As long-standing admirers of the designers Patrik Fredrikson and Ian Stallard, we were thrilled to visit the studio where the ideas and vision of the two come to life. Finding a balance between archaic craftsmanship and making the most of what technology has to offer is a decisive element of the design process, which creates the distinctive Fredrikson Stallard style. Simple yet striking, Fredrikson Stallard designs are sought after by international collectors. Discover the work of Fredrikson Stallard at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the French National Art Collection, London’s Design Museum, MoMA, the Museum of Art and Design in New York and David Gill, one of our favourite contemporary art galleries in London.
The Interview (London) had the opportunity to discuss with the pair what drives their creativity, their choice of materials, how to make the most of technology without letting it take over, and forming the FS language:
Hi, Ian and Patrik. Thank you for having us at your studio today. Please, can you tell us some more about your work as designers and your recent collections?
The latest major collection and show was Gravity at David Gill Gallery. We are also working on a few more commercial projects. We have a collection of outdoor furniture called Camouflage, with the company Driade, and we are working on Glaciarium with Swarovski.
We wouldn't necessarily call the work we are doing right now a collection; it is more a body of work. When we did the Gravity show at David Gill in March, it was specifically referring to the 3D pieces we have made, which was based on scanning broken ice and creating forms from that.
Now that we have been working together for a certain amount of time (Fredrikson Stallard has officially been going for 11 years, but we have been working together for 20) we've started to see what our designs, in regards to it being a piece of Fredrikson Stallard, actually is. Our style became especially evident when we did the Gravity collection. It isn’t a material or a process; it is more a way of working.
In that way, we have something that applies to both the Gravity collection and our Species sofas. We included our original Pyrenees inspired Species sofa as part of the Gravity show, and we also worked with crushing metal. We are beginning to see what it is that links the pieces, rather than differentiating them as just acrylic or just foam - it is the way of working which brings it together.
At the moment, directions are quite varied. We have a new chaise that we are working on; there is also a piece from the Gravity collection created from a raw steel dome, with acrylic in it. It creates this incredible depth and volume!
We are also working on 2D pieces, which is fascinating for us as although we consider what we do design, the function of the piece is not of foremost importance. We are working with the same foam technique as the Species but as wall pieces. For some of them, it’s the same process as working with materials in a Digital Vs Analogue way, but we transfer that to something that has no function at all, and through that we are referencing design.
Do you have any exhibitions coming up?
Patrik: We had a small event on 21st July. We do it to create deadlines for ourselves so that we have a goal to complete the projects.
Ian: That's one of the ways exhibitions are so important for artists. It’s not necessarily like the fashion world with Spring/Summer collections. There’s no beginning or end to any of this. You have to set yourself little goals and deadlines along the way so that you finalise ideas rather than letting them float around in the ether.
Patrik: There are some universities like the RCA or CSM that have interim shows, to show progress. It’s a similar idea, except that we show finished pieces.
Form Follows Function | Form Follows . . .
Patrik: The Assemblages, which I suppose can be called 3 Dimensional collages are fascinating for us to work on. Earlier on in our careers the design terminology; Form Follows Function lead our focus. But now we are exploring; 'Form Follows' something else, and we have been trying to discover what that could be.
Something else that we have been fascinated with is the effect of terminology. For instance, if we put four legs on one of our pieces and call it a table it will sell quickly. But if it just hangs on a wall, not so much! It’s always about labelling. However, it does allow people who are coming to see our different pieces, insight into what drives our work. Other designers do not drive it; our inspiration comes from the fine art world. It’s a correlation between the ethos and the thinking of fine artists.
Ian: And we are not always talking about painting or sculptures. Our inspiration comes from literature, dance and other creative industries that have a similar way of thinking to us.
Patrik: A good example is choreographer Hofesh Shechter. He is an incredible choreographer, and his performances are out of this world.
Ian: It’s a similar situation with J.G. Ballard, we have always been fans of his writing. With both artists, it’s the balance between civilisation, chaos and insanity that we can relate to as we are always very close to that line, with our work.
It’s also the combination of the use of traditional techniques, be that in writing, dance or music. It’s making use of that and then combining it with something very now, like technology. But also keeping feelings of authenticity.
Patrik: It’s very, very important to us. It comes across when we work with people like Swarovski, who are linked very closely to the fashion industry. Their crystals are mostly used to embellish and decorate garments. When we work with Swarovski, we don’t use their products as decoration. For instance, if you took away one of their crystals the piece would no longer be there. But if you remove the crystal from a jacket, you’ll still have the jacket. For us, it has to be very integrated into the piece of work.
