Super Natural

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Ross Lovegrove felt special from an early age. While growing up he decided this was partly due to his unusual name. ‘No one else had a name remotely like it, though this wasn’t necessarily a good thing at an age when we want to be conformist and accepted by our peers, not viewed as different.’ Naturally, maturity taught him to use it to his advantage. But it was his innate creativity that ultimately set Lovegrove apart. He learned to express his inventiveness through drawing. Rather than making facsimiles of the objects around him, his special talent was, and remains, the ability to draw photo-realistically from his imagination. These days, that extends to the three-dimensional. In the case of the ‘go chair’, Lovegrove hand-carved a prototype that is close to perfect in scale.

Lovegrove’s signature is his ability to create objects of fine sculptural and organic form, through the exploration of modern materials and technology. The natural balance between materials, technology, and form, in his work is uncanny. Lovegrove has even developed his own design concept, which he calls ‘organic essentialism’, inspired by elements and aesthetics taken from the natural world and reshaped in futuristic forms.

In the introduction to his first monograph Supernatural, Paola Antonelli writes: ‘Only a handful of contemporary designers are able to metabolise the most advanced technology until it becomes effortless, so completely assimilated within the project as to seem invisible, only to resurface and deliver subtle surprises as the object is used. Ross Lovegrove ‘ is one such master.’

Lovegrove grew up in Cardiff, in the South of Wales. His father, a naval officer, would ‘come back with lovely artefacts that made me curious about the world ‘ When you are good at art, it’s not considered serious. I didn’t know design was going to be a certain destiny, but I knew I was creative and I knew I had a way to communicate that.’ He didn’t receive a lot of direction from home, and was relieved when a girlfriend encouraged him to do a foundation course at Cardiff College of Art. Following that he studied at Manchester Polytechnic and London’s Royal College of Art.

In the early 1980s, Lovegrove was hand-picked from college in his final year and invited to Germany to work for Frogdesign, who were world leaders in design at the time. He designed Walkmans for Sony and computers for Apple. ‘My work was always a bit asymmetric, looking at form related to the body ‘ Their work was more straight edge and I never really understood why they were interested in me. My boss used to call my work ‘Italian shit’. I took that as a compliment and would give him a hug.’

Though invaluable, this experience also led to an important realisation about the value of broad cultural experience when designing objects for people to live with. He believes this is why the great designers in history are individuals, who ‘live, stare, observe, act and play’.

When Lovegrove was ready to broaden his experience, he composed a letter to Carl Magnusson of Knoll in Paris, but before he had a chance to post it Magnusson phoned him. This was a pivotal moment for Lovegrove and he soon found himself mixing with great intellects and designers he had previously only read about in books – Sottsass, Richard Sapper, Richard Meier, Andree Putman. He also began visiting Nimes, a city in the South of France where the Mayor had commissioned Philippe Starck and Jean Nouvel (apparently in a campaign for supremacy in the region over the neighbouring Montepellier). Lovegrove became involved in what is now famously known as the Atelier de Nimes. He tells the story of entering a room at one of the Mayor’s typical gatherings and Starck standing up to announce, ‘This is the designer I most want to meet in the world.’ ‘So he really did me a favour’, says Lovegrove. ‘That seems extraordinary to me now, like I’m talking about somebody else’s life.’

Lovegrove returned to London in 1986 and formed a partnership with an old college friend. When this dissolved he established his own practice, Studio X. Lovegrove has worked with the big names ‘ British Airways, Kartell, Cappellini, Phillips, Moroso, Luceplan, Herman Miller, Biomega, to name a few. Projects have included the first universal commercial European lighting product to use photovoltaic (solar) technology, public seating, a bamboo bicycle ‘ to demonstrate the potential use of organic sustainable materials, tableware, office furniture, aircraft seats, and cameras. He dreams of reducing air and noise pollution with his design for a city automobile that does not rely on a combustion engine or fuel and cleverly doubles as a street lamp when parked.

When Lovegrove names the people he admires, he names sculptors ‘ Kapoor and Moore ‘ most frequently. He is deeply moved by sculpture and its ability cause maximum effect on people’s consciousness and emotions, with minimum material. For now, Lovegrove is content to play with those qualities in his industrial objects, but you get a strong sense that one day he just might make the leap.

This article was first published in Monument issue 64.