Since I was introduced to the work of London-based designer Gareth Neal in the MAD’s exquisite exhibition Against the Grain, he has emerged as one of the intriguing voices in the landscape of contemporary design. Neal's objects and furniture bring together advanced technology with dazzling beauty, and it seems that all design scholars agree that his work is an important expression of 21st-century design. Today, I have visited Neal’s studio in London East End together with his dealer Sarah Myerscough, who exhibits his magical objects in the world’s most important design fairs. I found that his work encompasses so many contradictions that it stimulates you to think: past and future; ornamentation and minimalism; digital craftsmanship and handcraftsmanship; classic and expressive. One of his legs is always in the past while the other in the future. Neal is not only conversant with the history of design, but he is set to challenge traditional forms, revisit and interpret them through the aid of digital technology. Assisted by a handful professionals specializing in the various areas of digital fabrications, he pushes boundaries, and merge the most advanced digital skills with historical methods. His chest ‘George III,’ for example, now in the permanent collection of the V & A, is based on the traditional form of Georgian furniture, with a digital twist (above), and therefore it brings nostalgia with cutting edge appearance. From the series of sculptures which he created in collaboration with Zaha Hadid, all inspired by ancient vessels, he still produces one by one, and showed me the slow and time consuming process that it takes the CNC machine to achieve the perfection (below). Neal lives in two different worlds that through his passion and genuine skills was able to merge, in the world of traditional cabinetmaking, which is where he received his training and in the world of digital technology. I love to quote how V&A curator Christopher Wilk defined Gareth Neal: “There are furniture makers who are great craftsmen, and there are those who are great designers. Gareth Neal is a rare find. He’s both.” Thanks you, Gareth for hosting me in your studio and for sharing your work. All images courtesy Gareth Neal.
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