How and when did the FS partnership come about?
Ian: We were at Central Saint Martin’s together, we met there in 1995. Patrik was doing Industrial Design, and I was doing Ceramics. It was just an organic process; Patrik would come to the studio and work a bit there. And we started to work together in an informal way.
Patrik: It just carried on like that, and then Ian graduated. I had two years left at CSM and during that time Ian set up a ceramic studio. From there, as well as growing as artists we started growing as a business. It was very much a micro-business, where you’re starting up and learning how the whole relationship works between the maker, the producer, the manufacturer and then, of course retailing. That’s what those first years were all about. Whereas today, decisions have to be weighed out, and results anticipated.
Ian: And then Patrik graduated, and we were both working in furniture design and architecture. Patrik was doing his furniture on the side, while I was doing my ceramics. We were separate entities but of course, we are a couple so we were constantly talking about the work together and co-editing the ideas. It wasn’t until 2002 when I took a stand at 100% Design to exhibit the ceramics and Patrik had some furniture, so we thought why not put it in and show it together. We hadn’t thought about it in those terms but the more we looked at it, it became obvious, it was a collection.
Ian: It was very monochromatic, quite gothic actually. Minimalist.
Patrik: We were still separate entities at the time, but it was for financial reasons that we shared this miniature stand!
Ian: Right back then it included pieces like the log stand, Table 1 and Table 2, which went on to become one of our most iconic pieces and got bought by the Royal Albert Museum. It was ahead of its time in a way.
Another artist inspired you for that piece?
Ian: I wouldn't say directly inspired, but there was the artist Jurgen Bey, who did do something with a tree trunk. But it wasn’t a case of ‘Oh you did a tree trunk, and so we’ll do it too,’ it wasn’t that literal. It was more that Jurgen Bey was at the forefront of a new generation, showing what was possible in design.
Patrik: He unlocked certain doors for us.
Ian: In particular, his tree trunk piece. I don’t know if you know it, but you get three bronze backs of traditional 19th-century chairs and two spikes. But you have to get your own tree trunk, and you jam the seat backs in wherever you liked! We were curating at the V&A when they bought the piece and when it arrived they were expecting the log, but it just came with the chair backs and the spikes! ‘Hmmm, where can I get a log from?!’
Patrik: We are very close with Jurgen Bey, we spent some time together in China. It was just by chance that we went over, and we ended up befriending him and his wife.
Ian: He was part of this Droog movement, which was very much about gimmicks, but for him, it was much more serious. He looked into what was going on in design, what are we adding to the world and is there a purpose to it? And he thought yes, yes there is a purpose in what we’re doing; it was interesting and relevant and had not been done before.
How would you describe your style?
Ian: Our work is very expressionist; it is about having a link between a very hands on archaic approach of working with materials. It is also sympathetic and symbiotic with materials; we welcome technology, but we do not allow technology to overtake. Both things are relevant to what we do.
A museum director wrote about us and spoke about the rawness within our work. And similarly, there are a few designers who also capture a sense of rawness. But what they are doing is just raw, which I don’t find particularly interesting. However, using it, taking it further and creating a language is what we do. For instance, Glaciarium for Swarovski is based on scans of broken crystals, which we then use to design objects with. We could just break the crystal, and that would be it, which would in itself be a beautiful object. But that's not enough. It needs to be more; it needs to be more considered. You can’t just leave it to chance.
Patrik: The broken crystal chunks are extraordinary. They are amazing objects - but they are not a vase, a bowl or a candle holder.
Ian: It's not considered, it’s like finding a pebble on a beach and thinking ‘oh what a beautiful pebble!’ but I don't think I would put it on the sideboard as an ‘Objet d’art,’ you know?
Patrik: But that’s where we come in. At the beginning, we decided not to go down the route of say having a ‘twist on a leg,’ which would make a piece ours. There are a handful of very, very good designers from all generations who are amazing at these things. So we thought we would leave that to them, as why should we go and mix it up when they have already done it so beautifully? We have decided to depart from that, and it’s taken us quite a while to build up a language that is inherent to us.
Ian: It’s a matter of making use of technology to work with something more exciting, something a little bit more brutal. But then to use that technology to make an idea into an object, again for instance when we are building the broken crystal we say that the hammer is just as important as the software. They are equal.
