New Casa Canova Project

 Antonio Canova, he being the late 18th century sculptor remembered as both the Master of Neoclassicism and the producer of some of “the sexiest sculptures in the history of European art,” is often credited to singlehandedly lifting the art of sculpture from the low condition to which it had fallen in his time.

While his evocative renderings of the human figure speak for themselves––the velvety-smooth finishes of his flesh were legendary––it's easy to overlook the exquisitely intricate treatments of his drapery.

In both of the examples above, the chiseled fabric seems imbued with an energy that even his divine flesh can't match. It's in the droop of Cupid's tunic and the veritable explosion of folds beneath Venus's arms (seen above). In both renderings the fabric struggles in glorious failure to defend the goddesses' modesty.  

It was this very fascination with the Master's drapery that inspired Sean's concept for his new table. Presented under the title of his new venture, Casa Canova, comes the new T-shirt Table. As seen above, the table offers a nod to classic figurative sculpture but in an entirely contemporary way. At a distance the table's surface looks more like the disturbed surface of water. On closer inspection, as seen below, the table reveals its truth.  

The table also presents a further exploration of Sean's fascination with the repurposing of otherwise humble materials in a form that elevates them. Maybe it was his years of working with gardens where cycles of life and death are necessarily built into the design, but Sean's work has always had energetic collision of yins and yangs. This particular preoccupation with T-shirts was first explored in his ceiling frescos at The Line Hotel.

The T-shirt table's top is hand carved in Italy by master sculptors from white Carrara marble featuring light veins of gray (the result of quartz and feldspar deposits). The T-shirt Table is an unique, one of a kind piece.  

The Story Behind the Jugs

It began as an experiment of cutting plastic milk jugs in the studio. Once cut, Sean added sprayed abstract shocks of color. Later, these cut creations would be transformed with soil, cactus, and succulents and set on tabletops in the lobby/lounge of The Line Hotel.

Inspired by the work of Dutch designer and artist Foekje Fleur (pronounced FECK-yuh Fluhr), Sean had featured her ceramic soap bottles in his rooms at The Line. In her pieces, Fleur used a kind of ceramic that would have a feel and texture similar to the sunlight stressed surfaces of the discarded bottles she collected by the Maas river in Rotterdam.

In his own reimagining of the plastic container, Sean wanted to push the concept even further. By casting the milk jug into raku-style pottery, Sean does some Dadaist playing with context, values, culture, and more.

What is less apparent is that the raku jug also contains references to the influence of one of Sean's seminal mentors. When just out of his teenage years, Sean worked with designer and manufacturer Carl Gillberg (1941-2012). The self-taught Gillberg was able to work masterly in variety of materials including bronze, steel, glass, and wood in addition to being a master potter. Some of the work Gillberg was best known for were his monumental pots, some reaching heights of almost seven feet. To fire these gargantuan pots, Gillberg built his own heroic-scaled kiln which was lowered over the pots by a cable.

Gillberg was also expert in raku finishing techniques, doing much experimentation with the form and even inventing some of his own. Raku (a Japanese word meaning joy or happiness) was developed in the 16th century Japan with earlier threads going back to China. In its modern Western application of the process, the work is removed from the kiln while red hot and subjected to post-firing reduction (or smoking) by being placed in containers with combustible materials (newspaper, cardboard, saw dust, pine needles, peat moss) and a reduced amount of oxygen. The smoke interacts with the slips and oxides (for color) on the pot's surface. For more crackling in the texture, or crazing as it's called, water is spritzed onto the hot clay.

Today, Gillberg's studio is run by his widow Chantal with the help of Gillberg's protégés. (As part of the extraordinary web that is Sean's social network, Chantal was once married to Sean's father.) One of the protégés, Julio, had worked with Gillberg for 30 years.

The proof, of course, is in the quality of the work. As you can see, the pieces are exquisite and worthy of the master himself.

 

The handmade jugs-vases-planters are available in a variety of solid colors, metallic finishes, and raku style treatments. Each piece is a one of a kind object. 

