc. (Artlex.com)  of the cabinet is a rich metallic teal, while the legs and accents are a darker version of that colour. Gladwell applied aluminum to his lacquer paint and sprayed it from the top of the cabinet, which further accentuated the cardboard surface, as the paint landed on the high points of the  surface(an element of art) The outer or topmost boundary or layer of an object. Colours on any surface are determined by how incident rays of light strike it, and how a surface reflects, scatters, and absorbs those rays. The material qualities of a surface, as well as its form and texture further determine how it is seen and felt. (artlex.com) See also texture.  and not on the slight recesses.

Using cardboard offers Gladwell the opportunity to work quickly during the initial construction of the furniture. This provides freedom to experiment and the very nature of the inexpensive material reduces the anxiety of making expensive mistakes. If the designer doesn’t like the way things are progressing the elements can be easily modified, resulting in a more spontaneous and less static form.

On first viewing cardboard furniture, some viewers may find it an amusing idea and consider it less valuable than a wooden construction. Gladwell disagrees: ”Craftsmanship lies not in the material, but what you do with it. There’s a  traditionTradition is the passing along of a culture from generation to generation, especially orally. Or, a custom or set of customs handed down in this way. The idea of heritage is related to that of tradition. Any activity — as a pattern of celebration, ritual, or other behaviour, etc. — is traditional once it is a precedent influencing comparable activities in the future. (Artlex.com)  in  craftThe production of work involving the use of skilled hands.  and mass marketed furniture that says, ‘It’s solid wood, therefore its good.’ With items of this sort the  designA plan, or to plan. The organization or composition of a work; the skilled arrangement of its parts. An effective design is one in which the elements of art and principles of design have been combined to achieve an overall sense of unity. Also [applied design], the production of attractive and well crafted functional objects. Subcategories of the design arts include: architecture, bonsai, fashion design, furniture design, graphic design, ikebana, industrial design, interior design, landscape architecture, stagecraft, textile design, and Web page design. (Artlex.com)  is usually abysmally bad, but is unthinkingly accepted. I’m saying, yes this is only cardboard but it is going to last as long as your IKEA table, and anyway do you think it has personality and integrity and a sense of fun?” (Danica, 1986)
 
Gladwell gathers information and inspiration for his work by looking at architecture in his urban environment.  He analyzes proportions and how the building components relate to each other to create a unified whole. His own living  spaceSpace can be the area around, within or between images or elements. Space can be created on a two-dimensional surface by using such techniques as overlapping, object size, placement, colour intensity and value, detail and diagonal lines.  and body may also inspire and inform him in his work. In an interview with W.P. Morgan, Gladwell says his inspiration also may be, “[a] response to a particular space and sometimes a response to a particular decorative  motifRepeated unit to create visual rhythm.  of interest.” (Morgan 1990)

Gladwell describes his works as ‘studio furniture’ and he titles them for what they are (Cabinet) and the year they were created (1987). He leaves any other associations up to the viewer. These one-of-a-kind, meticulously crafted, non-traditional works can be found in many collections and homes in Canada and the United States.

additional resources Cardboard vs Wood
Duration: 2:22 min
Size: 10065kb
Craft-Art
Duration: 2:22 min
Size: 9927kb
Energy Path
Duration: 1:38 min
Size: 6826kb
How He Became a Furniture Artist
Duration: 2:23 min
Size: 10065kb
Things to Think About
  • Is this work furniture or sculpture? What differentiates the two?
  • What words would you use to describe this cabinet? Does it look like space age design? Could all the furniture/homes of the future have cardboard components?
  • How does the cabinet reflect or mimic a human being and human qualities?
  • Gladwell lives in Regina, Saskatchewan and the art movements of Abstract Expressionism, Folk Art, Pop and Funk Art are major influences in the region. How would you categorize Gladwell’s work? Why do you have that impression of his work?
  • Writer Matthew Kangas states, “Gladwell is lying to us all the time, teasing us and fooling us into realizing the bulky shapes and shiny metallic surfaces are really cosmetic and superficial…” (Kangas 1993) Do you think this is true? Could the cabinet be described as trompe l’oeil?
  • Why do you think Gladwell places the knob for the handle at that particular spot in the cabinet? Learn about the golden section (also called the golden mean) an organizing principle that is often used intuitively by artists and designers.
  • Compare how the processes involved in furniture making and sewing are similar.
  • In an interview with W.P. Morgan, Gladwell says, “I often use the human body as an organizing principle in my work. It is not direct, but rather subconscious reference, giving the viewer a point of entry and a certain level of comfort with the work. But it also enriches our approach to these interior spaces. Our curiosity is aroused. What is contained within the cabinet? What is contained within ourselves? Hope and fantasies dwell behind the doors and within the drawers of these seemingly powerful interior spaces.” (Morgan 1990) Think about the ideas Gladwell has presented here.
Advanced Activity

Learn about the golden section (also called the golden mean) an organizing principle that is often used intuitively by artists and designers.