Patrik: It's very tricky. A few years ago we experimented a lot with very simple ink blots. With certain forms, you like the top half and others the bottom half. If you would scan those and combine a good looking top half with an excellent base, it looks completely wrong. Each one has a particular relationship to it. It’s the same now when we are working with the crystals if you distort from the original broken part too much it's going to look contrived, it loses its sexiness, and it just falls apart.
Do you ever switch off from work? Or is it a constant part of your lives?
Ian: We always go to the same house on a Greek island on top of a mountain. We’ve sort of adopted it; it’s totally isolated. I wouldn’t say that we are not working there, but we don’t have emails or telephones unless it’s an emergency.
You need that head space, but of course, in that time you’re resetting, removing all the admin, the problems and just having some time and space.
Patrik: It takes a week to decompress, the other week is just enjoying the sun and the beach and then the other weeks you just ease into it. It’s like running, the first 20 minutes are always hard but then you get into the flow of it.
I think it is super, super important to switch off. But of course we always have our sketchbooks and notebooks, they live with us. It’s either next to my bedside table, or right in front of me on the plane - constantly, constantly there. We all have those moments when we wake up in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea and think that's very obvious, and I’ll remember it in the morning…and then morning rolls around, and you’re making coffee, and you think ‘what was that thing that sounded amazing!!’ It’s better to scribble it down and fall asleep again!
How has your work/style evolved over the years?
Patrik: We were very monochrome from the start. We thought if we are going to set out creating a new language, let's make it easy with one core element. So it was the shape and content, the story was paramount, and then everything else, including colour was decoration. We then got represented by David Gill, he was a friend prior and still is. He said ‘can I Please see some colour! Everything you do is black and white, black and white or grey…’ Well, he wanted colour…so we sort of jumped into the deep end of the pool with fluorescents, pinks, yellows and greens! A real extreme.
Over the years, all the layers of creativity mix into the work. I think I said before; it’s like using steel. If we want a particular colour of the steel, then we order that material. We wanted terracotta and rather than going to our lovely paint store and picking up a pot of red oxide, we took terracotta clay and dissolved that to a paint medium instead.
Ian: These real genuine pigments have an incredible depth and vibrancy to them, which you just don't get in the same way from synthetic colours. The red iron oxide and terracotta is the same chemical as rust.
A lot of artists, particularly in the 50’s and 60’s worked on the layering of different hues of the same colour, like Rothko for instance. When you build on a number of colours that are quite similar, you create this depth. For the Species sofa, there are three colours, red, burgundy and black. By altering the ratios, the family of colours just jump out when they are together.
Patrik: It’s the same pigments, the same colour just mixed in different ratios. It creates this real connection.
What do you think has been the most influential/pivotal moment in your professional lives?
Patrik: There have been lots of them. Most recently, I would say it was the Momentum show last autumn.
Ian: Particularly with the Species sofas. It is a business; we are making furniture that people buy but for us it is so much more than that, it is our lives. We showed a few individuals we work with the Species pieces, and they thought ‘they’re amazing, but no one is going to buy them!’
And you know, we didn't care, we just did it. There were no thoughts about price lists, there was no strategy or thinking about trends it was just that we wanted to make these pieces. And I believe that when you have that much belief and passion in something that you want to do, with no viable, rational explanation as to why it works, it creates something that is truly amazing. People can almost taste the passion that has gone into it. The first one sold to MoMa San Francisco.
Patrik: We had a collector flying over from Tokyo before we had even opened the show because they had seen a picture!
Ian: It wasn’t going to be commercial, but it did give us the sense that if we believe in something we shouldn't worry about commerciality. We should just do it.
Patrik: And then after, the input that these pieces attracted went hand in hand with the gallery. The large red ones sold out straight away. A collector got angry because they couldn’t get one, you know, fighting on the gallery floor!
Ian: With a lot of our work, there’s a certain effortlessness, well it looks effortless. But making those pieces, we use our fingers, and it's incredibly hard, you literally bleed. It’s painful!
Patrik: We talked about digital and analogue before and what’s fascinating with the Species is that it is hand carved by us, as is the big red mother the new chaise. We carved the first two of the smaller chaises, and we picked the most handsome of the two and created 3D scans, which has enabled us to have a run of around 30 that get carved.
Ian: They are very abstract forms, having 3D scanned it we are now able to mirror it. It’s incredible to be able to have a pair of these, and it goes back to our earlier work with the ink blots, the vision of reproducing these objects.
Patrik: And that would not be possible without the computer. It’s all about using the tools for the right reasons. But remembering just because we can do something using technology, doesn’t mean that we should.
♦︎ Stay up to date with Fredrikson Stallard news and latest collections ♦︎