How many times have I been asked this question?
After 16 years curating exhibitions of contemporary design and craft in museums, stately homes, Sotheby’s London and New York, Liberty, the Crafts Council and for the past four years in No 10, Downing Street, I caved in.
I am lucky, I do what I love: spotting, encouraging and nurturing exceptional talent. When people ask how I know what I am looking for, I wish I could say I knew but it’s not a science, it’s like a light bulb that switches on in my head when I see something special and exciting. That special IT.
I see an overwhelming number of graduation shows and gallery exhibitions. It often makes me giddy. I feel I am suffering from visual indigestion but occasionally (when I am lucky), the trusty light bulb ‘pings’. Maybe it’s only one gem often tucked away at the back of an overcrowded room. It is emphatically not the perfectly made table, chair, vase or necklace. It’s potential. The unexpected surprise. Creativity and innovation, not to be confused with gimmickry. Nor am I impressed by things resonating of others.
I look for a clear, confident, individual voice.
For some years I wrote on design subjects for The Weekend Financial Times and instigated a monthly column, ‘Work In Progress’ which followed the transition by fledgling designers from the nurturing, protective environment of art college through the first couple of years in the real world. A Shock of the New to many. I wrote about the mistakes, successes and most importantly, lessons learnt.
It’s always great looking back at students and more established designers and makers who I ‘backed’ at the beginning of their careers –Ron Arad, Tord Boontje, Ed Barber and Jay Osgerby,Martino Gamper,Baranby Barford – a long list of furniture and lighting designers, ceramicists, jewellers, taxidermists and textile artists.
THE EYE will be going around exhibitions, fairs and of course the street, where unexpected treasures are often found.
What about this chair growing out of a tree trunk?
Who put it there?
I would love to know. Someone with a sense of irony and imagination. I photograph it in all seasons. Naked in winter, with bare branches. Wearing an overcoat of thick green foliage in summer. It makes me smile.