Process and Practice: Understanding Marc Newson
On the occasion of his first solo exhibition in Hong Kong, held at Gagosian Gallery, we talk to designer Marc Newson about resuscitating lost techniques and the art of balance
Design Anthology: You’re showcasing a number of lost techniques in this show, from cloisonné to Japanese katana sword-making. Was this purely out of artistic interest, or is there a sense of wanting to preserve or resuscitate these arts for a more noble reason?
Marc Newson: I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t an element of that that inspired me — the idea of doing something that is really difficult to do always interests me on many different levels. I love challenging myself, I love doing things that other people can’t do, but I also love the idea of championing processes and techniques that are essentially lost or becoming lost.
Are there other design processes you’ve come across that you’re considering incorporating into your work in the future?
There’s something I was thinking a lot about, it’s a process called netsuke carving. Netsuke carving is an ancient Japanese form still practiced today, and involves carving wood or ivory into intricate ornaments. But every one of these processes, every one of these endeavours, takes years. You’ve got to investigate, and it doesn’t kind of just fall in your lap. You’ve got to dig. There’s this whole cultural and historical investigation that you’ve got to do, it takes years. These [pieces in the show], are the result of a five year process, and there’s no way it could have been any faster.
How do you juggle your many, many projects?
I say no to a bunch of things, and you have to prioritise. I have many different projects going on at one time, and I’ve got a small studio — only 15 people — and it’s been that way for 20 years. I don’t want it to get bigger; it could be at 150 people if I wanted it to, but that’s not the way I want to work. There’s many things going on at the same time, but they’re all in different stages of their evolution, some are starting, some are reaching completion. Everything I do as a designer — it’s not quite as bad as with architecture — but nothing I do takes less than two years from beginning to end. That would be fast. Even just designing a bag for Louis Vuitton is an 18-month to two-year process.
Your Lockheed Lounge, created in 1986, is the most expensive design object ever sold at auction. How did you start creating these passion pieces — these single- or limited-edition collectibles?
It was never a conscious decision, because when I started doing that kind of work it was the first thing I started doing. I was 18 or 19 years old. The reason I started making one-off pieces was because I couldn’t afford to make more than one. That was the very pragmatic reason, and so they ended up becoming limited edition, not because of wanting to be elite, but because that was all I could afford to do. It was all I could manage because I was making them myself. Unlike other designers, I can do it myself, I know how to build stuff. I know how to make them and I’m interested in making things.
As told to / Christina Ko