After meeting Gaetano Pesce at “Pieces of a Larger Puzzle,” his first West Coast retrospective at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Westwood, I caught up with the artist, designer and architect and asked him a few questions for Dwell.com.
How do you think this retrospective at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura—your first on the West Coast—reflects your body of work as an artist?
As one piece, drawing or 3-d object represents the work of someone, more objects in an exhibition allow the personality of the creative person behind it to more clearly come out. In L.A. there is a set number of things, and those looking with attention will be able to realize what kind of person I am and what kind of creativity I express, that’s for sure.
How important is the influence of design-minded countries such as Brazil, Denmark or Italy on your work specifically, and the design world as a whole?
There is not one particular influence, but there is influence due to the fact I travel—Russia, Japan, South America—and very often the differences in each country give me ideas and energy.
Do you approach creating art and architecture differently, and if so, how?
No. It’s the same thing, but the difference between objects and buildings is their scale. The content is the same, but the dimensions behind it differ. They both have to be functional, so they are very close to one another.
Many of your designs are anthropomorphic (UP 5, UP 7, Dalila chairs, Portrait chair)—why is the physical form such a prevalent part of your designs?
I believe that we come from a very abstract tradition. Architecture is made up of abstract geometries, and objects are very often abstract. Art in general is very abstract and difficult to understand. I use elemental figures that people can recognize in my work, to say that abstraction is over, and the figural representation and the recognizable form is the future.
Tell me how you came up with the UP 5 La Mamma chair and ottoman design, and what is its meaning?
The original meaning is a woman with a ball attached to her leg—the image of a prisoner. I am talking about the women in the world, prisoners under the prejudice of man and the masculine world. I believe that the chair is a very actual representation of the prejudice against women—in China, India, Islamic countries, Europe, South America, here in America, everywhere. People have made different interpretations of it, and everyone is free to understand what they want from it, it’s ok. Sometimes it’s a mother and child, sometimes it’s a sex symbol—there are a lot of different interpretations.
How do you feel about the UP 5 and 6 chair and ottoman being shown in a fight scene in a Lautner house in a James Bond film (Diamonds Are Forever)?
I thought that the people who made that James Bond movie must enjoy the chair, since they put it in the movie. When someone told me, it was a pleasure to know; it was great.
How important are the workers’ personal design touches in the Nobody’s Perfect series?
Very important, because I believe that my work is not the work of someone looking for the nice, finished form, but the process. So when I suggested that we do those chairs, cabinets, tables, etcetera, I suggested a process in which the workers were able to express their creativity, and they did. Each time is a new expression; each time they change. We asked people in the factory not to repeat the same gesture every day, but to express the creativity they have inside—that was ever important, and I hope can do more. Repetition destroys the minds of people; routine is bad for the brain.
Which artists, architects and designers (alive or dead) do you admire?
There are lots of examples, but Leonardo was a multidisciplinary personality, a designer and an architect and beyond. Michelangelo was another multidisciplinary figure with a strong expression that influenced me a lot. More in the modern times, an important figure is Marcel Duchamp—very creative is not enough; he was innovative. Art was changing in a radical way in the 20th century, away from romantic and toward the industrial, and when he showed in Paris in 1917 and 1918, the meaning of his work was truly great.
What are some of your favorite buildings?
Again, there are a lot: In modern times, Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Barcelona pavilion by Mies van der Rohe. In history, I would say the masterpieces of the Gothic cathedrals; they are innovative in technology and language. There are a lot of examples.
What would you like to see more of in design and architecture today?
I’d like to see more human feelings, less abstraction, less being neutral. I would like to see the human touch, not abstract geometry, and more personal stories in design, architecture and objects, where the designers express themselves politically, philosophically, existentially or even religiously, to carry expressions that they are not used to expressing. I think that’s very important.