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Nicholas Shurey

Published 15 / 08 / 2019

FR - Nicholas won us over with his global approach to wood. Versatile, he sculpts abstract pieces, designs furniture, collaborates with architects. Through this practice, he breaks down barriers in a sector that is very often segmented. Discovery.

 

How do you define yourself? Like a designer, a sculptor?

This is a question I sometimes ask myself and which I find it difficult to answer. Despite having had a background as a designer and architect, my pieces go beyond the design process: it is an emotional and complex approach that the word "designer" does not describe. It is for me a strong affirmation to define my work as art, but I do not feel comfortable with the term "sculptor".

 

You previously worked as an interior designer at Space Copenhagen and Studio Toogood. What did you learn from these experiences? You still collaborate with architects today, exhibit your pieces within Norm Architects' projects and produce models for Nicolas Lee Architect. Is it important for you to keep this link with this practice?

My years spent in interior design studios were very important in developing my aesthetic sensitivity - the importance of knowing certain references, appreciating shapes, understanding materials. But perhaps the most important thing was to learn that designing spaces and products is a much bigger discipline than we can imagine. We could define it more as a “creation of experiences”. Being able to create and tell a story through each design is an essential part of this approach. The founders of Space Copenhagen and Studio Toogood are incredible storytellers from whom I was delighted to learn. Although I no longer work directly in architecture, I still feel inextricably linked to it. Just as a good story depends on careful choice of words, a good space depends on the details and objects present. Collaborating today with architects is therefore a natural extension of my work.

 

How did you come to work with wood?

As far as I can remember, I have always enjoyed creating things on my own, and growing up helped my parents with renovating our family home. These projects often involved woodwork, so I quickly had some familiarity with carpentry. Last spring, I decided to quit my job in an architectural firm and spend a few months in Switzerland alongside a farmer / sculptor. I spent my days helping him on the farm, tending the sheep and cultivating the land, making hay and building greenhouses. During my breaks I would sketch in the barn or orchard and in the evening I would design models in clay or wood. It was incredibly liberating to start with a block of solid wood, sculpt it and then reveal the shape behind it. I didn't want to lose that feeling of freedom when I returned to Copenhagen, so I bought some sculptor's tools and haven't left them since.

 

Do you have a special connection to wood or are you also attracted to any other form of material?

Natural materials generally attract me, much more than synthetic materials. But I must admit that I have a particular affinity with wood. I think it stems from my love for nature and the outdoors - I still remember my childhood spent under the trees in the middle of the forest, and the smell of freshly cut wood automatically brings me back there. Taking a sawn log, with its rough and uneven surfaces, slowly shaping it, refining it until it's as smooth as polished stone is an incredibly haptic and rewarding feeling.

 

Do you prefer to work a particular wood?

Right now, I love the contrast between the uniformity, clarity, and smoothness of maple logs from the forests in the north of town, and the intense hue and streaky grain of the walnut that I buy from a timber merchant. Although they are more difficult to work with, I prefer hardwoods as they very often have a richer and more varied grain, and can be easily sanded down to an almost perfect and smooth surface.

 

What is your working method? Do you choose a wood and imagine the project or vice versa?

I always start with a long period of sketches, without necessarily thinking about the end result. I work both with already seasoned wood and with green logs that I prepare and dry myself. The appearance of the logs varies a lot, which means that I have to develop my ideas according to the evolution of each log. For larger pieces, whether furniture or sculptures, I get planks of already dry wood, more stable, which allow me to work with precision.

 

How would you define your job? Some of your sculptures are very organic and poetic, where your walnut bowl is more familiar and playful.

I like to think of all of my work as playful, although some pieces (like the walnut bowl) are way more cheeky than others. I suppose that the common thread between them lies in a certain curiosity of the form. Drawing architectural plans allowed me to understand how the simple gesture of a line or a curve can have a huge impact on the experience. I favor organic shapes because I have a certain satisfaction in drawing soft curves, connecting to each other, and it is even more satisfying when you manage to lead them to a material appearance. I believe that a good sculpture should fill its viewers with a desire to touch it, that we are intuitively drawn to organic objects that remind us of the body.

 

What inspires you ?

Being in nature is definitely the biggest inspiration for me. I grew up in the countryside, and I find that when I'm away from the hustle and bustle of the city, I'm more able to let go and make my mind more creative. Of course, other sculptures, pieces of art, furniture, and any worthily produced object will also intrigue and inspire me.

 

How do you think the craft will evolve in the future?

Handicraft has become a pretty misused word in recent years, but I think there is clearly a throwback to well-designed crafts that require craft skills to produce. The notion of craftsmanship is in total contradiction with the way in which, in developed societies, we consume things to excess. Handicrafts are therefore for me one of the antidotes to capitalist consumerism. I hope that, in view of the real existential threats such as climate change and the depletion of resources, our societies can partly be converted to a cottage economy. Of course, handicrafts require more work, which comes at a considerable additional cost. It is always difficult to do more with less top quality products that are ethically, locally, naturally and sustainably made. It is also important for me to have the skills to be able to fix things rather than just throw them away.

 

Where can we find your parts? You recently shared a photo from the new The Audo space in Copenhagen.

Yes, I have several pieces on display at The Audo, and will add more throughout the year. I always enjoy visiting the workshops of other designers, so you are welcome to drop by the workshop, discover my work, and chat over coffee.

