Australian designer Marc Newson was born in Sydney in 1963 and has been based in Europe since the early 1990s. Newson has developed a highly successful international career, working across a range of disciplines and designing for major international fashion, homewares, automotive, aviation brands and firms. He has designed everything from luxury handbags, aeroplane suites, cars, weapons, watches and shoes to lighting, and even a toilet!
Newson is perhaps best known for his iconic Lockheed Lounge design. An edition of ten, this iconic design became the ‘world’s most expensive design object’ by a living designer after an edition sold for a record £2,434,500 ($5.7million in Australian dollars) at Phillips Auctions in London in 2015. AGSA is fortunate to hold an early example of Newson’s work – the LC-1 chaise lounge, a ‘prototype’ for the Lockheed Lounge form.
Thirty-seven years after the acquisition of the LC-1, AGSA has acquired a second work by Newson, Cloisonné Blue Chair, 2017. The piece is from his series of furniture that utilises the metalwork technique of cloisonné a labour-intensive enamelling process that employs differently coloured vitreous enamel, which is held in place or separated by strips of metal wire and then multi-kiln fired. This technique dates to the ancient world and is perhaps most famously known in the context of the decorative arts produced in East Asia.
This body of work reflects Newson’s original training as a jeweller, with cloisonné normally used in jewellery and small vessels. Newson had the ambitious idea of applying this approach to furniture, although he struggled to find workshops in China capable of producing this technique on a larger scale. Newson explains:
when I went to China, I couldn’t find anyone to do it, ironically the process was almost dying out ... So we had to find certain individuals who could recruit and retrain people. We built this factory and got it to a point where we could produce these crazy shapes … it’s a mad process.[i]
The interlocking blue pattern for Cloisonné Blue Chair is Newson’s contemporary take on traditional cloisonné designs and uses circular and mollecular form, a recurring motif in Newson’s practice, and a form reminiscent of other chairs produced by Newson including Random Pak Chair, 2007.
[i] Anne Sansom, ‘“It’s a mad process”: design legend Marc Newson on revitalizing the Chinese art of cloisonné for his new works at Gagosian Paris’, artnet.com, 26 January 2023
Text by Rebecca Evans, Curator of Decorative Art and Design at AGSA
My job is about problem solving.
- Looking at both Cloisonné Blue Chair and the LC-1 chaise lounge, would you have thought these two objects were designed by the same person, why or why not?
- A prototype is a preliminary version of a design object. Newson's LC1 chaise longue (1989) is a prototype Why do you think designers make prototypes and why do Galleries collect them?
- What do you think it would feel like to sit on Cloisonné Blue Chair and the LC-1 chaise lounge? Which would be more comfortable and why?
- Investigate other design works by Newson such as shoes or lighting. Compare these to Newson’s chair designs. What characteristics can you identify that are similar or different in these objects?
- In a recent interview, Newson notes Australia and the physical environment of Australia as being influential on his design. Research more about Newson and his work to find examples where you think his Australian influence is evident in his design? Read the full Forbes interview ‘Influential Australian designer Marc Newson for hire’ here >>
- Newson described the screw as the most useful thing ever designed in the history of human kind. Why do you think he chose this object? What object/human made item could you not live without?
- Place different chair designs in a hat and have students select their chair at random. Investigate the history of this chair and create a chair timeline in your classroom.
- Chinese Australian artist Ah Xian also has used the technique of cloisonné in his work Human human - cloisonné bust 3. Investigate this technique and compare the work of Xian to Newson.
- Take a look through AGSA’s collection of chairs either on display throughout the Gallery or using our online collection. Select your favourite chair. Write a story about this object. You may like to write from the perspective of the chair – all the people who may have sat on you – the things it has witnessed – how you were made? You might use information from the wall label, the year it was made and the material it is made from to inform your chair story.
- Newson uses sketchbooks as his preferred means of documenting ideas from his head and into the real world and notes that his job is about problem solving. For two weeks, carry a small sketch book everywhere you go. Document things you notice, design problems you encounter on your journey to and from school, at school or around your home. As a class discuss all the design problems you encountered over the fortnight. In groups, select one of the problems and design a solution for it.
- Design your own chair for the classroom. What would it be made from? What additions would you like for your chair? Annotate your design to identify all the special features including its dimensions.