FROM B/W TO COLOR
The blog www.1980style.com is created by Po Ku (B.Arch.,MRAIC).
Website : www.pokuhomes.com
Finding material to represent human skin tone and texture has been the artist's quest since the dawn of civilization.
Realistic representation of the human form or abstract anthropomorphic shapes is enhanced greatly by the appropriate choice of material.
Below are examples of Italian Renaissance sculptures carved in white marble.
Bronze is the material of choice for dark skin. And in this case the lowly black fiberglass is a cheaper and lighter substitute. Lindsey B of England created this black sculpture in 1985.
Rose quartz has been used in Italy by carvers and sculptors since Roman times. The Italian pink marble which is highly translucent actually resembles pink skin.
For a while in the 1980s, there was a craze to collect Aztec/Mayan clay figures made in Mexico. This human figure was made in burnished terracotta. Admire the skin tone!
In the summer of 1978, I got in touch with Franco Bucci through the Italian Consulate in Toronto. After many months of correspondence by air-mail, I got the right to carry the Bucci line in Canada. In the 70s, Bucci could only write in Italian and I needed to learn Italian really fast. At that time, I had a shop in Alberta specializing in interior design goods from Italy and Scandinavia.
The first time I read about Bucci was in an issue of Abitare in the library of my architecture school in Nova Scotia in 1975. I couldn't help but admire the purity and simplicity of form and proportions of his pieces.
Although the bulk of his product line were tableware and cookware and all were oven and dishwasher safe, each item exuded good taste. It has been thirty-seven years since I've first open a box of Bucci dishes just arrived from Italy. When I look at any piece of his products today, I am still amazed by his consistent good taste.
The pieces were hand-made, but the shapes and details were so precise and unerring that they looked machine made. However, what gave it away was the glaze which was always applied in a free-hand manner. The teapot shown above has that nostalgic look of 19th century enamelware.
Franco Bucci (1933-2002), the renowned potter/ceramicist of Italy, founded the Laboratorio Pesaro in the small city of Pesaro on the east coast of Italy almost directly due east of Florence in 1961. Since the 1950s, Bucci had created pottery that was design-art-utensil-object for day to day use. He was the rare artist that never lost sight of the end usage of his products. He had pledged early on to see his ware used in households throughout the world. But many of his designs ended up in museums. The Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan until the end of the 80s reserved a permanent spot for Bucci's new creations.
In 1958 the famous Sextant Gallery staged a show in Milan for Bucci who was until then unknown in Milan which was the center of the design universe in Europe. In Milan, Bucci met Ettore Sottsass and others and had remained life-long friends with them. Bucci, being the consummate craftsman, was forever experimenting with decreasing the thickness & weight, increasing the temperature resistance and strength of his porcelain. Also being a man of conscience, his laboratory was constantly developing non-toxic and safe material combinations for his products. Bucci the artist and designer, however, was forever in the forefront of European tastemakers and pacesetters.
Franco Bucci and Federico Fabbrini were great friends and colleagues long before the formation of the Laboratorio Pesaro. They collaborated on and off since 1958 when Fabbrini open his workshop near Florence. From 1969 to 1973 both Bucci and Fabbrini worked as designers with Villeroy & Boch of Germany.
While Bucci was a forward looking designer of superb taste in the Modern, Fabbrini was a traditionalist. While Bucci was a worldly artist never timid in incorporating Oriental and Scandinavian ideas and techniques in his own work, Fabbrini was very much into reviving the traditional Italian arts and crafts. His ceramic puppet series was Art in itself.
Italian product designers with star status were mostly practicing architects, some returning from the U.S. and some were professors in architecture and design. The cream of the crop got recognized and invited to join the rosters of big-name designers for the export firms such as Cassina, Artemide and ICF de Padova. A few of them had worked for progressive corporations such as Olivetti and Brionvega. The following are the iconic designs that came out of Italy in the 70s and 80s :
From Left to Right, designers : Ettore Sottsass, De Pas D'Urbino Lomazzi, Sergio Asti, Richard Sapper, Giulio Lazzotti.
PHOTOGRAPHY & MAGAZINES
If one keeps a library of all the top European export product catalogs of the 1970s and 1980s, one would have a valuable collection of the finest photographed and printed publications in the world. Some of these catalogs were hard-cover coffee table books containing exquisite photo spreads printed on premium-grade paper with spot varnishing to highlight the products.
ABITARE, DOMUS, OTTAGONO, CASA VOGUE
are mainstream Italian magazines using architecture, urban planning, interior design, product design, social reform and fashion as pretext for promoting Italy's myriad of export companies of high-styled designer products : furniture, lighting, tableware, household accessories, bathroom fixtures, cars, kitchen utensils, ceramics, windows and doors and other building products.
