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Material Spotlight: The Organic Power of Wood

Material Spotlight: The Organic Power of Wood

Smooth curves, dappled surfaces, and vessels that seem to delight in their function as much as they do in their grains and textures. Our Material Spotlight on woodworkers seemed like a no-brainer, and we couldn’t be more excited to share their stories and inspirations.

We could wonder at the natural beauty of trees for a lifetime, but the work these makers draw people in with their own varied interpretations of wood. From vessels of all sizes, furniture, wall pieces, and stand-alone sculptures, there’s a form and wood carving technique for every desire and need.

Material Spotlight: Wood

A trio of Banksia vessels by Darren Appiagyei of Inthegrain. Darren made his Banksia series with nuts from the Banksia plant, a native to Australia. | Photographed by Jermaine Miller.
A Pyrographic vessel by Darren Appiagyei. Pyrography is the art of applying free-hand burn marks to the surface of a material. | Photographed by Jermaine Miller.

Darren Appiagyei

The intrinsic beauty of wood is the drive behind woodturner Darren Appiagyei’s practice, no matter the grain, knot, or crack. Celebrating the irregularities in wood’s rawest forms, he produces both sculptural and functional works that range in personality. From burled asymmetrical silhouettes to pyrographic techniques undeterred by grooves and cracks, Darren has a knack for turning nature’s twists and swells into splendid feasts for the eyes.

But, what now feels natural was not always the case. It was only by chance that Darren found woodworking at all. Following the direction to incorporate a new skill into his 3D Design studies at UAL Camberwell College of The Arts, Darren happened upon an empty woodshop.

The next steps were influenced more by convenience than passion. He settled on woodworking to avoid wait times for the other machines, but shortly after, the material began inspiring him. Darren became enamored with the therapeutic aspects of woodturning and the variety of challenges that different woods presented. He graduated from the 3D Design program in 2016 and founded InTheGrain a year later. 

“As a craftsman, [I have] a passion [for] discovering and exploring new woods,” Darren says. Moreover, “[I am] highly inspired by Ghanaian wood carving, [and] the rawness and exploration of texture.” No matter if it is an English Oak burr or Australian Banksia nut, each wood variety contains opportunities to learn anew. However, the majority of woods Darren carves into are from the woodlands in Shooters Hill (in South London). There, he collects wood samples from trees that fell naturally. 

Darren Appiagyei lives in London and works from his Cockpit Arts studio, which he received with the Cockpit Arts/Turners Award in 2017. He also produces a podcast on his Instagram account titled “How you became?” to highlight stories of ethnic minority Craft Artists.

Adaptability and the Indestructible Nature of the Whole No.1, 2019. Western red cedar. Dimensions: W 8 x H 7.5 x D 7 in (20.32 x 19.05 x 17.78 cm). | Photograph courtesy of Mike Sasaki.
Arch No.11, 2021. Yellow cedar. Dimensions: W 6.5 x H 4 x D 2.75 in (16.51 x 10.16 x 6.98 cm). | Photograph courtesy of Mike Sasaki.

Mike Sasaki

The smooth, arching forms in Mike Sasaki’s work stem from ideas of what he considers most essential in life. Gathering inspiration from psychological conditioning, timeless presence, and symbiosis, Mike seeks to draw his audience in and call attention to the moments in life that are grounded in simplicity and stillness.

Following his studies in Design at York University, Sheridan College in 2005, Mike traveled from his native Canada to Japan. While there, he practiced the martial art Shorinji Kempo and sought to understand Japanese culture and philosophy. Upon returning to Vancouver five years later, Mike felt inspired to continue applying all he had learned there.

This realization led to the beginning of his inquiries “into the human mind, human condition and the field of potentiality,” and the start of Mike’s woodworking practice. “[R]ealizing how his background in other arts could enhance the outcomes of wooden objects,” Mike decided to “dedicate himself to the craft of woodworking.” He has since immersed himself in the art, gaining skill and experience along the way. 

