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Up-Close, Hands-On Design with Nacho Carbonell

Nacho Carbonell is a man who loves to work with his hands. And he's a man who appreciates the utility of a good chair, an item he often incorporates into his work. They sit alongside his naturalistic-looking sculptures, many of which resemble living organisms or objects found in the wild such as trees, creatures, shells or cumulus clouds.

“I like the element of a chair appearing in the object," he says. Carbonell believes a place to sit, as part of an installation, invites the viewer to interact with a piece in a more intimate, tactile manner. Experience is everything to Carbonell. People own too many objects these days, he believes. You can't take the sun home with you after a holiday, but you can take the experience of lovely sunny day home in the form of a memory, the artist claims.

“I like the element of a chair appearing in the object," says Nacho Carbonell. He believes a place to sit, as part of an installation, invites the viewer to interact with a piece in a more intimate, tactile manner.

From Spain to the Netherlands

Born in Valencia, Spain, Carbonell was raised under the same blue skies that inspired the sun-drenched landscapes of the painter Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, also a native of Valencia, a century earlier. After studying industrial design in Spain at Cardenal Herrera University C.E.U., Carbonell made his way to the Design Academy Eindhoven, where he would eventually discover the artistic motifs that would fuel his career.

When talking about his career trajectory prior to discovering art and design, Carbonell is candid. “I didn't know what to do with my life," he says. Once in Holland, he began to understand that the concept of design encompassed more than he'd originally supposed. With his curiosity piqued, he set out to investigate what would happen if he followed a creative path.


Building an Artistic Career

Based out of his studio in Eindhoven, Carbonell approaches his work with a gritty, workman-like zest, although the results of his hands-on labours — sometimes abstract, sometimes more concrete in nature — are often deceptively elegant in their design and execution.

From his graduation project Pump It Upa playful installation where art-goers interact with a deflating chair while simultaneously inflating foam and silicone animals, or more commercial work, like the silk and rubber Hatch up! display he created for Hermès in Japan where kinetic creatures rest on beds of broken white shards, his fertile mind is constantly bringing experimental objects to life.
 

Drawing and His First “Love"

“My favourite, without any doubt, is my first work," he says, referring to Pump It Up. “That for me is the origin of who I am today. That love you have for this first piece helps keep you going for a long time." The challenge now is to surpass what he accomplished with his inflatable fauna project, which he jokes took him 27 years to complete - the age he was when he finished it.
 

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One of the biggest fears this Spanish artist had to contend with early on was the fact that he didn't really know how to draw. This is a requisite skill an artist needs to have when sketching down conceptual ideas. He soon discovered, through his formal education, that drawing was simply a matter of mastering the proper technique. “Now I love it," he says. But he still gravitates more toward abstract subjects, as drawing people and portraits aren't his forte. Sketching, along with welding, are the parts of his creative process he enjoys most — especially if he can jot down his design ideas while sitting on a train or waiting for a flight to take off.

My favourite, without any doubt, is my first work," he says, referring to Pump It Up. “That for me is the origin of who I am today. That love you have for this first piece helps keep you going for a long time."

Creating Art Meant for Touch

Named Designer of the Future at the 2009 Design Miami/Basel, Carbonell continues to indulge in the concept of touch and doing everything by hand. His Light Mesh (see image below) collection has been one of his most well-received projects to date. This whimsical series is composed of sculpted steel lamps sheathed inside cocoons of metal mesh. The wild-looking, fantastical nature of theses lamps gives the curious a glimpse into his mind, and how the ideas lodged inside his subconscious can move from a conceptual thought to a tangible, fully developed piece of art.

When a flash of creativity strikes, Carbonell will sketch out his concepts, then experiment with different materials and construction techniques — occasionally inventing new techniques along the way. He'll then set about building visually arresting objects, which are often shaped like animals, insects and plants - even if only abstractly - by making use of items he finds lying around Eindhoven, such as broken pieces of glass.

“If you can respect the material, then do something with it, you can bring it a bit further," he says. Carbonell is wary of any aesthetic trend that increases the value of an object merely because it's built from recovered parts, which isn't how he wants his work to be appraised.
 

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Sending His Work Out into the World

When it comes to accolades, Carbonell can appreciate them to a point, likening awards to a shot of creative adrenaline — but soon enough, work and real life will call him away from the limelight. If inspiration hits him at 3:30am, he'll hop out of bed, take a shower, then head to his studio to work. No one is there to give him a prize for getting up early.

Carbonell loves to experiment with metal, plaster, sand and concrete or whatever other materials he can get his hands on, creating sculptures that are at times strange and provocative, yet always engaging. El Patio, an Alhambra-inspired installation with a liquefied beer bottle canopy in Granada, is a good example of this, as are presentations of his Cocoon lamps at the Carpenters Workshop Gallery in San Francisco, or exhibitions like Evolution held at the Groningen Museum in the Netherlands.

Carbonell loves to experiment with metal, plaster, sand and concrete or whatever other materials he can get his hands on, creating sculptures that are at times strange and provocative, yet always engaging.

In the past, he had trouble letting some of his pieces go. “How can you sell your baby?" he asks. It felt dirty to him. But over time, he learned how to let his creations, which “have this element of tactility … an element of being involved with the object", out into the world.

Carbonell wants people to touch his sculptures, and experience them close up. His down-to-earth design approach might be best summed up by his reaction to artistic limitations. “Many people, at the beginning, say that's impossible. You can't do that. And then I made it, and say OK, you see, it's not impossible."

Nacho Carbonell will always find a way, no matter how, to build what his imagination dictates. And then, when finished, he'll move on and create something new.

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