The work of sculptural furniture designer Ingrid Donat needs to be seen – and touched – to be truly understood. Lucky for us then that her latest bronze pieces have arrived at London's Carpenters Workshop Gallery, in a show titled 'Origins'.
Six new sculptural pieces – including two commodes, a console table, benches and lighting fixtures – sit sincerely within the dark, sombre space, itself clad in wooden panels, making them look somehow scorched from afar, yet exquisitely refined up-close. It's a masculine space overall, you could say, not dissimilar to one you might find in one of Peter Marino's moody interiors – no surprise that she is a préféré of his. Upon closer inspection, the female touch becomes apparent: the warm patina of the deep burgundy table is an ode to a velvet sofa her grandfather commissioned for his house when she was young; or the lace-like charm of some designs and the faultless attention to detail.
'I am very lucky to work with the people that I do,' she says coolly, speaking of her studio within the Carpenters Workshop in Roissy, the former varnish factory transformed by the gallery into a foundry to preserve and celebrate the Arts Décoratifs. Here she has endless access to the finest artisans – engravers, gilders, upholsterers, prototypists, the works. 'Everything is possible,' she explains.
Such possibility breeds innovation, which has led Donat to explore new materials and methods. For example, her 'Banc Tribal' stools are cast in iconic bronze, but with the clever addition of leather patches where you would normally sit. Completely invisible to the eye, they meld into the elaborate etchings and can only be appreciated through touch, thus succeeding in making sitting on a bronze stool an altogether warmer experience.
'For me furniture has to be discrete above all, and elegant [as well as functional]. When you step into a room you don't want it to "flash" the eye and draw attention [away from art],' she says as she points to a Basquiat painting and various African masks on display. That is not to say that furniture should melt into the background; it was Donat's frustration in finding unique furnishings – and a bit of encouragement from her good friends Diego and Alberto Giacometti – that first brought her to creating her own furniture. Since then, tribal and art deco influences have remained integral to her work; Pierre Legrain and Armand Albert Rateau are constant sources of inspiration.
To see new work from the Parisian sculptor (it has been four years since her last solo show) is a thrilling proposition, but the knowledge that there is more to come – in a second, larger retrospective in New York – makes it all the sweeter. With the arrival of a first monograph dedicated solely to her work as well, 2016 is set to be a great year for Donat.