Thursday, August 26, 2010

Calder red violin case progress report

Went to the workshop today to see how the red violin case is coming on. The exterior is nearly finished and looks good - pretty much as I had hoped it would.

I continue to like the wildness of a red violin case, 'transgressive' was the word suggested by Lucian James from AgendaInc.

Calder red violin case #1

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dylan & Neil Young - guitar case shots that inspire

Maybe these shots were the beginning of the whole Calder case project...I've certainly loved them since I first saw them many years ago. Dylan looks such a cocky kid and Neil so completely the road weary guitarist.

So when I wrote recently about wabi sabi and the allure of beat up old guitar cases these two shots were somewhere in my mind.

G case Dylan standing

G case shots NY lying poor

Friday, August 13, 2010

Wabi sabi - the pursuit of imperfection

A couple of years ago I wrote an article on wabi sabi for London based magazine .cent. Writing the post on James Trussart's rusty guitars reminded me how important the ideas of wabi sabi are in my work - so here the article.

Wabi-sabi is the aesthetic of Zen Buddhism that sees beauty in simplicity, impermanence and imperfection. Zen is suffused with subtlety and ambiguity, so pinning down the meaning of wabi-sabi is a pretty un-Zen sort of activity, likely to make Zen teachers smile.

The qualities associated with wabi-sabi are:

lack of symmetry - not seeking perfection;
simple - honest and having integrity;
austere - striving for core values;
natural - unforced creativity:
subtle-profound - true meaning hidden within;
unworldly - free from convention; calm - providing tranquility.

The simplicity and elegance of wabi-sabi draws comparison with minimalism. Both seek to reveal underlying truths by stripping away everything that is superfluous. But wabi-sabi is intuitive/spiritual while minimalism is fiercely rational/secular. Minimalism is about cool, polished, permanent things; wabi-sabi is about warm, tactile, transient things. Minimalism seeks the permanent; wabi-sabi speaks of the inevitability of decay and change.

Tea bowls from the Japanese Tea Ceremony are among the most revered artifacts of wabi-sabi. A broken and carefully repaired tea bowl is considered of greater merit than a perfect one – because the break demonstrates both impermanence and the impossibility of perfection in this life. By contrast a minimalist cup satisfies most when pristine.

I lit on wabi-sabi in the process of blogging the ideas that shaped the design of my cases for guitars and violins. I’d worked intuitively, the designs flowing from my pursuit of honesty, grace, and purpose. Minimalism was a source of inspiration but there was something else going that I couldn’t quite grasp – an idea that I couldn’t articulate.

Photographer Walker Evan’s work on the beauty of everyday tools had been influential – I wanted my cases to be beautiful working tools. And like tools I wanted the cases to look better with age – truly cool when battered and worn.

Our design work was supposedly finished but I kept looking at the battered case for my 1970’s Les Paul guitar. It was a cheap old black thing – but damn it had character – it lay there oozing rock n roll. And my cases – well yes – very beautiful, very cool, but so new dammit. I wanted my cases to have the character and depth, the sense of the road that the tatty old case had.

I thought about using pre-distressed leather but quickly rejected this as totally inauthentic and naff. I wondered if I could use recycled leather from old saddles – which gets a fantastic patina of age – but my leatherworker said ‘not possible.’ I wondered if I could leave my leather outside to weather for a few months. My leather people again said ‘no’ and I decided to drop this whole line of thought.

The stainless handle element bugged me too – so cool and inert. Stainless is a good honest material – I liked it for that – but I was in pursuit of texture and would have preferred a material like Corton steel, which would take on a patina with age.

So though to the outside world it appeared I’d completed a 3-year design process and had a set of fine and elegant designs – I was not satisfied.

It was around this time I read Alain de Botton’s Architecture of Happiness, which had some really good thoughts relevant to design, and which introduced me to wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi gave me a set of guiding principles that helped me understand what I’d been seeking. Now I could make a re-appraisal of my designs and see where I was a minimalist and where I was a wabi-sabist.

Doing this took away much of the frustration I’d felt. Now I could appreciate my work for what it was – minimalist in the ruthless pursuit of clean lines and use of carbon fiber; wabi-sabi in the use of leather as a material that will change with age.

I also came to a new understanding that the case designs were neither perfect nor permanent, that I would want to refine and reconfigure – change materials, and produce new editions.

And in the end I realize that it is pure wabi-sabi to accept that a design is never finished – that change is to be embraced – everything is work in progress.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

James Trussart guitars - inspirational rock wabi sabi

Years ago at my first visit to NAAM I was bowled over by the guitars of James Trussart. Here's a man who takes classic guitar designs and builds them in rusty and perforated metal. This is exciting and inspriring and captures something of the very essence of rock music and America.

In the early 90's I drove from N. Carolina to Nashville. Taking back roads along the way I was struck by the number of rusty old autos and farm machines littered around farmsteads. In Europe it seems we've tidied a lot of this stuff away - making our countryside more a museum than a working place.

I like rusty machinery, I like that Neil Young called one his albums 'Rust Never Sleeps' and I'm grateful that a Frenchman has put rust into some great guitars. And of course rust is just another aspect of Wabi Sabi

Trussart Rusto matic