Australian designer Brodie Neill talks to Jeanne-Marie Cilento about his stellar international career. Based in London, he discusses his new work and inspiration ~ including the influence of listening to Swedish House music on his creative oeuvre in our DAM TV interview
SPEAKING about his new collection with his signature enthusiasm and gravelly voice, Brodie Neill sits amid his designs for his company Made in Ratio. Known for his sinuous limited edition pieces such as the muscular Reverb chair, curvilinear Glacier chaise longue and sculptural designs such as the E-turn seat and Scuba for Italian brands Kundalini and Domodinamica, the designer's Made in Ratio furniture range can now be found in The Conran Shop which has showrooms in London, Paris and throughout Japan.
The two collections of new designs are clean-lined and versatile and represent a new step forward for the designer into larger scale production in Britain which combines both digital technology and hand-finishing products. When Neill launched the Made in Ratio debut collection in Milan last year, Conran saw the show and they began refining the prototypes of the Cowrie chair and rocker and the Supernova desk. They went into production at the end of 2013.
This year, Neill exhibited Made in Ratio's second collection during Milan's Salone del Mobile and London's Design Junction and says more designs will start being sold in other countries around the world: “I am also working on new projects for Kundalini including a linear suspension light and a chair for Riva 1920. Plus limited editions for various projects around the world and two public, permanent installations in Australia.”
Neill has been based in London for nearly 10 years and today his studio is based in Shoreditch. "I still find London to be a surprising and inspiring city," the designer says. "I first felt its gravitational pull on a stopover between New York and Milan 12 years ago and I always enjoying returning to London no matter how short my trip away. It is rich in creative talent....and it's not just design but more the melting pot of fashion, architecture, art, food and lifestyle that make it so appealing."
The designer’s career began at the University of Tasmania where he says the course emphasised a fine art approach with hands-on training as designer-makers:"Tasmania has a strong heritage of craftsmanship that stems from boat building and furniture making, so I learnt early on that it was important to take pride in what you produce and I have continued to apply this thinking throughout my career." He was already interested in digital design and using animation to create new fluid forms at the University of Tasmania. But he experimented further and developed his design ethos when he did a Masters degree at the Rhode School of Design in 2004. After getting a job in New York at L’Oreal, he was convinced his creativity would be better served establishing his own studio in London and working on his own designs, which he did in 2005.
His breakthrough happened in the same year when he exhibited prototypes at the young designers' platform Salone Satellite at the Milan international furniture fair. His work caught the attention of Gregorio Spini, a founder of Italian lighting brand Kundalini, and he went on to develop the Morphie lamp and then the swirling, intertwined E-turn seat.
During the halcyon days of the limited edition market where art and design fused to become sought after contemporary collector pieces, Neill created sculptural pieces with prices starting from £25,000. His pieces for The Apartment Gallery in London include the curvaceous Remix and the Glacier, a chaise longue of 360kg of molten glass that is hand-cast and polished by craftsmen in the Czech Republic ~ it now has a six figure price tag. His crystalline Jet table commissioned by Nadja Swarvoski, also evinced his skill at creating dynamic forms with a contemporary edge ~ an aesthetic that informs all of his work, including the recent collections for Made in Ratio.
1. How has growing up in Tasmania influenced your creative design work and the decisions you’ve made in your career?I’m learning everyday that my Tasmanian roots provide me with the skills and inspiration that sets me apart from other designers. For years, I have pursued the true European model of the Industrial Designer, but it’s my foundation in hands-on making that makes my approach unique.
As a child I was always building things and eventually took up the challenge of building furniture when I was a teenager. I was always making something, redesigning it as I would go along. Tasmania has a strong heritage of craftsmanship that stems from boat building and furniture making, so I learnt early on that it was important to take pride in what you produce and I have continued to apply this thinking throughout my career.
2. Looking back since you first exhibited at Salone Satellite in Milan in 2005 after studying at the Rhode Island School of Design in America, how has your work and design philosophy changed and evolved?
Of course my work has matured but honestly it hasn’t veered far from the focus of form-orientated function. Material and process has always played a big part in the learning curve of each and every design, with technology being introduced where necessary to enhance a forward thinking approach whilst keeping in mind that the finished article is the main objective. Studio research alongside partnerships with galleries and manufacturers have allowed for more progressive ideas and opportunities in new and exciting fields.
3. Why did you originally choose design as your creative métier?
Probably due to the discipline of design and the need to perform. Art can be anything but design has purpose.
4. Do you find the creative process when you are designing more rational or instinctive? And do you have a set schedule of working creatively everyday or is it more fluid?
My process is definitely more instinctive though becoming more rational with time. The creative ideas are very spontaneous and appear in an almost ‘what if’ moment but then the long process of applying rationality to that idea begins. My designs are vivid and unique but also refined and pared back. The idea might be instinctive but the result is more rational.
Unfortunately I don’t have a set schedule for creative work as my working week just doesn’t work like that. I would like to find more structure but at the same time I cannot restrict creativity to happen at a certain time each week. Often I would take note of an idea whenever it may appear and research it further in studio at a later date.
