The Constructivists by David Amar


23 October 2013

"Early 20th-century Russia was a time when artists thought that they needed to design, whereas today a lot of designers think that they need to create art," says the designer David Amar. "Isn't that an interesting circle?"

A 2010 graduate from the Royal College of Art's Design Products MA, this year Amar began an examination of the ways in which design and art feed off of one another. Titled The Constructivists, his ongoing project translates paintings by early 20th-century Russian artists into functional design objects.

The project's subjects are artists such as Alexander Rodchenko and Kazimir Malevich, influential figures in the development of Constructivism, Productivism and Suprematism: a series of interconnected Russian arts movements that favoured geometrical forms, a limited colour palette and engagement with design and industry. The movements, to varying degrees, championed art as a social force that could influence the behavior of citizens in post-Revolutionary Russia.

Amar's project is a simple one. Identifying paintings created during the period, he then translates the two-dimensional shapes that they depict into three-dimensional furniture. To date, he has converted canvases by Rodchenko and Malevich into side-tables and coatracks, the art's abstracted forms represented by slabs of wood and lacquered MDF.

"The use of fundamental geometric forms and simplification from that period was about purifying the noise that surrounds those things," says Amar. "The Constructivists is about retaining the original composition of the work and offering an interpretation on how that might become functional."

Some of the pieces – which were first displayed at the Fresh Paint art and design fair in Tel Aviv in May – are more literal than others. A sidetable makes direct use of the circular forms of Rodchenko's 1918 Yellow and Red to create a nested series of surfaces that, viewed top-down, closely resemble the original painting.

By contrast, a coatrack condenses the scattered forms of Malevich's 1916 Suprematist Composition (blue rectangle over the red beam), creating an anarchic architecture of forms on which clothes may be hooked. As the series grows, the emphasis on function will become more pronounced, with Amar currently working on prototypes for lighting.

The work of the constructivist artists and their ilk is indicates of the complexity of the relationship between art and design. The constructivists saw themselves as drawing art closer to engineering and industry, yet their art simultaneously influenced the work of designers, helping in the development of the influential Bauhaus school and De Stijl movement. The art and design of early 20th-century Russia is, perhaps more so than at any other time, representative of the often ouroboric quality of art and design – simultaneously separate and unified.

This sense of instability between the disciplines is reflected in Amar's work. Each of the works' constituent elements are treated with a certain flux. Rather than being held rigidly in a determined arrangement, the pieces are slipped into a concrete base and then pegged into assorted positions using wooden wedges. It is a technique inspired by the construction of temporary street poles in Amar's native Israel.

"The base is not something that holds the pieces in a set way permanently," says Amar. "The wedges let you open it up and add other layers. Because in a way, that's what I'm doing. Looking back and being inspired by something from 100 years ago, and then adding my own layer to it."