Monday, September 6, 2010

Making Waves – interview with Peter Walker

Tell us about yourself, how did you become a furniture maker?
I was born in Sydney and some of my early schooling was in South India. After high school I worked for four years in a variety of jobs including cleaning, oyster farming, sound recording and antique restoration. Around 1981, I was working in a boat-yard in Sydney for Ian Smith, potter, sculptor and boat-builder who introduced me to the world of craft and designand inspired me to study furniture design. The Tasmanian School of Art offered the most exciting education for me at that time so I moved there and ended up staying for 14 years, establishing my own studio and design practice along with having four kids, a goat, a few sheep, chooks and building houses in a small rural community south of Hobart. During this time I spent five years as a Design Consultant in the furniture manufacturing industry for Chiswell before moving to Adelaide to Head the Furniture Studio at the JamFactory from 1997 to 2000.

A quick 4 about inspiration?
Which furniture designers, craftspeople, writers, artists, musician, anyone do you find particularly inspiring?
Sculptor Martin Puryear, anthropologist Wade Davis, musicians Rodrigo y Gabriella, surf craft innovator Tom Blake, filmmaker Werner Herzog, authors Tim Winton and Haruki Murukami

Have any of these people had a specific influence your way you approach to making? If so, how?
Yes, all of them in a way, along with many others as I draw my influences from every aspect of life I encounter and these people are pertinent in my thinking at the moment.
Martin Puryear, for his subtlety of form and the relationship he has developed between materials and craftsmanship
Wade Davis for his global perspective, cultural respect and ability to connect ideas of ancient wisdom with today’s technological culture.Tom Blake as someone who created a “lifestyle” from observation and creative thinking and his ingenious innovations of the hollow surfboard and fin, life buoys, underwater camera, and the windsurfer.Rodrigo y Gabriella for their virtuosity and innate connection in collaborating with each other and Herzog’s obsessive dedication to his projects and attraction to extreme characters and the “obscure”.
Is there any specific quotes, ideas that influence this current body of work?
The momentum for this body of work started with some time in Dale Velzy’s studio in California in 2003 a couple of years before he died, around the same time that Grubby Clarke’s world wide foam blank monopoly came to an end.I was in San Diego again at the time of Velzy’s memorial and paddle-out with about 2000 surfers from around the world, which inspired me to get going seriously on the wooden boards. There are a number of ideas in this body of work from ecological considerations like material choices, production methods and quality through to lifestyle and the combination of art,craft and design coming together through a direct “hands on” process.To my way of thinking, there is valuable knowledge embedded in hand made objects to do with time, observation and the senses that cannot be communicated in any other way.

Is there any specific collections, museums that you have found inspiring and why?
The Herreshoff Museum in Bristol, Rhode Island USA, exhibits the evolution of hydro dynamics in boat hulls for the Americas Cup over more than 100 years through hundreds of wooden studies of scale model half hulls. I’m very interested in this aspect of surfboard design and the effects on drag, suction, uplift, flow and planning hulls.

Are there specific themes reflected in this body of work?
The things of interest to me that are part of this body of work are surfing history and the evolution of surfboard design, hydrodynamics, ecological considerations, hand skills, the combination of art, craft, design, and the process of collaborating with other artists which always introduces the un-expected and creates something that isn’t possible when working alone.

Describe your method of production in this current work?
Apart from one piece that uses a component of laser cut technology, every board is entirely handmade .I work from full-scale templates and build skeletal framesthat establish the transitional compound curves before laminating rails and skinning the decks and bottoms. Some of the surface treatment is incorporated during the making process and some applied after the board is shaped. The boards are fiber glassed by Mark Taylor at Mid Coast Surf.

In this series of works you have collaborated with a number of artist to add designs to the surfboards can you tell us who you have chosen and why they are suited to this project?
Gerry Wedd and Phil Hayes are both artists and surfers with a history of involvement in Australian surf culture from Mambo to the mainstream global giant of Quiksilver. Gerry is a ceramicist and image-maker and Phil is a painter and print-maker. Stephen Bowers‘ analytical illustrations combine the historical disciplines of Chinese Willow pattern with contemporary social commentary, while Quentin Gore, an industrial designer, brings artisan sensibilities to industrial technologies.

In this body of work you also have introduced the fire as a method to provide a new affect on the surface of the board,can you describe the process and why the use of fire was pertinent for these works?
The connection of fire with water as two of the fundamental natural elements pose a dynamic contradiction of forces that are an essential ingredient of the South Australian environment. The process of burning the boards is similar to surfing in that it is an immediate action taking place, and while it can be controlled quite tightly, I choose to work with it in such a way that it is somewhat unpredictable and I need to respond and adjust to the process as it happens. I love the excitement of taking a carefully designed and crafted finished object into a process that has the potential to go either way – either an inspired series of marks and energy transferred on to the surface, or maybe a blackened pile of charcoal.
In recent years you have spent part of your year in Australia and part in the USA teaching at the RISD has this travel/living between places affected the work you produce.
Yes, I have been doing this for 10 years now and am constantly questioning and evolving my ideas of creative practice while being challenged to expand my thinking as it is influenced by differing cultural perspectives. Running the Graduate Research Program at RISD’s Department of Furniture Design keeps me right in the thick of current thought enquiry in the design field, being involved in projects from North America to Europe and Japan. These are as varied as a sustainable lumber company in Maine, providing an entire community with a supporting industry of forestry, milling and production to developing future concepts and design strategies for technology giant Toshiba in Tokyo. These experiences are balanced with the physical development of work here in Adelaide where I concentrate on my own particular areas of interest which for the last six years has been wooden surfboards.

Peter Walker’s surfboards will be on display at JamFactory from 10 September – 17 October in Gallery 1