5. What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work?
Juggling everything and finding the time to spend on what I really want to do and that is design. Fortunately I have found a balance but I would like that balance to favour the more creative side.
6. What part of the design process do you enjoy the most?
Definitely the creative process is where the magic happens. A design can go from an instinctive idea to resolved concept quite quickly then the process of realisation begins. Knowing you’ve stumbled upon something new is a very exciting time.
7.Your design studio is based in London’s Shoreditch. What does the city give you creatively?
I still find London to be a surprising and inspiring city. I first felt its gravitational pull whilst on a stopover between New York and Milan some 12 years ago and I always enjoying returning to London no matter how short my trip away. London is rich in creative talent, so I know I’m far from alone on feeling this attraction, but maybe that’s exactly what it is that is so attractive.
It’s not just design but more the melting pot of fashion, architecture, art, food and lifestyle that make it so appealing. I continue to be surprised by London, finding something new just around the corner be that in a distant neighbourhood or the same streets I walk everyday.
8. Can you describe the experience, person or training that has had the greatest impact on your design career so far?
My career has been a journey across many continents and countries with many amazing opportunities and experiences, passionate people and inspiring places. I believe its all an evolution, rolling from one into the other making it difficult to single out individuals and instances. Of course my Tasmanian upbringing is critical in my foundation, sensitivity to form and disciplined approach.
America taught me that there are no limits and that creative dreams can become reality. Europe provided the passionate industry that welcomed me with open arms and shared belief in striving for innovation and quality. The world is becoming a smaller place on a daily basis and it’s these cultural cross overs that will bring something truly special.
9. This is the second year of your new company Made in Ratio, how have you found the experience of being a designer and manufacturer on a larger commercial scale compared to producing limited edition pieces?
Made in Ratio is a collection of self-produced designs that are the result of focused research and development into process and materials. The designs also feature the perfect balance of form and function, craftsmanship, quality, design and efficiency. The collection is carefully considered and the coming together of my experiences both as a designer of editions and for production with some of my Italian based clients. Being both designer and producer on this collection has enabled me to take my idea from conception right through to completion making sure the designers vision is always achieved.
10. Art collectors buy your limited edition design pieces ~ do you consider them more art or craft? Today, what do you think the relationship is between design and contemporary art?
Yes art and design collectors buy my edition pieces but many intend to use them rather than simply admire them or sit them in storage as investments. The design process of a limited edition is no less intense simply because there will be fewer of them available. In fact, its all the more important to perform in order to warrant the price tag.
I always consider my editions to be design as they are the result of a design process. They can be considered art due to their concept and also craft involved in the material and process, but its design that drives ‘what’ and ‘how’ I do something. Today design and art are as intermingled as they have ever been but this tussle has been ongoing for decades. It’s also a personal and cultural perspective or preference as to the divide.
Watch DAM TV's interview with Brodie Neill in Milan, Italy here:
|The 2014 collection for Made in Ratio shown in London including the Pleat bench, Prism table, Tetra modular shelving and Pik stool.|
|The designer in Venice, Italy overseeing the production of the Cumulus lamp that is hand-made by master glass blowers.|
|Brodie Neill at the workshop where his Cowrie Rocker is made in Britain.|
|The 2013 Cowrie collection is inspired by the concave lines of sea shells and the chairs have a curvilinear form made of a single, folding surface.|
|The Cowrie rocker is another sweeping, curving form inspired by sea shells and made from a single, folding surface of Ash-faced plywood.|
|The 2013 Matrix stand is woven from a continuous thread of steel and works as a vertical web to hang coats, hats, bags and umbrellas.|
|The 2013 Supernova table has an elegant and versatile form with star-shaped trestles in brilliantly-coloured recycled aluminium.|
|Like a manta ray, the fluid curves of the Scuba sofa was designed by Brodie Neill for Italian company Domodinamica in 2009.|
|The Reverb Wire Chair hand-made from polished stainless steel rods designed in 2010 for Patrick Brillet's The Apartment Gallery.|
|The Reverb's curvaceous elliptical vortex is inspired by the reverberation of sound. Made from nickel-plated aluminium, the dramatic chairs are hand formed and polished.|
|The intertwined E-Turn seat created for Italian design house Kundalini in 2007.|
|Like flowing Japanese calligraphy, the @Chair designed was considered by TIME Magazine one of the best designs of 2008.|
|The 2011 Glacier chaise longue made of 360kg of molten glass that is hand-cast and polished by craftsmen in the Czech Republic ~ here exhibited at Mallet.|
|The sinuous Jet table with a dark graphite finish and encrusted with crystals that was specially commissioned by Nadja Swarovski|
|The M Lights exhibited at Salone Satellite at Milan in 2005 where Brodie Neill was discovered by Kundalini co-founder Gregorio Spini.|
|The Clover light designed in 2011 for Italian brand Kundalini has a lilting sculptural from and is made from moulded polyurethene and aluminium with the light source concealed at the centre of three folds.|