Europe's highest paid photographers were commissioned by the automotive industry to take alluring pictures of their Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Jaguars and Aston Martins. The photographers' skills, equipment, techniques and studios were also used in furniture and product photography. Large pieces such as bedroom sets required either studio setup with temporary backdrops or location shooting. Europe had no lack of lush backgrounds.
And if it had to be set up in a studio, then the entire ceiling would be a light tent. This would give the image of the furniture a uniform and smooth appearance with every texture and color properly highlighted and accentuated. The aim, of course, was : just one look and you are hooked.
March 16, 1972, 3pm : an event occurred that marked the end of an era of blind faith in Modernism - the first building of the Igoe Pruitt housing project in St. Louis, Mo, was blown up and cleared away by the U.S. government.
In the first half of the 20th century, architects and urban planners all over the world looked up to the French architect Le Corbusier and the CIAM (International Congresses of Modern Architecture) whose manifesto of providing the world with a better living habitat had influenced architects and planners for much of the century. The following image is Le Corbusier's Radiant City (Ville Radieuse), an unbuilt project designed in 1924:
Not until the early 1960s when Jane Jacobs and like-minded activists who came out to loudly opposed the by then well entrenched doctrines of Le Corbusier and his followers, did mainstream architects and designers dare to express some personality and individuality in their work. Below is an image of Greenwich Village today which Jane Jacobs and Co. saved from the wrecking ball in the 1960s:
In Europe, the reaction against the totalitarian approach of the International Style perpetrators started early, just after WWII. Carlo Scarpa designed various Venice Biennale pavillions starting in 1948. His work was poetic and beautiful - a prophecy of architecture to come. Photo source: courtesy of La Biennale Foundation : sculpture garden of the Venice Biennale by Carlo Scarpa
The mainstream still operated in the modernist mode in Italy in the 1970s. Young designers, architects, artists, craftspeople, tradespeople, etc., many of them under-employed, full of pent up creative energy and with a knack for drawing, sketching, sculpting, constructing and building,were designing and making things on their own. Among these talented individuals, the few with good taste, fashion sense, the skill for self-promotion and good sense of making things work and work better, would group together under a banner and create their own firm. Poltronova was one of such groups : (see future post on Poltronova)
DESIGN as EXPORT
As an architecture student, Learning from Las Vegas was required reading. We all thought we admired Venturi's Sainsbury Wing project. And along came Leon Krier aligning even more with 'Tradition' but without the smirk. The term Post Modern only became popular and then over-used since the early 1980s when Philippe Starck started collaborating with Ian Schrager of Studio 54 fame. Having lived through the 80s, I believe Post Modernism is everything that Mies and Le Corbusier would not have wanted us to enjoy. Individuality simply could not be tolerated. See below, IIT (Illinois Institute of Technology) campus planning by Mies van der Rohe :
Since the 1960s, the Italian government has been sponsoring trade commissions all over the world to effectively promote and market Italian designed goods. Individuality and perceived quality in product design was the key to the success of the Italian export industry. A case in point is Stilnovo, a lighting fixture manufacturer, founded in the 1940s and went on to become well known as a clearing house for bold new Italian designs.
From left to right, designer for Stilnovo : Gae Aulenti, Ettore Sottsass, Joe Colombo, Alberto Fraser.
Stilnovo had collaborated with numerous well-known architects. Its products were typically technically straightforward but each model seemed to have its own personality. The styling epitomized 1970s' Italian design by its freshness, playfulness and innocence. Each model usually contained a new design idea or the use of new material and was almost like an animated object but without the tackiness of a cartoon caricature. Stilnovo had hundreds of designs in its archive worthy of being cataloged into a design handbook. Stilnovo is no longer in operation, however, a committee of supporters can still be reached to answer questions about the company and its products : http://www.stilnovoitalia.it/en/
The following Italian desk lamp came out in the 1970s. PL bulb was unheard of at that time in North America. It was used as a featured element in the design - a touch of high tech circa 1970. The base was contained in a highly polished pastel-colored dome that was thick cast-metal which weighed about five pounds. Small parts were also cast and machined for the model. Nothing seemed to be off the shelf except the switch, plug, wire, light bulb socket and the PL bulb. The lamp had a solid and well-crafted feel to it. PL Mini desk lamp by Tronconi of Italy, 1980 :
It made so much sense for Italy to nurture and sustain these groups of enthusiasts who wanted to export their individual designs. Their talent was an exportable resource. One-offs and experimentation required small-scaled fabricators' support. Mold-making, die-casting, glass blowing, fabric and leather sewing, etc. were readily available for designers who wanted to make their prototypes. Starting small was possible. The following photos show Ron Arad, in a typical European fashion, handcrafting a custom interior project for his own firm. Taken from the Sept 1991 issue of Ottagono magazine :