Between Cyprus and London, the Mediterranean was the cradle of civilization – so now is it a borderline space? Beyond politics, in architecture: the aesthetics of Michael Anastassiades
“I have always held a pencil in my hand, since I was a little child. When an adult or another child spoke to me, I would instantly offer a pencil and a sheet of blank paper, inviting them to draw”. The hallmark of Michael Anastassiades is a minimalist attitude, which takes nothing away however the rich evocation.
Last 7 March saw the opening at the Nimac in Nicosia, Cyprus, where Michael was born, of a retrospective entitled Things that go together – A survey exhibition, which focuses on about twelve years of the designer’s career, based in London, where he opened his studio in 1994. A show set to end next 20 July. A recurring theme, speaking to Michael Anastassiades, is that of ‘purity’: a sense of subtraction, of abstraction that he strives for through his work. “No excess”, he repeats again and again. Trimming forms, cleaning them, paring them down to their very essence.
His childhood spent on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean, a strange melting pot of civilizations and a cultural and political border dividing two peoples, marked Anastassiades’ creativity. What emerges is a Greek matrix which sometimes comes through in his work, nourished by abstraction and functionality, and stamped by an esprit de geometriewith lyrical notes. When he talks about Cyprus, Anastassiades recalls a figure of reference and inspiration who steered his career path and his whole way of thinking. It is the Cypriot modernist architect Neoptolemus Michailides, a friend of his father, with whom he made contact thanks to a country home built for his family. “I have always loved –Anastassiades recounts– the ability of Michailides, active since the Fifties, to translate material elements and types of Cypriot vernacular architecture into the island’s weather conditions, within the Modernism debate. It is comparable to the style code pursued by Aris Kostantinides, active in Greece during the same era”.
Michael Anastassiades lives and works in London, where he moved as a young man. He studied civil engineering at the Imperial College of Science Technology and Medicine, later moving on to the Royal College of Art, to specialize in industrial design. He has designed all kinds of things, from lamps and modular lighting systems for FLOS to furniture for B&B Italia – the Jack bookcase –, has reinvented the idea of glass for the Viennese Lobmeyr, and has created lighting and vases for Svenkst Tenn, a company launched in Stockholm in 1924 by Estrid Ericson. “When you design a lamp – states Michael – I believe the next step is understanding how it can interact with the surrounding environment. You have to predict how it will move, what it will emanate, how it will reflect on the walls. Light manifests itself in many different dimensions in nature – and to capture just one of those instances would be enough”. From 2018 are the circular aluminum speaker for Bang & Olufsen, whose volume is adjusted by rolling it along the floor. He is also responsible for a series of glasses for Puiforcat.
The lamps designed for Flos set a standard, including IC Lights and String Light from 2014 and Extra, the following year. Morphologies that break away from all parameters of decor and the repetition of a procedure, choosing a free and conceptual dimension. Particularly the latest creations, from 2018, which belong to the modular lighting system. Arrangements, geometric lines of LEDs that can be combined as desired into hanging walls of light, chandeliers and chains, inspired by jewelry and its structure. Anastassiades’ lighting elements mix geometric shapes such as oblong tubes and spheres, with sparkling surfaces and reflective materials, mirrored glass and polished bronze. He has contended with marble, since the start of his international fame, and with transparent alabaster, with metal and wood.
In 2007, the designer founded Michael Anastassiades Ltd, a company that produces his signature pieces, furniture, lighting, jewelry and tableware. His creations are exhibited at the MoMA in New York, at the Victoria and Albert Museum and at the Craft Council in London, at the FRAC Center in Orléans and at the MAK in Vienna. His more recent works include The Fleet, a fluted column fountain clad in reflective bronze, installed in the garden courtyard of the V&A Museum during the London Design Festival in September 2018. A drinking fountain made in such a way as to illuminate your face with golden reflections when you move in to drink from a sort of bowl, made from the curved surface of the top. In London, again in 2018, he invented a carpet made of recycled marble in a variety of color nuances and textures, which changed Mint Street, in Southwark. A composition of fragments of Portuguese marbles, remainders or defective samples, rejected by producers, architects and designers. “I wanted to highlight the beauty of Portuguese pink marble combined with other distinctive tones. A carpet that marks a portion of space or a trail. I imagined this dynamic pathway winding through the street, closely connecting the park with the rest of the neighborhood”.
I met Michael in Paris, in December. The occasion was provided by a collection of numbered pieces in Oregon pine, conceived for Dansk Møbelkunst in Copenhagen, on display at its Paris gallery, on Quai des Grands Augustins. The second collaboration with the Danish gallery, following the installation entitled Stilleben (Still Life), from 2016, focused on the narrative impact of chandelier-furniture. “The work for Dansk Møbelkunst – recounts Anastassiades – introduced me to fine carpentry. The knowledge and quality of cabinetmakers fused in osmosis with the design. Oregon pine is honest, not normally used in art like mahogany or oak. My aim was to transform it. The pieces made in pine by Axel Einar Hjorth were a source of inspiration. I tried to express a timeless style in terms of the materials and ways of using them. There is no choice: you have to approach them with honesty, without being tempted by any nostalgia. I loved this commission also because the gallery owner, Marie-Louise Høstbo, has always dealt with classic design from the twentieth century, Scandinavian in particular, from 1920 up to the Seventies. The digression into the contemporary of a gallery like Dansk, which in its existence followed a strict historical itinerary, becomes a statement, it spurs you to go beyond clichés”.
For Dansk Møbelkunst, Anastassiades has created a square table with the plastic power of a Cycladic dinner table. A convivial altar. Nordic material auras are interwoven with the typical stylization of that ancestral period in Greek art. Michael’s work echoes that age-old artistic environment, descended into the solar pulsation of Aegeus. Cycladic artefacts teach centrifugal tension, the dynamic interior expressed by stone or by Parian marble, here translated into the grain of simple wood, rising up to a new rank in the semantic linearity of the design and thanks to the work of artist-artisans. A foldable screen, which defines a cocoon or a sort of Carpaccio-style Saint Jerome’s study within the interior in which it stands, contains a semicircular chair.