 

EN - How do you define you? More like a designer, a sculptor?

This is a question I sometimes ask myself and struggle to answer. Whilst I was educated as an architect and designer, my pieces are more than the outcome of a design process - it's more of an emotional, meandering process which the word 'designer' fails to describe. To me it feels a strong assertion to call one's work art, but I can live with 'sculptor'.

 

I saw you worked before as an interior architect, at Space Copenhagen and Studio Toogood. What have you learned from these experiences? You still collaborate with architects, exposing your pieces at Norm Architects projects and making models for Nicolas Lee Architect. Is it important for your to keep this link?

My years spent working for interior studios were really important in helping to inform my aesthetic sensibilities; the importance of knowing references, an appreciation of form and an understanding of materials. Perhaps more essential though, was learning that designing spaces and products is a much broader discipline than we tend to consider; in many senses it can be better described as 'the curation of human experience'. Being able to create a sense of narrative within one's designs and the art of narrating to describe this narrative are vital to this approach. The founders of both of these studios are incredible storytellers, and fantastic to learn from. Although I no longer work directly in architecture myself, I still feel inextricably connected with it. In the same way that a good story is the careful curation of words, a good space is the careful curation of details and objects - and so collaborating with architects is a natural extension of my job.

 

How did you come to woodworking?

For as long as I can remember I've always enjoyed making things, and growing up I helped my parents work on renovation projects at our family home. These projects often involved woodwork so I have a certain familiarity with carpentry, but no formal training. Last spring I decided to leave my architecture job and spend a month in Switzerland working with a farmer-cum-sculptor. The days were spent helping on the farm, tending the sheep and crops, making hay and building greenhouses. During my breaks I drew sketches in the barn or orchard and in the evening I made raw models in clay or wood. It was incredibly liberating to start with a block of solid wood, and chip away to reveal the form hidden within it. I didn't want to lose this sense of freedom when I arrived back in Copenhagen, so I bought some basic sculpture tools and have been using them ever since.

 

Do you have a special link to wood or are you attracted to other materials?

I find myself attracted to natural materials far more than synthetic ones, although I do have a particular affinity to wood. I think it stems from my love of nature and being outdoors - some of my fondest childhood memories are set under trees or within forests, and the smell of freshly cut wood takes me right back. The process of taking a sawn log, with its rough, uneven surfaces, and slowly shaping, refining them until they are as smooth as polished stone is incredibly haptic and gratifying.

 

Do you have a wood in particular you like to work? 

At the moment I enjoy the contrast between the uniform, pale and almost buttery maple logs that come from the forests north of the city, and the rich hues and streaky grains of the walnut that I buy from a local timber merchant. Although they are much tougher to work with, I prefer hardwoods because of their richer, more varied grain patterns and ability to be sanded to a near-perfect smooth surface.

 

What's your process? Do you source the wood according to your ongoing project?

My process always start with a long period of sketching thoughts down without necessarily knowing what I want to create. I work with both seasoned planks, and greenwood logs that I prepare and dry out myself. The logs typically vary a lot in shape and appearance, which means that ideas often have to be developed with the exact log in mind. For my bigger sculpture pieces and those which also function as furniture, I source seasoned planks that are more stable, easier to process and join precisely.

 

How do you define your work? Some of your sculptures are very organic and poetic, when your walnut bowl is more familiar and playful.

I like to think that all of my work has a playful quality, although some pieces (such as the walnut bowl) are certainly cheekier than others. I suppose that the red thread between them is that they are all the product of a curiosity of form, or perhaps better described as a curiosity in to the suggestiveness of form. My experience of drawing architectural plans has instilled me with a deep appreciation of how the simplest gesture of a line or curve can have enormous nuance. I favor organic forms because there's a satisfaction in drawing smooth, curves that flow into one another and even more satisfaction in sanding them smooth into physicality. I believe that good sculpture fills its viewers with a lust to touch it, and that we are intuitively drawn to objects that remind us of the body.

 

What inspires you?

Being out in nature is possibly the biggest inspiration for me. I grew up in the countryside and find that when I'm away from the hustle of the city I'm able to let my mind wonder in and out of creative ebbs far more easily. Of course other sculpture, art and furniture although really any beautifully crafted object will intrigue me.

 

How do you think crafts will evolve in the future?

Craft has become a somewhat murky, misused word in recent years, but I think that there is clearly a movement back towards crafted objects that are well-designed, and whose manufacture require artisanal skill. The whole notion of craft is at odds with the way that we in developed societies consume things to excess. To me, craft is therefore one of the antidotes to capitalist consumerism. I hope that, given the very real existential threats that climate change, resource depletion and so on pose for all of us, our societies can transition back in part to a craft-based economy. Of course the problem is that crafted objects are labor-intensive to make, which has a considerable cost implication. It's always difficult to more on fewer things that are of higher quality, ethically made, local, natural, and enduring. Having the skills to be able to repair things rather than simply discarding them.

 

Where can we find your work? You recently shared a picture from the new Copenhagen space The Audo.

Yes, I do have several pieces on show at The Audo in Copenhagen, and will be adding more throughout the year. I always enjoy visiting other people's studios, so you're also welcome to drop by the workshop to see the process and chat over a cup of coffee.