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Ron Arad: the scrapyard chair that made me a designer

Ron Arad: the scrapyard chair that made me a designer

A British-Israeli artist finds inspiration in everyday objects

A British-Israeli artist finds inspiration in everyday objects

December/January 2020

This chair made me a designer
When I graduated as an architect in 1979, I attempted to work for a practice in Hampstead in London. It didn’t take me long to realise that I wasn’t cut out to work for other people. So one lunchtime I went to a scrapyard rather than going back to the office. I wanted to choose a car seat to convert into a piece of furniture. The first one I found was this red Rover 2000 seat. I liked the leather, the handle, the action of the spring at the back: it was perfect. That was before I even knew I was a designer. The piece became an amazing success, and it sucked me into the world of furniture. This is the original that I’ve had at home for many years. My daughters have jumped on it and my cats have slept on it. It’s getting old and I could restore it, but I quite like it with the gaffa tape. It shows its age.

The pop art that inspired me
I bought this catalogue of pop art for my parents’ wedding anniversary when I was 20. Later I took it back from them, with their permission. I love that it’s not a history book but a relic of the time: 1971. Growing up in Tel Aviv I would devour art books and magazines. My friends and I read every word of Artforum, more so than many people in New York. One of the advantages of growing up on the periphery is that everything from the centre has more intensity and importance. I see this when I travel to places like eastern Europe. Some people there know more about my work than I do.

These sad stories became a piece of art
I love flea markets and jumble sales, and this is my best buy ever: a whole year of coupons from a pawnbroker. I got it when I first came to London in my early 20s, for all of £2. It’s about three metres long, with all the notes skewered by a single string. The most common item written on them is GWR, which stands for golden wedding ring. There’s probably a sad story behind each one of them but I don’t know how any of them started or ended.

My chandelier adds controlled chaos to my house
No one could walk into my kitchen and fail to notice this chandelier. It’s that kind of piece. It’s called “Porca Miseria!”, which means something like “damn it” in Italian. It’s a frozen moment of explosion, done simply and well. It’s sort of wild but it gives a nice light, with the bulbs hidden by broken crockery and cutlery. It was given to me by my dear friend Ingo Maurer, a lighting designer. In the 1980s, we would often share an exhibition space at the Milan Furniture Fair: he would get to suspend things from the ceiling and I had the floor. One year he brought this chandelier, which is a prototype, and I fell in love with it. Ingo died recently and the last picture I sent him was of me standing on my kitchen table cleaning it, which I do once every ten years.

A warped cassette box became an unexpected sculpture
I left this cassette box in the back of my car on a hot summer holiday in Spain 30 years ago. It melted in the sun and reformed to look like a bull, which I thought appropriate for Spain. It’s now a beautiful stylised sculpture, like a Marino Marini piece. I like it when unexpected things like that happen.

This sign delights me the way I want to delight others
My name Ron means “rum” in Spanish. There’s a saying, “El ron es bueno para el alma”, which means “Rum is good for the soul”, or perhaps “Ron is good for Alma”, which is my wife’s name. That’s what I thought of when I saw this sign in a bar in Havana. I offered the owner $20 for it and he couldn’t believe his luck: it was probably enough for him to close for the day. “Hay ron” means “we have rum”. I love the directness of it, the red colours, the way it hangs. It’s a no-bullshit graphic that delights the viewer. It would be very sad if my work only delighted me. I hope it delights others too.

As told to Josh Spencer