Contradictions at Play in the Work of Dylan Farrell
Writer Rosanna Robertson
Images Francis Rudman
A sense of place – the connection to the landscape and spaces that we inhabit – is an important element of Dylan Farrell’s design practice. His formative years were spent in Brooklyn, where architecture and infrastructure rule the eyeline – and, in a city where you have to shout to be heard, Farrell’s creative expression came ﬁrst in the form of street art and performing in bands, before moving into antique restoration and design. The antithesis of New York, Sydney is a city that is deeply connected to the landscape, where architecture, for the most part, keeps a low proﬁle – sinking into the environment and giving way to nature. “There’s a different ethos here, which informs your ﬁrst thought when coming up with ideas” says Farrell, whose eponymous studio is based in Paddington, Sydney.
Rife with contrasts and contradictions, Farrell’s design language astutely ﬁnds the biting-point between the organic and the man-made, the playful and the strict. Shortly before moving to Australia, Farrell designed one last object from his home in New York: an Art Deco-inspired sideboard that, in his own words, would have been, “the most out-of-place piece of furniture imaginable in Sydney.”
Whether surrounded by the rigorous industrialism of the city or the weather-beaten forms of the Australian landscape, Farrell has an intimate relationship with his environment, which gives his designs a tangible sense of dynamism and motion. Voluminous conical legs kick and splay, caught in the exact moment before they collapse under their own weight. A spinning column of wood is spliced through with bronze plates, each vertebrae working in harmony with the next. Poised for action, ready to reconﬁgure at any moment, the poetics of motion are perfectly captured.
Farrell’s ability to blend references and materials is exempliﬁed in his Bijou design, with its slim metal uprights that simultaneously speak to the elongated, whittled forms of Alberto Giacometti, the wrought iron rods that sprout from industrial construction sites, and the tall, grass-like reeds that undulate and sway in the breeze. Inspired by the mangrove trees that are native to Australia, Farrell was fascinated by their large, complex tangles of roots that grow above ground. “Rather than carving wood to make it look like a mangrove tree – making it so literal – I decided to approach [the project] through the lens of industrial culturalism – which is what Sydney is.”
Abstracted and translated into metal, the forms become more ambiguous, provoking thought rather than immediate recognition. “This is the sort of dialogue that I have picked up on by being here in Sydney, that I wouldn’t have picked up on if I had continued practicing in New York.”
Sophisticated abstractions abound in Farrell’s work; a cluster of cast bronze legs, shaped so as to suggest an animal’s leg or the crook of an elbow, make reference to the bones that Farrell found on a trip to Alice Springs, the ochre-coloured outback situated in the Northern Territories of Australia. “If you streamline that shape, cast it in polished bronze and start rotating those shapes, you then begin to have interesting, almost ‘urban-scape’, relationships of proportion.”
Offering thoughtful combinations and contrasts, Farrell focuses on creating varied ﬁnishes and nuanced textures. With a pared-back palette that focuses on wood and metal, accented with leather and marble, Farrell works with materials whose character is accentuated with time and wear. The Wonderland Wall Sculpture pushes the possibilities of surface and ﬁnish – a single sheet of steel that is distressed, treated and aged by hand, creating multilayered textures and tones on its surface – a painting in patina.
Metal structures are forged by hand – often Farrell’s own – imbuing each object with a human quality, the unique quirks of the individual. “When running your hand over a surface [like this], you can feel how those decisions were made” – and it is in these details that a dialogue starts between the creator and the user. There is a rhythm to conversation, a strong beat in the back-and-forth, the to-and-fro of an exchange. Farrell remarks that, “the best things that I have done have always been part of social experiences: the best music I made was in a band […] and the best designs I have made have been in collaboration”. With an intuitive ability to create meaningful dialogue with the places, peoples and materials that surround him, Farrell’s designs are the result of an exchange of ideas that reﬂects back on nature, history and tradition as well as exploring both potential and possibility.
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