Kitty, Kitty

She is the world's most popular feline fetish. She inspires such devotion throughout the world that the phenomenon gets its own word: Kitira. She is the ne plus ultra of infectious cuteness and the proof is in the 12,000 iterations of her licensed products that include a theme park, airline, cars, buses, and motorcycles, a Fender Stratocaster, wedding gowns, wines, cafés, and even a hospital.

Maybe its her perennially inscrutable expression that demands such wallet-baring affection. What is hiding behind her mouthless visage – an ageless stoicism that allows us to project our own feelings upon her – that draws us in? She is at once sphinxlike, zen, and the very symbol of acquisitive materialism. And then, in 2014, at 40 years old and following a banner year of $7 billion in worldwide sales, she got her own convention in Los Angeles.

 

In celebration of the world's very first official Hello Kitty Con, The Line Hotel installed a Hello Kitty VIP guest room. And once again they came to Sean to design it.

Designed to be more celebration than tribute, it would've been easy to let the room to become a cathedral to Kitty kitsch. Sean kept his use of the icon subtle and strategic, mysterious even. Using a generous amount of restraint, though it might've seemed impossible, Sean was able to keep the Kitty – the alpha and omega of commercial archetypes – tamed.

At first glance, two aspects leap out: a liberal use of pink, and the motif of stacking and layering that undergirds the overall design. The pink, of course, was unavoidable as the color is one of Kitty's base elements and an integral component of its radiant kawaii.

(An inside joke: The subjects of the wall's large framed photos are from a band called Nylon Pink.)

The room's decor is both a juggle of colors and textures and a disciplined balance. Together, they have a dreamlike quality. Sean balanced hard and soft, the cute and the edgy. The more traditional elements – the patterned wallpaper, the bare concrete of the walls, the squared poufs – frame the room as punctuation marks, to clarify and contain. It couldn't have been Kitty without whimsy and that concept is highlighted in the use of Dejana Kabiljo's surreal dessert-ified couch (entitled Let Them Sit Cake) and the pink splat wall mural.

Then there's the stylized graffiti on the living room's coffee-styled tables and the more street style of the lettering used on the walls of the bathroom. Throughout the room Sean has the actual Kitty logos obscured or hidden. This is demonstrated with both the bundled blankets and in the tiny Kitty representations on the toilet paper wall covering in the sitting nook/bar area. Also, in the way the Kitty disappears through the sheer repetition of its image as in the white plastic figures tiled in the bathroom or quilted on the bed. Even when Hello Kitty is written in neon, as in a hanging piece collaboration with artist Kelly Lamb, the words are superimposed over one another to cloak their conspicuousness.

While his approach to the icon is never less than deferential, Sean takes an affectionate impertinence in the way he addresses the Kitty itself. The way he straps it in bundles – as in the bundled comforters pouf/benches – or nails her to the ceiling and paints over its plush finish. In folding-in the logos of the the bundled blankets Sean makes them unreadable, the give-away being Kitty's characteristic hot pink – the straps that bind them together end up looking something like bondage wear. Also, the various plush and plastic figures used as a kind of mosaic tiling, the pink splat on the wall – all of these depictions take Kitty out of her cuddly suburban ambience and into the tension of the urban landscape.

Pushing on further with the concept that Sean first explored with his Leaf Table and it's simulacrum of stacked books, in the Hello Kitty room he expands the concept with towers of paper folia stacked like origami sheets. While Sean makes the sweep of the room active and ups the energy quotient, he's careful to stay within the boundaries of comfort: Kitty doesn't overwhelm her environment. Turning down the volume slightly on the hyperglycemic kawaii factor, Sean turned to the use of extreme non-traditional materials: toilet and craft paper, discarded product packaging, and the graffiti strokes of a spray can. Though the palette remains heavily tilted toward the pink, Sean even had his Mexican blanketed Negril chairs pinkened, they are counterbalanced with industrial grays and blacks, neon white, and the earth tones of the couch. Sean takes the icon downtown proper at last.

Welcome to the jungle, Kitty.