Kya deLongchamps celebrates the enigma and variations of one of the UK’s most celebrated industrial designers — Israeli-born Ron Arad.
Design is is such a transient and derivative showcase, that it’s sometimes hard to mark out the original creative from the mediocre, muddy-footed plagiarist.
Not so industrial designer Ron Arad (b1951) — a self-described ‘brat’ who works with a fluid, childlike energy, his work as curated to galleries, written up as architecture or distilled down through designs for top-end furniture brands, is certain to be remembered 100 years from now.
Vintage dealer, Paul Byrne, who runs the Irish outlet, Retrorumage, has no doubt of the reputation of this feted genius: ‘To me, he is the finest designer of the late 20th century, and in years to come will be held in the same esteem as Wegner, Eames and Arne Jacobsen.
“Arad first came to my notice in the late 1990s, when I spotted his Rover chair in a cool interiors shop in London.
"I was completely fascinated by how a designer could take what was an ordinary car seat and turn it into a piece of art.
“The chair then came to the attention of the general public, when it appeared on the set of Top Gear.”
Ron Arad grew up in Tel Aviv, graduating from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, and arrived in London in 1973.
He displayed the ability to trust and relish the potential of the moment, performing an interview for the Architectural Association School with nothing more than the offer of his 6B pencil.
Distracted from his day job at an architect’s office, Arad noticed a battered car seat at a wrecking yard, dragged it home and set it on a coarse, steel frame (he happily taught himself to weld).
The Rover chair had a joy and invention that perked the design market’s interest and Arad opted for self-employment, setting up his first studio, One Off, in the artistically and commercially fertile grounds by Convent Garden.
Establishing an architectural and design practice later on, in the 1980s, with Caroline Thorman, he went on to become Professor of Design Product at the Royal College of Art, a position he held until 2009.
His fame has spread through landmark exhibitions, limited-edition studio work, and extraordinary buildings, including the Design Museum in Holon, Israel (2010).
Arad’s work is the happy product of what he describes as a ‘playground’ rather than a carefully considered career.
Working in a wide array of substances, from vacuum-formed aluminium to polyamide — he’s best known in higher realms for his work in steel, where he deftly pushes the boundaries of beauty and function.
This is not a man paralysed with self-importance at the thought of commercial production, and appears to be generously spurred on as technological innovations arrive, to put the polish on roughed-out prototypes.
Many of us would recognise Arad’s furnishings — for Moroso, Driade, Vitra, Magis, the BabyBoop collection for Alessi, and the curling Bookworm shelving designed for Kartell — with a quick visual prompt.
His perfume bottles for Kenzo, in their twisted mechanical forms, are now highly collectable and he’s even introduced a range of eyewear.
His cheerful span extends to the design of crystal chandeliers for Swarovski, which, like some of his more whimsical pieces of furniture, receive text messages in their LEDs.
Fiat has released a 1957-styled Ron Arad Fiat 500 for 2015, collaborating with the designer on the exterior and interior finishes of his avowed favourite car.
In an interview for the new Dezeen Book of Interviews (€15 from Amazon), Arad shows a refreshing balance and open curiosity about the dove-tail joint of art and design:
“What amuses me a lot is that this here is the Rover chair that normally sits in my living room. It came to my home before my daughters were born. They grew up, lived with it, jumped on it, all their friends jumped on it, never taking too much care of it.
“Then, at the Centre Pompidou, I wasn’t permitted to touch it without white gloves.’
Ron Arad became a royal academician of the Royal Academy of Arts in 2013. Moroso is hosting its new designs by Arad, including the Glider sofa, seen above, at its Rosebery Avenue Showroom during this year’s London Design Festival.
* Paul Byrne’s collection can be enjoyed at www.retrorumage.tumblr.com
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