A self-proclaimed woodworker, George Nakashima [1905-1990], a Japanese architect, a sculptor, va furniture maker, one of the innovators of 20th century furniture design and father of the American craft movement, discovered this incredible truth in the self-effacing beauty of wood — the kind that appeals as rational and romantic, as powerful and poetic, and as permanence and temporal. Within this eloquent form, he perceived of a constructional fabric which was durable and aesthetically vibrant — from the fragile and the transient moments of a decaying tree — amongst nature’s discards, and filled it with the promise of commendable work and art.
Nakashima’s oeuvre, including the signature large-scale tables made of large wood slabs with smooth tops but unfinished natural edges and connected with butterfly joints, relied on the micro-surgical confidence of his techniques, the emergence of the eternal quality from the elementary acts of building, the sense of a natural modification for the dying trees, solidifying his work into a single poetic objective. His syntax demonstrates a lyricism inherent from diverse engagements he had as a traveller and with modernist peers; is grounded in Japanese simplicity, refined by the rhythmic proportions of Le Corbusier, organically against the polemic antagonism he held for Frank Lloyd Wright and the austerity spiritually rooted in his learnings as one of the first disciples of Sri Aurobindo. With a reverence for wood, and a sensitivity so rare, Nakashima placed each line with a skill and sureness, using joineries in a masterful way to make it as tangible a part of every design there is, expressing the spirit of the soul of a tree, both external and temporal, in one striking entity.
Transcending a continent, a culture and a decade and half apart, Sonny Singh captures the virtuosity of a manifesto woven so deep, the philosophical underpinning of the same vocabulary and ideals, and the need and nostalgia for these finer nuances in this new and an equally exploratory exhibit titled Art of Wood. In its entirety, the collection extends as a repository of the past and present inclusive of originals by Sonny Singh, a few restored antiques and reproductions of Nakashima’s designs, unaltered. It is to reveal rather than to interpret the timeless elements of Nakashima’s artistry.
Each piece of wood is as much choreographed as much as designed; it relies on the drama and richness of grain movement, manual skill as well as on traditional detailing. The process is laborious, slow and intense. The shadows and textures of each timbered fragment, handpicked from an accumulation of selective lumber through the years, are enlivened by the dexterous expertise of an adept crew composed of master artisans, assistant craftsmen, and carpenters for the finishes. Unmistakably of its own time, each plank exclusive with the exquisitely unique variations that it implies is artfully tinged with the strength of Tung Oil, conventionally used for high-end yachts, its appliance dating back to the Age of Discovery when the Chinese treasure fleets toughened thus, sailed around the world. As a physical expression, these handmade designs address fundamental concerns such as ergonomics and translate into art of a real and utilitarian scale.
Art of Wood is a sublime encounter with beautiful everyday objects and settings, often overlooked in significance, curated with a notion of belonging and balance. These objects of comfort, of contemplation, of desire surround us at a personal and a much larger societal level, and rise beyond natural limitations of existence to elevate one’s sense of the experiential that is matchlessly achieved with as classic, complex, and seasoned a materiality as an older wood is. The furniture in the exhibit should be viewed not singularly as physical manifestations but as a whole for the transcendent vision behind it — as much as an idea as the artefact. Art of Wood is a recognition, and a revival of memories of the finesse of the hand that crafted it, of patterns of the tree it belonged to and of an act of a transposition of a woodworker’s legacy.