Now, looking upon Mike’s sculptures, it is easy to find these influences. He describes: “Through visual poetry, I seek to infuse abstract form with meaning, mystery and truth….I had been following my heart before I realized I was and this habit has continued to this day…[T]he heart is never wrong and always leads away from stress and toward happiness.” 

Mike Sasaki lives in Metro Vancouver, Canada, where he creates all of his sculptures from his home studio. He especially appreciates discovering and learning about hand tools from various cultures and implementing them as needed in his work. Mike often shares progress photographs on his Instagram account and finished works can be found here.

Landscape Credenza, 2019, by Emma Senft. European beech, basswood, wood bleach, soap, oil, and brass hardware. Dimensions: L 53 x H 30 x D 15 in (134.62 x 76 x 38 cm). | Photographed by Laurence Poirier.
Stand, 2020. Basswood. Dimensions: W 4 x H 8 x D 2 in (10.16 x 20.32 x 5.08 cm). | Photograph courtesy of Emma Senft.

Emma Senft

Emma Senft creates work that honors the years of traditional hand-carving skills acquired by humans across the centuries. Getting her start in woodworking through the Cabinetmaking program at Rosemount Technology Centre (Montreal, Canada) in 2014, she now produces “work [that] spans both sculpture and furniture, searching for an intersection between the two.“

With surfaces that dance with dimpled textures, Emma intends her pieces to express the sensory experiences in our daily lives. Whether it is the influence of light on materials or the orchestra of sounds, she gathers daily “textures” with the hope of translating their ephemeral qualities into material objects. “My work is founded in an interaction between geometry, organic form, line and texture,” she explains. “Taking a playful approach, I explore balance through asymmetry…I am striving to contrast the firm materiality of carved solid wood against the meandering ambiguity of surface and form.” 

In the end, a sea of furrows reveals the hand behind the work. Some are deep and short, others wide and barely perceptible. Nevertheless, these hand-carved surfaces express an energy that would not be possible through mechanized methods of making. 

As a result, onlookers may even experience difficulty in discerning the material behind the texture and forms. “The results are compelling because they resemble so many things…[They] cause the viewer to pause and question the materiality of the work, thus inherently reflecting on the process of making. In a modern world of mass production and disposable goods this is a powerful experience…Every day we interact with thousands of objects or products without considering how they came into being. I aim to make work that displays an undeniable history of being made.”

Follow Emma’s work here through her Instagram.

Triptych, 2021. Carved and polished maple wood. Dimensions: W 120 x H 87 cm. | Photograph courtesy of Gabriel Tarmassi.
Wallpiece, 2020. Carved and polished maple wood. Dimensions: W 34 x H 34 cm. | Photograph courtesy of Gabriel Tarmassi.

Gabriel Tarmassi

For Bamberg, Germany-based sculptor Gabriel Tarmassi, wood is a medium for exploring the creative potential inherent to our natural surroundings. From a young age, it has been the material that has consistently inspired him. Childhood curiosity precipitated wood carving experiments, in turn leading to furniture making and another later shift to sculpture. But, whether rooted in play, functionality, or artistic expression, wood has also offered Gabriel endless opportunities for material and conceptual investigations into the macro- and microscopic.

Gabriel’s process “often starts with a certain idea of an object,” and expands to allow the unique character of each piece of wood to inspire him. He explains: “Although I have an initial idea of the final object, it is only by hand and eye that I slowly develop the structures defining my works. Thus each work is given time to grow and mature.” The result is Gabriel’s interpretation of the unique organic growth that tells the story of a tree. 

Carved waves, both in high relief wall pieces and individual objects, feel at once familiar and ephemeral. It is as if the material is morphing under the power of life forces Gabriel has animated, producing fluid movements beneath each piece’s surface. 

But the organic and manmade forces in his work hang in tension. Onlookers can see reminders in the form of the natural cracks or the precise vertical cuts lining his pieces. “Structure is what defines the very basic principles of the world we live in,” says Gabriel. “I draw inspiration from traditional woodworking techniques and modern age tools alike with the aim to create pieces of art that capture the essence of wood as a material, as well as a medium to communicate ideas.”

For another Material Spotlight feature on experimental ceramics, click here.

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