He refuses to be pigeonholed into either the artist or designer category, categorically stating: “In design, you need dictators, not a democracy. If you don’t like what you see, go and buy something else.”
He’s Maarten Baas – the design world’s wunderkind!
Born in Arnsberg, Germany in 1978, Baas grew up in the Netherlands after his family shifted there in 1979.
In 1996, he joined the prestigious Design Academy in Eindhoven, after graduating from high school. His first design, the now famous ‘Knuckle’ candleholder, was grabbed up for production by Pol’s Pottern, marking the beginning of his love affair with experimental, bold and useful product design. Or, essentially art that symbolises surprise encounters with beauty.
Spontaneous and intuitive, Baas sought to capture some of the naiveté seen in children’s drawings and the lack of consistent symmetry in nature to bridge the divide between perfect and acceptable creations early on in his career.
This distinctive take on design, as compared to today’s design, which he feels is “an overrated illusion” (because it is all about perfection) inspired him to create the “Smoke” series and an ingenious sundial for his graduation show at the Academy in 2002.
While the unique sundial displayed the hours in shadow, Smoke comprised charred furniture, which ended up so because Baas first burnt old chairs and tables, then coated the skeletons with an epoxy resin for a velvety-black finish so he could preserve the charred remains. His aim was to reduce the ornamental effect of precious objects so they could focus on their true purpose. So, classic chairs from Eames, Mackintosh, even a Rietveld, besides an IKEA chair (salvaged from a dump), all met with the same fate but miraculously got their ultimate value boosted. (The IKEA chair sold for $6000 at Moss – smoking haute, or what?)
In 2004, Baas collaborated exclusively with Moss to give a twist in the tale to his famous first collection, titled “Where There’s Smoke…” comprising one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture, all systematically burned and stabilized with resins to alter their identity.
Reinventing the usability of products, Baas jump-started 2005 with an eclectic notion that made crazy seem a tame phrase. He visited second hand stores in Eindhoven for products languishing on the shelves, which he rescued from a back-alley fate and assembled together to produce the “Hey, chair, be a bookshelf!” series, containing several unique items that owed their fountain of youth to a coat of Poly-Urethane!
Cut to 2006: the Baas-Moss pairing presented “Clay,” giving dull industrial clay a cosmetic makeover. With a back-to-basics approach of hand modeling over metal ‘skeletons,’ Baas formed unique chairs, tables and a limited edition of large-scale fans, all chromed or lacquered in bright colors designed to grab eyeballs. In this quirky ode to industrial design, where a personal touch rendered the design process more intimate, as compared to current day practices of making computer-generated functional objects, Baas took a sculptor’s approach. He also famously explained “The difference between art and design? First of all, the prices are higher.”
In 2007, the creative team continued its winning streak and launched another original Studio collection called “Sculpt” with limited editions of enlarged cabinets, tables, and chairs that were smoothly sculpted in a firm base of welded steel and curvy wooden veneers and made from rough-cut shapes created by hand-carved hard foam model prototyping. Finished in walnut veneer, the pieces have an edgy, dark and brooding look that is not quite Megadeth, but getting there.
In 2008, Baas collaborated with Established & Sons, a British firm, for a funky anthropomorphic furniture series called The Chankley Bore, the title inspired by a line from a nonsense rhyme, the series created to convey a sense of part fantasy, part exploration. Pieces from this collection were designed by Baas to perform beyond the ideal of ‘a chair must have four legs.’
The same year, he participated in a residency program organized by Contrasts Gallery for bringing Western artists to China and held an exhibition of new works there, titled “Shanghai Riddle,” pieces from which articulated his fascination with traditional Chinese woodcarving techniques.
In 2009, Baas found a new medium to express his inner artist, and his “Real Time” collection was made public. In 2011, he was tapped by Amnesty International to design The Empty Chair to support their campaign against increased suppression of writers, journalists, artists and activists. Baas’ The Empty Chair design, about five meters in height, thus stands tall – literally – as a symbol of repression.
The “More or Less” chair (quick-time serial production), “The Plain Collection” (rudimentary furniture pieces made of clay for public use in the Groninger Museum restaurant with clear fingerprint impressions due to the hand-made technique used) and collaborations with Moss for major private commissions in the US have kept Baas busy in the past year.
Extending beyond his one-off furniture pieces and signature singed art-works to now include architectural elements for interiors and furniture design for the sets of Dutch television show ‘Zomergasten,’ Baas’ view of real sustainability in design is best summed up in his own words: “To make well-made products that people will keep for a long time. That’s sustainable.”