Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Learning to have fun with the Memphis Group

The Memphis Group were modernists with a sense of humour

It was their playfulness that made them so special, says Lara Bohinc 

It was their playfulness that made them so special, says Lara Bohinc 

April/May 2019

The Memphis Group was founded by Ettore Sottsass, an Italian designer, in 1980 – the name, apparently, comes from a Bob Dylan song, “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”, which played during the team’s first meeting. Comprised of about 20 like-minded members, Memphis was a post-modern design movement. They took the graphic, geometric shapes that had been popular with an earlier generation of modernist designers, such as those from the Bauhaus school, and put the fun back into them with colour and pattern. They subverted the seriousness of modernism and made it more playful and childlike.

This table, designed for Memphis by Michele de Lucchi in 1984, is a perfect example. Made of wood and laminate, it is built out of four elements: two circles, a plank and a round rod. These are the kind of pure shapes that members of the Bauhaus loved, and much of the table’s beauty comes from these simple forms. But I also love its sense of humour. If you made it in simple wood it wouldn’t look such fun. It’s the contrasting colours – the yellow, the blue and jagged black-and-white pattern – that make it.

These are not necessarily colours I would use in my own work – maybe one of them, but not all at the same time. But any designer who plays with geometrical forms as de Lucchi does here speaks my stylistic language. There are a lot of circles in my own work – my Lunar side table, which has a round base and a stand made from a circle intersecting with another semi-circle, is assembled from nothing else. I like taking these simple shapes and creating strong architectural forms out of them. Art Deco, Bauhaus, Memphis – even though they are very different, they have this in common. It’s a thread I take from them all.

Lara Bohinc was talking to Simon Willis