Dutch design artist Maarten Baas forges a trail in contemporary design through creativity and youthful innovation.
Maarten Baas is the latest wunderkind of the design art scene. Since graduating from Eindhoven’s acclaimed Design Academy in 2002 (he also studied at Politecnico di Milano), the 31 year-old has won acclaim from some of the most influential names within his field, from American gallerist Murray Moss, to trend guru Li Edelkoort. Best known for his celebrated Smoke series, a collection of found and donated objects customized with a blowtorch for charred effect, the artist gives existing pieces his own unique finish. Since making its debut in 2002, Baas’s Smoke series has entered some of the most impressive museums and private collections around the world, and in 2004 Moss invited him to leave his unmistakable stamp on classics from Eames to Sottsass… in the name of art. Constantly pushing the boundaries of the creative realms, Baas’ applies his exploratory approach to ceaseless experimentation with a host of methods, materials and mediums, from industrial clay to more recently, video. Luxuryculture spoke to Baas at this year’s Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan.
Maarten Baas’s definition of luxury:
It’s a cliché, but time
If luxury were…
Your first design for Established & Sons was Chankley Bore, a collection of limited edition design art pieces, which was first shown last year. Could you tell us about it?
It was a great challenge to work on it and I was very glad that I got this opportunity to do it, particularly as I would say there are so many possibilities in this limited edition world and I have a feeling that only a little bit was used by designers because we still made a chair with four legs, but now it’s like “Ok, if Alasdhair Willis says I can do what I want to do, that’s great.” I really didn’t think in a logical way. I wasn’t really concerned about how to make it, because they took care of that, and surprisingly I thought it was not going to turn out how I saw it in mind, but really every detail is exactly how I thought it would be. I was ready to make concessions, and I thought I had maybe taken things to far, but they actually pushed it even more!
This year Established & Sons presented your new Standard Unique chairs, a mass-produced piece for its main collection. What was the idea behind the design?
They are made from beechwood. I drew them by hand in a sketching way, every single part is made like that. I did that five times per part, so in the end we have five variations for each part and you can mix all those pieces together to get many unique variations. The idea is that if you look at the whole series, if they were all around a table, it would be as if a cartoonist drew a few chairs around a table by hand. It’s just an archetypical chair and they are each slightly different in a three-dimensional way, so that’s the idea. I think it’s good that the customer doesn’t know specifically which chair they are going to get, you just buy into the concept and get whatever comes. You may get 10 of the same but the chance is one in a million!
You don’t usually work in mass production, for the Standard Unique chairs, who decided on the mass manufacturing aspect?
I don’t know how it happened. I think that at the very beginning, before I designed Chankley Bore for Established & Sons’ limited edition collection, I asked “Why did you approach me? For limited edition or mass production?” Either way we were interested, so I said “Well, ok, let’s start with it and see how it works.” They had also asked me to think about mass production and I had a few ideas.
To play with these kind of ideas it takes a lot of extra effort in production of all these pieces, but we have a system now in which it works, but it’s still difficult, so you need a designer and a manufacturer – in this case Established & Sons – to work together on such a thing, otherwise it wouldn’t work out. I’m really glad that something like this has happened because I’ve never seen anything comparable to this.
Your work goes between art and design. Has the economic climate affected your work at all, also in terms of your way of thinking?
No, the circumstances are different. The galleries for whom I work sometimes have less money to spend because there is less money coming in, but for me it’s ok because I am a very small company, and I have many requests. I also just moved my studio, so I could use a little time anyway, so it’s all fine with me.
You created a series of movies called ‘Real Time’ for an installation at the Costume National space during this year’s Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan. How was it working with such a different medium?
It was good. It was not on purpose, it just felt right. It’s a very interesting field, it’s totally different. I approached it a little bit like a new material. I work with many materials, such as clay, metal and smoked wood of course, so for me it’s like investigating a new material.
How did the idea come about?
From the Bob Dylan video Subterranean Homesick Blues, where he’s throwing the cards away and I imagined if he were doing that every minute, and every minute there would be another time on his card, that’s how I started thinking of it, and how you could make a whole clock like that. From that moment on I thought, ok, I could make movies with 12 hours that show you the time in all kinds of ways. You buy the film and play it on your tv.
How did you get involved with the fashion label Costume National?
It was through Fabio Novembre, who I have known since 2004. He introduced me to them and they offered me the chance to do a show in their place. They offered me the space last year but I couldn’t do it because I’d already reserved a space for another show.
You recently launched a collection for a new design brand, Skitsch, could you tell us about it?
It’s an interesting brand. There are a lot of nice designers involved. It’s an Italian brand, founded by Renato Preti who used to be involved in successful projects such as Moooi and B&B Italia.
How was it to work with a fresh new brand with no existing design language?
It’s exactly the same except from the production point of view in that they are making it, not myself. I only make the prototypes. From a brief point of view it was totally open, they asked “what would you like to design?” and I decided on porcelain tableware.
What else are you currently working on?
For the moment I figured that this is enough! I’ve just moved, and there a few shows in the pipeline, I’m also working on some private commissions for clients who want to have their living room done by me, or a special installation, but they’re still in their early stages.