US-based architect and designer Sunshine Thacker recently unveiled her first upholstered collection Groovitational. Taking cues from the unnerving calmness that steams out of Stanley Kubrick’s iconic 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, ‘Groovitational’ furniture and sculptures, with their soft and rhythmic forms, explore futuristic visions. These pieces, smooth and organic in form, are configured in a manner that makes them appear like entities floating mid-air. One can imagine these objects in a futuristic landscape, within deeply sanitised steel shells floating in space or existing below the earth. The rugs, sofas and chairs, although devoid of the aural charm that gorges through the frames of the Oscar-winning science fiction movie, are vitalised with an array of ceramic sculptures.
Thacker, an architecture graduate with a 15-year-long career in land development and real estate, now primarily experiments in clay. Incongruous with her contemporaries, she designs objects without a precursory plan for their usage or purpose. Her love for the material, combined with her architectural background, informs her curiosity about materials, construction techniques and innovative practices. Scaling up and progressing over her previous body of work, the American artist experiments with fabric this time, to build a furniture collection that evokes the nostalgia of Space Age exploration.
The ‘Groovitational’ collection features the repetition of elemental shapes and forms, while still abstaining from appearing too curvy. This collection's upholstered series includes a sofa, swivelling club chairs, a chaise with a handmade ceramic drink rest and a tête-à-tête chair. When asked what the perfect locale for her collection would be, Thacker says, “A quaint but stylish 70s inspired Milanese apartment with terrazzo floors and lacquered accents.”
Thacker also collaborated with her ten-year-old son, Ace Royale Thacker, to create the Octomomster rug, which features irregularly proportioned scribbles and doodles. Her ceramic sculptures, fashioned into usable lamps, tables and vases, further add an element of wildness to the collection with their arbitrarily textured surfaces. Each piece in the collection carries a unique personality, prompting a discussion about and around them. They manage to remind one of the clean and sharp interiors featured in almost all science fiction films, while also serving as expressions of intimate and bizarre ideas and thoughts.
STIR established a dialogue with Sunshine Thacker to learn more about the mind behind these furniture design creations.
STIR: What was the initial idea that guided the design of the Groovitational collection?
Sunshine Thacker: Groovitational (the upholstered collection) is a scaled-up iteration of previous forms that I have worked with and manipulated. I built a ceramic chair in 2020 that was simply made just to max out my current kiln capacity. I'm very interested in working with clay on a large scale but my kilns aren’t large enough to make sofas and chaise lounges. So I took the forms from my Revolver chair (ceramic) and made them larger and upholstered them to create this collection.
STIR: How do the pieces explore the “nostalgia of Space Age exploration”?
Sunshine: While I was watching Kubric’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, I noticed a lot of cocoon-like forms, with hard, refined and repetitive lines. The pieces in the Groovitational collection strongly evoke this sharp style. Another image that caught my attention was the depiction of the astronauts travelling through space at various points in the film. Emotions of comfort and discomfort, of apprehension and excitement pulsate through these scenes. The collection evokes similar emotions. It cradles and captures you.
STIR: Tell us about the creative process and experience of working on this collection.
Sunshine: It all came together really quickly. Sometimes, the creative process is like that. I designed all four upholstered pieces in two days, however, the biggest challenge I faced was getting the frames built and the upholstery completed. These are difficult pieces to build from a technical standpoint. Additionally, I had some issues with the steel fabricator of one cabinet I haven't released yet, so I was unable to build it for the launch of the collection.
STIR: You experimented with different materials for this collection and they synonymously exude a soft characteristic. How did you manage to retain a unanimous theme?
Sunshine: I would like to admit that I make things that I would like for myself. I do not concern myself with how many objects are sold or any other commercial aspects. The world does not need any more Crate and Barrel. The similarities and softness you see in the collection are probably because they fit my personal sensibilities–organised, albeit a little weird, experimental and trying to be better at being calm and centred. One of my favourite pieces from the collection is the Dear Dr. Spock chaise. It’s a lovely piece that is simultaneously elegant and functional. It’s also just a fun place to have a cocktail while getting ready for a night out, or a place to read a book curled up with a cup of tea.
STIR: You partnered with your son, Ace Royale Thacker, for the Octomomster rugs. Tell us a little about the collaborative experience.
Sunshine: My son has an amazing imagination. His drawings are quite primal even though he is only ten years old. He’s never drawn anything the way one is ‘supposed to’ and I have always encouraged him to express his unique viewpoint and not correct it. I kept looking at his drawings and thinking that all the crazy characters would be wonderful for a rug. They resemble prehistoric cave paintings and the pixel art in Atari games. I felt like this fit perfectly for the theme of ‘Groovitational’. Humankind has always sought an understanding of other realms and places. This piece is an expression of that quest. Logistically, I found an amazing company in Nepal to work with for the fabrication of the rug. I’m pleased to say that I look forward to designing more rugs with Ace in the future.
STIR: Tell us about some of your upcoming work and collaborations.
Sunshine: I plan to incorporate some of my poetry into my ceramic work and experiment more with glaze to allow for beautiful accidents. We recently moved from San Antonio, Texas to the Hudson Valley of New York so I am working on finally settling in, building a new home with a massive studio and bigger kilns so that I can begin to really scale up my ceramic work. The new work I am sketching out, too, will include glazed landscapes along with my poetry. To accommodate the scale I’ll work with some woodworker and steel fabricator friends to help me bring these larger pieces to life.
Never one to ascribe to conventional styles and formats, Thacker’s designs are always unique. They don’t try too hard to fit into a box, and instead, leave scope for their interpretation and usage. The infusion of poetry in her upcoming work will indeed expand on this approach and offer an array of bespoke objects for usage and decoration.
What do you think?