Very few ostentatious elements and styles have survived the onslaught of minimalism and subtlety that characterises most innovative creations since the dawn of the Industrial Age. Calligraphy, a type of visual art associated with writing, may be included in this rare genre of decorative art and design works that have managed to remain relevant in an age of plain, use-based, and user-based designs. This phenomenon raises the question of a traditional art form’s relevance today as well as the specific reason behind its survival through time. A plausible answer to this question is that such art forms serve as an expression and example of expert craftsmanship, discipline and artistic finesse, and demand only inexpensive raw materials. It is perhaps for this reason that London-based transdisciplinary architecture and design studio SABI decided to find a muse in Japanese calligraphy for their Characters collection. “I’ve always been fascinated by Japanese calligraphy as an exhibition of the calligrapher at a moment of time producing artistic pieces that look alive. So I decided that our first furniture collection had to be in line with the conceptual creation of Japanese calligraphy, from which we further took inspiration for different furniture traits, such as colour and material,” says England-based architectural designer and founder of SABI, Sabina Blasiotti.
Characters, a series of calligraphy letters strung together, extruded and cast in wood, include a family of chairs, tables, mirrors, lamps, picture frames, vases, a cupboard, a bookshelf and a sofa. Inspired by Japanese calligraphy, this living room furniture collection is built out of carved and burnt cedar wood. “This project was born on a sketchbook. I reflected that the most interesting sketches were the ones executed in a more fluid and organic way, as they seemed animated, similar to dynamic comic book characters. Likewise, I conceived the Characters collection as a personal expression at a moment in time, with each piece of furniture designed after a unique series of quick sketches that haven't been further edited or corrected,” shares Blasiotti about this product design collection.
Sculpted using a technique that bears an uncanny resemblance to the art of Shou Sugi Ban, a traditional Japanese technique of woodcrafting, the pieces in the Characters collection are defined by smooth edges and consistent black colour. The forms of these pieces, thus, appear as abstract and animated characters, stunned into cessation. “I wanted the furniture to showcase personality, as well as imperfections, and to bring life and expression inside living spaces. Since their physical forms are based on my initial unedited sketches, Characters seem to have their own conscious life, being familiar to me, but also to strangers,” asserts the designer.
These sinuously shaped wood objects, sculpted out of burnt cedar wood, carry a layer of carbon that not only accentuates and enhances the appearance of the Characters, but also allows for their preservation by making them resistant to different climatic conditions. In choosing the colour of the collection as jet black, Blasiotti also ensures that the pieces serve as a reminder of Japanese calligraphy. These 3-D objects, visible to the human eye like two-dimensional visages, change their silhouettes everytime one moves around them. “They are unpredictable as they play with light and shadows through the days and through the seasons,” the architect and designer explains.
An example of expert craftsmanship, Characters is not just Blasiotti’s brainchild. Instead, it converges the expertise and expression of skilled workers who carved these bespoke sculptural art pieces. They can be placed in both formal and informal environments, either as standalone objects or as a whole creating larger spatial compositions with interesting and layered visages. This furniture design collection by SABU aligns well with the studio’s inclination towards research and experimentation in order to produce designs with a distinct personality. It is, however, distinct from the studio’s other works in that it places importance on displaying imperfections projected in a uniquely individualistic creation, rather than solely relying on research and emblematic techniques. They intend to explore more such projects that explore the personal and intimate act of creation and expression.