For more info on the golden section in visual format, go to the Powerpoint presentation What is the Golden Mean, or to Wilkes Central High School, Art Lesson Plan for the Golden Mean.

Online Activity
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Click on the Shapes icon (the arrow) to see a set of geometric shapes in the Shapes menu icon under the drawing menu.

Click on some of the shapes to make them appear in the drawing window, and use the shapes to build a piece of furniture which can be as outrageous or as traditional as you like.

Studio Activity

Design furniture

Before Brian Gladwell begins work on a piece of furniture, he considers the  spaceSpace can be the area around, within or between images or elements. Space can be created on a two-dimensional surface by using such techniques as overlapping, object size, placement, colour intensity and value, detail and diagonal lines.  the object will displace, the  scaleThe proportion between two sets of dimensions.  of the object in relation to the human body and the room it will occupy.

In a 1986 article written by Elly Danica, Gladwell was quoted as describing his  designA plan, or to plan. The organization or composition of a work; the skilled arrangement of its parts. An effective design is one in which the elements of art and principles of design have been combined to achieve an overall sense of unity. Also [applied design], the production of attractive and well crafted functional objects. Subcategories of the design arts include: architecture, bonsai, fashion design, furniture design, graphic design, ikebana, industrial design, interior design, landscape architecture, stagecraft, textile design, and Web page design. (Artlex.com)  process for his home furniture as follows; “I looked around my apartment and decided where I’d like to see a new piece of furniture and taped a big piece of paper to the wall there. Then I started to draw what I would like to see there. I sketched in the dimensions of the cabinet body. I started to play with the lines and as this went on I started to realize that in the back of my mind was a friend in a certain stance. From that point on I started to relate all decisions to that stance.” (Danica 1986)

  • Use Gladwell’s method of designing to design a piece of furniture for your own living space.
  • Use graph paper to design a plan to scale.

 

Design a box form

In another Gladwell work in the MacKenzie Art Gallery collection, he responded to a poem written by another artist and he built a small jewel-box-like container. As the layers of the box were opened more text was revealed and as the viewer went deeper into the box  formIn its widest sense, total structure; a synthesis of all the visible aspects of that structure and of the manner in which they are united to create its distinctive character. The form of a work is what enables us to perceive it. Form also refers to an element of art that is three-dimensional (height, width, and depth) and encloses volume. For example, a triangle, which is two-dimensional, is a shape, but a pyramid, which is three-dimensional, is a form. Cubes, spheres, ovoids, pyramids, cone, and cylinders are examples of various forms. Also, all of the elements of a work of art independent of their meaning. Formal elements are primary features which are not a matter of semantic significance — including colour, dimensions, line, mass, medium, scale, shape, space, texture, value; and the principles of design under which they are placed — including balance, contrast, dominance, harmony, movement, proportion, proximity, rhythm, similarity, unity, and variety. (Artlex.com)  the ideas in the poetry became more complex with deeper meaning.

  • Find a piece of poetry you would like to use in your box or have a friend write some poetry for you.
  • Build or find a box form.
  • Think of a ways you could incorporate some verse or text into the design of the box, either internally or externally, or both.
  • Add paint and materials like ribbon, glitter, sequins, etc. Alter the box in anyway you prefer to create a special box where valuables can be stored.

 

Discuss the changes in furniture design over the past hundred to two hundred years.

  • Design a piece of furniture for the future.
  • Combine ideas from old styles with new styles or incorporate ideas from common everyday objects and geometric forms.
  • Here are some links to websites that talk about and show various periods of furniture design:

 

Design a work-apron

Gladwell designs his own work apron so he has maximum of comfort and ready access to the tools he constantly requires like a tape measurer, pencil, ruler, etc.

  • Choose an activity you do or would like to do and design an apron to organize your tools.
References

Danica, Elly. ‘Brian Gladwell.’ The Craft Factor, Spring 1986, Vol 11, No 1.

Ebbels, Virginia. ‘Cindy Cwelos/Brian Gladwell.‘ Craft Factor, Summer 1987 pp 34-5.

Kangas, Matthew. Brian Gladwell: Twelve Works. Exhibition catalogue. Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1993.

Morgan, W.P. In Place: Craft from Saskatchewan. Exhibition catalogue, Saskatchewan  CraftThe production of work involving the use of skilled hands.  Council, 1990.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning