don’t have a set way of working,” says Matt Gagnon. “I work on art installations, functional things, architectural interiors. It’s all kind of a designer’s way of thinking to me. I don’t see them as separate entities.” After training as an architect and spending three-plus years with Frank Gehry, the Los Angeles-based creative launched his own practice in 2002 and has been coming up with a remarkable variety of pieces, from tables and small-scale lighting to office interiors and sculptures several stories tall.
Gagnon readily admits that, at first glance, his output runs the gamut, and, indeed, any existing boundaries between art, architecture and design seem refreshingly blurred and often obliterated. “I’ll see something that is inspiring–the way light moves through something–and want to explore that,” he says, a thought process that has most recently resulted in Material Relations, his lighting series that debuted at The New in Los Angeles before appearing at Salone del Mobile in Milan in April. The light sculptures are built on relationships between different components (polished brass, clear acrylic, white acrylic, concrete, oak, polished aluminum, painted MDF), and the unique ways light is diffused and reflected against them.
Much as a certain idea will spark his imagination, certain categories, too, will inspire him. Several years ago, it was tables. “There are so many different situations where all of us spend a lot of time sitting at a table,” he muses, “whether that’s called a desk or dining table or conference table. It seemed like it was a fun thing to try to bring more character into, something that is ultimately super-functional for us all.”
Fluidity and adaptability are key to Gagnon’s works, which often allow for various combinations and additions to his core vision. His Scissor Wall panel system can be customized, and the Joint Venture shelving and Collector Series modular units can continue to live and grow long after they have left the studio. “I want my work to be something that the person wants, and the way they want it,” he adds. “I don’t want to fix it and never let it evolve.”
Mutability is also at the core of one of his favorite ventures, flexible enclosures made of wood “sticks.” “I feel close to those because we make them to suit clients’ different needs,” Gagnon says. “We’ve done them for hotel lobbies, people’s homes–in all kinds of ways.” Versions include cozy, fort-like spaces to much larger structures that offer welcoming spots to lounge, rest and congregate. He’s even produced a lighted riff on his design called the Squeeze Lamp, which can range from 5 to 15 feet tall.
Besides wood, ceramic and recycled paper appear in much of Gagnon’s work, but in his choice of media, much like in his creations themselves, there exists a sense of unlimited opportunity. “I enjoy trying out new materials,” he says. “There are possibilities and restrictions, and it changes according to what the design becomes. And I like that kind of resistance.” He adds, “Design in general is about asking a lot of questions and being excited by what something could become and how people use it. It never turns out the same.”
PHOTOS: AMY DICKERSON
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ature and historical references are prevalent in the abstract works of Erik Gonzales, who incorporates various materials, including clay, plaster, acrylics and marble dust, in his creations. Although the past is represented in each of his pieces, the Phoenix artist is always looking to expand his horizons.
Here, we tapped the style maker to get the inside scoop behind his multifaceted work.
Is there one artist you’d credit as an influence?
Catalan artist Antoni Tapies gave me an understanding of what art could be. He created these wall-like surfaces to break through. I went on a fact-finding mission, looking at photographs and reading everything I could. I even learned Spanish to read more about Tapies. And then I began to do my own experiments. I don’t know if I’m doing what Tapies did, but I’m a mad scientist, and I owe that to him.
You describe your process as being “scientific” and your studio as a “laboratory.” Does this give you a sense of control?
In some ways, I’m a control freak, but inevitably, nature takes over and accidents create magic. For example, waterdrops opened craters on one piece and inspired me to attempt to recreate those conditions on purpose.
Has becoming a parent changed your work?
For my son, painting is about moving color around, seeing what happens. Watching him has led me to do more abstract work. It’s a scary process–even a little bit of a free fall–but it’s liberating for someone who was classically trained. I’m not afraid to admit that his boldness and freedom inspire me.
What does success feel like to you?
When the dust has settled and the painting is finished, there’s a moment when I look at it and think, “If I hadn’t done this, I’d be pretty upset.”
PHOTOS: BRANDON SULLIVAN
Meet More Makers