Behind Vincenzo de Cotiis's Subtly Beautiful New Sculptural Furniture Collection
London has been awash with art and design lately – it’s the season, after all, of the London Design Festival, PAD, Frieze, LAPADA and so on… and hasn’t it all been fabulous? But as all the fanfare, festivities and creative jazzhandery quietens down, now is the time to see what’s stuck. What impressions have lasted. What’s worth remembering.
And perhaps taking the time to revisit, at leisure, one of the more subtly beautiful openings of the last month, a new collection by Vincenzo de Cotiis at the Carpenters Workshop Gallery in Mayfair.
En Plein Air comprises 20 ‘furniture-sculptures’, each handmade by Italian artisans, and combining semi-precious stones, Murano glass, recycled resin and cast brass in an ‘aesthetical tour de force’. Including seating, lighting, tables, cabinets and bookshelves, this is an exercise in extreme opulence from the Italian architect long considered one of the heroes of the contemporary collectible design scene.
While De Cotiis is known for championing the power of a good patina, and making a luxury exercise of recycling and reappropriation via the integration of new and precious materials, this latest collection takes his philosophy of ‘perfect imperfection’ to its furthest reach yet.
The starting point for the En Plein Air collection, explains De Cotiis, was the Impressionist artistic movement of the early 20th century when painters, fed up of their dimly lit ateliers and stuffy portraiture, took up their palettes and canvasses and began to paint scenes of nature, outdoors.
“This was a liberating moment when artists began to represent nature in its multiple expressions, no longer dedicated to portraiture or historical representation,” he says. “The landscape was rediscovered as a pure inspirational element.”
For De Cotiis, whose designs layer art history and nature with uniquely sophisticated results, he has sought “to rediscover a nature never before represented in this way: air, light and wind are symbols manifested through reflecting forms such as solar landscapes, fibreglass trees bent as proven by the wind and natural colours. It is a conversation between materials in which the line between the sculpture and painting becomes blurred.”
It is, says the artist, “a quintessence of everything that the movements of the early 20th century had established”. Mixing, deconstructing and reconfiguring the chromaticism of the materials from Pointillism; Pre-Cubist geometries and organic Expressionist schemes, he arrives at a “new iconographic and morphological alphabet” – which is as forward looking as it is referential towards the past.
The first piece in the collection to be realised was an enormous, monolithic dining table, DC1809, made of stone, fibreglass and polished brass. “I knew this piece would have a lot of impact, due to its grand length and its sculptural forms, I wanted to make sure the other works held the same feeling,” says De Cotiis.
Other items include a tall lamp in cast brass and Indian stone, with two neon light strips stacked vertically within it, and a two-metre tall wall-hung cabinet with a stone casing and a silvered brass front. Everywhere, irregular blocks are stacked, slanted or leaning asymmetrically, organically, their layered, multifaceted surfaces drawing you in and hypnotizing with rich shows of light, materiality and colour.
“Working with rare and precious materials always presents a challenge, as you have to manipulate them in a delicate way, in order not to waste much of the matter,” explains De Cotiis of the difficulties involved in creating the collection.
One unexpected outcome has been the development a new experimental glass technique where two types of glass melt together at different temperatures. “The smaller glass pieces explode within the larger piece to give an overall effect of glass shapes existing within a larger glass slab – a process which is difficult to control but which contributes to its uniqueness.”
With his craftsmen he attempted to match the glass to the colours of the stones in the process, “but when you mix them together you don't know how it will turn out.” He compares the explosions to the brushstrokes of the impressionist painters. "If you look at these colours, you will think of nature, but also the concept of the air and the light.”
De Cotiis’s work is so often about contrasting materials and the layering of old and new, and the next body of work is always on his mind: “I do a lot of sketches and am searching for new, unique materials.”
Currently working on a handful of residential interior projects around the world and further projects with Carpenters Workshop Gallery, he finds his inspiration in contemporary art and architecture as well as historical movements and other cultural fields. Meanwhile, as the season comes to a close in London, En Plein Air is worth taking the time to discover, and rediscover. It remains on show for the next month.